The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2017 - Side-by-Side Tests
To help you complete your backpacking setup, we researched over 75 backpacking sleeping bags and tested the 11 best models side-by-side for a three-month period. Standing in your favorite outdoor retailer, it's hard to know which product provides primo comfort, dries fastest, or performs at its claimed temperature range. Our review team of experts tackles these issues, testing each model on the John Muir trail and through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains in temps ranging from 12-65F on both dry and rainy nights. For all kinds of sleepers (back, tummy, and side) with varied preferences, this comprehensive review helps you find the bag that meets your backpacking needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2017
The latest update to this sleeping bag category includes new award winners for specific applications. Whether you sleep cold, desire maximum comfort, or camp in wet weather, we identify a bag for you. We also added charts to summarize each of our performance metrics. In the individual reviews, we highlight other versions of the products tested to give you the range of options. For example, Nemo has a warmer version of the Salsa 30, and Sea to Summit has a cooler option for its Spark model. We continue to track the sleeping bag market to keep this review up-to-date and relevant.
Best Overall Sleeping Bag While Backpacking
Western Mountaineering MegaLite
The Western Mountaineering MegaLite won us over as the favorite sleeping bag for backpacking and 3-season camping in 2017. Its low weight and small packed size are welcome additions to our backpacks. Despite weighing half of several bags tested, it's roomy and comfortable, making it a great choice for side and tummy sleepers. The materials are superior and felt the best against our skin of any bag tested. Western Mountaineering is a small California-based company that manufactures all its sleeping bags and garments in the USA. From any angle, the MegaLite is a rad bag. From single overnights to the John Muir Trail, this contender is among the most versatile bags reviewed, thanks to its weight and dimensions. It's worth noting that it's only two ounces heavier than our top pick for light and fast long-distance trips but offers a full-length zipper and more internal space.
Spacious and comfortable cut
Made in the USA
Best feeling fabric in our review
Stuff sack not very efficient
Read full review: Western Mountaineering MegaLite
Best Bang for the Buck
We love high performance at a low price, and the Marmot Hydrogen delivers, with its balance of quality, low weight, and small packed size. The Hydrogen isn't the best price pointed bag, as the $160 Kelty Cosmic Down wins in that category. For a little more than $300, however, the Marmot Hydrogen is a stand-out bag, offering several of the same materials, specs, and high quality 800+ down fill that other award winners, like the Western Mountaineering MegaLite ($470) and Sea to Summit Spark III ($440) offer. The Hydrogen is comparable in weight and packed size, but is $100 less.
Light and compact
Super high-quality for the price
Great hood design
Great access and venting
Read full review: Marmot Hydrogen
Best Buy for Budget Backpackers
Kelty Cosmic Down 20
The affordable, reasonably lightweight and compressible Kelty Cosmic Down 20, takes our Best Buy Award. While hardly a top performer, this is the best down bag we've seen for $160, by a significant margin. Cold sleepers and backpackers who extend their three-season trips into lower temperatures will want something warmer, but everyone else on a budget should consider the Cosmic Down 20. This bag is more durable and compressible than similarly priced synthetic counterparts and offers beginning or budget-conscious backpackers exceptional value. If you are backpacking in warm conditions and want to shave ounces, check out the Cosmic Down 40. Conversely, if you want more heat, Kelty also offers the Cosmic Down 0.
Great value bag
Light and compact for its price range
Not super warm
Read full review: Kelty Cosmic Down 20
Top Pick for Cold Sleepers or Colder-Than-Average 3-Season Use
Western Mountaineering UltraLite
The Western Mountaineering UltraLite is extremely warm. In fact, it is the warmest in our review while remaining among the lightest and most compressible. This award winner might be too warm for most people for 3-season backpacking, but cold sleepers or in colder conditions, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite is tough to beat.
