Related: Best Sleeping Bags for Women
The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2019
|Price||$470.00 at Backcountry|
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|$399.00 at Feathered Friends||$510.00 at Backcountry|
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|$450 List||$149.96 at Backcountry|
Compare at 4 sellers
|Pros||Spacious dimensions, super comfortable, great loft, lightweight, made in the USA||Super lightweight, incredible loft, snag-proof zipper, cozy hood||Best-in-class warmth, legit draft collar, light weight, exceptional loft||Best-in-class zipper, best-in-class hood, awesome loft, great warmth-to-weight ratio||Awesome warmth-to-weight ratio for the price, very compressible, tons of venting options, nice compression sack included|
|Cons||Expensive, awkward hood, good but not great zipper||Uncomfortably narrow dimensions, bare-bones design, noisy fabric||Really pricey, kind of bulky, awkward hood closure||Narrow leg dimensions, no draft collar, heavier and bulkier than some 3-season options||Not as warm as its temp rating, no draft collar, uncertain durability|
|Bottom Line||The only ultra-premium bag to combine low weight, good packability, and luxurious comfort.||Our favorite when ounces matter, this is a full-size mummy bag that's both warm and ultralight.||A ultra-premium bag that's our favorite for cold nights in spring and fall.||Our favorite zipper and hood in a bag that's also exceptionally warm and lofty.||An exceptional deal for a lightweight bag that excels in wet conditions.|
|Rating Categories||MegaLite||Merlin 30 UL||UltraLite||Swallow 20 YF||NEMO Kyan 35|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Features & Design (10%)|
|Specs||MegaLite||Merlin 30 UL||UltraLite||Swallow 20 YF||NEMO Kyan 35|
|Insulation||850+ FP Down||950+ FP Down||850+ FP Down||900+ FP Down||Synthetic - Primaloft Silver|
|Compressed Volume (L)||7.2 L||7.3 L||8.7 L||8.5 L||6.6 L|
|Measured Bag Weight (Size Long)||1.62 lbs||1.45 lbs||1.86 lbs||1.94 lbs||1.89 lbs|
Best Overall Model
Western Mountaineering MegaLite
The MegaLite is our favorite backpacking sleeping bag because it performs well in all areas. Like other ultra-premium down bags, it offers an outstanding warmth-to-ratio in a bag that packs down extremely small. Unlike the other ultra-premium down bags we tried, it features spacious interior dimensions that supply superior comfort no matter you're sleeping style. For virtually any overnight backcountry application this is an excellent choice.
Our performance criticisms are minor—the hood closure is slightly awkward, and its zipper is good, but not great. A more significant issue is its price. The MSRP is likely to dissuade more than a few shoppers. We feel, however, the considerable benefits of this and other high-end down bags are worth the exorbitant costs for dedicated users, especially when you factor in the outstanding longevity of their loft. The hard choice, then, is deciding between the MegaLite—our favorite bag for the average backpacker—and other top-performers, like the Feathered Friends Merlin UL and Western Mountaineering UltraLite, which may be better suited for some specialty applications.
Read review: Western Mountaineering MegaLite
The Best Deal and The Best for Wet Conditions
NEMO Kyan 35
As a general rule, sleeping bags with synthetic insulation are larger and heavier than their down counterparts. Somebody forgot to the Nemo Kyan 35. It shocked us with its moderate and weight and tiny packed size that was on par with several down bags at the same temperature rating. Also, its Primaloft Silver synthetic insulation is a much better choice for wet conditions because it retains a significant percentage of its warmth even when soaked. The cherry on top is the more than reasonable price tag.
The Kyan 35 attributes some of its low weight and small packed size to the lower insulation requirements for its 35°F temperature rating. In the field, our testers felt this bag even this rating was a little generous. We thus only recommend the Kyan for warmer 3-season conditions. Nemo, however, offers a 20° version that appears on paper to provide similarly high performance for colder situations. Despite its warmth deficiency, the Kyan 35 is an excellent bag at a price that can't be beaten.
