How to Choose a Sleeping Bag featured image

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

What can be better than exploring the great outdoors, taking in the clean, crisp air of uninhabited areas, and sleeping under an open sky? Probably nothing.

But if you want to enjoy nature, you'll need a sleeping bag to safeguard you from the elements. Of course, you'll also need a tent, outdoor clothes, and cooking gear.

But if you'll be spending at least seven hours a night wrapped in one, you should probably know how to choose a sleeping bag.

However, if your interest in camping is fairly recent or you haven't had a chance to take a trip in a while, you might have no idea how to start selecting one. After all, sleeping bags aren't all created equal.

Sleeping bags are available in various sizes, shapes, and insulation types, with companies like many companies to choose from, such as Therm-a-Rest, Mountain Hardwear, MEC, Big Agnes, and Western Mountaineering. But how can you decide which one is best for your trip? 

Don't fret, for you've come to the right place. We're here to guide you on what to look out for when buying a sleeping bag for a camping trip.

What to Look For When Buying a Sleeping Bag

There are several things you need to take note of when you're in the market for a sleeping bag.

We've managed to compress this into six essential factors. Some of these may have several points and options, from which you'll have to choose.

Temperature Rating


The temperature or season rating of your sleeping bag significantly influences your comfort. Carrying a big winter-weight pack in a hot area is inconvenient, and using a summer-weight bag while winter camping might be risky.

Most sleeping bags list the details of their upper and lower temperature limits somewhere on the packaging.

The temperature rating on a sleeping bag indicates the lower temperature limit at which the bag should be able to insulate the average person. These ratings assume you'll sleep on a mat and wear long clothing underneath.

The temperature rating indicates how well a bag will function; you can use it to compare bags. However, hydration, how much you've eaten, weariness, humidity, wind, and wetness are all elements that impact your body's temperature as you sleep.

Several companies, including MEC, use the EN standard to assess and benchmark the temperature rating of their sleeping bags.

Seasons are frequently the standard for designating sleeping bag temperature ratings.

Go for a sleeping bag for which the temperature rating is a few degrees cooler than the coldest temperature you expect to camp in if you want your sleep to be as cozy as possible.

Remember that it will be colder if you camp at a higher height. Lastly, you can always unzip your sleeping bag for airflow if you ever feel too hot.

  • Summer-Weight Sleeping Bags (>30°F)

These tend to be often thin and light and are only appropriate for camping in hot climates, like in the summertime.

If you anticipate that the weather will be hot, you may choose to use a sleeping bag liner. Summer Sleeping Bags usually have a temperature rating of around 30°F or higher. 

  • Three-Season Bags (15°-30°F)

These are great if you're going on a temperate camping trip since they keep you warm on chilly evenings in autumn or springtime without being overly hot on summer nights.

The temperature rating for Three-Season Sleeping Bags is usually Between 15°-30°F or higher.

  • Winter Bags (<15°F)

Winter bags are often heavier, thicker, and costlier than other sleeping bags, but they're a must-have if you plan to go camping in frigid temps. These sleeping bags usually have a temperature rating of around 15°F or lower. If you are interested in cold weather sleeping bags, you may also find our reviews on the best cold weather sleeping bags useful.

Size and Fit

The majority of sleeping bag styles come in a variety of lengths. The size you select should be the same as your height, with an extra inch or two for comfort.

If your sleeping bag is much longer than you, there will be too much extra room, which causes greater airflow and cold spots. As a result, you may start to feel a chill.

However, if you do borrow or rent a sleeping bag that turns out to be oversized, you can cover holes around your body with spare, dry clothing.

But if it is undersized, you'll press up on the hood and the foot box of your sleeping bag, squishing the padding and causing cold spots.

Different brands standardize the lengths of sleeping bags, with both ordinary and long bags available for men and women.

Women's sleeping bags are made to accommodate a woman's body type, which has smaller shoulders and broader hips than men's bags.

They may also have more excellent insulation around the torso and foot box, the regions where women are most susceptible to cold.

