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Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bag of 2021

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it! The author testing the ...
Photo: Jack Cramer
Thursday May 6, 2021
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Looking for a budget backpacking sleeping bag? Our backcountry experts researched 50+ different bags under $200 and purchased 10 to test side-by-side. We backpacked and camped with each model, evaluating key metrics like comfort, versatility, and warmth on-trail. We also look at how each carries, packs, and weighs when loaded up for long adventures. While most sleeping bags are quite expensive, this review looks at the best of the bargain options out there. After months of stuffing, packing, and sleeping, we offer you a comprehensive and in-depth review that is chock-full of recommendations to keep your pack light and your wallet a little heavier.

Related: Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag of 2021

Top 10 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10
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Awards   Best Buy Award   
Price $199.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$179.95 at Amazon$399.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$120 List$98.95 at Backcountry
Overall Score
54
47
63
55
44
Star Rating
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Pros Very generous dimensions, good bargain, decent warmth, nice feature setSuper comfortable, excellent build quality, foot warmer pocketSpacious, decent warmth-to-weight ratio, reasonable priceSuper warm, cozy liner fabric, clever hood design, great valueLots of insulation, great venting options with the accessory zipper, durable construction
Cons Heavy, bulky, uncomfortable hood, below average thermal efficiencySuper heavy, extremely bulky, there are cheaper bags for car campingBulky, ineffective hood closure, limited versatilityAlmost too heavy for backpacking, bulky, awkward stuff sack shapeReally heavy, not very compressible, stiff lining fabric, heavy stuff sack
Bottom Line An affordable bag that's extremely spacious but also big and heavyA comfortable bag that's borderline too heavy for backpackingA mid-range double bag for weight-conscious and comfort-seeking adventure pairsA warm and affordable bag with an unfortunate weight problemThis bag's mediocre performance fails to justify its considerable weight
Rating Categories NEMO Forte 20 Therm-a-Rest Saros 20 Big Agnes Sentinel... Big Agnes Husted 20 Marmot Trestles 30
Warmth (20%)
6.0
6.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
Weight (20%)
1
1
7.0
3.0
1
Comfort (20%) Sort Icon
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Packed Size (15%)
2.0
1
8.0
2.0
2.0
Versatility (15%)
8.0
7.0
4.0
7.0
8.0
Features & Design (10%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Specs NEMO Forte 20 Therm-a-Rest Saros 20 Big Agnes Sentinel... Big Agnes Husted 20 Marmot Trestles 30
Measured weight (size Long, in lbs) 3.58 lbs 3.84 lbs 3.25 lbs (size regular) 2.75 lbs 3.54 lbs
Manufacturer claimed weight (size Regular, in lbs) 3.13 lb 3.50 lbs 3.5 lbs 2.75 lbs 3.06 lbs
Temperature rating (F) 20 F 20 F 30 F 20 F 30 F
EN lower limit (rating for men)/ EN Comfort Rating (rating for women) 22 F 20 / 31 F Not rate 19 (lower) F 26 / 36 F
Compression/Stuff sack weight (oz) 3.2 oz 1.2 oz 1.4 oz 1.6 oz 4.2 oz
Measured compressed volume (size Long) 13.9 L 15.5 L 11.2 L (size Regular) 13.4 L 13.1 L
Fill Synthetic - Primaloft RISE Synthetic - eraLoft 650 FP Down Synthetic - Fireline Pro Synthetic - Spirafil
Hydrophobic down? N/A N/A Yes N/A N/A
Fill weight (size Reg, in ounces) 29 oz 39 oz 19.5 oz 30.5 oz 33.8 oz
Shell material 30D Polyester Ripstop w/ DWR 20D Polyester Ripstop Polyester Ripstop Nylon Ripstop 70D Polyester
Neck baffle Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Small organization pocket Yes Yes No No Yes
Zipper Full-length / Side 3/4-Length Side Dual 3/4-Length Full-length / Side Full-length / Side
Shoulder girth (size Regular) 66 in 63 in 105 in 60 in 62 in
Hip girth (size Regular) 60 in 61 in 105 in 54 in 57 in
Foot girth (size Regular) 64 in 46 in 84 in 36 in Not listed
Stuff or compression sack included? Compression Stuff Stuff Stuff Compression
Storage sack included? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Water resistant shell? Yes DWR Yes DWR No
Total weight (size Long, in ounces) 57.3 oz 61.4 oz 52.0 oz 50.2 oz 56.6 oz
Manufacturer claimed weight (size Long, in ounces) 50 oz 60 oz 56.0 oz 49 oz 53 oz


