How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking (Complete Guide)

A sleeping bag is an essential piece of gear for backpacking.

In this post, we'll go over all the things you need to know when choosing a sleeping bag for backpacking!

This includes sleeping bag temperature ratings, the different styles of sleeping bags, and the difference between synthetic vs down.

Since backpacking sleeping bags can be expensive, they take up a lot of room in your pack, and you don’t want to be cold at night, it’s worth thinking through all the options before you buy. Let’s go!

First up, watch this video on backcountry sleeping bags:


Note: The links below may contain affiliate links.


1. Temperature Rating

Sleeping bags come with a temperature rating.

The temperature rating identifies the lowest temperature at which the bag was designed to keep the average sleeper warm.

An important thing to note here are the words “average sleeper”.

Women tend to sleep colder than men.

For example, I’m not an average sleeper. I sleep a lot colder than average and I need to consider that when I choose a sleeping bag temperature.

In general, you want a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that’s lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.

A temperature rating does not guarantee warmth.

For example, I have a 10°F bag which means 10°F is the lowest temperature that the bag was designed to keep the average sleeper warm.

As I mentioned above, I’m not an average sleeper, and so I shouldn’t expect to camp somewhere at 10°F and be warm.

If you’re hot, you can always open your sleeping bag to avoid overheating.

If you’re cold, there’s not a lot you can do. It can be uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst.

Other factors such as what you’re wearing, the weather, your tent, and your sleeping pad will also effect your warmth, so this temperature rating is not set in stone.

RELATED: 5 Tips and Tricks for Staying Warm in the Backcountry at Night

2. Weight

The next thing to consider when buying a sleeping bag is the weight.

The warmer your bag (lower temperature rating), the more insulation it will need, and therefore, the heavier it will be.

When comparing bag weights, make sure you’re comparing bags with the same temperature rating.

The other thing that will effect the sleeping bag weight is the shape of your sleeping bag.

There are a few different shapes - mummy bags, rectangular-shaped bags, and modified mummy bags.

Mummy bags are slim cut and they have a hood that can be cinched down at night to increase warmth.

On the other end of the spectrum is a rectangular shaped bag, which is the classic camping bag that you’re probably familiar with. This is the most roomie style but also probably the heaviest.

Right in the middle there’s a modified mummy bag, which is just a little more roomie than a mummy bag, but not as big as the rectangle-shaped bags.

I use a mummy bag to maximize warmth and minimize weight.

A hood is an absolute must on a sleeping bag for me. Having a hood makes a huge difference if you’re cold. This is the sleeping bag I currently use.

3. Type of Insulation

The next thing to consider is the type of insulation in your sleeping bag.

There are two types of sleeping bags - synthetic and down.

Of course, there are pros and cons to both.

Down sleeping bags are lighter and more compressible than synthetic. They’re also more durable, so they’ll likely outlast a synthetic sleeping bag.

But not all down is the same. The quality of down is important.

To gauge the quality of the down, you can look for the fill power spec (sometimes called the insulation spec).

The higher the number, the higher the down lofts, creating greater warmth for its weight.

The main con to down sleeping bags is that they do not insulate when wet.

Also, some people are allergic to down, and therefore wouldn’t be able to use a down sleeping bag.

Which leads us to synthetic sleeping bags.

Synthetic sleeping bags are often cheaper than down sleeping bags and they do insulate when wet, so they’re a great choice for damp climates.

The cons are that they don’t compress as well as down sleeping bags and they might be heavier.

Okay, let’s quickly recap.

The three things to consider when looking for a sleeping bag are temperature ratings, weight, and the type of insulation.

A lot of sleeping bag brands try and differentiated themselves with additional sleeping bag features that might help you make a decision. Just remember that the main purpose of a sleeping bag is to keep you warm, so I would prioritize that.

I will mention again how much I love the hood on my mummy sleeping bag. The hood can really make a huge difference if you’re cold, and so it’s a must-have feature for me.

If you have any questions, chat with me in the comments below!

see you out there ✌️

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