The Best Women's Sleeping Bag Review
What is the best sleeping bag for female adventurers? We tested twelve of the most popular contenders on the market to answer that question. All models we evaluated are summer weight mummy style bags meant to keep you warm in a variety of situations, from sleeping on the beach to backpacking in the high alpine. We tested these bags over several summers, on backpacking trips of different lengths and focus. We compared them on how they perform in terms of weight, warmth, comfort, packed size, features, and versatility to determine which is the best to keep you warm and cozy on any type of trip. Read on to learn more about what we thought of these bags, as well as some trends we've noticed for our 2016 update.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Why choose a women's specific bag? It may seem obvious, but physiologically, women are not the same as men. So when it comes to choosing something as important as a bag that will help you stay warm and get rested for a big day in the mountains, these differences should be taken seriously. Everyone wants to find the most suitable product for themselves; for most women, that will most likely mean choosing a women's specific bag. Shorter guys, if you can get over sleeping in a feminine colored bag like fuschia or purple, a women's specific bag may be a good option for you too!
It turns out that a women's specific bag really can be more bang for your buck. Almost all of the bags we tested in this review have at least the same amount of insulation, if not more, than the corresponding men's models, but the volume of the bags are smaller, so they have more fill per square inch. Typical women's specific bags are made to fit a woman who is about 5'6", while a men's regular is made to fit a 6 foot to 6'2" man. Women are shaped differently than men, so manufacturers also cut their bags differently for women's models. We have discovered that although manufacturers make the hip girths slightly larger (an average of 2 inches wider), the shoulder girths are much smaller (an average of 2-6 inches less), creating smaller volume bags all around. This results in bags that fit females better, have more insulation, and will ultimately keep its occupant warmer and more comfortable.
Unfortunately, possibly because of the extra insulation, the women's bags we tested are not any lighter than the men's versions. In fact, most of the bags are exactly the same weight as corresponding men's bags. Even our Editors' Choice winner, the women's Rab Neutrino 400, is only 0.2 oz lighter than the men's. So unfortunately, weight savings is not a benefit of getting a women's bag like it is with Women's Sleeping Pads.
Research has shown that women typically sleep colder than men, meaning we need smaller and warmer bags. Check out our Buying Advice article for more details on how women's sleeping needs are different from men's. Many manufacturers have taken these differences into consideration when creating their women's specific bags, but some have not.
This year we have noticed a trend of fewer high quality women's bags to choose from, especially from Mountain Hardwear, who has taken their top of the line women's bags (Phantasia and Ultra Laminina) off the market and replaced them with sub par models, such as the Mountain Hardwear Heratio 15 and the Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z Flame.
There is an unfortunate phenomenon that we call "shrink it and pink it" that happens with some women's gear, meaning the manufacturer has not put any real thought into how to make a product work better for a woman. So who has really done their research and created a great women's bag and who has not? Read on to find out!
Selecting the Right Bag For You
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of bags on the market, and all are made for different purposes and sold at different price points. OutdoorGearLab has tested almost a hundred of these bags for different activities over several years. The bags in this review are women's specific, typically mummy style, and predominantly for backpacking and/or car camping. Keep reading to find out more about the considerations you should think about when checking out the bags we tested.
Are you going to be carrying this bag on your back for many days in a row, or will you be throwing it in your boat or car? The weight of your bag is an important factor when choosing a contender, but not so much for activities where you're not carrying it. The Rab Neutrino is the best bag to be carrying for extended backpacking trips, but we may go with the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 Women's or The North Face Cat's Meow when on shorter trips because they are so comfortable.
