The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag Review

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ZPack's 20 degree sleeping bag (left) and Feathered Friends Rock Wren (right) inside the MSR Nook tent with Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pads.
Credit: Max Neale
What is the best sleeping bag for backpacking? We tested 30 down and synthetic models in a head-to-head competition that assessed weight, warmth, comfort, packed size, features, and versatility. We pushed the limits of these bags by testing them for years in dry deserts, temperate rainforests and along the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail. Dozens of testers provided valuable input and analysis for this review. Below we compare expensive cutting-edge bags and inexpensive bags for the budget conscious. We identify the best all-purpose option, the best synthetic bag for wet conditions, the best lightweight hooded down bag, and the best value down bag.

Also see our Camping Sleeping Bag Review and Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review and Women's Sleeping Bag Review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara and Max Neale March 16, 2013

Top Ranked Backpacking Sleeping Bags Displaying 1 - 5 of 28 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Feathered Friends Penguin 20
Feathered Friends Penguin 20
Read the Review
Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20
Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20
Read the Review
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10
Read the Review
Marmot Plasma 15
Marmot Plasma 15
Read the Review
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award  Editors' Choice Award       
Street Price $439$449Varies $545 - $560
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Varies $539 - $559
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Varies $500 - $530
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100% recommend it (3/3)
Pros Top quality down and fabrics, exceptionally versatile design, 4 temperature options, full-length zipper vents feet, sleeps 2 people with optional Groundsheet.Best lightweight hooded bag tested, Several size options allow for best fit + comfort, 900-fill down, top-tier fabric, secure snap hood closure.Very warm for its weight, highest quality down and materials, continuous horizontal baffles increase versatility.900-fill down, ultralight shell material, comfortable hood and foot box, lightweight.Warm for its weight, good fabrics, fantastic hood design.
Cons On the heavy side.Some other hoods can be more comfortable.Nearly a winter bag= heavy and possibly too warm for summer backpacking, relatively uncomfortable hood closure, weak neck baffle velcro can come undone easily, top quality fabric only on top.Cut wide in upper body = comfy but less thermally efficient, only two sizes, expensive for its weight/warmth.Does not have continuous horizontal baffles = less versatile and less warm than Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering 3-season bags.
Best Uses Camping, backpacking, snuggling with your honey.3-season backpacking and camping.3+ season useLuxuriously comfortable 3-season backpacking and camping.All-purpose camping.
Date Reviewed May 28, 2013Nov 17, 2012Nov 10, 2012Nov 17, 2012Nov 10, 2012
Weighted Scores Feathered Friends Penguin 20 Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20 Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 Marmot Plasma 15 Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Warmth - 23%
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Comfort - 25%
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Packed Size - 5%
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Features - 10%
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Product Specs Feathered Friends Penguin 20 Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20 Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 Marmot Plasma 15 Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Style Semi-rectangular Mummy Mummy Mummy Mummy
Total Weight (oz) 43 25.5 31.9 30 31
Total Weight (lb.) 3.16 1.59 1.99 1.88 1.94
Fill Weight (oz) 24 13.4 20 17.6 20
Material Weight (oz) 20 12.1 11.9 12.4 11
Fill Power 850 900 900 900 800
Insulation Volume 20400 12060 18000 15840 16000
Insulation Volume/Weight 474 473 564 528 516
EN Comfort Rating NA NA NA 29 26
Neck Baffle Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Pocket No No No No Yes
Zipper Length Full Full Full Full Full
Shoulder Girth 64 58 62 60 60
Hip Girth 61 52 53 58 56
Foot Girth 48 38 39 38 38

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Kelty Cosmic Down 20
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Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20
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Western Mountaineering Versalite 10
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OMM Mountain Raid 40
$241
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Western Mountaineering Summerlite
$315
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Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
$400
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Marmot Plasma 15
$470
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Western Mountaineering Highlite
$270
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Moutain Hardwear Phantom 32
$290
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Marmot Plasma 30
$440
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Feathered Friends Merlin
$314
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Valandre Bloody Mary
$489
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Sierra Designs Cloud 15
$500
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Big Agnes Bellyache Mountain SL 17
$299
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Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32
$400
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Marmot Helium
$439.00
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North Face Cat's Meow 20
$160
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Sierra Designs Zissou 15
$280
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Marmot Pinnacle
$349.00
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Kelty Light Year XP
$150
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Marmot Sawtooth
$230
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REI Halo 25
$250
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Nemo Nocturne 15
$400
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55
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REI Igneo
$330
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Valandre Mirage 20
$440
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52
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Therm-a-Rest Antares
$349
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40
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Rab Neutrino 200
$250
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The Sleeping Bag: The Most Important Insulating Layer
Per unit weight, a bag offers the greatest amount of warmth of any type of insulating product. Upgrading a bag is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce pack weight and size, and purchasing a good down model is a long-term investment- they can last up to 20 years. We researched the global market and tested 30 contenders over three-years on trips of all types, all over the world. This review describes our product selection, criteria for evaluation, and identifies the best performing bags. See the image below to compare the different types of three-season bags.

