Sleeping Bags Review
Choosing the Best Sleeping Bag
No matter if you’re spending one night away from your bed or multiple nights on the trail, a good night’s sleep is always important. And it becomes crucial for longer and more grueling adventures. Active Junky testers evaluated 15 sleeping bags from top-quality companies and determined their top 10 best sleeping bags picks.
Extensively tested in winter months, Active Junky took selected bags into the Utah desert, where day-time temperatures reach the high 50s and nighttime temperatures dropped to the low 20s. Add in varying weather conditions from sleet and rain to clear but cold winter nights, and testers found the perfect environment to test out 3-season car-camping and backpacking sleeping bags.
Sleeping Bag Brands Tested:
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag
When selecting the perfect sleeping bag for your activities, asking yourself a couple of questions can help you narrow down on the right bag for your needs:
1. Will you be using this sleeping bag for backpacking, car camping or both?
Are you a hardcore, minimalist backpacker with the need for a lightweight bag specifically for multiple nights on the trail? Or will you be driving up to your camping spot and walking gear a few yards? The difference in intended use should be a large differentiator between the bag you choose.
Car-camping sleeping bags are less expensive, and they offer more room and typically more comfort than you’ll find with a backpacking sleeping bag. But with more room and more comfort comes more weight and more bulk.
Backpacking sleeping bags are more versatile and can be used for both backpacking and car camping, making them a better choice for a variety of activities. Less means more in the case of backpacking bags, as they weigh less and pack smaller but also cost more. But such is the case of most lightweight and durable backpacking gear.
2. Under what conditions will you be using your sleeping bag?
For most conditions, a 3-season sleeping bag is adequate. Most offer comfortable sleeping ratings down to between 10 and 35 degrees. And for warmer conditions, you can simply unzip the sleeping bag for ventilation.
These sleeping bag reviews focus on those 3-season type bags, but for colder conditions, many brands offer winter bags as well, some down to 0-degree sleeping bags.
3. How much do you want to spend? Is this investment gear or casual gear?
You can easily find low-priced sleeping bag, and many of those work for car camping, especially if you can pack in some extra blankets for those colder nights. However, backpackers should consider their sleeping bag investment grade gear, as a high-quality and lightweight bag can cost anywhere from $300 to $500.
Car-camping sleeping bags are typically cheaper than backpacking sleeping bags. For car campers, the Slumberjack Country Squire offers ample room and comfort with at a reasonable price. However, this is not one that you’d want to lug around at nearly 11 lbs.
Versatility and value can be found in the Big Agnes Summit 15, which is comfortable and large enough for car camping but is also light enough to strap onto a backpack for multi-nighters. This Big Agnes sleeping bag’s price tag does more closely resemble that of a backpacking sleeping bag.
Those looking for a budget lightweight backpacking sleeping bag should take a look at the Klymit KSB 20, which is an all-around good bag that won’t break the bank.
Temperature Rating: What Degree Rating Really Means
When you see a number associated with a sleeping bag name, what exactly does that mean? It refers to its temperature rating, but that isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it may appear.
Here’s what you need to know about sleeping bag ratings:
- Most commonly sleeping bags’ ratings use the European Norm (EN) protocol, which is accepted are the majority of the world for its objectivity
- EN ratings are expressed in two ways: EN lower limit, and EN comfort rating
- EN lower limit is specifically for the average man and is the temperature at which most men can keep comfortably warm
- For women, who generally sleep colder, the EN comfort rating expresses the lowest temperature at which women will keep warm in that sleeping bag
Keep in mind that these ratings are based around averages. Some people sleep hotter or colder, so you may need make adjustments, such as wearing extra layers when it’s colder, or sleeping without the hood or with side slightly unzipped if hotter.
Sleeping Bag Fill: Down vs. Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Sleeping bag fill is another consideration when choosing a bag. Typically, you can choose from natural down or synthetic fill, or sometimes a combination of both. Each have pros and cons.
Natural down (goose or duck) is lightweight and durable, and it provides exceptional warmth in cold and dry conditions. However, down is all but worthless if it gets wets. Synthetic fill is quick-drying material that, while heavier, is a good choice in wet or humid conditions.
Many companies, though, are now using hydrophobic treatments on their down fill, essentially making the water resistant. And many sleeping bags themselves are water resistant, further protecting the down, if that is your choice of fill.