Down or Synthetic? The age old question. Down insulation is typically lighter, more durable, and more compressible, but will lose its loft, and therefore a significant amount of its warmth, when it gets wet. Synthetic insulation tries to solve the problem of wet down, and maintains its loft when wet. It is typically heavier, less durable, and bulkier than down insulation, but usually significantly less expensive. All of the down bags in this review have some type of water resistant or "hydrophobic down" coating to compete with synthetic bags. Hydrophobic down has been treated with a waterproofing treatment that tries to create the perfect solution to all insulation's problems. Each manufacturer has its own proprietary version of hydrophobic down treatment. The insulation is still down, so it is light and compressible, but supposedly it is more resilient to moisture and helps the down maintain its loft longer. The verdict is still out on this technology, but more and more companies are using it in their products.
In general, the synthetic bags in this review are at a disadvantage when it comes to the ratings metrics since they are all inherently bulkier and heavier – we highly prefer down sleeping bags overall, and if you can afford it, would recommend going with down. They are warmer, lighter and more durable over time; in short, a worthy investment.
Some manufacturers are moving towards bags with no insulation on the backside of bags in place of sleeves for sleeping pads to slot in. The thought behind this is that when a bag is laid on, the loft of the insulation is being compressed and is therefore ineffective. By removing the insulation along the backside, the weight is reduced, and you are meant to be insulated from the ground by your sleeping pad. The Big Agnes Roxy Ann and the Backcountry Bed 800 both have this feature. We are not totally sold on these sleeping systems and think they can sometimes lead to a colder, more uncomfortable sleep.
Caring for your Sleeping Bag
You are making a significant investment in your new bag and it should be able to last you for several years. Most manufacturers provide some type of cotton or mesh storage sack with your bag, as it is very important to store it fully lofted when you're not carrying it around. This helps with the longevity of your investment. Keeping the down compressed damages it over time and even more so with synthetic fibers. The more you compress synthetic fibers, the more it breaks down, resulting in less loft each use. This means that ultimately a down bag is more durable and will retain its loft and warmth more over time.
The best thing you can do for your down bag is to wash it once and a while. When down gets dirty, it does not loft up as much and will not keep you as warm. When you wash your bag, be sure to use a front loading washing machine and use a detergent made for washing technical down; materials like Nixwax Down Wash can be used to rejuvenate your down bag. Don't be afraid to throw your bag in the dryer. Get yourself two or three clean tennis balls and toss them in there with it to break up the clumps of down and tumble until it is totally dry. You will be amazed at how much loftier your bag will be after a good wash. Washing your synthetic bag is even easier and will help it with it's loft as well. Doing these few things will help the longevity and ensure you get the best value from your investment.
Criteria for Evaluation
These women specific bags were tested over multiple summers and were dragged, stuffed, zipped, unzipped, and slept in on all kinds of adventures, from climbing Mount Whitney and backpacking in the High Sierra, to car camping and desert rock climbing. We discovered some new lightweight technology for backpacking, some good car camping and sleepover caliber bags, and great all-around bags for beginner backpackers. We rated each bag on its warmth, weight, packed size, features, and versatility, with a major focus on warmth, weight, and the women specific features, because those details are what differentiate these bags from unisex bags.
Many of the bags in this review except the Slumberjack Boundary, Big Agnes Roxy Ann and the NEMO Celesta 25, have been EN tested for their warmth rating, which is a good rule of thumb for deciding in what season to use the bag – you wouldn't use a 32˚F bag when you are winter camping in Alaska, for instance – but generally these guidelines are not worth much when comparing 32˚F bags amongst themselves. So whether or not the bag was EN rated was not a huge factor in determining its actual warmth in our test. Instead, we compared these bags side-by-side in similar conditions to determine what we thought were the warmest of these summer weight bags. If you are looking for a bag to take winter camping on high altitude expeditions, check out our Best Winter Down Bag Review for more information. These bags are all unisex, but many of the manufacturers make a women's version or smaller sizes.
Things to consider when evaluating the warmth of a bag are the loft and fit, along with where the insulation is located. Down bags with a higher fill power like the Rab Neutrino 400, and the Backcountry Bed, which both use 800 fill goose down, are the warmest and the REI Joule is close behind with its 700 fill. This higher fill power requires less total down to create the same warmth that results in a loftier and lighter weight bag.