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Types of 3-season sleeping bags, left to right: traditional (hood + zipper), hood-less, zipper-less, quilt style, hooded wearable, and wearable quilt. This review primarily compares traditional bags. Other types are found in the Ultralight Bag Review.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Choosing the Right Bag for Your Needs
One of the first questions to consider, is what type of bag will best fit your needs. We've provided a summary of the major types of bags and their advantages/disadvantages below. For more complete background information of the different options, refer to our buying advice article, How to Choose the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag.

Traditional Style
This review primarily compares traditional style bags with zippers and hoods, bags that prioritize comfort over weight savings. After testing nearly 70 models of all types we’ve found that traditional style bags—those tested here— are a good choice for people that want one bag for all types of outdoor activities— both car camping and weight conscious multi-day trips. Bags compared here are ideal for use when nighttime temperatures are consistently around or below freezing, because the bag’s hood will always be utilized, i.e. you won't be carrying something you don't need. The average bag tested here weighs 31 ounces.

Ultralight Bags
The average bag in our Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review, which compares hoodless options, weighs only 19 ounces. Models in the ultralight review provide the greatest amount of warmth for the lowest weight. If you’re looking for a lightweight bag that will primarily be used for overnight trips where weight is a concern we highly encourage you to consider one of the models found in the Ultralight Bag Review. None of these models are currently sold at outdoor stores like REI.

Camping Bags
A third type is the large and luxurious rectangular bag that are too heavy to carry backpacking. These offer much more comfort than any model tested here and cost as little as forty dollars!! We compare these general-purpose bags in the Camping Sleeping Bag Review.

When considering all types of bags we believe the most performance for your dollar can be found by purchasing two bags-- one Ultralight ($260+) for backpacking and one Camping ($40+) for car camping — instead of one of the top-tier ($400+) traditional style bags compared here.

With all of this buying advice out of the way, we’ll now continue to our comparison of the best traditional style sleeping bags. The first and most important thing to consider is insulation type.

Down V. Synthetic Insulation
Sleeping bags are made with synthetic and down insulation. Synthetic insulation is best for extended trips in wet conditions where a bag has a moderate to high probability of getting wet, staying wet for an extended period, or where opportunities to dry the bag out are limited. Down insulation offers significantly more warmth for its weight, is more compressible, more comfortable, and more durable than synthetic insulation. For the vast majority of people in the vast majority of conditions, down will be the best option. Although major companies and retailers market synthetic bags as less expensive alternatives to down bags, our testing shows that, for this type of bag, down is both better and cheaper than synthetic insulattion. In other words, we believe the only reason to get a traditional style synthetic bag is for its increased performance when wet. Budget rectasngular synthetic bags found in the Camping Sleeping Bag Review are a different story because they offer exceptional value and are too heavy to be carried for more than a few minutes.

Criteria For Evaluation
We rated each bag on its warmth, weight, packed size, features, and versatility. Our criteria for evaluation is the same for ultralight bags so that you can compare performance across reviews.

Warmth
The amount of loft, measured as the thickness of the insulation between you and the external environment, has the greatest influence on warmth. Fit is the next most important factor in determining warmth. Bags that are too tight or too short won't allow the insulation to loft properly. Similarly, a bag that's too large will have drafty dead air spaces that make the bag thermally inefficient even though it may have enough loft for the conditions. The crux in selecting a fixed girth model is choosing one that best fits your body and the clothing you plan to wear. Some bags tested here, such as the Mountain Hardwear Speed 32 have slim cuts that can't accommodate lots of clothing or people with broad shoulders. Some bags designed for alpine climbing and mountaineering, such as the Valandre Mirage and Bloody Mary are trim in the lower body and spacious in the upper body to accommodate large down parkas. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering bags are available in multiple lengths and widths, which is a huge advantage because you can get a bag that fits your body well. Look at the foot, hip, and shoulder circumference to compare dimensions for unisex bags. We've included these measurements in the specification tables found in each review.

