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Choosing the Best Sleeping Bag For Your Travels

Finding the best sleeping bag for your travels can be a bit overwhelming with so many options to choose from – synthetic, down, ultra-light, zero degree, warm weather, mummy or rectangular shape, women’s specific – the list goes on and on.  How can you possibly know what to choose?

Let’s break it down.  Really there are only 3 things you need to consider when choosing a bag – temperature, insulation, and weight.


Every sleeping bag comes with a temperature rating which identifies the lowest temperature that the bag will keep the sleeper comfortable to.  Say your sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees.  This means that the average sleeper should keep comfortable at temperatures down to 15 degrees.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you will sleep all warm and toasty at 15 degrees since many factors affect your warmth.

In general, estimate the lowest temperature you expect to camp in and then subtract 10 degrees to choose your temperature rating.  If you are a cold sleeper at home you could benefit from an even warmer bag.  Women tend to be colder sleepers than men so they usually prefer a lower temperature bag as well.


Sleeping bags are filled with either down or synthetic fibers and each has some pluses and minuses.

Down is by far the lightest, most compressible, and durable option but it comes with a heftier price tag than synthetic bags.  Also, down bags lose their insulating ability when wet and it can take quite a bit of time for a down bag to dry out.

Synthetic bags perform well in wet and humid conditions; they will keep you plenty warm when wet and they dry quickly.  Although synthetics are a bit heavier than down and don’t compress as well, they will still keep you plenty warm.

I definitely prefer a down bag to a synthetic unless I am going to be spending a lot of time in wet and humid climates.


Depending on the type of camping you will be doing, weight may or may not factor into your sleeping bag decisions.  If you will mostly be car camping or base camping weight really doesn’t matter.  If you won’t be lugging your sleeping bag for miles on your back you can pretty much choose any weight bag you like.

If you will be backpacking or trekking long distances with a sleeping bag, weight will definitely matter.  Again down bags tend to be lighter and more compressible so most backpackers will want to shoot to for a bag in the 2-3 pound range and ultralighters will be happy to find a bag less than 2 pounds.

RECAP – How To Choose A Sleeping Bag in 3 Easy Steps:

(1) Estimate the lowest temperature you expect to camp in and then subtract 10 degrees to choose your temperature rating.  Consider an even warmer bag if you are a cold sleeper or if you are female.
(2) Choose down if you want a lighter more compressible bag and if you plan on camping in drier conditions.  Choose a synthetic bag if you will be camping in wet and humid conditions and if price is a concern.
(3) Backpackers should find a bag in the 2-3 pound range whereas car campers will be satisfied with any weight bag.

Here are some highly recommended fabulous bags for a variety of conditions, temperatures, and price ranges.

15 Degree, Lightweight Down Bag

The Marmot Helium is one of the best lightweight 15-degree bags on the market.  The Helium bag offers some serious warmth with its 850-fill goose down and packs down smaller than a loaf of bread so you will barely notice it in your bag.  Also available in a women’s specific version, the Marmot Helium Women’s bag has more room in the hips, less room in the shoulders, and extra insulation where women need it the most.

Type: 3-season, down sleeping bag
Best For: Lightweight backpacking
Cost: $389 at REI
Average Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
Shape: Mummy
Fill: 850-fill goose down

>> Buy REI: $369
>> Buy Amazon: $369 – Women’s Specific

15 Degree, Lightweight Synthetic Bag

The Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina is a super warm bag filled with lightweight polyester fibers.  Although it is a bit heavier and less compact than the Marmot Helium the Ultralamina will perform better in wet climates plus is has a less frightening price tag.  The Ultralamina also comes in a women’s specific model, which offers more insulation in high heat loss areas like the torso and footbox.

Type: 3-season, synthetic sleeping bag
Best For: Lightweight backpacking
Cost: $205 at REI (regular) $215 at REI (long)
Average Weight: 2 lb. 14 oz.
Shape: Mummy
Fill: Polyester Fibers

>> Buy REI: $205 (regular) $215 (long)
>> Buy Amazon: $205 (women’s regular) $215 (women’s long)

Zero Degree, 4-season, Synthetic Sleeping Bag

If you are looking for a seriously warm bag – this is it.  The Marmot Trestles Zero Degree bag will keep you warm and comfy in temperatures down to zero degrees even in wet and freezing conditions.  A down bag with this much warmth would cost 3-4 times the cost of the Trestles so this bag is an incredible deal.

Type: Zero, degree, 4-season, synthetic sleeping bag
Best For: Car camping, winter backpacking
Cost: $119 (regular) $129 (long) at Amazon
Average Weight: 4lb. 14oz.
Shape: Mummy
Fill: Polyester Fibers

>> Buy Amazon: $119 (regular) $129 (long)

Warm Weather Ultra-light Down Sleeping Bag

The Marmot Arete weighs in at only 1 pound 8 ounces and is the absolute perfect bag for warm weather adventures.  The bag compresses down to the size of a water bottle yet keeps you warm and toasty down to 40 degrees F.  Don’t forget that down bags like the Marmot Arete perform poorly when wet.  If you are looking for a warm weather bag that performs well when wet check out the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina +45.

Type: Warm weather, ultra-lightweight, down sleeping bag
Best For: Lightweight backpacking, summer car camping
Cost: $199 (Regular) at Moosejaw, $219 (Long) at REI
Average Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz.
Shape: Mummy
Fill: 800-fill goose down

>> Buy Moosejaw: $199 (Regular)
>> Buy REI: $219 (Long)

Haven’t read enough?  See The Best Down Bags for more down sleeping bag recommendations.

[Header photo courtesy of Laurel Fan]