Down rating is another consideration when purchasing a sleeping bag. When looking at the fill number, the higher the number, the lighter weight and smaller the bag. For example, take two 20-degree sleeping bags, one with a 650-fill and the other with an 800-fill power. Both have the same temperature rating, but the 650-fill bag will be bigger and heavier than the 800-fill bag. Because backpacking bags need to weigh less and be more compact, you’ll typically see fill between 750 and 900.
How We Evaluated: What Went Into Our Sleeping Bag Reviews
In addition to testing in the Utah desert during winter months, Active Junky also took these sleeping bags to humid conditions in the Pacific Northwest and into the Colorado Rockies during wetter spring months. Testers evaluated bags for attributes such as performance and durability among other considerations:
Sleeping Bags Key Attributes
Performance in a sleeping bag means all aspects worked as they should: the fill kept our testers warm down to the specific temperature rating; the zippers didn’t get stuck; it was a comfortable night’s sleep; water-resistant material kept our testers dry.
Weight varies depending on specific use. A backpacking sleeping bag should be lightweight, while a car-camping bag will weigh more. But in both, a lighter relative weight is preferable, and a backpacking bag should be compact as well.
Durability in a sleeping bag means it can handle packing in and out multiple times on a backpacking trip and even sleeping out under the stars in addition to normal tent camping. A durable sleeping bag should certainly handle a multi-day backpacking trip without concerning testers with wear, tear or rips in the fabric.
Versatility in uses comes in to play here. Although camping sleeping bags are not ideal for a backpacking trip, a versatile backpacking sleeping bag is comfortable enough for car camping and performs well in a range of temperatures and climates.
Quality considers elements such as down fill, material, construction and baffle design, among other features. Quality plays into longevity, performance and durability.
Best Sleeping Bags: Testers’ Top Picks
When it came to premium sleeping bags that performed at their designated temperature rating, a few stood out as favorites for Active Junky testers.
The Marmot Helium 15 was one of the warmest 3-season bag tested, with its hydrophobic-treated 850-fill goose down. Its 6-baffle design keeps heat trapped and, along with the hood, eliminates the necessity of a pillow so you can pack even lighter.
While one of the more expensive bags, the Brooks-Range Drift 20 is worth the cost for those willing to invest in an impressively lightweight backpacking sleeping bag. At just over 2 lbs, Active Junky testers appreciated the 850-fill DownTek goose down fill inside a hydrophobic nylon shell.
Another almost impossibly lightweight sleep bag is the women’s Rab Endurance Neutrino 400. The 400 stands for grams of 800-fill goose down, keeping this 25-degree bag light and warm, and testers kept toasty at temperatures right around freezing.
Best Value Sleeping Bag: Klymit KSB 20
For performance coupled with a low cost, the Klymit KSB 20 was the top pick for testers. While the synthetic down isn’t as lightweight or as lofty as goose down, it still weighs in under 3 lbs and under $200, so it’s a great choice for bargain backpacking shoppers.
Best Women’s Backpacking Sleeping Bags:
When temperatures do not drop below freezing, female testers would choose the REI Flash. It’s a great combination of lightweight 700-fill goose down on top and synthetic PrimaLoft insulation on the bottom and still weighs in under 2 lbs.
The North Face Blue Kazoo took top billing for women’s sleeping bags in sub-freezing temperatures. Though almost a full pound heavier than the REI Flash, it still weighs in under 3 lbs and comes with goose down fill, which is only 650-fill, creating the additional weight. It’s less compact than some lower-temperature bags, but the warmth for the cost is worth considering.
Best Car-Camping Sleeping Bags:
Car-camping sleeping bags are inevitably heavier and bulkier than backpacking bags, but that comes with perks of additional roominess and comfort. The Slumberjack Country Squire 20 stands out in this review as the only rectangular sleeping bag tested, and it is a monster bag, weighing in at nearly 11 lbs pack weight, including duffel bag. Nearly spacious enough for two, it took top place for Active Junky testers for car-camping bags when only short distances from car to tent were required.
Top pick among female testers went to the Kelty Tru.Comfort 29. The integrated and removable interior blanket and zipper system that allows for feet to stick out on warmer nights are little features that make this sleeping bag extra special.
Once you’ve chosen your sleeping bag, if you need a car-camping or backpacking tent to put it in, check out Active Junky’s tent guide. For even more gear reviews, check out activejunky.com.