The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Sunday May 19, 2019

It wasn't as easy to find testers for budget sleeping bags as it was for the premium models. Our friends were practically beating down the door to try some of the best 900+ fill power down bags. Far fewer were interested in getting their hands on an affordable, 3.5-pound, synthetic model. Nevertheless, compromises were reached to ensure that all budget bags were tested in a range of climates by a group of outdoor enthusiasts with a diverse set of interests and experience levels. Bags field tested across four Western states at elevations from -150 to 10,000 feet. Below we discuss how we evaluated each performance metric.

The author of our women's backpacking sleeping bag review on top of a pile of approximately 17 quadrillion down feathers.
The author of our women's backpacking sleeping bag review on top of a pile of approximately 17 quadrillion down feathers.

Warmth


We tried to limit the number of variables when we evaluated sleeping bag warmth. All bags were slept in for at least three nights in the same 48°F room. Careful notes were taken to record the warmth of each bag relative to the others. Our 1-10 warmth scores reflect this relative warmth. In our product reviews, we've also tried to comfort on each bag's warmth in the context of its EN temperature rating.

All bags were weighed without their included stuff or compression sack.
All bags were weighed without their included stuff or compression sack.

Weight


Measuring weight is pretty straightforward. We stripped each bag of its accessory features and included stuff sacks before putting them on the same digital scale. All bags that we tested were size longs that are for sleepers up to 6'6". Note: the Klymit KSB 35 only comes in one size ("regular") but is long enough for someone up to this height).

Comfort


Comfort is arguably the most subjective of our performance criteria. To try to keep things fair, we recruited three separate testers to evaluate every bag's comfort. These testers then gave their independent scores for each bag relative to the others. The final comfort scores that we report are an average of the scores given by the three testers.

The lead author measuring compressed volume in the 15-liter compression sack that we used for all the bags.
The lead author measuring compressed volume in the 15-liter compression sack that we used for all the bags.

Packed Size


To evaluate the packed size, we stuffed each bag into the same 15-liter Outdoor Research compression sack. Minimum volume was then measured using a simple tape measure. Although these calculated volumes don't match all of the manufacturers reported volumes, they serve as a fair way to compare the bags that we tested to one another.

The Trestles' 1/4-length accessory zipper certainly improves ventilation. However  we believe there are lighter and more effective ways to improve overall versatility.
The Trestles' 1/4-length accessory zipper certainly improves ventilation. However, we believe there are lighter and more effective ways to improve overall versatility.

Versatility


The more ways a sleeping bag can function, the better. We evaluated versatility by considering how well each bag performed when wet and across a range of 3-season temperatures. Extra points also went to bags that can function in other ways, such as bags that can fully unzip into a quilt that can share between two people.

At the left  you can see an advertisement where Klymit highlights the KSB's "draft collar" and "stash pockets". A supplemental video shows these features positioned near the chin of the bag on the inside. The bag that we tested  however  had neither of these features.
At the left, you can see an advertisement where Klymit highlights the KSB's "draft collar" and "stash pockets". A supplemental video shows these features positioned near the chin of the bag on the inside. The bag that we tested, however, had neither of these features.

Features and Design


Sleeping bag makers are coming up with more and more features to differentiate their bags in the crowded market. Our testers used their significant expertise to evaluate how well these features addressed the problems they were designed to solve. Also, we considered the overall design of each bag and whether it matched its target applications.