The Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review
What is the best ultralight sleeping bag? We put 10 of our favorites through real world tests while backpacking, peak bagging, and bike touring throughout the Rocky Mountains. These bags and quilts kept us warm everywhere from deep in the valleys along the Colorado Trail to spectacular sunrises while bivied on the summits of 14,000 ft peaks. After our extensive testing, we rated each bag for warmth, weight, versatility, comfort, and features. Weight conscious adventurers will almost certainly find the perfect feather light bag among our award winners and the excellent runners up in our updated review.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The best overall ultralight sleeping bag
Katabatic Gear Palisade 30
Best bang for your buck
Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20
Top pick for summer use
Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45
Top pick for alpine climbing
Feathered Friends Vireo
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Analysis and Test Results
The ten ultralight sleeping bags we evaluate in this year's review aim to provide the best warmth and comfort for three-season use at the lightest possible weight. We tested quilts with closed toe boxes, quilts that fully open into a blanket, and several super light mummy bags. Our testing has revealed that expert users have different preferences for style of bag based on how they sleep. Some folks are back sleepers and some curl up on their side. And while some of us sleep like a rock, others are much more active sleepers, preferring a bag that accommodates some tossing and turning in the night. All of the models we tested here are insulated with high-quality down, the lightest and most thermally efficient insulator.
Below we outline the different types of ultralight sleeping bags we tested, and discuss the advantages of each. We also describe our rating metrics and discuss the top scorers in each. In each model's individual review, we compare and contrast to similar products, explain our rating in each metric, and detail the features of each bag, as well as the size and other options when purchasing. Many of the bags tested here are available in several temperature ratings to best meet your needs for warmth. Be sure to visit our Buying Advice article that accompanies this review, where we discuss warmth, safety, and sleeping systems; considerations for back, tummy, and side sleepers; care and feeding of down bags; and guide you to our definitions of ultralight and lightweight backpacking systems.
Be sure to also check out our reviews of the Best Ultralight Tent Shelters and the Best Ultralight Backpacks to round out your kit!
Types of Ultralight Sleeping Bags
You might say we're comparing apples and oranges with this range of sleeping bags, but when we researched the best sleeping systems for ultralight backpackers and climbers, several styles of bags and quilts were revealed as top performers.
Quilts with Permanently Closed Footboxes
A quilt with a permanently closed footbox is essentially a mummy bag without a hood and without the back side of the bag. A traditional mummy style sleeping bag encloses you completely in a cocoon of insulation, with a hood that covers the head and cinches up around your face. While this time-tested design works well, the insulation on the back side of the bag is compressed underneath you while sleeping and the shell material that holds it is dead weight. A quilt with a closed footbox eliminates this extra weight by cutting away the back entirely. If you opt for this design, you should invest in a good sleeping pad to provide insulation underneath you.
It might be easiest to think of these quilts as bottomless, hoodless bags, as the footboxes enclose your lower legs and feet like a mummy bag. While these products are not as versatile as quilts that can fully open into a blanket, this design can offer the best warmth-to-weight ratio.
We tested three quilts with permanently closed footboxes, including the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30, which took home our Editors' Choice Award for its excellent warmth-to-weight ratio and superior pad attachment system. The roomy Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45 also has an excellent pad attachment system, and is our Top Pick for Summer Use. It can be paired with a liner to extend the temperature range. And while we quite like the Nemo Equipment Tango Solo, it was on the heavy end of the spectrum. It is an innovative, warm, and comfortable product, and we recommend it for folks prioritizing roominess over weight.
Quilts that Fully Open into Blankets
The most versatile ultralight bags are quilts that can be opened up completely to form a flat blanket, but also have short zippers or snaps to close the foot box for maximum warmth. However, the option to open the footbox means these fully-opening quilts are more capable of adapting to temperatures much warmer temperatures, and they can be a great two-person cover for couples who want to snuggle in warm weather.
We tested three quilts that fully open into blankets, including the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, our Best Buy award winner. This is a premium quality quilt at a very affordable price. With its footbox zipped closed and cinched up, it functions much the same as the Editors' Choice winning Palisade; however, the Revelation has the added bonus of also opening into a flat blanket. The Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL incorporates a full length zipper, and functions as a hoodless mummy when completely zipped up. If you love both the warmth of a hoodless mummy, and the option of a flat quilt, this is the bag for you. The Hammock Gear Burrow 40 is an affordable flat quilt perfect for summer temperatures.
