Sleeping Bags


Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Ah, sleeping bags!  What a great subject to talk about.   Backpacking sleeping bags are the comfort at the end of the day.  Your bag can keep you warm in a snowstorm,  can keep you cozy in the evening chill or the morning frost.  Your bag lets you rest those weary muscles and stay warm while you gaze at the starry show over your head during the night.

There are super thick specialty bags available for  mountaineering or super thin lightweight bags for bike touring, and you can certainly use those for backpacking if you want one bag to work for multiple activities.   With a mountaineering bag, leave it unzipped! With a bike touring bag, add a liner and wear extra clothes to extend it’s capabilities.  But, if you don’t have a bag yet, then here are some ideas for you to mull over!

For a warm summer night or indoor use – 40 degree rating

For 3 season use of spring through fall including high altitude summer use-15-40 degree rating

For winter camping – 10-15 degree rating

For extreme alpine and mountaineering – minus 10 degree rating

There are factors that affect the range your bag can handle such as clothing you wear to bed, if you use a tent, how old your bag is, and how many times you’ve compressed your bag making the bag lose it’s loft, if you’ve gone to bed hungry or nice and full etc.

So, if you are going to do a summer backpack in the High Sierra of California for instance, you would normally choose a 3 season bag with a 15-40 degree temp rating.

Ultralight hiking is all the rage right now.  Ultralight backpackers get their baseweights (sans food and water) down to around 5 pounds!  I  am in fact though a lightweight backpacker,   with my baseweight   under 12 pounds.   And though I admire an ultralighter’s determination and moxy,  I will never get into the 5 pound ranges.  And, the reason my pack weight will never get down to the extreme ultralight weights is that there are some comforts I feel make my backpacking the most enjoyable, and I won’t give those up.   One of those comforts is a warm bag at night!  I have slept in a bag too light and was just cool enough all night long that I didn’t sleep well and was uncomfortable.   A huge part of the wilderness experience for me is laying outside with the stars overhead and the night breezes soughing gently across my face  while  staying warm and cozy all night.

So, decide where you will be hiking (what temps you’ll be in at night), how light you want your packweight ultimately to be, and what other equipment you have that will add warmth to your sleeping gear such as tent, extra clothes etc

Next, what bag material?  Down? Synthetic? Nylon? Microfiber? Goretex?  And to make matters more complicated, there are all kinds of variations and proprietary names of the above.   So, to make it simple…if you expect wet weather, get synthetic and some kind of waterproof outside material  such as microfiber or goretex.  If you expect to be in dry weather normally, then get down and the lightest outside bag material you can.

Bag makers will try and tell you that synthetic is just as good as down.  It is not.  Synthetic bags are not as warm for the same weight,  they lose their loft faster than down, and they are heavier.  Synthetic is cheaper however, so  I used synthetic for my kids when they were smaller.  If they got them dirty or wet it was just not a big deal.  As they got older however, I let them graduate to expensive but cozy down that I knew they would take care of.

Care tip- before you get talked into that cool compression stuff sack that will squish your bag down so small and give you more room in your pack….they do affect your bag’s loft permanently.  I have seen bags permanently delofted by those compression sacks.   I  either leave mine unstuffed in the bottom of my internal frame pack,  or I use the largest stuff sack I can possibly use and still get all my gear in.   My bags last a lot longer as a result.

Now, the question everybody asks, what bag do I use?  I have more than one.  I hike mainly in the High Sierra where I have altitude and infrequent weather.   I  currently have Western Mountaineering bags….for summer I have the 
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 degree bag.

and, for early spring and late fall, I have the 
Western Mountaineering Antelope 5 degree bag

My husband is a much warmer sleeper than I and only uses a bag rated to 30 degrees.  His current bag that he loves is the Western Mountaineering Megalite.

Dee and Gary's bags on the JMT

Dee and Gary’s bags on the JMT


There are so many nice bag makers out there…I especially also like Feathered Friends bags and Marmot bags.

Western Mountaineering are my favorite bags though and I always return to them.  And I can vouch that they are always conservative in their temp ratings so you trust what they list.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: