Best Budget Synthetic Sleeping Bag
NEMO Kyan 35
1 lbs 14 oz | Packed size:
Very packable for a synthetic bag
Innovative "gills" for venting
Comes with a good compression sack
Warmth doesn't match the temperature rating
Finicky zippers on "gills" and stash pocket
The Nemo Kyan 35 stacks up well against sleeping bags that cost up to twice as much. Perhaps its most impressive attribute is its weight—under two pounds for a synthetic 3-season bag is pretty much unheard of. It also won't take up much room in your pack because it comes with a great compression sack and packs down as small the best down bags we've tried. In camp, we think you'll be pleased by the dimensions that feel surprisingly roomy for a traditional mummy bag design. Another feature we like are the zippered "gills" on the top of the bag that allow you to reduce the level of insulation on warmer nights.
Our only concern is the Kyan's overall warmth. The 35°F version that we tried didn't quite live up to its temperature rating, so it's not a great choice for cold spring or fall overnights. Fear not, though, there's a 20F version that comes with six extra ounces of Primaloft Silver insulation. We haven't had a chance to test this warmer version yet, but the advertised specs and customer reviews suggest it's every bit as good as the 35F version that we love. Pick the temperature rating that fits your needs, and we're confident you'll get a great backpacking sleeping bag at an even better price.
Read review: Nemo Kyan 35
Best Budget Down Sleeping Bag
Kelty Cosmic 20
2 lbs 10 oz | Insulation:
600 fill power down
Draft collar traps heat
Great price for a down bag
Heavy for a down bag
Doesn't compress as well as other down bags
Try as you might, it's tough to find a cheaper down sleeping bag than the Kelty Cosmic. This bag is comfortable, featuring a soft and cozy interior with enough room to accommodate multiple layers of clothing, if necessary. It packs down into its stuff sack smaller than most synthetic bags, but don't expect it to disappear in your pack. The shell is durable and adds to this bag's longevity. Features like a draft collar and an easy to adjust hood help keep warm air in and cold air out.
This model isn't the warmest bag, though, and the 20°F manufacturer rating is somewhat generous. It's toasty in the low 30's, but you'll need to layer up if temps enter the 20's. The 600 fill power hydrophobic DriDown won't dry out as fast as synthetic models (a drawback of all down models). And while this model contains lightweight down, it still weighs more than two and a half pounds. If you're new to backpacking and daunted by price tags, this down bag gives you a tremendous performance-to-price ratio overall. It's also available in a women's version that our female testers really like.
Read review: Kelty Cosmic 20 and Kelty Cosmic 20 - Women's
The Nemo Kyan impressed us with its outstanding performance and surprisingly low price. We consider it one of the best sleeping bag deals out there.
Why You Should Trust Us
Jack Cramer and Ross Robinson combined forces to find the best budget backpacking sleeping bag. Jack is an avid climber and an experienced backcountry traveler. His backpacking chops include a 3-month National Outdoor Leadership School course, a solo trek across Mongolia, and countless off-trail overnights throughout the Lower 48. Ross is a similarly seasoned backpacker and world traveler who gained his expertise on separate 500+ mile hikes in Peru, Thailand, and Germany. None of these travels were as lucrative as the authors would have liked, so they also know what it's like to be shopping for gear on a budget.
This review began by researching more than 100 of the most popular budget backpacking sleeping bags. Nine of the top-rated bags were then purchased to undergo full hands-on testing. Our team of testers then brought them on overnight trips throughout the American West, where they evaluated their comfort, versatility, and features. Back in the lab, we weighed each bag on our scale, measured their packed size in a third-party compression sack, and slept in them under controlled conditions to determine their warmth. An overall score was then calculated by weighting performance in each of these areas according to what our experienced authors consider to be the most critical characteristics in a budget backpacking sleeping bag.
Related: How We Tested Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags
On chilly mornings, we appreciate a sleeping bag you can unzip all the way around the bottom and "wear" as you sip your coffee.
