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Looking for a budget backpacking sleeping bag? Our backcountry experts researched over 50 bags for under $250 and purchased 8 to test side-by-side. We backpacked and camped with each model, evaluating key metrics like the trail's comfort, versatility, and warmth. We also examine how each carries, packs, and weighs when loaded up for long adventures. While most sleeping bags are expensive, this review looks at the best bargain options out there. After months of stuffing, packing, and sleeping, we offer you a comprehensive and in-depth review that includes recommendations to keep your pack light and your wallet a little heavier.
Occasionally, products 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 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. The Bishop Pass is a clear standout among a crowded field of budget sleeping bags.
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 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.
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 great 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.
This review began by researching over 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. After factoring in performance in each of these areas, an overall score was calculated according to what our experienced authors consider to be the most critical characteristics of a budget backpacking sleeping bag.
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.
Analysis and Test Results
A sleeping bag is the cornerstone of the modern overnight camping kit. Even in the most stable climates, storms and cold temperatures can roll in unexpectedly. When they do, your comfort and safety often depend on your sleeping bag's performance. The obvious question is, is it ok to settle for a budget model? Or, is it better to spend more on the absolute best because of a sleeping bag's central place in your overnight kit? After formally testing more than 100 sleeping bags over the years (and much 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 cost difference that 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. We classify any bags with similar characteristics that cost more than $250 as a premium backpacking sleeping bag. We observed substantial differences between these two categories regarding weight and packed size. Premium bags, on average, weigh about a pound less and have an average compressed volume of 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.
Therefore, our advice for sleeping bag shoppers is to follow the airline travel analogy. Frequent business travelers may opt for the perks of a first-class ticket, but the added cost isn't worth it for casual, less frequent travelers. Regarding sleeping bags, the lower weight and smaller packed size of a premium backpacking bag are easily worth it for frequent or more serious backcountry travelers where every ounce counts. Occasional or recreational backpackers can sleep nearly as well and save hundreds of dollars on a budget bag without sacrificing their safety or sleep quality.
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.
Keep in mind that we use list prices for our value analysis. The bags above 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.
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 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.
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. A more form-fitting bag should feel warmer if all other things are equal. However, this effect can be negated 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 be snug but not too tight.
Other design details can also influence warmth. For example, draft tubes and neck baffles 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. An industry-standard test was developed to give consumers more consistent temperature ratings to address this problem. 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 21°F rating (EN lower limit).
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 in which you plan to use a sleeping bag. 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 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 weight and packed size. We, therefore, consider 20°F bags to only be the right choice for "cold sleepers," high altitude, or shoulder seasons.
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 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 30, because their additional weight will almost certainly reduce your on-trail happiness.
At the same time, try not to get too caught up with the weight of your sleeping bag. The difference between the lightest expensive and lightest budget bag is not as noticeable as one might think. It could also be a viable strategy to save money on a budget bag and then use the extra cash to get a a great tent or backpack. After all, what matters is the weight over your entire overnight kit, not just your sleeping bag.
Your sleeping bag's weight or packed size 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. However, comfort can be an important consideration for larger folks or more restless sleepers.
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.
Regarding 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 the 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 20 also include clever designs that redirect the hood drawstring away from your face. Although other brands don't seem to be copying these designs, we hope to see this great innovation on other bags soon.
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.
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. The extra volume may not be a huge problem if you mostly backpack on wide, established trails. However, a bulkier sleeping bag becomes less desirable if your adventures include hikes through dense woods, off-trail, or even some scrambling and climbing.
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. Drawcord designs are called stuff sacks and are less effective. 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.
Remember 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 nearly double the smallest performers. This model thus seems to be better suited for car camping than backpacking.
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 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. Regardless of whether they receive water-resistant chemical treatments, down feathers 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.
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 around the foot of the bag. This design allows you to use it as an actual quilt or share it between two people on an ultralight mission. This zipper versatility makes it easier to continue "wearing" your sleeping bag on cold mornings as you prepare breakfast or enjoy a hot beverage.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.