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Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2022

Our gear experts spent many nights sleeping in budget backpacking sleeping bags from Mountain Hardwear, REI, Big Agnes, and others to find the best models
Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2022
The Big Agnes Husted 20 (blue/red) includes a full-length that vents heat better than the shorter "full-length" zipper on the Therm-a-Rest bag (green) but not as well as the longer than full-length zipper on the Klymit (light blue).
Credit: Jack Cramer
Wednesday June 1, 2022
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Looking for a budget backpacking sleeping bag? Our backcountry experts researched over 50 bags under $250 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.

Staying comfortable in the backcountry requires a lot more than just a sleeping bag. A sleeping pad and lightweight tent can help ensure that your nights are warm and cozy. You'll also need the right hiking footwear and a backpack to get all that gear to your campsite. Our collection of backpacking reviews can help you find the perfect gear for your next trip.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on June 1, 2022, to remove one discontinued model and add two new products.

Related: Best Women's Sleeping Bags

Top 10 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10
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Awards   Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $149.89 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$81.71 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$97.46 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$100 List
$49.89 at REI
$109 List
$54.49 at REI
Overall Score
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Star Rating
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Pros Very generous dimensions, good bargain, decent warmth, nice feature setLots of insulation, great venting options with the accessory zipper, durable constructionSuper warm, cozy liner fabric, clever hood design, great valueGreat price, respectable weight, simple designSolid warmth, comfy lining, full-length zipper, spacious dimensions
Cons Heavy, bulky, uncomfortable hood, below average thermal efficiencyReally heavy, not very compressible, stiff lining fabric, heavy stuff sackNearly too heavy for backpacking, bulky, awkward stuff sack shapeSubpar warmth, annoying hood drawcords, no storage sack, mediocre versatilityToo heavy, bulky, aforementioned heft and bulk too much for backpacking
Bottom Line An affordable bag that's extremely spacious but also big and heavyThis bag's mediocre performance fails to justify its considerable weightA warm and affordable sleeping bag with exceptional comfort and an unfortunate weight problemAn acceptable sleeping bag at a rock bottom priceA warm and comfortable bag that's compromised by excessive weight and a bulky packed size
Rating Categories NEMO Forte 20 Marmot Trestles 30 Big Agnes Husted 20 REI Co-op Trailbrea... REI Co-op Trailbrea...
Warmth (20%)
6.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
Weight (20%)
1
2.0
3.0
4.0
1
Comfort (20%)
9.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
Packed Size (15%)
2.0
2.0
2.0
5.0
3.0
Versatility (15%) Sort Icon
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Features & Design (10%)
7.0
5.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
Specs NEMO Forte 20 Marmot Trestles 30 Big Agnes Husted 20 REI Co-op Trailbrea... REI Co-op Trailbrea...
Measured Weight (Size Long) 3.58 lbs 3.54 lbs 3.14 lbs 2.74 lbs 3.66 lbs
Manufacturer claimed weight (Size Regular) 3.13 lbs 3.06 lbs 2.75 lbs 2.50 lbs 3.44 lbs
Temperature Rating 20 F 30 F 20 F 30 F 20 F
EN lower limit (rating for men)/ EN Comfort Rating (rating for women) 22 F 26 / 36 F 19 F (lower) 29 F 18 F
Compression/Stuff sack weight 3.2 oz 4.2 oz 1.6 oz 1.2 oz 1.6 oz
Measured Compressed Volume (Size Long) 13.9 liters 13.1 liters 13.4 liters 9.8 liters 12.2 liters
Insulation Synthetic - Primaloft RISE Synthetic - Spirafil Synthetic - Fireline Pro Synthetic - Polyester Synthetic
Hydrophobic down? N/A N/A N/A N/A No
Fill weight (Size Regular) 29 oz 33.8 oz 30.5 oz Not listed 37.1 oz
Shell material 30D Polyester Ripstop w/ DWR 70D Polyester Polyester taffeta Polyester w/ DWR Polyester
Neck baffle Yes No Yes No No
Small organization pocket Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Zipper Full-length / Side Full-length / Side Full-length / Side 3/4-Length / Side Full-length/ Left Side
Shoulder Girth (Size Regular) 66 in 62 in 60 in 62 in 62 in
Hip Girth (Size Regular) 60 in 57 in 54 in 56 in 56 in
Foot Girth (Size Regular) 64 in Not listed 36 in Not listed Not listed
Stuff or Compression Sack Included? Compression Compression Stuff Stuff Stuff
Storage Sack Included? Yes No Yes No Yes
Water resistant shell? Yes No DWR Yes DWR


Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag Under $250


Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 5.0
  • Weight 7.0
  • Comfort 6.0
  • Packed Size 8.0
  • Versatility 6.0
  • Features & Design 6.0
Weight (size Long): 2 lb, 0 oz | Packed Volume (size Long): 7.5 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 can offer an above-average performance at a very low price. The Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30 is one of those products. At 1 pound, 13 ounces with a 30F warmth rating, it provides a warmth-to-weight ratio that is on par with a few bags that cost nearly twice as much. Its 650FP down insulation is a notch below the premium level 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. This bag's dimensions are somewhat narrow, which may be a problem for restless sleepers who like more room to move. Our testers also weren't particularly impressed with the feel of the 20-denier nylon lining fabric, which was 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 and be happy with this model. We firmly believe the Bishop Pass 30 is the best bargain for a sleeping bag that's well-suited for your backpacking adventures.

Read review: Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 30

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Trailbreak 30


54
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 5.0
  • Weight 4.0
  • Comfort 6.0
  • Packed Size 5.0
  • Versatility 7.0
  • Features & Design 6.0
Weight (size Long): 2 lbs, 12 oz | Packed Volume (Size Long): 9.8 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 what's keeping you from the outdoors, we recommend considering the REI Co-op Trailbreak 30. It's not our favorite overall sleeping bag by any stretch, but it does supply acceptable performance for your 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 Bag for Cold Weather


Big Agnes Husted 20


55
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Warmth 7.0
  • Weight 3.0
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Packed Size 2.0
  • Versatility 7.0
  • Features & Design 7.0
Weight (size Long): 3 lbs, 2 oz | Packed Volume (size Long): 13.4 liters
Excellent value
Comfy taffeta lining
Warmth boosting neck baffle
Clever design redirects annoying drawcords
Enormous packed size
Heavy
Inconvenient stuff sack shape

If you're seeking a budget sleeping bag for colder occasions, the Big Agnes Husted 20 is our current favorite. This bag boasts a 19°F temperature rating and backs it up with 30.6 ounces of Fireline Pro synthetic insulation. That insulation combined with an effective anti-draft collar contributed to our testers concluding that its warmth matches its rating. We also heard a lot of praise for the comfy feel of the polyester taffeta lining. To top it off, a clever design redirects the hood drawcord away from your face to further bolsters this bag's awesome comfort.

Although we love a few things about the Husted 20, there are also a couple of things we dislike. At 3.14 pounds for a size long, this bag is almost too heavy for actual backpacking. The packed size is also a concern, especially because the included stuff sack is a long cylindrical shape that's tricky to arrange inside most backpacks with a standard overnight kit. However, if you don't mind buying an aftermarket compression sack and carrying a little extra weight, this bag is an excellent deal for cold weather sleeping bag.

Read review: Big Agnes Husted 20

Compare Products

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Score Product Price Our Take
63
$235
Best Buy Award
A capable backpacking sleeping bag for an awesome price
55
$130
Top Pick Award
A warm, comfy, and affordable bag, but on the heavy side
54
$100
Best Buy Award
An extremely low price for an acceptable sleeping bag
54
$180
This bag is packable and light, but not very warm
54
$200
An extremely spacious bag that's also affordable
53
$170
An affordable option that's still suitable for overnight backpacking
49
$109
A warm and comfortable bag that's compromised by excessive weight and a bulky packed size
47
$180
Comfortable, but arguably too heavy for backpacking
47
$189
This synthetic mummy bag is nice but compromised by a glaring zipper design flaw
46
$109
Heavy with mediocre performance in several areas

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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 300-mile 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.

All bags were weighed without their included stuff or compression...
All bags were weighed without their included stuff or compression sack.
The 3/4-length zipper on this bag includes a convenient Y-shaped...
The 3/4-length zipper on this bag includes a convenient Y-shaped slide that helps reduce snagging.
The lead author measuring compressed volume in the 15-liter...
The lead author measuring compressed volume in the 15-liter compression sack that we used for all the bags.