Read review: Nemo Kyan 35
Best Budget Down Bag
Kelty Cosmic 20
Although the Kelty Cosmic 20 scores near the bottom of the field, it was up against many ultra-premium bags that cost up to three times more. Sure, those bags are a lighter and they pack smaller, but you can sleep just as well inside the Cosmic using all the money you saved as a pillow. For a low price, you get a sleeping bag that supplies respectable levels of warmth and comfort at a weight and size that's still reasonable for backpacking. You also get the convenience of a stash pocket and coziness of a neck baffle—two features that are missing on many of its more expensive rivals.
The Cosmic cuts its costs by using a mixture of 600 fill power down (83%) and synthetic fibers (17%) for insulation. This results in a bag that's a pound heavier and two liters larger inside your pack than comparably warm, 100% premium down bags. With the money you save, however, you can invest in a better tent or sleeping pad to reduce the weight and volume of your overall backcountry kit.
Read review: Kelty Cosmic 20
Top Pick for Fast and Light Adventures
Feathered Friends Merlin 30 UL
When saving weight takes precedence over everything else, one of our favorite bags is the Merlin UL. Feathered Friends uses the highest fill power down we've tried (950+) to create a bag that is exceptionally warm yet truly ultralight. Somehow this bag also manages to include a sturdy full-length zipper that's virtually immune to snagging. The same zipper provides ample venting options and the possibility of sharing it as a quilt with a partner during a full-on bivouac.
Although we're big fans, the Merlin UL achieves its low weight with its particularly narrow dimensions that many will find constrictive. Its ultra-high fill power down also comes with an ultra-high list price. If you look past these faults, however, you get a traditional sleeping bag that offers an unparalleled warmth-to-weight ratio. There may be no better choice when the ounces matter.
Read review: Feathered Friends Merlin 30 UL
Top Pick for Colder 3-Season Conditions
Western Mountaineering UltraLite
If you know you "sleep cold" or you've got plans for higher elevation trips in the spring or fall, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite might be the best bag for you. With its 17 ounces of 850+ fill power down and legit draft collar, our testers thought it was easily the warmest bag in the review. Also, its full-length zipper and continuous horizontal baffle construction allow enough venting possibilities to avoid overheating on hot summer nights. In the field, we were able to sleep comfortably in this bag across an impressive range of overnight temperatures from 10° to 55°F.
The drawback to this exceptional performance is a staggering price tag. We also believe that most 3-season travelers would be happier with a slightly less warm bag that can offer weight and packed size benefits. Nevertheless, if you're looking for an awesome bag that's assured to keep you toasty, the UltraLite is our favorite offering.
Read review: Western Mountaineering UltraLite
Top Pick for Exceptional Comfort
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 700
This bag lives up to its name by bringing the comfort of an ordinary bed to the backcountry. Its zipperless design features a comforter-like flap that you can fold open or close to get your temperature just right. The notably roomy dimensions also mimic the freedom of movement you have with a regular blanket, ensuring you have plenty of space to stretch your legs or roll over.
The drawback to this exceptional comfort is the extra materials that are needed which add weight and bulk to the overall bag. Its 35°F temperature rating also felt a little optimistic, so we suggest "cold sleepers" consider the Sierra Designs Cloud 20 for regular use in spring or fall. Nevertheless, with the Backcountry Bed, Sierra Designs has created an exceptionally comfortable bag that is sure to be adored by those who've long found the design of traditional sleeping bags unpleasant.
Read review: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 700
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead author Jack Cramer is an accomplished climber, a National Outdoor Leadership School alumnus, and undeniable gear nerd. Co-author Ian Nicholson is an American Mountain Guides Association-certified guide who has helped over 1,000 clients select the right gear for backpacking, climbing, and ski trips. Although they've both spent the better part of the last decade in the backcountry, they consulted with Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, Yosemite Search and Rescue team veterans, sponsored outdoor athletes, and novice backpacker friends to ensure this review contained a diverse set of perspectives. The result is a review that's designed to be useful for a wide variety of backcountry activities across all types of conditions.
In this quest, our review team researched more than 100 of the most popular backpacking sleeping bags. We've tested scores of backpacking models over the years. Here, we selected and purchased 14 of the best today's market has to offer to undergo extensive testing. We measured warmth, weight, and packed size in the lab. The remaining performance characteristics, such as comfort, versatility, and design, were assessed in the spectacular landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, southern Utah wilderness, and Death Valley National Park. Bags went to elevations from -150 to 12,000 feet with nighttime lows between 10° and 65°F.
This review is also unique because it includes direct comparisons between Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends products. Small specialty manufacturers make some of the best down gear on the market, but their reluctance to give reviewers their products for free limits how many get reviewed. Fortunately, OutdoorGearLab's policy of purchasing all the sleeping bags we test gives us the flexibility to include both makers in this comprehensive review.
Analysis and Test Results
Designing a great sleeping bag is a tricky balancing act. Add extra insulation to make it warmer, and it quickly becomes too heavy. Trim the zipper's length to save weight, and you limit your options for venting excess heat. Therefore, to evaluate bags fairly, we selected six performance criteria that are undeniably important but often at odds with one another: warmth, weight, comfort, packed size, versatility, and features & design. Below we examine each criterion more closely and highlight the top performers.
Although the price is not a consideration in our performance scores, we know it's important to your purchasing decision. Sleeping bags, in particular, come in a surprisingly wide range of prices for different models that ostensibly serve the same purpose. After extensive testing, however, we can confidently say that the price differences generally reflect meaningful performance differences.
In terms of absolute performance, nothing came close to the Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering bags which demonstrated clear superiority in overall design, build quality, and warmth-to-weight ratios. These bags, however, require most of us to save up to afford them. For less than half the price of these premium bags, the Nemo Kyan 35 or Kelty Cosmic 20 both offer exceptional deals. Although they're a little heavier and bulkier, once you get them to camp, you're likely to sleep just as well.
Your warmth in a bag is largely a function of the quantity and quality of the insulation. With down bags, you can get a rough sense of their warmth by examining the fill weight (quantity) and fill power (quality) of the down it contains. This task is trickier with synthetics where the overwhelming number of proprietary fibers makes comparison close to impossible. Further complicating matters is the design and fit of a bag which has a smaller, but still significant, effect on its warmth.
In attempt to resolve this confusion, the European Union developed EN 13537, an industry-standard test designed to provide sleeping bag temperature ratings that are consistent between different companies. Although these EN ratings seem to be more accurate than other warmth indicators, some of the best manufacturers chose not to have their bags tested. Also, the details of the testing protocols can arbitrarily favor certain designs that may not reflect real-world warmth.
Due to these issues, we chose to evaluate warmth using real human testers. To keep things fair, we slept in each bag for at least three nights in a 48°F room. The performance was then assessed relative to the other bags we tried and their EN ratings if they had one. The difference between the warmest and coldest bags was much more significant than the official ratings would suggest. The same field tester, for example, slept comfortably in a Western Mountaineering UltraLite at temperatures 10° below its 20°F rating, and shivered in the Nemo Kyan 35 in temperatures 10° above its 35°F rating.
Our warmth ratings scale so that a ten indicates bags with the highest level of warmth, and a one the least. Importantly, this doesn't mean that a bag with a ten would be the best possible bag for you. More likely, if you're looking for a bag for moderate 3-season conditions, a 7 or 8 will probably be sufficient. For most people, the bags with the highest warmth rating are better-suited for the colder nights of spring and fall.
Keep in mind that for your bag to keep you warm down to its temperature rating you will also need a quality sleeping pad and protection from the elements. For guidance on this gear check out our sleeping pad and backpacking tent reviews.
Related: The Best Backpacking Tents of 2019
In contrast to warmth, weight is easy to measure objectively. For human-powered activities weight also happens to be one of the most important considerations. A sleeping bag's weight is a consequence of the amount and type of insulation, the dimensions of the bag, the size and length of the zipper, and the density of the fabrics. Generally, higher quality materials weigh less but come with correspondingly high prices. Saving weight with a shorter zipper or trimmer fit is also an option but comes with figurative costs in terms of versatility or comfort.
To evaluate weight we used our digital scale to weigh each bag. Separately we also weighed the included stuff and compression sacks. Our 'Weight' performance category, however, is based solely on the weight of the bag under the assumption that most users will get their own after-market compression sack that is lighter and more effective at compression.
There was almost a 1.5-pound difference between the lightest and heaviest bags in this review—the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 and the Kelty Cosmic 20, respectively. This difference may not sound like much, and perhaps for a single piece of gear, it's not. However, if you have the means and wherewithal to combine a 1.5 pound in weight savings on your sleeping bag with comparable weight savings on your tent, sleeping pad, and cook kit the difference becomes enormous.
Premium ultralight bags, like our favorite Feather Friends Merlin UL, thus become one piece in the puzzle that is cutting 10-15 pounds from your load. Accomplishing this is unfortunately expensive but doing so pays enormous dividends in terms of your back/knee health and overall enjoyment.
To sleep well, you have to be comfortable. Most find this easy to achieve in a bed with a blanket and a thermostat nearby. The task can be harder outdoors when you're at the mercy of mother nature and zipped inside an ill-fitting sack. Although some people can sleep like a log in any sleeping bag, many find the unfamiliar and inherently restrictive design to be disruptive. The former group can ignore this performance category, but the latter should devote special attention.
To evaluate comfort, we considered several factors: the dimensions and fit of a bag, the loft of the insulation, the feel of the interior fabric, and in some cases, the noisiness of the materials. Although being too cold or warm can obliviously affect your comfort, we tried to evaluate the likelihood of this happening with our separate warmth and versatility metrics. A bag's comfort score is thus our best subjective judgment of its performance in the fit, loft, feel, and noisiness.
Three bags provided notably impressive comfort in three different ways that are worth discussing. The Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed is perhaps the most interesting of these. Its zipperless design incorporates a comforter-like flap that mimics the feel of an ordinary bed and blanket. This design, however, lacks a reliable closure mechanism so it could feel a bit drafty. Avoid this issue with the similarly comfortable Nemo Riff 30. It features a ¾-length zipper like a classic mummy bag but contours like a broad hour-glass instead of a tapered sarcophagus. The bottom of the hour-glass provides ample room for side and tummy sleepers to stretch their legs in any direction.
While we enjoyed the Riff's innovative shape, its down is particularly lofty, nor is its fabric exceptionally soft. The final standout in the comfort depart, the Western Mountaineering MegaLite addressed these deficiencies. Its 850+ fill power down and 12-denier ExtremeLite fabric team up to create a cozy cocoon of luxurious loft. Although it's among the most spacious models, it has a classic mummy shape that won't be appreciated by all.
As these examples illustrate, a bag's comfort is inherently subjective, so it's essential to choose one that matches your preferences. Those that don't detest mummy bags will likely prefer the MegaLite's luxurious materials. Meanwhile, side sleepers may find the Riff's innovative shape superior. Finally, if zipping yourself inside a bag always made you feel claustrophobic, the Backcountry Bed may be your salvation.
The bigger your backpack, the further away its weight is from your center of gravity, the harder it is to carry, the more fatigued you get, the less fun you have. Sleeping bags occupy a significant portion of an overnight backpack. Therefore, getting a bag that compresses smaller can be an effective way to reduce the size, and burden, of your overall load.
All the bags we tested included some stuff or compression sack for storing them inside your backpack. Many of these sacks, however, were unable to compress a sleeping bag fully. So to evaluate packed size we used the same 11-liter Granite Gear compression sack to measure each bag's minimum compressed volume.
By and large the compressed volumes we observed corresponded closely with the weight of each bag. A couple of exceptions were the Nemo Kyan 35, which compressed roughly 20% more than its weight would suggest, and the Marmot Phase 20 and Western Mountaineering UltraLite, which were 15% larger than comparably heavy bags.
Although these discrepancies are worth noting, we consider all the bags we tested to be small, especially when compared to The Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags or the bags of yesteryear. Therefore, we don't think packed size is a great characteristic for distinguishing between the nicer backpacking sleeping bags. Depending on your budget, however, it may be worth checking if the bag you're thinking of getting includes a functional compression sack. If not, a quality after-market compression sack will set you back a few dollars.
Versatility speaks to how useful a piece of gear is for a variety of activities and conditions. For sleeping bags, we assessed it by considering the range of temperatures a bag is comfortable in, how well it performed if it got wet, and whether a bag does things besides keeping a single person warm when sleeping.
How comfortable a bag is in a range of temperatures is determined by its ability to insulate at lower temperatures and its ability to vent excess heat at higher temperatures. Draft collars and well-fitting hoods are both features that boost a bag's cold weather performance, such as those found on the Western Mountaineering UltraLite. Conversely, a long main zipper and accessory vents extend the Nemo Riff 30's performance on warmer nights.
Overall, the bags with ¾- or full-length zippers seem to supply adequate venting options for most 3-season conditions. However, the shorter half-length zippers of the Rab Mythic 400 and Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 make sleeping in average summer temperatures far less pleasant.
How well a bag performs when wet is primarily determined by its type of insulation. Down notoriously clumps and loses its ability to insulate if it gets wet. Synthetic fibers, in contrast, do not clump and can continue to supply up to 50% of their usual warmth when soaked. For this reason, synthetic bags, like the Nemo Kyan 35 and Mountain Hardwear Lamina 35, are better choices for particularly wet activities or environments.
Many manufacturers now market their down as hydrophobic because it receives a chemical treatment to improve water resistance. Claims about the performance benefits of these treatments are often overstated. In our testing, we observed little difference between down that was treated or untreated, so it didn't factor into the versatility score. Interestingly, both of the top performing bag makers, Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends, do not use any hydrophobic down due to concerns about the longevity of the chemical treatments and possible harm to the water-resistant oils that high-quality down naturally contains.
The final aspect of versatility is whether a bag can work in other ways. We found bags with particularly long zippers, like the Feather Friends Merlin 30 UL and Swallow 20 YF, could be shared as a quilt when fully unzipped, which is a nice bonus when eating breakfast on a cold morning or during an unplanned bivouac.
Features and Design
Features and Design is a catch-all category to encompass the performance characteristics not addressed with other evaluation criteria. 'Features' includes things like small stash pockets, sleeping pad attachment systems, and the quality of the bag's zipper, among other things. 'Design' assesses the overall execution of the bag. Are all of its materials similarly durable? Do its warmth weight, and dimensions make sense for its intended application?
One unique feature we like is the waterproof fabric on the footbox of the Nemo Riff 30, which ensures the bag's down insulation doesn't become saturated from brushing against condensation on a tent wall. We are also big fans of the full-length zippers on the Feathered Friends bags. Not only do they feature a Y-shaped, anti-snag slide, but there is an internal strip of plastic in the fabric next to the teeth that further reduces the chance of snagging.
An example of a particular design we like is the sleeping pad attachment system on the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32. Some people like attaching their sleeping bag to their pad to ensure they don't slide off. Most of our testers, however, find this to be unnecessary. They were thus delighted to discover that the Hyperion's attachment system is designed to be functional, but removable, allowing the user to decide if the extra weight is worth the benefits.
In contrast, the closure flap on the Sierra Designs Cloud 20 serves as an example of a design that didn't score highly. This bag has ample insulation and one of the lowest EN temperature ratings in the review (17°F). However, there is no reliable way to secure its asymmetrical, zipperless closure flap. Roll to you right, the bag opens, and chilly draft ruins your night.
Marketing claims and a huge number of options combine to make sleeping bag shopping a tough undertaking. Our extensive testing process and thorough assessments aim to crack the code to help you choose the right bag with confidence. We love the outdoors and hope this resource is one of many we can provide to improve others' experiences in nature.
— Jack Cramer and Ian Nicholson