What You Should Know About Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Two Sleeping Bags

One of the first gear items that comes to one’s mind when thinking about outdoor activities such as camping and backpacking is a sleeping bag. While all of us are familiar with the standard sleeping bags we used as kids during sleepovers and campouts, a backpacking sleeping bag contains quite a few differences that makes it suitable and more appropriate for extended outdoor use and transport.

If you are planning a backpacking trip and think you can get by using a normal sleeping bag, you’ll find yourself very disappointed. Backpacking sleeping bags are specifically made for backpacking, and include a number of characteristics that makes them a much better choice, saving you from plenty of hardships along the way.

Woman Leaving Sleeping Bag on Dirt

With the right knowledge and a bit of proper planning, you can ensure that you end up with the best backpacking sleeping bag that is best suited to your own backpacking needs.

What Makes a Backpacking Sleeping Bag Different

Ordinary camping sleeping bags are often very comfortable, but also heavy, bulky, and hard to compact. If you’re driving up to a campsite and unloading right then and there, this isn’t really a problem. If you’re on foot with a backpack full of gear however, it’s a huge problem.

Backpacking sleeping bags are made from different materials that allow them to be both light and easy to pack down into a smaller size. While these sleeping bags are thinner and lighter, they are strategically made to offer a high level of insulation, while also often being resistant to moisture both inside and out.

Sleeping Bag And Mat on Grass

Backpacking sleeping bags are usually quite smaller as well. These sleeping bags tend to have a shape that is more contoured to your body, which not only helps trap heat inside, but saves space and weight as well.

Types of Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Backpacking sleeping bags can come in different shapes and sizes, and with numerous features, but there are three main types they can be classified in.

Single

Perhaps the most used backpacking sleeping bag, single sleeping bags are designed for one person, and can come in different sizes and fits. While some may have a little extra room inside, most of them have a “mummy” shape that is contoured to your body.

Two Colors OV Light Sleeping Bag

If a more contoured mummy shape is your preferred type, Outdoor Vitals’ OV Light 3-Season backpacking sleeping bag is an excellent choice. This sleeping bag is perfect for a trip in 3-season conditions providing adequate warmth and breathability down to 35 degrees, and weighs only 2 lbs, and 2 ounces.

Double

Double backpacking sleeping bags are designed to hold two occupants, although there are some who might enjoy having the expanded room for themselves if single sleeping bags are too uncomfortable for them. Obviously the load is twice as big, but this can be offset on a backpacking trip by having a fellow hiker carry some of your items in their backpack instead.

Quality double sleeping bags can be a tricky to find. TETON Sport’s Mammoth queen size double sleeping bag is one of the best you’ll find. The Mammoth is constructed with a taffeta shell on the outside, with a plush flannel liner that can hold up under tough conditions.

Man Assembling Sleeping Bag

This sleeping bag also includes a comfortable drawstring hood, and free compression sack for easy transport when on the trail.

Ultralight

Ultralight backpacking sleeping bags are the lightest models of them all, often utilizing minimal material and features to ensure the smallest and lightest size possible. This can come at the expense of overall warmth and comfort, however. Some may prefer to bring an ultralight sleeping bag with them on trips in hot climates, as the thinner material is much cooler.

Aspects of Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Backpacking sleeping bags can certainly vary from mode to model, but there are some core aspects they all share that can help you determine your buying decision.

Sleeping Bag on Dirt

Temperature Rating

Temperature ratings can help you determine what time of year or what climate your sleeping bag is best for.

  • Summer - Thinner and cooler, appropriate for 32°F weather and up.
  • Winter - Thicker and much more insulated, suitable for 10°F and lower.
  • 3+ Season - 10°F to 32°F.

Insulation

Insulation refers to the material used inside the sleeping bag to retain head and provide padding and comfort.

Young Woman Sleeping in Sleeping Bag
  • Down - Made from either duck or goose feathers, or both, down insulation is noted for its ability to easily compress to a smaller size, while also trapping heat better. Down is better for colder and drier conditions.
  • Synthetic - Synthetic material may not offer the same heat insulation as down, but it does have the advantage of performing better in damp conditions. Synthetic is also nonallergenic, and tends to be cheaper.

Features

Backpacking sleeping bags can come with any number of features that do everything from increasing comfort, to making the bag compatible with other sleeping bags.

  • Hood - These are found on the head end of the sleeping bag, and usually include a drawstring cord to contract the hood. The hood can be used for preventing heat to escape, providing a way to hold your pillow, and having the ability to be used as a pillow case.
Woman in Sleeping Bag with Hood
  • Zipper Compatibility - Sleeping bags have what’s known as “right-hand” and “left-hand” zippers, as well as either #5 or #8 sizes. If you have one sleeping bag of each, you can zip them together to create a larger size, or provide extra layers for heat.
  • Stash Pocket - These pockets are places on the sleeping bag in strategic spots, allowing you to conveniently store away essential items without misplacing them.
  • Trapezoidal Footbox - Backpacking sleeping bags can be a little constricting for some, especially in the feet area. Trapezoidal footboxes give your feet more vertical space at the end, allowing you to lay on your back with your feet comfortably pointed up. This may sound like a small convenience to some, but it can make a big difference in terms of overall comfort.

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