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

budget backpacking sleeping bag - many new backpackers complain of getting cold and blame it on their...
Many new backpackers complain of getting cold and blame it on their sleeping bag. We believe the culprit is more often an inadequate sleeping pad. With a good pad, a 30F sleeping bag should be warm enough for most applications.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Analysis and Test Results


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

Will a Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bag Suffice?


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 can be vastly more enjoyable and comfortable. 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 can retail for well over $500.

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 $250. Any bags with similar characteristics that cost more than $250, 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 have an average compressed volume that is 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 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.
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.

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 where every ounce counts. 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.


Value


After you decide that you want a budget bag, you probably still want to get a good deal. Sleeping bags are like any consumer product — price often corresponds to quality, but not always. Our team believes 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 one of the warmest bags we tested in what we call a budget price range, but it's also pretty heavy, which should 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. Keep in mind that we use list prices for our value analysis. The aforementioned 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 very 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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, severely compromising its insulative power. For maximum warmth, a sleeping bag should therefore be snug but not too tight.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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 Klymite KSB 35's similar 21°F rating (EN lower limit).

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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. However, 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 most backpacking, especially summer nights or lower elevation trips in the spring and fall. A 20°F bag like the REI Co-op Trailbreak 20 or Big Agnes Husted might be tempting to avoid any fears of getting cold. However, budget sleeping bags in this temperature range come with significant drawbacks in terms of weight and packed size. We, therefore, consider 20°F bags to only be the right choice for "cold sleepers", high altitude, or shoulder seasons.

Weight


Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a budget sleeping bag is the weight. For example, an ultralight premium bag like the Rab Neutrino 400 provides similar warmth to the Therm-a-Rest Saros but weighs 40% 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 under 2 pounds and are suitable for warmer 3-season applications. For full 3-season use, the Big Agnes Husted 20 offers additional warmth while weighing about a 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

At the same time, try not to get too caught up with 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 could also be a viable strategy to save your money on a budget bag and then use the extra cash to get a lightweight tent or backpack. After all, what really matters is the weight over your entire overnight kit, not just your sleeping bag.

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 let you stretch your legs.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

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 cozier than most.

The Big Agnes Husted 20 and The North Face Cat's Meow also include clever designs that redirect the hood drawstring away from your face. Although other brands don't seem to be copying these designs yet, we hope to see this great innovation on other bags soon.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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.

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 scrambling and climbing, 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Keep in mind that all 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 under 8 liters. On the other end of the spectrum, the Therm-a-Rest Saros doesn't compress very well and offers a minimum volume that is nearly double the smallest performers. This model thus seems to be better suited for car camping than backpacking.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Drew Smith

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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

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. We didn't find this design to be very effective and would prefer if the materials were rather used to extend the length of the main zipper.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Features and Design


Sleeping bag makers have come up with a variety of different 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 all the features in the field to evaluate their usefulness 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. No matter the precautions, however, no zipper can prevent all snags and when one occurs there is a chance the teeth will become misaligned. Unfortunately, due to an inexplicable design choice, there isn't an easy way to realign teeth or restart a zipper on The North Face Cat's Meow. The ends of the zipper are sewn directly into the bag. If the zipper teeth become misaligned, the zipper will literally have to be cut off the bag and reattached.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - the critical problem with the cat&#039;s meow is the main zipper. notice...
The critical problem with the Cat's Meow is the main zipper. Notice how the end of the zipper is sewn directly into the bag. If the zipper snags and teeth become misaligned, there is no way to restart it. This is a huge durability concern.
Credit: 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: 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.

budget backpacking sleeping bag - 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.
Credit: Jack Cramer

Conclusion


If you can't already tell, 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, especially if backpacking is a hobby you only dabble in every once in a while. If the price of entry is the largest obstacle between you enjoying a night or two out in nature, we emphatically recommend saving a bit of money and grabbing a budget backpacking sleeping bag so you can get out there and enjoy the great outdoors. And even if that's not the case, we think there are a few budget backpacking sleeping bags that are worth considering.

Jack Cramer & Ross Robinson


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