Warmth is also heavily influenced by conductive heat loss to the ground. Choosing an appropriate sleeping pad is important, especially in colder conditions or when sleeping on snow.

Weight
Weight is function of fill, shell material, and features. In general, heavier bags use either synthetic insulation or low fill-power down (500-700). Many of the highest performance bags tested here use the best down (850-900 fill-power) and very light, expensive fabrics. The primary factor that makes one bag lighter than another is its cut, as described above, and its features, or lack thereof.

The 46-ounce Marmot Sawtooth 15 is the heaviest down bag tested here. Weighing in at 44 ounces, the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina and North Face Cats Meow tie as the heaviest synthetic bags tested. Note that we capped the bags in this category at three pounds. Heavier bags are found in the Camping Sleeping Bag Review.

At a touch over 16 ounces the Western Mountaineering Highlite and Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32 tie for the lightest down bags tested. Although a one pound bag is impressive to look at and a pleasure to carry, we've found that adding several more ounces of down greatly increases warmth, which, in turn, increases versatility. For summer use, where bags around one pound are primarily used, our testers prefer a lightweight hoodless bag- those found in the ultralight sleeping bag review.

The Marmot Plasma at left has a vertical baffles, a wide cut, and larg...
The Marmot Plasma at left has a vertical baffles, a wide cut, and large toe box. The Feathered Friends Hummingbird at right has continuous horizontal baffles (more versatile) and is available in 4 cuts that maximize thermal efficiency and reduce weight.
Credit: Marmot and Feathered Friends
Comfort
Comfort inside of a bag is highly subjective and primarily depends on fit. Increasing the size of the bag provides more space to sprawl about and move within a bag. In addition to space for sprawling and thrashing, our ratings here focus on a bag’s features that contribute to or detract from comfort. In this regard we’ve found that the hood and neck baffle design are most important. Insulation type also influences comfort; sleeping in a down bag is like floating on a superlight cloud while zipping into a synthetic bag is less heavenly. The Feathered Friends Penguin is the most comfortable bag tested because its semi-rectangular shape gives you more space to move about.

It's also important to consider total comfort throughout the course of a day of hiking, not just when you're inside of one at night. A heavier bag that's slightly more comfortable to be inside of may be less comfortable overall when compared to a lighter bag with slightly less space. If you spend more time carry the bag than you do inside of it we suggest considering one of the bags compared in our Ultralight Review.

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The Mountain Hardwear Phantom is one of the few sleeping bags with a hood that's comfortable when the drawcord is tightened. We've found that hoodless bags are more comfortable and lighter than hooded bags.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Features
Here we assessed the quality of each bag's features and attempted to quantify how well they contribute to the overall performance of the bag. This variable encompasses shell fabric, zippers, draft tubes, neck baffles and stash pockets. Traditional bags with snag-free zippers, easy-to-use hood adjustments, and hoods that don't come undone at night scored higher in this category.

In most cases, more features or more complicated features reduce performance. They add weight, complexity, cost, and might fail faster. The potential benefit of a given feature's warmth, comfort, or convenience is rarely offset by its drawbacks. For example, stash pockets for a watch alarm are useful on -40 degree winter bags where you're surrounded by so much down you can't hear anything, but for three-season bags, a pocket might reduce comfort if you roll onto the watch and, depending on where the pocket is, might make it harder to hear the alarm. Sewing a pocket onto a bag takes time and uses additional materials that increase the cost of a bag. When it comes to features, less is more.

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The Marmot Plasma 15's luxurious interior. Note the full down collar and the overfilled pillow! These features make the bag slightly more comfortable and add weight. Hoodless bags solve the draft collar problem by cinching at the neck.
Credit: Max Neale
Versatility
Three-season models are employed in a wide range of conditions. They must function on hot summer nights as well as when the temperatures drop below freezing. Some people may also choose to save weight by using a three-season bag on winter trips. Versatility, therefore, is a critical component that greatly increases a bag's performance and value. Unfortunately, the fixed girth of the bags found in this review greatly reduces their versatility when compared to adjustable girth quilt style bags found in the ultralight sleeping bag review. Some of the bags tested, such as the Feathered Friends Hummingbird and Western Mountaineering Versalite here have continuous horizontal baffles that allow you to shift down from the top to the bottom of the bag, which increases comfort in warm conditions and warmth in cold conditions. The most versatile bag included in this review is the Feathered Friends Rock Wren, a hooded wearable bag with zippered openings for your arms and feet. Wearable bags eliminate the need to bring a jacket for use around camp- just put the bag on when you start to get cold.