Fit is important because if your bag is too large for you, it can be drafty, and there is more dead air that your body will need to work to warm up. The Marmot Trestles feels very large and has a lot of extra space, and consequently it is one of the least warm bags in the review. The Nemo Celesta and the Big Agnes Roxy Ann are also both very roomy, and therefore have a lot of dead space to heat up. The Kelty Cosmic Down and the Marmot Angel Fire bags fit just right, with enough wiggle room to wear a few extra layers when it gets below freezing, but no extra room for cold air. Fit is really one of the most compelling arguments we can make to purchase a women's specific bag. We like the Cat's Meow's cozy baffles that stop air from getting in along the zipper and around the neck. The bags that included draft collars like the Neutrino and the Angel Fire had a little extra element of warmth. These draft collars blocked the cold drafts from entering and retained our body heat inside the sleeping bags.
Many manufacturers are being more strategic about where they are placing their insulation – especially for women's specific bags. As women are known to sleep colder, manufacturers are putting extra insulation into their women's bags, and often they put it into the foot box for ladies' icicle feet. The Rab Neutrino 400 - Women's and the REI Joule both have more insulation than their unisex counterparts. The Marmot Trestles 30 - Women's and Cat's Meow both have extra insulation in the hood and foot box areas specifically. We think the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 is overall the warmest model in this review.
As the EN rating system gains popularity and becomes industry standard, we've noticed a trend in manufacturers naming their bags deceivingly with numbers that don't reflect what the EN tests indicate. For instance the "Kelty Cosmic Down 20" is really EN rated to 25 degrees and the Marmot Trestles 30 is EN rated to 33F. While this is a small deception, it is something to look out for while shopping for your new bag.
When planning your backpacking kit, one thing to consider is choosing a sleeping pad that will add warmth, especially if your bag does not have insulation on the back. The higher the "R-Value" the more the pad will insulate you from the ground. Check out our Best Sleeping Pad for Women Review for more information on how to choose the right one. We love our Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite - Women's and the super warm Therm-a-rest ProLite Plus - Women's pads.
As we've already noted, women are typically smaller than men. Women also have on average 50% less brute strength and 30% less lung capacity than men, so all advantages are welcome when it comes to reducing pack weight on a long overnight trek. Why would we want a heavy, bulky bag to haul around? No backpacker wants to add extra weight to her pack; we all want to have a bag that will have the greatest weight-to-warmth ratio. The weight of a bag is a sum of its fill, shell materials, and features.
Synthetic insulation is typically heavier, as is down insulation with a lower fill power, like the 600 fill duck down found in the Kelty Cosmic Down. Having a lighter weight shell material, like the REI Joule, will obviously lighten up your bag – but these light materials are often much less durable than a heavier shell material. We have discovered that bags with sleeping pad sleeves, like the Roxy Ann, tend to be heavier, even without insulation on the back because this material is usually heavier in general. The more features your bag has, such as zippers and pockets, the heavier your bag will be - so you need to decide if you really want that extra stash pocket.
The Rab Neutrino is by far the lightest bag in this review, at 28 oz, which is a result of its high down fill power (800), its lightweight shell material, and simple list of features. If you're not planning on carrying your bag around much (except in your car) consider getting something that is heavier, less expensive, and has a few more comfort features, like the Marmot Trestles 30 - Women's, with its synthetic fill and two zippers for easy opening, or the NEMO Celesta 25, with its unique spoon shape and extra features. Another way to lighten your load is to find yourself a light weight compression sack as most of the stuff sacks that come with your bag are heavy and bulky, although the Neutrino's is great.
Remember, we need all the advantages we can get to keep up with our male counterparts. Every ounce you can shave off your pack saves you some pain – ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain!