Mummy Bags: Hooded & Hoodless
Mummy bags with hoods are what most people think of when they picture a backpacking sleeping bag. They are tapered to save weight and keep you warmer than bags with a rectangular cut. The hoods on these bags can be cinched around the face to keep cold out and seal warmth in. But hoods can be uncomfortable, and they add a lot of weight and construction cost relative to the warmth they deliver. A hoodless mummy paired with your warm hat and often a hooded insulated jacket is more comfortable for most and lighter. As we mentioned above, the biggest downside of mummy bags is that the insulation and shell material are compressed underneath you when you sleep, which means that you're carrying extra weight that doesn't provide great benefit.
Many active sleepers focused on warmth prefer a mummy bag; no matter how much you toss and turn, you will be enclosed in a warm cocoon. For rough bivies where you may be sitting rather than lying down, mummies are the best choice.
We tested two hoodless mummy bags this year. The hoodless ZPacks 20 Degree is incredibly light for a 20F rated bag and it uses a half-length zipper that you can open up for warmer weather. It was an award winner in our previous review and remains one of the top overall scorers. The Feathered Friends Vireo is a unique product in this bunch. The Vireo is designed to pair with a warm down parka, so it incorporates a lot of loft from the waist down but has less on your torso. We awarded it our Top Pick for Alpine Climbing. Finally, we tested two traditional hooded mummies in this year's review, the Western Mountaineering Summerlite and Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32. The Summerlite is very popular with thru-hikers, and receives our highest recommendation for those seeking an ultralight hooded mummy. The Mtn Speed is a premium bag, but with a significant drawback: the zipper often snags and can separate. Some folks like this bag so much, they pay the price and have the zipper replaced right from the start.
Best Uses for Ultralight Sleeping Bags
Whether you're backpacking for a week, thru-hiking a long trail, bicycle touring, or climbing big routes deep in the mountains, shaving off ounces can allow you to go farther, faster. Some folks are ambitious about the mileage they want to cover, and a light pack makes moving fast easier. But no matter if you're on the move for four or fourteen hours a day, it is more comfortable to carry a light load. If you have the experience to safely pare your load down to ultralight levels, your body will be thankful. On average, the models we test here weigh half of what a traditional three-season hooded mummy bag weighs. If you're planning to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail or ride one of the TransAm bicycle routes, these are perfect bags to minimize your load. While all of these models are good choices for ground-dwellers, quilts are the best choice for hammock campers. The Palisade, Revelation, and Burrow are our recommended top-quilt choices for hammock sleepers.
Most of these products forgo a hood to save weight, and ultralight enthusiasts wear most of their warm clothing as part of their sleeping system in colder temperatures. An insulated jacket with a hood, in addition to a warm hat, is a key component of most ultralight backpackers' clothing and sleep systems.
Criteria for Evaluation
Getting a good night's sleep is key to enjoying your overnight outdoor adventures, and warmth plays a critical role in making that happen. More importantly, though, warmth is critical for your safety. In the quest to lighten your load for comfort and speed, compromising on warmth is just not an option. If your ultralight sleeping bag, paired with your warm clothing, does not keep you warm enough to sleep well and recuperate from your big hiking or climbing day, well, it doesn't matter how little it weighs. Fortunately, the innovative bags we test here deliver excellent warmth-to-weight ratios. We strongly believe that you should choose your warmth based on the weather you will encounter, and our warmth ratings contribute 35% to each products overall score.
The amount of loft, measured as the number of inches of insulation between you and the external environment, has the most influence on sleeping bag warmth. The amount of down, its fill power, and how it is distributed in the sleeping bag's baffles is detailed in individual reviews.
True to the ultralight approach, which seeks backpacking systems that complement each other, we evaluated these products' lower warmth limits while sleeping in most of our warm clothing. Base layers, a warm hat and/or an insulated jacket with a hood are the key pieces of warm clothing that complement these minimalist bags.