Warmest bag in our review
Great no-catch zipper design
Excellent compressed size
Very warm for mid-summer
Weak velcro closure for draft collar
Slightly tight dimensionally
Read full review: Western Mountaineering UltraLite
Top Pick for Wet Conditions
Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Spark 35
The Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35 is our top pick for the best bag in wet conditions. During water saturating testing, the Spark 35, like other synthetic-fill bags, dried in roughly 20% of the time as treated water-resistant down, making it an ideal bag for wet conditions. What sets the Spark 35 apart from most other synthetic bags, however, is how small it packs down and how light it is (1 lb. 12 oz.). It's lighter and more compressible than several down bags tested and is roomier than average. All of our testers loved its half-length center zipper that allowed ventilation on warm nights; it was also easier to use. If you're looking for a synthetic bag, a company that respects animal rights, or have allergies to down and want one of the highest performing synthetic bags available, the Spark is your bag.
Incredibly small packed size
Very light for a synthetic bag
Awesome center half-zipper
Cozy interior fabric
Synthetic insulation isn't super long lasting
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35
Top Pick for Light and Fast Backpacking and Mountaineering
Sea to Summit Spark III
If you're on a trip where weight and space are your main priority but you need more than an ultralight quilt, the Sea to Summit Spark III is hard to beat. This 22 oz. bag is warm enough for nearly any 3-season backpacking or summer alpine climbing trip (and it carries a legit OutdoorGearLab-tested rating for 25 F). The Spark III packs down the smallest of any bag reviewed, easily fitting into the corner of your pack; it won't remind you it's there until you crawl in for a well-deserved rest. The Spark Sp III is a high quality, lightweight, traditional mummy style sleeping bag. It is built with the lightest 10D shell fabric reviewed, 850+ Ultra Dry Down, and a 1/3 length side zip that keeps weight to a minimum. Sea to Summit also has your lightweight summer night needs covered with the Spark I, which weighs less than 13 ounces!
Smallest packed size in our review
Nice interior fabric
Accommodates light down jackets
A true 25F bag
Slightly tight interior dimensions
Read full review: Sea to Summit Spark III
Top Pick for Most Comfort
Nemo Salsa 30
The Nemo Salsa 30 wins our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick Award for the most comfortable sleeping bag for backpacking. While the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season is a strong contender, our review team's real world testing and side-by-side comparisons determine that the Salsa is the winner. Our tummy and side sleepers liked the Salsa's stretchy stitching and spacious "spoon" shaped design better. That, coupled with the Salsa weight (2 lbs. 1 oz., compared to the Backcountry Bed's 3 lbs. 1 oz.), spells out true comfort. While it isn't the lightest bag we've ever tested, it's respectable, especially considering its spacious cut. It packs down roughly a third smaller than the Backcountry Bed 600. To stay toasty at colder temperatures, Nemo also offers the Salsa 15, which is basically the Salsa 30 with more fill material.
Best bag for side and tummy sleepers
Great price for a down bag
Inefficient stuff sack
Read full review: Nemo Salsa 30
Analysis and Test Results
We updated our existing review to include several new, innovative, and popular models, comparing them to previous award winners. We rated each bag on its warmth, weight, packed size, features, and versatility. The above table displays the overall comparative scores of all models, while the metrics below describe how we evaluated the contenders across key performance categories, as well as highlighting the top bags in each one.
This review focuses primarily on sleeping bags intended for backpacking. However, several of the bags proved to be well-suited for car camping, summertime mountaineering, and late spring ski-touring. They tagged along on several road trips throughout testing, too.
Warmth is basically equal to the amount of loft in a bag, measured as the thickness of the insulation between you and the environment. With the exception of loose bags, more volume of insulation (not necessarily weight) equals more warmth.
The 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 and will feel colder where you press against certain areas as a result. Similarly, a bag that's too large will have dead air space that makes the bag thermally inefficient, even though it may have enough loft for the conditions.
Some bags tested here, such as the Western Mountaineering UltraLite and the Sea to Summit Spark Spark III have tighter interior dimensions, resulting in slimmer cuts; even most broad-shouldered folks can wear a lightweight jacket while sleeping inside those bags. The rest of the bags reviewed are wider and nearly everyone could wear a mid-weight jacket or more to boost insulation on colder nights. It's worth noting that Western Mountaineering sleeping bags are available in multiple lengths and widths, which is an 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 (when available from manufacturers).