Best Bang for Your Buck


Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 5
  • Weight 7
  • Comfort 6
  • Packed Size 8
  • Versatility 6
  • Features & Design 6
Weight (size Regular): 1 lb 12.6 oz | Packed size: 7.8 liters
Lightweight
Packable
Impressive warmth-to-weight ratio
Exceptional value
Narrow-ish dimensions
Mediocre lining fabric
Not quite as light as premium options

There are occasionally products that aren't the absolute best performers on the market, but they offer respectable performance at a very low price. The Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 is one of those products. At 1 lb 13 oz with 30F warmth, it provides a warmth-to-weight ratio that is on par with a few bags that cost nearly twice as much. Its 650FP down is a notch below premium but is still capable of compressing much smaller than comparably-priced synthetic bags. Among a crowded field of budget sleeping bags, the Bishop Pass is a clear standout.

Even with all its great attributes, you need to be willing to accept a few compromises to enjoy this value. The dimensions of this bag are kind of narrow, which may be a problem for restless sleepers. We also weren't particularly impressed with the feel of the 20-denier nylon lining fabric. Our testers complained it seemed coarse and not nearly as plush as the fabric on many premium bags. Still, most people are unlikely to notice these issues in the backcountry but will notice the cash savings with this model. We firmly believe the Bishop Pass 30 is the best bargain for a sleeping bag that's well-suited for wilderness travel.

Read review: Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30

Best Bargain for a Backpacking Bag


REI Co-op Trailbreak 30


52
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 5
  • Weight 3
  • Comfort 6
  • Packed Size 5
  • Versatility 7
  • Features & Design 6
Weight (size Regular): 2 lbs 8 oz | Packed size: 5.7 liters
Outstanding bargain
Acceptable weight
Simple design
No storage sack
Coarse lining fabric
Annoying hood closure
Frustrating zipper

Assembling all the gear for backpacking can be a daunting barrier between many people and a night in the backcountry. If financial costs are a big part of this barrier for you, we recommend considering the REI Co-op Trailbreak 30. It's not our favorite sleeping bag by any stretch, but it does supply acceptable performance for human-powered adventures. Among its budget peers, its weight and packed size are near average, yet its price is near the bottom of the field.

To enjoy the cost savings, you need to be willing to accept a few compromises, most notably in terms of comfort and versatility. Our testers are not huge fans of its lining fabric or a pair of hood drawcords that are prone to dangling inside the bag near your face. We are also disappointed that this bag doesn't include a proper neck baffle or full-length zipper to extend its usable temperature range. Nevertheless, the Trailbreak 30 is perhaps the least expensive sleeping that we would recommend for backpacking.

Read review: REI Co-op Trailbreak 30

Best Budget Two-Person Sleeping Bag


Big Agnes Sentinel 30 Double


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 5
  • Weight 7
  • Comfort 7
  • Packed Size 8
  • Versatility 4
  • Features & Design 7
Weight (size Regular): 3 lbs 8 oz | Packed size: 11.2 liters
Excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
Above-average materials
Good packability with a third-party compression sack
The included stuff sack is way too big
Drafty hood closure
Subpar versatility

If you want the best warmth-to-weight ratio for the lowest price, you need to be willing to share your body heat. That's the theory behind the Big Agnes Sentinel 30. This double sleeping bag supplies plenty of space for two weary hikers to slumber. At three and a half pounds, it also offers the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any bag in its price range. This weight even equates to the lowest per-person amount of any budget, 3-season sleeping bag that we've tried. The same is true for its minimum packed size.

The sacrifices needed to enjoy this performance are significant. First, you need to have a willing sleeping partner, which can be tricky to find after a sweaty day on the trail. Second, the underside of this bag is entirely uninsulated so it needs to be paired with two good sleeping pads (or a double pad) to keep you off the ground. And finally, the included stuff sack is terrible and way too big so be sure to budget a little extra money for a sturdy, after-market compression sack. If you can accept these compromises, the Sentinel can give you and your partner the most warmth for the least weight at an affordable price.