Fit is the next most important factor in determining sleeping bag warmth: bags that are too tight or too short won't allow the insulation to loft properly. Fortunately, many of the bags tested here are available in many different lengths and widths, unlike the majority of the traditional style bags found in our Backpacking Sleeping Bag Review. In addition, many are also available in multiple temperature ratings, from 0 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit; select the temperature that meets your needs best. Be sure to visit our individual reviews where we explain the warmth score for each of the models we tested, and the options for sizing and amount of down insulation (temperature rating).
One bag of this bunch stood out for warmth: the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 earned the highest warmth rating, a 9 out of 10. This closed foot box quilt is not only very lofty relative to its 30 degree temperature rating, but also has a superior pad attachment and adjustment system. In short, the Palisade 30's design is the best at sealing in warmth, and this bag continues its run as our Editors' Choice winner. We found it as warm as, or warmer than, the two bags we tested with a nominal rating of 20 degrees. Our tests found these two bags, the ZPacks 20 Degree and the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, to be the second and third warmest of the 10 products we tested this year. The ZPacks bag is the warmest hoodless mummy we tested and is an excellent and very light bag with a partial zipper that opens for warmer weather. The Revelation 20 is especially notable; it delivers the most warmth relative to price, and earned our Best Buy Award for value. The lowest scoring models for warmth were not surprising, as they are the products with the least loft and highest temperature ratings. Both are excellent options for summer backpacking. The Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45 is one of the most comfortable products we tested and won a Top Pick for Summer Use. We also tested the 40 degree version of the Hammock Gear Burrow 40, which is available in several warmer versions.
Weight & Packed Size
After warmth, weight is the most important criteria for selecting an ultralight sleeping bag. If you are putting together a lightweight backpacking kit, all of these bags are a good choice for building a system with a base weight in the mid-teens. If you are paring your base weight down to ultralight levels (eight or nine pounds) then the ounces really matter. Most of the models we tested weighed in just an ounce or two above or below one pound. This about-one-pound weight is a perfect goal weight for your ultralight sleeping bag when you're building a base weight of less than ten pounds for 3-season backpacking. Our measured weight for each model accounts for 30% of total scores.
Ultralight sleeping bag weight is a function of the amount and type of insulation, its shell fabric, and its features. All of the bags tested here use a high fill-power down, and most use very high quality lightweight fabrics. The primary factor that makes one bag lighter than another is its cut and its features, or lack thereof. The warmest bags for their weight find creative ways to eliminate features without reducing comfort. Zippers, draft tubes to back them, and hoods are traditional features of mummy bags that are often eliminated in these products to shave weight.
The average weight of the ultralight sleeping bags tested here is 19 ounces. In contrast, the average weight of the hooded three-season bags we tested is 31 ounces.
The lightest ultralight sleeping bag we tested in this review is the Feathered Friends Vireo at 13.9 ounces. This "half bag" eliminates all heavy features, and is designed to be paired with a warm down parka for light and fast alpine trips. The Hammock Gear Burrow 40 and Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed are the next two lightest models we tested. Although we have concerns about its durability, the 16-ounce Mountain Speed is the lightest hooded mummy bag we evaluated. The two bags that earned the highest overall scores in the review, the Katabatic Gear Palisade and Zpack's 20 Degree bag, deliver the most warmth relative to weight. At 19 and 17 ounces respectively, they are impressive ultralight bags.
If you want to carry the same ultralight sleeping bag for a six month thru-hike, spanning spring, summer, and fall, versatility is very important. A model that lets you adjust the warmth to accommodate the changing seasons and temperatures is highly valued. For shorter trips spread out over the year, one bag that lets you get out there in the near freezing early season temps as well as warmer late summer conditions is awesome. With traditional mummy bags, your versatility options are limited to not using the hood and unzipping partially for warmer temps. Quilts that fully open into a flat blanket like the Enlightened Equipment Revelation are the most versatile type of ultralight sleeping bag, and fixed girth mummies without zippers like the Feathered Friends Vireo are the least versatile. The majority of the bags tested here are much more versatile than the traditional bags found in our backpacking sleeping bag review. This is a huge boon for people that camp and travel in a wide range of temperatures and want one bag to handle them all. Versatility ratings contribute 15% to overall scores.
