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The Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sacks

The Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sacks
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
Friday December 5, 2014

Most Free Sleeping Bag Stuff Sacks are Terrible

Sleeping bag stuff sacks are a critical piece of gear. They serve two important roles: (1) to minimize the packed size of your sleeping bag --thereby freeing up crucial space inside your pack, kayak, or pannier-- and, (2) to protect your sleeping bag from water, dirt, and adventure grime. Through testing more than 70 sleeping bags from dozens of manufacturers OutdoorGearLab testers have used all types and styles. 99% of the stuff sacks that ship with sleeping bags are most disappointing. That is, they are either not durable, heavy, or not waterproof, or all of the above. The best sleeping bag stuff sack is completely waterproof (with sealed seams and a dry bag closure), lightweight, and durable. Here we aim to share a few thoughts on our favorite sleeping bag stuff sacks for specific applications.

polyurethane coated fabrics are susceptible to hydrolysis, or...
Polyurethane coated fabrics are susceptible to hydrolysis, or chemical breakup. Eventually they lose their water resistance. This photo shows the free stuff sack included with the Sierra Designs Zissou sleeping bag after two months of use.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab

Best for Three-Season Sleeping Bags

zpacks cuben fiber dry sack.
Zpacks cuben fiber dry sack.
Credit: ZPacks
The ZPacks Dry Bag is our all-time favorite stuff sack for three-season sleeping bags, and general adventuring. It's made of cuben fiber, which is ludicrously strong and superlight. Unlike polyurethane coated fabrics, which constitute the majority of budget waterproof materials (cheap stuff sacks, budget rain jackets, and tent rain flies), cuben fiber is highly resistant to hydrolysis, i.e. it lasts much longer when exposed to water (see photo above). ZPacks Dry Bags are available in many different sizes. The Medium size weighs a mere 0.65 ounces, holds 5 liters of gear, and has quickly become our go-to three-season sleeping bag option. Like all stuff sacks, it can be used for a multitude of other applications. However, nothing else that we know of weighs as little and matches the water resistance and durability of this sack. It's also available in a fleece lined version that morphs into a plush pillow!! Buy it from ZPacks here.

Best For Winter and Synthetic Bags

sea to summit event compression sack
Sea to Summit eVent Compression Sack
Expedition down sleeping bags and synthetic sleeping bags can be colossal in size. They usually warrant compression straps to squeeze the air out of the sleeping bag and out of the stuff sack. Many companies make compression sacks with a circular zipper opening that eventually breaks, or the stitching around the zipper eventually fails. After more than six years of busting through various compression sacks we've found that the Sea to Summit eVent Compression bag provides the best balance between low weight, water resistance, and longevity. For winter applications, where the temperature is always below freezing, a waterproof stuff sack is unnecessary because 1) water is rarely in liquid form, and 2) expedition winter bags generally have a waterproof breathable shell fabric. Therefore, for the coldest trips, such as mountaineering and polar expeditions, the best model has compression straps, is lightweight, and is constructed well enough to endure the high forces exerted by yarding on the compression straps every day. Unfortunately, we have yet to find a compression sack that matches the durability of the Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack and weighs less. Therefore, that model remains our Top Pick for expedition style winter bags and large synthetic bags.

The Most Versatile

The shoulder strap equipped dry bag Hyperlite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack is the most versatile we've ever used. This 3.4 ounce gem holds around 25 liters of gear and packs down small enough to fit inside your back pocket!! Our testers primarily use this as a stuff sack and less frequently as a backpack. In addition to backcountry applications, such as use as a sleeping bag stuff sack and then summit pack for mountaineering (see photo below), it's exceptionally useful for traveling, bicycle tours, as a gym bag, or grocery bag. Choose from two different materials of differing durability.

brad miller, with the patagonia super pluma and hyperlite mountain...
Brad Miller, with the Patagonia Super Pluma and HyperLite Mountain Gear Stuff Pack, atop Mt. McKinley (Denali), Alaska.
Credit: Clayton Kimmi

The Best Value

Grab whatever stuff sack you have, or purchase the cheapest one you can find, and line it with a contractor style trash bag to create the least cost waterproof option. Cut the contractor bag to fit the sack better and tie off the top either in an overhand knot or with a few twists- compression from other items in your pack makes the seal watertight. This setup proves to be surprisingly durable with low-quality sacks; the trash bag provides the waterproof lining and the nylon or polyester sack increases longevity by supporting the trash bag and by increasing abrasion resistance. This is a tried and true budget option. Unfortunately, most cheap sacks break relatively quickly and contractor bags are rarely waterproof after roughly one month of hard use. Therefore, if you do a lot of overnight trips, we believe it's worth investing in a more durable waterproof sack, such as the other models mentioned in this article.

The Best Submersible Dry Bag

Although the above sacks can handle brief submersion, they are best for an occasional wetting from rain, melting snow, or to protect their contents from other wet items that lie nearby. For water sports we've found that polyurethane and PVC coated materials are better than cuben fiber because they retain their submersible properties for longer. Also, ultralight dry bags like those from ZPacks and Hyperlite Mountain Gear lack a semi-rigid closure that helps to keep them firmly closed when they aren't full of gear and when they aren't surrounded by other objects that compress them, like would occur if they were packed in a backpack.

For weigh conscious water sports, like packrafting, the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Dry Sack provides a good balance between moderate durability and weight savings. For applications where weight is less of a concern, such as for kayaking, canoeing, and general boating, we've found that ultra burly Watershed ZipDry bags are the ultimate 100% waterproof flexible storage solution, but they are far too heavy for use as a sleeping bag stuff sack. Waterproof hard cases, like those made by Pelican, SKB, and Nanuk, are the most durable portable waterproof storage solution we know of.

sea to summit lightweight dry sack (left) and watershed zipdry...
Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack (left) and Watershed ZipDry duffel (right).

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