Read review: Big Agnes Sentinel 30 Double

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
63
$200
Best Buy Award
A capable backpacking sleeping bag for an awesome price
63
$400
Best Buy Award
A comfortable, reasonably priced, two-person sleeping bag
57
$170
This synthetic mummy bag is simple and effective
55
$120
An affordable and warm bag, but on the heavy side
54
$200
An extremely spacious bag that's also affordable
54
$180
This bag is packable and light, but not very warm
52
$100
Best Buy Award
An extremely low price for an acceptable sleeping bag
51
$140
An affordable option that's still suitable for overnight backpacking
47
$180
Comfortable, but arguably too heavy for backpacking
44
$100
Heavy with mediocre performance in several areas

With a 30F temp rating, the Bishop Pass 30 is an ideal, affordable...
With a 30F temp rating, the Bishop Pass 30 is an ideal, affordable choice for most 3-season applications.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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, a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team, 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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

This review began with researching more than 50 of the most popular budget backpacking sleeping bags. The top-rated bags were then purchased to undergo full hands-on testing. Our team of testers 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 after factoring in performance in each of these areas according to what our experienced authors consider to be the most critical characteristics of 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...
On chilly mornings, we appreciate a sleeping bag you can unzip all the way around the bottom and "wear" as you sip your coffee.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Analysis and Test Results


A sleeping bag is a cornerstone of the modern overnight kit. Even in the nicest 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 more than 100 sleeping bags over the years (and many more informally), we believe we've reached a confident conclusion. Here's our advice.

Will a Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bag Suffice?


We think it can be useful to think about the difference between a budget and a premium sleeping bag as similar to 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 premium goose down retail for $500+.

The difference between an ultralight premium bag, like the...
The difference between an ultralight premium bag, like the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 (left), and a light budget bag, such as the Kelty Cosmic (right), can be hard to identify by hand. Our digital scale, however, accurately measured the difference to be 1.49 pounds.
Photo: Jack Cramer

For this review, we defined a budget backpacking sleeping bag as a 3-season bag with a 15-35°F temperature rating and an MSRP under $200. Any bags with similar characteristics that cost more than $200, we classify as 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 also extend to comfort and versatility. More expensive models incorporate more luxurious materials and sophisticated designs that make them more useful across a greater range of temperatures and conditions. After the effort of hiking with a backpack all day, however, our testers noticed almost no difference between budget and premium bags in terms of their sleep quality.

The premium Marmot Phase 20 (left) and the budget Big Agnes Husted...
The premium Marmot Phase 20 (left) and the budget Big Agnes Husted 20 (right) have identical 19F EN temperature ratings, but the Phase packs 35% smaller. The Husted, however, costs 70% less.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Our advice for sleeping bag shoppers, therefore, is to follow the airline travel analogy. Frequent business travelers may opt for the perks of a first-class ticket, but the added cost probably isn't worth it for casual, less frequent travelers. 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 or recreational backpackers, however, can sleep nearly as well and save hundreds of dollars on a budget bag without sacrificing their safety or sleep quality.

Double sleeping bags come the closest of any zippered sleeping bags...
Double sleeping bags come the closest of any zippered sleeping bags to approximating the feel of snoozing with an ordinary blanket.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Value


After you decide that want a budget bag, you will probably still want to get a good deal. Sleeping bags are like any consumer product--price often corresponds to quality, but not always.


Our Editors believe that the Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 is currently the best sleeping bag value on the market. In our tests, it weighed less and packed smaller than several premium models while retailing for considerably less. The Big Agnes Husted 20 is another great deal, receiving better performance scores than other similarly priced bags. It's the warmest bag that we tested within what we call a "budget" price range, but it's also pretty heavy, which might rule it out for folks who usually backpack in warm weather.

On the low end of the price range, we really like the REI Trailbreak 30. This bag is a little heavier than others, but we believe its performance is totally acceptable for backcountry travel. An unconventional choice is the Big Agnes Sentinel 30. This two-person sleeping bag offers the best warmth-to-weight ratio in the class, but it requires two willing sleeping partners to provide its benefits. Keep in mind that we use list price for our value analysis. The above bags seem to be some of the best bargains, but it's not uncommon to find other budget bags on sale. If you do, any bag in this review could potentially become a fabulous deal.

Warmth


The classic mummy shape of most sleeping bags is designed to provide maximum warmth with minimum materials. And this design is effective--mummy sleeping bags offer arguably the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any piece of gear. This warmth is determined largely by the quantity and quality of the insulation, along with the thermal efficiency of the bag's design. These factors work together to prevent your body heat from escaping to the outside world.


There are two primary types of sleeping bag insulation: down feathers and synthetic fibers. Pound for pound, high-quality down (800+ fill power) is much more effective at trapping heat than synthetics. However, high-quality down 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 as stark or easy to generalize. In fact, at lower price points, we've often seen synthetics outperform sub-600 fill power down.