The Revelation 20 and the Feather Friends Flicker earned the highest versatility scores. The Revelation's pad attachment system works really well, allowing some girth adjustment for fine tuning to cooler temps and variable amounts of insulating clothing. Unlike the closed footbox Palisade, it opens completely into a flat blanket for warmer weather, and is just big enough to cover two folks for summer use. While the Flicker also opens into a flat blanket, it is altogether different in design. A full length zipper and draw string at the foot allow use as a fully closed hoodless mummy for cold temperatures. Partially opening the zipper creates a closed footbox quilt for cool weather. The bag's size and shape, and the attachments for DIY pad straps also make this the best two-person quilt as well.
Two notable bags received the next highest versatility scores. The Palisade's pad attachment system offers the most flexibility. Even though the Palisade has a closed footbox, we consider this bag to be very versatile; snug it up with the pad attachment system to stay cozy in cold temps, unfasten the upper bag from your pad for summer temps, or attach it to the pad with adjustable venting for temps in between. The Big Agnes Pitchpine UL also received a relatively high versatility score, which demands some explanation. When its half-length zipper is closed, this is a fixed girth bag; however, we feel that its roomy interior and summer temperature rating offers a great option to use a warm liner or lots of warm clothing to increase warmth for spring and fall temperatures. Our lead tester used a previous version of this bag for his PCT and AT hikes in 2010 and 2011, adding a fleece liner and insulated jacket for colder temps at the beginning and end of the hikes, and enjoying the roomy comfort during the warm summer months.
Our comfort ratings primarily focus on features that made our testers sleep better or worse. With hoodless bags, the single most important driver of comfort is the drawcord around your neck. Bags that add an extra baffle here, like Katabatic Gear quilts, are the most comfortable. With quilts, the sleeping pad attachment mechanism has the most influence on comfort. Ideally, we want to be able to completely adjust the girth of the bag, drawing it in relatively tight to achieve maximum warmth when necessary, and loosening it up for more room when temperatures are warmer. In the warmest conditions, a quilt that opens completely into a blanket is the most comfortable. All models with adjustable girth received a bonus in our comfort ratings, as this allows fine tuning of fit whether you wear all of your warm clothing on cold nights, or little of it when temps are warm.
It's also important to consider net comfort throughout the course of a day, not just when you're inside of your ultralight sleeping bag. A heavier bag that's slightly more comfortable to sleep in may be less comfortable overall when you consider you have to carry it all day. We find one of the side benefits of covering a ton of miles in a day is being tired enough to sleep like a rock through the night as long as you're warm enough. Hence, we feel warmth and weight are far more important evaluation metrics for an ultralight bag, and comfort accounts for only 10% of our overall scores.
We awarded the Katabatic Gear Palisade, Big Agnes Pitchpine, and Nemo Tango Solo top scores for comfort. The Palisade not only has an excellent and comfortable neck baffle, but the best and most adjustable sleeping pad attachment system among the quilts we tested. The Pitchpine is very roomy for an enclosed, fixed girth bag, and we love it for temperature of 40F and above. While the Tango Solo is too heavy to have earned a high overall score in this ultralight review, it is a very roomy and comfortable bag with great features. Unsurprisingly, the two hooded mummy bags we tested here received the lowest comfort scores. Smaller hikers though will find these much more comfortable than our 185 lb lead tester.
Here we assess the quality of each bag's features and attempt to quantify how well they contribute to the overall performance of the bag. This metric encompasses shell fabric, zippers, draft tubes, and neck baffles. Most of these bags utilize a DWR treatment on their shell fabrics, and some incorporate superlight water resistant and breathable fabrics from Pertex for some or all of the shell fabric. In individual reviews, we detail the length, quality, and ease of operation for the zippers on the models that have them. Our rating for quality of features contributes 10% to each model's total score.
In each individual review, we describe such small details as, "Is the neck closure cord lock sewn into the bag or is it free-floating?" and "Are there hang loops at the foot of the bag?"
Some mummy bags, like the ZPacks 20 Degree, prioritize weight savings and have few if any features found on traditional bags this gives that bag one of the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any we tested. There's a large difference between the sleeping pad attachment methods found on the quilts tested. Katabatic Gear quilts have by far the easiest to use and most secure attachment mechanism; this greatly increases ease of use, comfort, and warmth. Overall, we award the Palisade, Pitchine UL, and Tango Solo the highest scores for quality of features.