  • The regular length for men is 78 inches, suitable for individuals up to 6 feet tall. Women's regular length is 72 inches which suit up to 5'6 ′" tall.
  • There are longer versions with men's sleeping bags going up to 84 inches, long enough for people up to 6'6".
  • Longer women's sleeping bags go up to 78 inches long which can be used by women up to 6 feet tall.

There are also sleeping bags for children, which are slimmer and smaller than those for adults.

Couples' sleeping bags come in double sizes and fit two people. They're for lovers who prefer to cuddle while they sleep.

There are also immense rectangular drive-up camping variants and ultralight mummy-cut twin bags for light travelers.

Sleeping Accessories


After you've chosen your sleeping bag, you should consider the following components for your sleeping plans:

  • Stuff Sacks

Your sleeping bag most likely comes with a conventional stuff sack. However, if you plan to carry it in a canoe, backpack, or pannier, you should consider getting a compression stuff sack. Keep your sleeping bag in a large home storage sack when you're done camping.

  • Sleeping Bag Liners

These can give a few degrees of warmth, but most are made to absorb moisture and maintain the cleanliness of your sleeping bag. If it's hot outside, you can tuck the back away and sleep in only the liner.

  • Camping Pillows

Use a pillow to avoid waking up with a stiff neck. Lightweight air pillows, sumptuous down-filled, and soft foam pillows are available to choose from.

  • Sleeping Pads

Sleeping pads cushion your body and keep you warm on the cold, hard floor. All temperature ratings for sleeping bags are based on the assumption that you will sleep on a sleeping pad to absorb the cold from the ground, so these are a definite necessity.



Sleeping bags are available in various forms, including rectangle, barrel, and mummy (including a quilt option). Some allow you to spread out, while others encircle you like a warm cocoon.

The design of your sleeping bag may significantly impact how warm it keeps you, how light it is (and therefore how easy it is to pack), and how comfortable it is.

Your body warms the surrounding air while you're asleep to keep you comfortable and warm.

If your sleeping bag has less air space, your body will heat up the area more effectively, keeping you warm as you sleep.

  • Rectangular

The most typical shape for a leisure camping sleeping bag is a rectangle. Since they allow you to spread out and sleep naturally, they are the coziest shape of conventional sleeping bags.

However, due to the additional material, they are heavier and bulkier. Because there is space inside them for your body to heat up, they are also less thermally efficient.

Hence, they're best suited for summer temps and front-country camping.

Rectangular sleeping bags may be unzipped entirely and used as a blanket, or they can be zipped together to form a double bag.

  • Barrel

This categorization, sometimes known as a "modified mummy" or "semi-rectangular" form, encompasses a wide range of shapes that all offer a balance of warmth and roominess.

These sleeping bags have a more tapered shape than rectangular ones, yet they are more spacious than mummy bags. They also have a hood on occasion.

Barrel sleeping bags balance insulation and coziness, making them ideal for moderate-temperature camping or outings that don't involve much movement.

They're more compact and lighter than rectangular bags and are modestly priced and spacious.

Also, they're perfect for summer or three-season use and suitable for camping in the front or backcountry.

  • Mummy


This bag type features a close fit to increase warmth and save weight, allowing you to roll over.

Mummy bags are named from the design of the coffins in which Egyptian mummies were discovered, and their tight cut and fitted hood increase their warmth.

Mummy bags are more costly, have a close fit to the body (which some may find claustrophobic), are very light and small, and are suited for wilderness camping, three-season, and winter use.

  • Camping Quilts

These might be far more advanced than the type you have at home. As you'll be sleeping on a sleeping pad, they're insulated blankets with no insulation below you.

They come in various forms and sizes, ranging from basic rectangular ones to premium contoured variants with hoods and harnesses that connect to your sleeping pad.

Quilts are made to be thrown loosely over the body or strapped to your sleeping pad. This is a good option if you desire a more restful night's sleep.

Some are suitable for front-country camping, and some are ideal for backpacking. This is the best option for three-season or summer use if you want to reduce luggage space.

Insulation Type


Sleeping bag insulation consists of either down or synthetic insulation that traps warm air within the bag while you sleep. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Down Insulation

Thousands of plumules (those soft filaments from the feathers of geese or ducks) make up insulation.