Analysis and Test Results
A sleeping bag is a cornerstone piece of gear in the modern overnight kit. Even in the nicest of climates, storms and cold temperatures can roll in unexpectedly. When they do, your comfort and safety often depend on the performance of your sleeping bag. The obvious question then becomes — is it ok to settle for a budget model? Or because of a sleeping bag's central place in your overnight kit, is it better to spend more on the absolute best? After formally testing over 100 sleeping bags over the years (and many more informally), here's our advice:
Will a Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bag Suffice?
The difference between a budget and a premium sleeping bag is kind of like the difference between flying economy and flying first-class. Both accomplish the same purpose, but one is vastly more enjoyable. There is also a big enough difference in cost that it will factor into most people's decisions. "Economy" sleeping bags can go for under $100 while "first-class" bags filled with goose down retail for $500+.
A good deal on down is always tempting, but in some cases, it's just not worth it. The Furnace, for example, is a low-priced down bag but it doesn't perform as well as a cheaper synthetic bag from the same manufacturer.
For this review, we defined a budget backpacking sleeping bag as a 3-season bag with a 20-35°F temperature rating and an MSRP under $200. Any bags with similar characteristics that cost more than $200, we called a premium backpacking sleeping bag. We observed substantial differences between these two categories in terms of weight and packed size. Premium bags, on average, weigh about a pound less and compress 3 liters smaller. The differences extend to comfort and versatility. More expensive models feature more luxurious materials and sophisticated designs that make them more useful across a greater range of temperatures and conditions. After the exertion of a day backpacking, however, our testers noted almost no difference between budget and premium bags in terms of their sleep quality.
These versions of the premium Marmot Phase and the budget Big Agnes Husted have identical 19F EN temperature ratings, but the Phase packs 35% smaller. The Husted, however, costs 70% less.
Our advice for sleeping bag purchases, therefore, is to follow the airline travel analogy. Frequent business travelers may need the perks of a first-class ticket, but the added cost probably isn't worth it for the casual, less frequent traveler. When it comes to sleeping bags, we think the lower weight and smaller packed size of a premium bag are easily worth it for frequent, or more serious, backcountry travelers. Occasional and recreational backpackers, however, can sleep nearly as well and save a couple hundred dollars with a budget bag without compromising their safety should a storm arrive.
Generally premium sleeping bags are made with glossy lightweight fabrics, like the 10-denier nylon on the Rab Mythic (top). Budget bags often use burly materials, such as the 30-denier nylon the Mountain Hardwear Lamina (bottom).
After you decide that a budget bag is right for you, it's still important that you get a good deal. Sleeping bags are like any consumer product--price often corresponds to quality. But not always.
We believe the Nemo Kyan 35 is an outstanding value. In our performance tests, it scored as high as many premium bags, but it retails for under $200. The Big Agnes Husted 20 is another great deal, receiving better performance scores than other similarly priced bags. Keep in mind, however, we use list price for this analysis. It's not uncommon to find some of these budget backpacking sleeping bags on sale.
The classic mummy shape of most sleeping bags is designed to provide maximum warmth with minimum materials. Sleeping bags thus offer arguably the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulating layer. This warmth is determined by the quantity and quality of the insulation, along with the thermal efficiency of the bag's design. Both work by preventing the heat that's given off by your body from escaping to the outside world.
There are two primary types of sleeping bag insulation: down feathers and synthetic fibers. By weight, high-quality down (800+ fill power) is better at trapping heat than synthetic. High-quality down, however, is extremely expensive, so budget bags usually resort to lower quality down or synthetic fibers for their insulation. The performance differences between these less expensive materials aren't quite as stark or easy to generalize.
Check out the difference between budget down and ultra-premium. The 850+ FP down of the Western Mountaineering MegaLite (right) lofts 6 inches upward, while the cheaper 650 FP down of the Klymit KSB 35 (left) lays nearly flat on the ground.
The other significant factor that affects warmth is sleeping bag design. The more form-fitting a bag is, the less extra volume your body needs to heat, and all other things being equal, the warmer you will feel. Other specific features can also influence warmth. Draft tubes and draft collars, for example, ensure that heat doesn't escape out the main zipper and hood closure, respectively.
The 4" wide piece of red fabric seen here serves as a passive draft collar. It nestles around your neck to seal heat inside the bag's main compartment and prevent it from escaping out the hood on cooler nights.
You can get a rough idea of a sleeping bag's warmth by considering its insulation and design, but without considerable experience, it can be hard to make a confident prediction. An industry-standard test has been developed to solve this problem and to give consumers more consistent temperature ratings. These European Norm (EN) ratings use a copper mannequin, rather than a human being, to scientifically measure warmth. However, our testers noticed significant differences in how warm they felt in bags with similar advertised EN ratings. For example, the author stayed comfortably warm in the Big Agnes Husted at temperatures near its 19°F rating (EN lower limit) but shivered in temps 20°F above the Klymit KSB 35's similar 21F rating (EN lower limit).
Many sleeping bags now receive EN temperature ratings. Although most bags are then advertised at their "limit" rating, we think most people will be happier in temps down to the higher "comfort" rating.
To share this hands-on knowledge with you, we've scored each bag's warmth relative to the others on a scale of one to ten. We've also tried to comment on a bag's warmth relative to its advertised EN rating. Picking the best sleeping bag, however, is not as simple as picking the bag with the highest warmth score. It's also essential to consider the temperatures in which you will use the bag. We recommend 35°F bags like Nemo Kyan for warm summer nights and lower elevation trips in spring and fall. A 20F bag like the Kelty Cosmic is a better choice for "cold sleepers" and full 3-season use.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a budget sleeping bag is the weight. For example, an ultralight premium bag like the Rab Mythic 400 provides similar warmth to the Therm-a-Rest Saros but weighs over 2 pounds less. This weight probably isn't a dealbreaker for short overnights near the trailhead, but it becomes problematic for a longer trip deep into the backcountry.
Fortunately, some budget sleeping bags are designed to be genuinely lightweight. The Nemo Kyan 35 and Klymit KSB 35 both weigh less than 2 pounds and are suitable for warmer 3-season applications. For full 3-season use, the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30 and The North Face Cat's Meow offer additional warmth while weighing only a half-pound more than comparable premium sleeping bags. For any long-distance backpacking, we caution shoppers from purchasing the heaviest budget bags, like the Therm-a-Rest Saros and Marmot Trestles, because their additional weight will almost certainly reduce your happiness.
Several bags in this review, including the Trestles 30, are advertised as backpacking sleeping bags but are really better suited for car camping due to their substantial weight.
At the same time, try not to get too caught up on the weight of your sleeping bag. The difference between the lightest expensive bag and the lightest budget bag is not as noticeable as one might think. It's also a viable strategy to save your money with a budget bag and use the extra cash to get a lighter tent or backpack, which might be more effective at reducing the total weight of your complete overnight kit.
The difference in weight between the lighter premium and budget sleeping bags isn't a real issue for most applications. For particularly strenuous activities, however, cutting a few ounces can be worth the added cost.
The weight or packed size of your sleeping bag matters little if it's uncomfortable. This is a real problem with some ultralight premium bags that have shrunk their dimensions to shave ounces. Fortunately, budget bags haven't gone to the same extremes to reduce weight, so there aren't any bags in this review that are narrow enough to disturb the sleep of the average backpacker. For larger folks or more restless sleepers, however, comfort can be an important consideration.
In our view, the comfort of a sleeping bag comes from the spaciousness of the interior dimensions and the feel of the lining materials. All the budget bags that we tried have roomy interior dimensions compared to the narrower cut of some ultralight premium bags. Side and stomach sleepers will likely appreciate particularly wide bags like the Kelty Cosmic 20 and Therm-a-Rest Saros, which give you a larger foot box to stretch your legs.
From a materials perspective, most of the budget bags had similarly soft fabric linings made of glossy ripstop nylon. The Big Agnes Husted 20 was a pleasant exception. Our testers consider its polyester taffeta lining to be even more comfortable.