The backpacking sleeping bags that we found the warmest (for their respective temperature rating) were the down bags from Western Mountaineering, the Western Mountaineering MegaLite and the Western Mountaineering Ultralite. Both of these have 850+ fill power down and plenty of it; 13 and 16 ounces respectively. The MegaLite is a 30F bag and is roomier than the Ultralite, which is a 20F model. The coldest bag in reviewed is the lightweight Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35. The thinner insulation offers less protection from the elements and the lack of a draft tube allows more cold air inside the bag, leaving the sleeper less toasty than in other bags. That said, we think the Hyperlamina Spark 35 is fine for sleepers at 40F and above.
It's worth noting that warmth is also influenced by conductive heat loss to the ground. Choosing an appropriate sleeping pad is important, especially in colder conditions or when sleeping on snow. Our Best Sleeping Pad Review will point you in the right direction for a warm, comfortable pad. Choosing the right backpacking tent or ultralight shelter for your trip will also influence the perceived warmth of a sleeping bag. OutdoorGearLab also has an excellent Backpacking Tent Review and Ultralight Backpacking Shelter Review, where you can finish your research on the best sleeping/shelter kit for your trip.
The sleeping bags reviewed were tested in single wall tents, under tarps and mids, and under the open sky during bivies above tree-line. See the Buying Advice on how standardized testing has helped (or hurt!) companies' decisions on what temperature rating to give a sleeping bag.
Weight is a function of insulation type and amount, shell material, and features. In general, heavier bags use synthetic insulation or lower fill-power down (500-700). Many of the highest performing bags tested use the best down (800-850+ fill-power) and lightweight, expensive shell fabrics. A bag's cut and dimensions also play into the weight of a bag, as do its features or lack thereof.
At 1 pound 6 ounces, the Sea to Summit Spark III is the lightest down bag we tested. It's no surprise the Spark III features high quality 850+ fill-power down, sports the tightest cut, lightest 10D shell fabric, and the shortest (1/3 length) zipper. The Western Mountaineering MegaLite is only 2 ounces heavier (1 lb 8 oz) but offers a full-length zipper, comparable warmth, and much more spacious (but still efficient) dimensions.
The Marmot Hydrogen was also among the lightest bags in our review (also 1 lb 8 oz), but wasn't as roomy as the MegaLite (it does cost $120 less). Among 20°F options, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite was pretty unbeatable; it was warmer than most 20° bags, yet among the lightest (1 lb 13 oz). While both scored a 10 out of 10 for warmth, the Ultralite was not as warm as the reasonable priced REI Igneo, which was a 1 lb 13 ounce 25° option.
Among synthetic bags, our testers were very impressed with the Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Spark 35. While not super warm for its temperature rating, at 1 lb 13 ozs it was a light synthetic option - and was lighter than several 30°F down bags.
Comfort is subjective and depends on fit, sleeping style, and internal fabric. Increasing the size of the bag's internal dimensions (to a point) generally provides a more comfortable bag in most people's eyes, as the user has more room to move around inside. This becomes even more important for side and tummy sleepers, and/or for knee tuckers. The disadvantage of making the bag bigger is that the company needs to add more material and insulation to maintain the same warmth; this often comes with a weight and packability penalty.
In addition to space for sprawling and thrashing, our ratings focus on a bag's features that contribute to or detract from comfort. Insulation type influences comfort; all testers agreed that sleeping in a high-quality down bag is like floating on a cloud, while zipping into a synthetic bag is fine but less heavenly.
The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 3-season and the Nemo Salsa 30 were the most comfortable bags reviewed, with the Western Mountaineering MegaLite being a close second. What makes the MegaLite special is its low weight, packability, and comfort when compared with the two aforementioned bags. The Nemo Salsa 30 was our side and tummy sleepers' favorite bag, because they were able to sleep the most comfortably when compared to any other bag reviewed.They were also able to have extended knees nearly straight out to the side while sleeping. What we also liked about the Salsa 30, when compared to the Backcountry Bed, is that it was a reasonable weight (2 lbs 1 oz) and a respectable packed volume that we would consider bringing on a week-long backpacking trip.