Dream Backpacking Gear List
An ultralight sleeping bag is just one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out for other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
Sleeping Pad:Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, perhaps the most popular pad with thru-hikers. See our Best Sleeping Pad review for our favorites, including the award winning XLite. While all of the models we tested can be paired with many different manufacturers' pads with great results, consider purchasing a pad made by your bag's manufacturer - the fit will be perfect.
A waterproof stuff sack is critical for keeping your bag dry. Unfortunately, very few ultralight sleeping bags come with high quality stuff sacks. Thus, we highly recommend purchasing one separately. See our Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack Article for our recommendations.
ZPacks Goose Hood is our favorite hood for three-season applications.
Bivy Sack: Adding a minimalist bivy sack to your sleep system is a popular strategy for tarp campers. The Superlight Cuben Bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs and the ZPacks Splash Bivy are excellent choices. Our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article rounds out our discussion of sleeping system components. Enjoy.
Below is a side by side comparison of the two bivy sacks, Suerlight Cuben Bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs on the left and the Zpacks Splash Bivy on the right.
Ask an Expert: Liz Thomas
Liz's Blog for some inspiring thru-hiking tales. In addition, she works with several hiking and trail related nonprofits: she is the Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association, she's 1 of 4 national ambassadors for the American Hiking Society, and she's the Information Specialist for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the non-profit partner responsible for protecting, managing, and maintaining the CDT.
When was your first overnight backpacking trip? Very generally, what type of equipment, including sleeping bag, did you use?
I didn't get into backpacking until my freshman year in college, although I had "backpacked" (hostel to hostel) in Europe. When I finally went backpacking outdoors, I used my hostel-hopping backpack and a heavy camping sleeping bag.
Tell us about your first extended backpacking trip (thru-hike). What type of sleeping bag did you use?
My first thru-hike was of the Tahoe Rim Trail (173 miles). By that time, I knew that carrying a light pack was a good thing, but was trying to make do with what I had. The bag I used was a 0 degree synthetic total overkill and way heavy for an end of July hike!
What type of sleep system did you use on your record setting AT thru-hike? And why?
I used the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 degree down mummy bag. It was my warmest bag my only bag for the Triple Crown and I had used it on the Appalachian Trail on my first thru-hike and knew it would work well on the second. I switched half way through to a lighter summer bag, the Mountain Laurel Designs synthetic quilt because it was a 32 degree instead of 20 degree (it was getting hot), it worked better in my hammock system, was 10 oz lighter, and it was synthetic so it would stay warm when wet, which is a concern on the AT.
What do you feel are the most important considerations for folks who are choosing an ultralight sleeping bag or quilt?
Cold sleeper or warm sleeper? Some people sleep warm, others sleep cold, and we all have peculiar needs and tolerance to cold. For some reason, my knee caps get cold faster than other parts on my body! Women generally are colder sleepers than men, so I usually like to opt for a slightly warmer bag than I think I will need. The two main points of heat loss are your head and your feet, so look for a bag with a warm footbox and a collar or hood that seals in warmth well.
Quilt versus Mummy Bag Most people just getting into backpacking are going to feel more comfortable with a traditional mummy style sleeping bag. As you start learning more backpacking skills and feel comfortable carrying lighter gear, and most importantly start learning about yourself and your backpacking and camping preferences you may consider switching to a quilt. Quilts weigh less than bags and work on the theory that down compressed under your back while you sleep actually isn't offering much warmth/insulation. Some people also believe quilts are better suited for those who sleep in hammocks (they are certainly a lot easier to get in and out of in a hammock than a sleeping bag).
Money in your bank When you purchase a bag known for versatility, it will be an all-around performer, but may be less comfortable at times than other bags out there. If you're doing something like a PCT thru-hike, and can afford to switch out bags between the southern desert, High Sierra, and the temperate rainforests of Washington, you can tailor the bags you purchase to those specific conditions and get several super-performers.
We review several categories of sleeping bags here at OutdoorGearLab. The products we test here are the lightest quilts and minimalist mummies available for 3-season backpacking. In our review of the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags, we compare the best traditional hooded mummy bags for 3-season use. Our review of Winter Sleeping Bags evaluates the best products out there for truly cold weather and expedition use. Finally, we also evaluate Camping Sleeping Bags, which are big, comfy, affordable models for car camping. For detailed information on selecting the ultralight bag from this review that best aligns with your needs, take a look at our Buying Advice article.
— Brandon Lampley
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