The hood drawstring on most sleeping bags has a tendency to dangle near your face, occasionally poking you in the nose or eye. The drawstring on the Husted is threaded beneath a simple piece of fabric to direct it away from your face.
The Husted 20 also has a smart piece of fabric that directs the hood drawstring away from your face. Although nobody seems to be copying this yet, we hope we get to see this great feature on many other bags soon.
The bulkiest budget bags are twice the size of the smallest. From left to right, bottom row: Nemo Kyan 35, Klymit KSB 35, Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30, Kelty Comsic 20, The North Face Cat's Meow. Top row: Marmot Trestles 30, The North Face Furnace 20, REI Trail Pod 30 (previously tested), Big Agnes Husted 20, Therm-a-Rest Saros
One surprisingly aspect of comfort that we didn't anticipate was smell. Several testers complained about the unpleasant smell of the Klymit KSB 35 during the first month of testing before it aired out and got broken in. We aren't sure where this smell originated, but we are happy that this wasn't a problem with the other models.
Behind weight, the second biggest drawback of a budget bag seems to be the packed size. The smallest premium down bags can be less than half the size of similarly warm budget bags. Depending on the types of overnights you like to do, this may or may not be an important issue. If you mostly backpack on wide, established trails, the extra volume is unlikely to be a huge problem. However, if your adventures include hikes through dense woods, off-trail, or even some climbing and scrambling, then a bulkier sleeping bag becomes less desirable.
All the bags we tested came with a sack for storing them in your backpack. The quality and effectiveness of these sacks varied considerably. We've tried to differentiate between the two by referring to sacks that can fully compress a sleeping bag as compression sacks and ineffective designs as stuff sacks. If the bag you're considering comes with a stuff sack, expect to spend an extra twenty bucks on an aftermarket compression sack if you want to pack it down to a smaller volume.
If you're concerned about packed size, consider getting an after-market compression sack (green). These can compress down bags substantially smaller than a simple stuff sack, but the benefit is less dramatic for synthetic bags like the Therm-a-Rest Saros.
For evaluating the minimum packed size, we tried to keep things fair by using the same 15L Outdoor Research compression sack for all the bags. The Klymit KSB 35 and Nemo Kyan 35 were both impressive standouts for achieving minimum packed sizes below seven liters. On the other end of the spectrum, the Therm-a-Rest Saros and Big Agnes Husted 20 were more than double the volume and more suitable for car camping than backpacking overnights.
The Nemo Kyan's synthetic insulation is ideal if you're worried about rain getting your sleeping bag wet.
All sleeping bags need to be able to keep a single person warm within their specified temperature range. Some sleeping bags, however, can also be comfortably shared between two people or continue to offer their warmth even if they get wet. Other bags have clever designs that allow you to adjust the level of insulation to extend the usable temperature range. The more of these things a single bag can do, the more versatile it is, and the more value we believe it provides.
One significant factor that influences sleeping bag versatility is the type of insulation. Down feathers, regardless of whether they have been hydrophobically treated or not, will clump if they get wet. When clumped, these feathers lose virtually all ability to insulate. Synthetic fibers, in contrast, don't clump when wet and retain a considerable portion of their insulative power even when soaked. This property gives synthetic bags a clear advantage for wet activities and climates.
"Full-length" zippers actually come in a variety of lengths. All are long enough for effectively shedding excess heat, but the Klymit KSB's extra long zipper (bottom) let us unzip it fully into a quilt.
Another factor that influences versatility is the length of a sleeping bag's main zipper. Full-length zippers allow you to vent excess heat or use the bag as a blanket on warmer nights. Two bags in this review take the zipper length even further for more versatility. The Klymit KSB 35 has a longer-than-full-length zipper that lets you unzip all the way around the foot of the bag. This design gives you the option to use it as a true quilt or share it between two people on an ultralight mission. The zipper versatility also makes it easier to continue "wearing" your sleeping bag on cold mornings as you prepare breakfast and enjoy a warm beverage.