Check out the difference between budget down and ultra-premium. The...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

The other significant factor that affects warmth is sleeping bag design. The more form-fitting a bag is, the less interior space your body needs to heat. If all other things are equal, a more form-fitting bag should feel warmer. This effect can be negated, however, if a bag fits so tight that your body presses against the insulation. For example, consider a bag that's too short length-wise. With your feet and head pressed against either end of the bag, the adjacent insulation becomes compressed and its insulative power is severely compromised. For maximum warmth, a sleeping bag should therefore be snug but not too tight.

To achieve its 21F temperature rating, the Cosmic includes a cozy...
To achieve its 21F temperature rating, the Cosmic includes a cozy flap of blue, insulated fabric near the neck to prevent heat from escaping out the hood.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Other design details can also influence warmth. Draft tubes and neck baffles, for example, ensure that heat doesn't escape out the main zipper and hood closure, respectively. You can get a rough idea of a sleeping bag's warmth by analyzing its insulation and design. Without considerable experience, though, it can be hard to make an accurate prediction. To address this problem an industry-standard test was developed 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 have noticed significant differences in how warm they feel in bags with similar 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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

To share our hands-on knowledge with you, we've scored each bag's warmth relative to the others on a scale of one to ten. But picking the best sleeping bag is not as simple as picking the bag with the highest warmth score. It's also essential to consider the temperatures that you plan to use a sleeping bag in. We recommend 30°F bags like Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 for warm summer nights or lower elevation trips in the spring and fall. A 20F bag like the Kelty Cosmic or Big Agnes Husted is a better choice for "cold sleepers" or full 3-season use.

Weight


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 a more consequential consideration for a longer trip deep into the backcountry.


Fortunately, some budget sleeping bags are designed to be genuinely lightweight. The Klymit KSB 35 and Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 both weigh less than 2 pounds and are suitable for warmer 3-season applications. For full 3-season use, the The North Face Cat's Meow offers 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 or Marmot Trestles, because their additional weight will almost certainly reduce your happiness.

Several bags in this review, including the Trestles 30, are...
Several bags in this review, including the Trestles 30, are advertised as backpacking sleeping bags but they're really better suited for car camping due to their substantial weight.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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 can also be a viable strategy to save your money with a budget bag and then use the extra cash to get a lightweight tent or backpack. This can be an effective way to reduce the total weight of your complete overnight kit.

A lot of backpacking sleeping bags taper sharply towards the foot of...
A lot of backpacking sleeping bags taper sharply towards the foot of the bag. Our testers appreciated the extra space from the broader, rectangular foot on the Bishop Pass 30.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Comfort


The weight or packed size of your sleeping bag matters little if it's so uncomfortable you can't sleep in it. 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, and there aren't any bags in this review that we believe 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 opinion, 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 many ultralight premium bags. Side and stomach sleepers will likely appreciate particularly wide bags like the Kelty Cosmic 20, Therm-a-Rest Saros, or Nemo Forte 20. Each of these also features a larger foot box to stretch your legs.

When it comes to materials, most budget bags are fitted with similarly soft ripstop nylon. This fabric offers good but not excellent comfort. Some lighter sleepers also complain about a slight crinkly noise it can make. The polyester taffeta lining on the Big Agnes Husted 20 is a nice exception. Our testers found this material to be quieter and much cozier.

The hood drawstring on most sleeping bags has a tendency to dangle...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

The Husted 20 also includes a clever piece of fabric that directs the hood drawstring away from your face. Although other brands don't seem to be copying this feature yet, we hope to see this great innovation on other bags soon.

The Forte is most distinguished by its dimensions, which are...
The Forte is most distinguished by its dimensions, which are extremely spacious for a backpacking sleeping bag. You can also see that it barely tapers from the shoulder to the foot.
Photo: Jack Cramer

One surprising aspect of comfort that we didn't anticipate was the odor. Several testers complained about the unpleasant odor of the Klymit KSB 35 during the first month of testing. Later on, it did air out and the smell dissipated. We aren't sure where this smell originated, but we are happy that this wasn't a problem with the other models.

Depending on the size of your pack and your other gear essentials...
Depending on the size of your pack and your other gear essentials, packed size may be a critical factor. With backpacking sleeping bags, there is a lot of variance in packed size, as you can see in some of the budget bags we've tested over the years.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Packed Size


Behind weight, the second biggest drawback of a budget backpacking sleeping bag seems to be the packed size. The smallest premium down bags can be less than half the size of similarly warm budget models. 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 may not 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. Less effective, drawcord designs we call stuff sacks. If the bag you're considering comes with a stuff sack, expect to spend some extra money on an aftermarket compression sack if you want to pack it down to its minimum volume.