Fill-power of down is a good quality measure, and more fill-power means more warmth per pound.

A score of 500 is decent, 600–700 is better, and a score of 700 or above is exceptional.

If you expect to use your sleeping bag frequently, a down sleeping bag is a perfect choice for the long term. It is worth noting that when down becomes wet, it clumps together and loses its ability to retain heat.

Consequently, down insulation is not ideal for long travels, wet weather, or any other situation where moisture is likely to build.

Ethical down is an important topic, and as you start thinking about it and learning more about it, several concerns might make outdoorsy people uncomfortable.

Certain companies, such as Rab and Thermarest, use ethically sourced and certified downs in their sleeping bags. The Responsible Down Standard(RDS) emblem is on such sleeping bags.

  • Insulation For Sleeping Bags Made of Synthetic Materials

Polyester threads woven in long continuous filaments are combined with small pieces called staples in synthetic insulation.

Thinner threads fill empty areas and trap warm air effectively, while larger strands give loft and durability. Therefore many bags have a combination of thinner and thicker pieces.

Synthetic fill bags aren't as durable as down bags because the fibers ultimately compress and lose part of their fluffiness.

Synthetic sleeping bags, though, are easy to care for, affordable, and keep their warmth even when wet, making them a suitable choice for humid environments and budget campers.


  • Sleeping Bag Shells

The outside fabric, composed of robust polyester or nylon, is treated with a durable water-resistant (DWR) treatment to keep the padding within the shell dry. Materials with a soft, fuzzy texture are found within the bag.

  • Sleeping Bag Hood

A snug-fitting hood may keep a sleeping bag warm. Thus bags having lower temperature ratings are more likely to have hoods.

  • Features of the Zipper


Modifying airflow using a sleeping bag with many zipper sliders is simple. You can zip some sleeping bags together to create a double bag.

It's a lovely alternative for snuggling couples, but it's a less efficient way to remain warm because there are air spaces at the top. 

If the zippers on two sleeping bags are the same type, you can zip them together. The most accessible sleeping bags to pair are those from the same manufacturer.

You can zip them together if the zippers have equal length on both sides, but they won't match if one bag only has a ¾-length zipper while the other has a full-length zipper.

For mummy bags, you can zip two bags together if the bags have their zippers on opposite sides.

  • Stash Pocket

A zipped depository pocket for storing things like watches or cream is included in some types of bags and can come in handy.

  • Hood

It's essential to keep your head warm while it's cold outside—most winter and 3-season sleeping bags use cinch-tight hoods to keep the heat in.

  • Draft Collar

The draft collar, also known as neck baffles, yokes, or face muffles, is an insulated item that wraps around your head and neck to keep warm air from escaping. Usually found on winter bags.

  • Draft Tube

A sleeping bag's insulated tube runs down the zippers inside. It keeps drafts at bay while allowing warm air to circulate.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What's the difference between a sleeping bag for camping and one for backpacking?

Camping bags generally provide lots of room for movement, while backpacking sleeping bags are light and compact.

Go for the backpacking sleeping bag if you intend to use the same bag for both since backpacking requires your load to be as light as possible.

  1. How can I select a sleeping bag based on the temperature rating?

Consider the coldest temperature you expect to go camping in with this bag (that applies to all trips you plan to take with it, not just your first).

Then remove 10° from the temperature you've calculated. Finally, pick a sleeping bag with a grade based on the new temperature you just calculated.

  1. What is a decent hiking sleeping bag weight?

A lightweight hiker should aim for a sleeping bag that weighs no more than 2-3 pounds and a sleeping pad that weighs no more than 1-1.5 pounds.

In short, your entire system should weigh no more than 4 pounds. Every pound counts when you're carrying it all on your back up high slopes.


A good night's sleep is vital for starting your day right. When camping, choosing the right sleeping bag for you can decide how your morning turns out.

There are several other facets that you can factor in when selecting a sleeping bag (such as the material, activity, weight and pack size, and cost).

However, we believe we've included the most vital factors for you to consider when you next go shopping for a new sleeping bag.

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