The KSB's best feature might be its longer than full-length zipper. Here, two testers comfortably share a single bag that's been fully unzipped into a quilt.
Versatility increases with smart accessory features. Neck baffles, or draft collars as they're also known, are extra tubes of insulation near your neck that seal heat inside the main compartment of a bag. This feature extends the bag's usable temperature range to colder conditions. In the other direction, the "gills" on the Nemo Kyan 35 allow you to reduce the amount of insulation to ensure you don't overheat on a warmer night. The Marmot Trestles 30 similarly extends its upper-temperature range with accessory zippers that let you open the top of the bag wider.
Open the gill zippers (right) to open gaps in the insulation to let heat escape. Close the gill zippers (left) and the Nemo Kyan seals in heat like any other bag.
Features and Design
Sleeping bag makers have come up with lots of ways to make their products stand out from the crowd. Some of these features are undeniably useful, but others don't make a whole lot of sense. Our reviewers tested each in the field to evaluate these myriad features and examine how effectively they address the problems they were designed to solve.
Ten years ago, it seemed as if every sleeping bag zipper had a horrible snagging problem. Today, that's thankfully no longer the case. The ubiquitous zipper manufacturer YKK now offers a Y-shaped zipper slide that reduces snagging and comes on several bags. Other bags use stiffened fabric adjacent to the zipper to keep the silky lining fabrics away from the teeth. The stiffened fabric grove on The North Face Furnace is a particularly useful anti-snag design.
A standard zipper like that on The North Face Cat's Meow (top) is prone to snagging on the adjacent lining fabric. The Furnace, however, uses a groove of firmer black fabric (bottom) to keep the silky lining fabric away from the teeth.
Zippers can also be modified to offer additional venting options or enhanced versatility. As already mentioned, we're big fans of the extra-long zippers on the Klymit KSB 35 because it allows you to vent only your feet or to unzip the bag into a true quilt.
The KSB 35 is one of the few bags that lets you unzip all the way around the foot of the bag.
The Marmot Trestles 30 adds a second zipper to let you vent extra heat from the hood opening. This detail is kind of nice but requires additional weight (zippers are common culprits of adding weight) and results in lower overall versatility than the KSB's smarter design. Additional zippers on the Nemo Kyan 35, in slight contradiction, boost versatility while adding minimal weight. It includes two tiny featherlight zippers to operate the "gills" on the top of the bag that adjust the amount insulation, adding a degree of control to the bag's warmth.
The Trestles' 1/4-length accessory zipper certainly improves ventilation. However, we believe there are lighter and more effective ways to improve overall versatility.
Another feature that's appearing on a lot of bags is a small stash pocket. These pockets are great for keeping your phone or headlamp close at hand. We especially like lighter stash pocket designs that are located on the inside of the bag because they will keep the batteries in your electronics warm and working well. The zipperless stash pocket on The North Face Furnace is an excellent example of this.
The stash pocket on the Furnace is one of our favorites because its zipperless design is lightweight and it's located inside the bag where your phone batteries will stay warm.
A final feature that more sleeping bag makers are introducing in their newer models is a system for attaching the bag to a sleeping pad. Most of our testers think these attachment systems are unnecessary because it can be downright tricky to roll off a pad inside a cramped two-person tent. Some people, however, do appreciate being able to secure their sleeping bag to their pad. Either way, we've chosen to only award bags additional points for sleeping pad attachment systems that are also removable. The Therm-a-Rest Saros incorporates such a system pretty nicely.
We prefer the pad attachment system on the Therm-a-Rest Saros (far right) over several designs on more expensive bags because it's fully removable and durable enough for long-term use.
We love overnighting in the outdoors. And while you certainly can spend multiple paychecks on your backpacking and camping kit, we don't believe everyone should have to do so. If the price of entry is your largest inhibitor from enjoying a night out in nature, we emphatically recommend saving money and grabbing a budget sleeping bag. And even if it isn't, we think there are a few budget bags that are still worth consideration.