When you're working hard during the day, you want to sleep well at night. The most important factors affecting comfort in these bags are the size, shape, and shell materials. We've noticed that more recently, manufacturers have been going to great lengths to figure out how to make the traditional mummy bag more comfortable. Through many nights evaluating bags, we have found that comfort is a direct correlation with the shape and size of the bag. The more comfortable bags are usually the roomier ones – which means they're not necessarily as warm since they leave room for extra cold air. The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 800 - Women's has a truly innovative bed-style design, and is the most comfortable bag we tested. It really does feel like you're sleeping in a bed with a comforter, although it still has the mummy shape around the legs which still feels restrictive. The Backcountry bed also has an innovative foot vent that you can just stick your feet through whenever you want, but doesn't allow cold air in. The Marmot Trestles is quite comfortable, with lots of room to move around in the bag and two zippers that allow for your arms to come out of the bag easily; it also has a similar quilt effect similar to the Backcountry Bed.
The latest trend we've seen in backpacking bags is to ditch the mummy style altogether to accommodate a more comfortable sleep. Nemo has created a line of "Spoon" shaped sleeping bags that allow you to bend your knees or sleep on your side without moving the bag with you. The Big Agnes Roxy Ann 15 has added room for sleepers by making the bag a rounded rectangular shape in which the sleeper is able move around, bend their legs, and sleep on their sides. We think this isn't the best move for a backpacking bag, as the enlarged shapes add weight, and the bag becomes less warm because there is more space inside the bag for the sleeper to heat up. But, if you are too claustrophobic to sleep in a standard mummy bag, this could be a solution for you.
The REI Joule is the warmest bag we tested, and has adequate room for our shoulders, but it is tight around the legs, which causes some discomfort. This year, we also noticed that the Joule has a thick zipper liner that bunches up and is uncomfortable when you accidentally lie on it, but the bag is light and warm, two other very important features. You need to decide what's more important: having a comfortable bag that is not necessarily the warmest, or having a warm bag that may feel a little more restrictive.
Shell and liner materials are also an important factor for comfort. We prefer the soft, silky material of the Big Agnes Roxy Ann and the Rab Neutrino next to our skin, while the Slumberjack Boundary and the Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z Flame has the most rough and unappealing material. This year, Kelty has updated the Cosmic Down's shell and liner materials so they are softer and more comfortable against the skin.
When it comes to your sleeping bag, size does matter. If you will be carrying your bag on your back for multiple days, you want it to become as small as possible so your pack can remain as small as possible too. Down fill is much more compressible than synthetic insulation, and thus the down-filled Rab Neutrino has the smallest packed size, while the synthetic NEMO Celesta and the Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z Flame have the largest. All of the products in this review come with some type of stuff sack, but most are not all compression sacks except for the Cat's Meow and the Laminina. When you get a new bag, consider purchasing a separate stuff sack that is waterproof and can compress your bag to the smallest size possible. Check out our Best Stuff Sacks article to find one that works with your bag.
Another packing strategy is packing your bag in your pack without a stuff sack, instead stuffing it into your bag around other items that are less compressible. This way, the bag fills all the empty spaces created and becomes the "mortar" to all the "brick" items in your bag. Remember that compressing your down bag shortens its lifespan; this is why most manufacturers include a large cotton or mesh storage sack with your purchase. Unfortunately, Kelty does not provide one for the Cosmic Down and the one that comes with the Mountain Hardwear Heratio is on the small side, so the down is still being slightly compressed. Always store your bag un-compressed. For more information on bag care, read over our Buying Advice article.
In this category, we evaluated shell material, zippers, pockets, baffles, drawstrings, sleeping pad sleeves, and any other added features these bags may have. We also noted what features were necessary and useful in comparison to features that were unnecessary and made the bags heavier and more cumbersome. We like the Neutrino 400's streamlined features because they are all designed with weight savings in mind. Its soft lightweight fabric, small stow pocket, and high quality 800 fill down with no other bells and whistles makes this our favorite simple-featured bag.