The Sierra Backcountry Bed remains a cool and uniquely designed bag that offers the most "bed-like" feel of any bag we've ever tested. It features no zippers, toggles or Velcro flaps of any kind and instead offers a large "U"-shaped opening that is covered by a down flap that acts (and feels) like a quilt. This helps regulate temperature well and offers freedom of movement in the user's torso. While we thought this bag was awesome, it is the heaviest and least packable bag reviewed, which is why it lost out our Top pick award for the best Backpacking Bag for Comfort. While the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed offers a comfort-oriented design, its lower dimensions were average and not as spacious as the MegaLite or Salsa 30. It also did not offer as nice a feeling of an internal fabric.
It is important to consider total comfort throughout the course of a trip, not just when you're inside your sleeping bag. A bag that's more comfortable to sleep in may be far heavier and bulkier, and therefore less comfortable to carry. If you spend more time carrying the bag than you do inside it, we suggest prioritizing weight and bulk (comfort while in your pack) over comfort while sleeping.
Features and Design
We assessed the quality of each bag's features and quantified how well they contributed to the overall performance of the bag. This variable encompasses shell fabric, zippers, draft tubes, neck baffles, and pockets. Traditional bags with snag-free zippers, easy-to-use hood adjustments, and hoods that don't come undone scored higher in this category. Examples are the Marmot Hydrogen and the Western Mountaineering Ultralite and MegaLite.
In most cases, more features or more complicated features can reduce performance. They add weight, complexity, cost, and more possibility of failure. The benefit a feature has on warmth, comfort, or convenience is rarely offset by its drawbacks. Take pockets on sleeping bags, for example. It can be helpful to keep your watch in the pocket, but it can be hard to hear an alarm through the down; if you roll in your sleep, waking up on your watch isn't comfortable. In general, when it comes to features, smart design scored well and generally, less is more.
Three-season models are meant to be used in a wide range of conditions. They must function on summer nights at lower elevations as well as when temperatures drop below freezing near treeline in the fall. Versatility across environments, elevations, and seasons is an important consideration when assessing a bag's performance and value.
Some of the bags tested, such as the Western Mountaineering Ultralight and MegaLite have continuous horizontal baffles that allow you to shift down from the top to the bottom of the bag, increasing comfort in warm conditions and warmth in cold conditions. We find these lightweight bags to be the most versatile in our test.
Other features that increase a bag's versatility is the ability to vent on warmer nights. A longer zipper offers more versatility than a 1/3 length one. Extra shoulder room to facilitate adding one (or more) layers can be nice on colder adventures.
The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600 3-Season has no zipper to roll onto and incorporates a quilt that enables you to sleep more like you would with a comforter. The quilt can be tucked into the bag when temperatures near the bag's comfort limit and is left outside the bag for warm nights and sleeping on your stomach.
Check out the chart below to see where each sleeping bag ranked in our Packed Size metric.
Packed size is a function of down fill-power, shell and insulation fabrics, and features. Higher quality down, lighter fabrics, and simple features create highly compressible bags. A more compressible bag is the better option, as it gives us more room in our packs or lets us take a smaller, lighter weight pack. The most compressible bag reviewed is the Sea to Summit Spark III which was slightly (10-15%) smaller than the Western Mountaineering MegaLite and Marmot Hydrogen.
Unfortunately, few bags come with quality stuff sacks, and many bags come with downright terrible stuff sacks. An exception is the Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Spark 35; in general, to maximize the compressibility of your bag, we recommend purchasing one separately. See our Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack Article for our recommendations for specific applications.
Other Sleeping Bag Reviews
We also offer an Ultralight Sleeping Bag Review, which compares hoodless options, weighing only 19 ounces or less. If you're looking for a lightweight bag that will primarily be used for overnight trips where weight is a concern, we encourage you to consider one of the models found in the Ultralight Bag Review.
Lastly, we offer a general Camping Sleeping Bag Review that compares large and luxurious rectangular bags that are too heavy to carry backpacking. These offer much more comfort than any model tested here and cost as little as forty dollars!!
If you are a woman and are looking for a new sleeping bag, check out The Best Women's Sleeping Bag Review to learn more about the merits of buying a women's specific bag.
— Ian Nicholson
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