Packed Size
Packed size is a function of down fill power, fabrics, and features. Higher quality down, light fabrics, and simple features create the most compressible bags. Of the models compared here we found the Kelty Light Year XP to be least compressible and the Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32 to be the most compressible.

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Sleeping bag size comparison, from left to right: Slumberjack County Squire 20, Wenzel Conquest 30, Kelty Cosmic Down 20, REI Travel Sack 55, and Katabatic Gear Palisade 30.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Important Accessories
A waterproof stuff sack is critical for keeping your bag dry. Unfortunately, very few bags come with decent quality stuff sacks and many bags come with downright terrible stuff sacks. Thus, we highly recommend purchasing one separately. See our Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack Article for our recommendations for specific applications.

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A selection of low quality free stuff sacks and very high quality optional stuff sacks. Investing in a good stuff sack can keep a sleeping bag drier, help it last longer, and reduce weight.
Credit: Max Neale
Editors' Choice Winner: Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20
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Feathered Friends Hummingbird.
Feathered Friends is small Seattle-based company that churns our some of the best and most innovative bags on the planet. Their 25-ounce Hummingbird is the best traditional style three-season down bag we’ve tested. If you prefer an attached hood and a zipper, this bag offers a unique advantage over bags: you can choose one of four different widths to best suit your body type and clothing system. This allows you to get a premium bag (900-fill down and the best ultralight fabrics) that offers the most warmth for its weight. Get a wider size if you want to add clothing for use in winter. Bonus: opt for a custom bag and choose from eight different colors or modify features like the draft tube or zipper length.

Top Pick for Comfort: Feathered Friends Penguin
The Penguin is an innovative all-purpose rock star that balances comfort, warm, and weight savings like no other bag. Its semi-rectangular shape and ability to convert to a two-person bag make it the most comfortable sleeping bag we’ve ever tested. Top-tier 850+ down and fabrics keep weight down to a modest 43 ounces, or 2.7 pounds.
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Feathered Friends Penguin used with the optional Groundsheet in two person mode.
The Penguin is ideal for people that want one bag for car camping and backpacking, and value the tremendous comfort of a semi-rectangular bag. The zipper can go on either the right or left side, and you can poke your toes out of the bottom because the zipper wraps around the bottom of the bag, unlike mummy shaped bag. We highly recommend the optional fleece-lined Groundsheet that holds two sleeping pads in place. With this accessory the bag feels almost like a real bed; snuggling with your honey or enjoying the Penguin’s lavish comfort alone is amazing. Plus, when used with two people the bag is so warm it becomes viable for winter use- an option that could save a lot of money and weight when compared to buying/carrying two separate winter bags. The Penguin is available in 10, 20, 30, and 40-degree versions that allow you to choose the optimal level of warmth for your needs. This is the best all-purpose offering we have ever tested.

Top Pick for Synthetic Insulation: Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15
Extended trips in wet climates, big wall climbers, and NOLS and Outward Bound students can't beat the warm-when-wet performance of the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina. This bag was updated for 2013, weighs 41.7 ounces, and is available in 45, 15 and 0 degree models. It keeps you warm even when you're soaking wet and offers several features that set it apart from the synthetic competition: a small hood opening and full neck baffle to seal in warm air. Unique laminated construction saves weight and increases warmth and weather resistance. Our testers have spent months inside the Ultralamina in Patagonia. There's no other bag we'd rather have when everything else is wet and miserable.

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Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15. Welded construction saves weight and increases wind and water resistance while the small hood opening is warm and comfortable.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab

Best Value Award: Kelty Cosmic Down 20
The affordable, yet reasonably lightweight and compressible Kelty Cosmic Down 20 takes our Best Buy Award. Cold sleepers and backpackers who frequently extend their three-season trips into lower temperatures will want something warmer, but everyone else should pick up the Cosmic Down 20 and pocket the several hundred dollar savings. This bag is far more durable and compressible than its similarly priced synthetic insulated counterparts. It offers beginning or budget conscious backpackers an exceptional value. If you are summer camping and want to shave a few more ounces, check out the Kelty Cosmic Down 40.

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Chris McNamara with the "world's lightest portaledge" (Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite Mesh Cot) and the Kelty Cosmic Down 20.
Credit: Max Neale
Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag
If saving weight is your top priority check out the Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review to compare cutting-edge lightweight bags.

Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List
Check out our Dream Backpacking Gear List to see OGL's "dream" backpacking gear items.

Down Sleeping Bag Wash and Care Instructions
See here for detailed down bag and garment wash instructions.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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 How to Choose the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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