We also like bags with two different types of drawcords for the baffles around the chin and forehead, like on the Slumberjack Boundary 20 - Women's and Cat's Meow. This makes it possible to differentiate between them in the dark and make adjustments accordingly. The Celesta has a pillow sleeve that you can stuff your extra clothing in to create a simple pillow; we think this is a clever idea, but seems a little unnecessary since we usually have a plethora of stuff sacks at our disposal (when camping) to make our own pillow out of. In the case that you're lacking additional materials, this pillow pocket will have your back. We think that the Marmot Trestles's extra zipper and large stow pocket are unnecessary and make the bag heavier, as does the Roxy Ann's large, bulky sleeping pad sleeve. We like it when the bags come with both large storage bags and compression sacks. It is very important to store your bag fully lofted, not compressed, to maintain its integrity over time.
Every down bag in this review now comes with some type of hydrophobic down, so it seems that manufacturers are on a level playing field in this department. Each company has their own proprietary hydrophobic down; Mountain Hardwear has Q Shield, Rab uses Nikwax, Sierra Designs, DriDown, and so on. The effectiveness of hydrophobic down is a difficult thing to test and people online have done everything from getting in the shower to jumping into frozen lakes to try and test the effectiveness of a manufacturer's treated down. Things are looking good online as to the actual performance of this treated down, but skepticism still exists as to how beneficial the treatment is. One consideration is that this coating can add around an ounce to your bag, along with the potentially harmful chemicals that may be off-gassing on you when you sleep.
A trend we've noticed for 2016 is overly burly zippers and extreme measures taken for zippers not to get caught on material. We appreciate it when a zipper doesn't get stuck every time we want to get in and out of our bag, but some of the measures companies have taken seem like overkill. REI has trimmed the Joule's zipper with extremely burly materials, so much so that we can feel it when we sleep and it is uncomfortable – we also think the Joule could trim a few ounces without such heavy materials. The Angel Fire's "zipper garage" is huge and probably weighs an ounce itself, but we will say that it never catches on anything. We think the Kelty Cosmic Down has found a good balance of lining the zipper with materials that won't catch as easily, but did not over do it. We think that having a lightweight bag is more important than these added measures to make sure the zipper doesn't catch the material and we entreat the manufacturers to keep that in mind. We'd rather be a little more careful unzipping!
Lastly, a subtle but nice feature is having a bag that has a lighter colored liner material. It's nice to have a material that contrasts the items (instead of camouflaging) that have been lost in the depths of your bag, such as that rogue sock that you've been searching for. The REI Joule and Rab Neutrino both have great, light colored materials that also don't show too much dirt. The Laminia Z Flame has a bright yellow liner material that we thought was too light and showed dirt and stains very easily. We also like the Cat's Meow's light blue liner color.
A Note on Versatility
Versatility in itself is not a ratings metric, but more a holistic approach to evaluating these bags; it's also a good way to evaluate if you're getting a good bang for your buck. All of the bags in this test are made for summer use and are women's specific; this, in and of itself, limits how versatile these models can be. We evaluated these bags for versatility based on their warmth (to see if they could be used over more than one season) and how many different situations they could be used in. The heavier synthetic bags like the Trestles and Boundary are better choices for car camping and are less versatile.
The Neutrino 400 and the Joule are the warmest bags in this review, and when paired with a high R-Value sleeping pad, could be stretched to 3-season use, therefore making them some of the most versatile. The Cat's Meow is one of the lightest of the synthetic bags, and is a decent choice to bring on a backpacking trip if there is the possibility of extended wet conditions. Other things to consider for versatility are if the bag has hydrophobic treated down – this makes the down insulation more resilient in damp conditions. Some of the bags have very cheap or different diameter zippers and cannot be mated with another bag, another important consideration to keep in mind. We think the Sierra Designs Women's Backcountry Bed 800 is very versatile because of its unique quilt design that allows you to moderate your temperature easily, and enables you to sleep in any position, from side to stomach, easily.
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— Jessica Haist
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