If you&#039;re concerned about packed size, consider getting an...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Keep in mind that all single bags we bought, measured, and tested were purchased in size Long to fit our lead tester. To evaluate the minimum packed size, we tried to keep things fair by using the same 15-liter Outdoor Research compression sack for all the bags. The Klymit KSB 35 and Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 were both impressive standouts for achieving minimum packed sizes below seven liters. The Big Agnes Sentinel 30 clocked in at 11.4 liters. However, this bag fits two people so the packed size per person is sub-6 liters and similarly outstanding. On the other end of the spectrum, the Therm-a-Rest Saros and Big Agnes Husted 20 don't compress very well and offer minimum volumes that are more than double the smallest performers. These models thus seem to be more suitable for car camping than true backpacking.

One of the few versatility advantages of a two-person sleeping bag...
One of the few versatility advantages of a two-person sleeping bag is that they're easier to share on a cold morning.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Versatility


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 shared between two people comfortably or continue to offer considerable warmth even if they get wet. Other bags incorporate smart designs that allow you to adjust the amount 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 receive water-resistant chemical treatments or not, will clump if they get wet. When clumped, the feathers lose virtually all their 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 wetter activities and climates.

&quot;Full-length&quot; zippers actually come in a variety of lengths. All are...
"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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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. One bag in this review takes 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. This zipper versatility also makes it easier to continue "wearing" your sleeping bag on cold mornings as you prepare breakfast or enjoy a hot beverage.

The KSB&#039;s best feature might be its longer than full-length zipper...
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.
Photo: Drew Smith

Versatility increases with some clever 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. You can find an especially cozy neck baffle on the Big Agnes Husted 20.

In the other direction, the "thermo gills" on the Nemo Forte allow you to spread out the insulation and reduce warmth to ensure you don't overheat on a hot night. The Marmot Trestles 30 extends its upper-temperature range with an accessory zipper opposite the main one that lets you fold the top of the bag open.

Open the gill zippers (right) to open gaps in the insulation to let...
Open the gill zippers (right) to open gaps in the insulation to let heat escape. Close the gill zippers (left) and the Nemo Forte seals in heat like any other bag.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Features and Design


Sleeping bag makers have come up with a lot 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 we're happy to see it utilized on more and more sleeping bags. Other bags incorporate stiffened fabric adjacent to the zipper to keep the silky lining fabrics away from the zipper's teeth.

The KSB 35 is one of the few bags that lets you unzip all the way...
The KSB 35 is one of the few bags that lets you unzip all the way around the foot of the bag.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Zippers can also be modified to provide additional venting options or enhanced versatility. As already mentioned, we're big fans of the extra-long zipper on the Klymit KSB 35 because it allows you to vent only near your feet or to unzip the bag fully into a true quilt.

A full-length zipper gives you plenty of venting options, and a...
A full-length zipper gives you plenty of venting options, and a Y-shaped zipper slide does an excellent job preventing snags.
Photo: Jack Cramer

The Marmot Trestles 30 includes 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), resulting in lower overall versatility than the KSB's smarter design. In a slight contradiction, accessory zippers on the Nemo Forte 20 boost versatility while adding minimal weight. That's because these accessory zippers are tiny, ultralight, and used to operate the "gills" on the top of the bag that adjust the amount of insulation and add a degree of control to the bag's warmth.

The Trestles&#039; 1/4-length accessory zipper certainly improves...
The Trestles' 1/4-length accessory zipper certainly improves ventilation. However, we believe there are lighter and more effective ways to improve overall versatility.
Photo: Jack Cramer

One more feature that we see on a lot of sleeping bags is a small pocket to stash some stuff. We really like when these pockets are inside the bag because it ensures that phone or headlamp batteries will stay warm and work better. Our favorite stash pockets are zipperless designs because they do little to increase a bag's overall weight and they're less irritating on the skin. The Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass exemplifies this with a stash pocket that seals with a fold of fabric.

A small stash pocket near the hood of a sleeping bag is a great spot...
A small stash pocket near the hood of a sleeping bag is a great spot to store a phone or headlamp.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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 a sleeping bag to their pad. Either way, we've chosen to only award 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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

Conclusion


We love overnighting in the outdoors. And while you certainly can spend multiple paychecks on your backpacking and camping kit, we don't believe you should have to. If the price of entry is the largest obstacle between you and enjoying a night out in nature, we emphatically recommend saving money and grabbing a budget backpacking sleeping bag. And even if that's not the case, we think there are a few budget bags that are worth considering.

Jack Cramer and Ross Robinson