True adventurers can bivouac on the side of a mountain thousands of feet in the air. For the rest of us, that sounds like an actual nightmare. But whether you’re an experienced climber or a casual hiker, you still need a sleeping bag to snuggle up inside at the end of the day. So how do you choose the best sleeping bags for your camping trip?
There are a ton of factors to consider here. Most sleeping bags are rated for temperature according to the international EN testing standards. This is good news because it means you can reliably compare sleeping bags from different brands and see which ones meet your camping or backpacking needs.
The EN rating system assigns each sleeping bag a comfort rating and a lower-temperature limit rating. Sleeping bags are then usually grouped into three broad categories. Using American measurements, the first category includes -40 to +4-degree bags, then +5 to 29-degree, and finally 30 to 55-degree Fahrenheit bags.
For alpine or winter camping, you’ll definitely want to pick a sleeping bag where the EN number is safely below the minimum temperature forecast for your destination. For example, if you’re headed on a cross-country skiing trip where there’s a chance of temperatures falling to 0-degrees, you’ll want a bag whose EN comfort rating is somewhere below 0, and with a minimum limit at least 20-degrees below. It’s always easier (and safer!) to partially unzip your sleeping bag if you’re too warm than to try and huddle in all your parkas if you’re too cold.
Conversely, summer backpackers may find it much easier to carry a lighter, 30 to 55-degree sleeping bag, since these are commonly slim enough to roll up and fit inside a small backpack. If you loved backyard sleepovers as a child, then you’re likely already familiar with this style of sleeping bag. These kinds of lightweight sleeping bags are also useful if you’re doing low-elevation climbing in Mediterranean or tropical areas.
Finally, the popular “three-season,” sleeping bag, rated for +5 to 29 degrees, is ideal for expeditions where it may get cool but not cold, such as camping in the high desert in late spring or early fall. This kind of sleeping bag is generally good for coastal mountain ranges and mid-latitude summer trips.
Keep in mind: Sleeping in a tent or enclosure usually adds about 10 degrees of warmth to the sleeping bag’s EN rating, and using a sleeping pad also adds a few degrees. Of course, if you’re more interested in glamping than testing your mettle in the great outdoors, you can also find comfy camping cots and glamping tents.
Want some help finding the best sleeping bags for your upcoming camping trip? Ranging from glacial to tropical, here are some of the best sleeping bags for seasonal camping of all kinds.
FOR WINTER CAMPING: REI Magma 15 Sleeping Bag
An excellent cold-weather bag, the Magma weighs only 1 pound and goes down to 15 degrees for men and 2 degrees for women. Waterproof and made from a nylon shell, this is the ultimate winter sleeping bag at an affordable price.
FOR WINTER CAMPING: Puma Super MF Sleeping Bag
The Puma Super MF Sleeping Bag by Western Mountaineering is rated for -25 degrees and comes packed with dense, comfortable down filling. It also features a light, breathable but watertight shell.
FOR THREE-SEASON CAMPING: Kelty Cosmic Sleeping Bag
The Kelty Cosmic 20-degree sleeping bag is water-resistant and comes with its own stuff sack included. A good mix of portability and comfort, this is one of the top-rated three-season bags.
FOR CASUAL CAMPING: ASOUT Sleeping Bag
A lot of the sleeping bags on this list are designed for more serious camping expeditions, and they have a price to match. If you’re planning a more low-key camping trip, then there’s no reason to splurge on more expensive sleeping bags (again, unless you are anticipating cold temperatures). For the average camper, the ASOUT Sleeping Bag is a fine choice. This comfy, down-filled sleeping bag has plenty of room and will keep you warm in temperatures between 32 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
FOR BACKYARD CAMPING: L.L. Bean Flannel-Lined Sleeping Bags
This is the classic sleeping bag you remember from childhood sleepovers and fun-filled adventures with your friends. Available in sizes for kids and adults, the L.L. Bean sleeping bag is lined with cozy flannel. It boasts a durable shell and recycled high-lofting insulation. Rated for 40-degree temperatures, it’s ideal for spring and summer camping only. Of course, it’s perfect for sleepovers any time of the year.
FOR THREE-SEASON CAMPING: REI Co-Op Trailbreak 20
This is a great bag as the weight is 3 pounds for men and 4 pounds for women’s. It goes down to 18 degrees F for men and 5 degrees F for women which is a great temperature for high desert camping in the spring. As a budget bag, it’s a great starter for those just getting into camping or backpacking.
FOR SUMMER CAMPING: Marmot Trestles Elite Eco 30
Looking for a lightweight bag that’ll keep you warm in a wet climate? The Marmot Trestles bag is made from synthetic down and is lighter than your average down bag. It also insulates when wet, which will keep you warmer than a regular down bag. A bonus: it’s made from 96% recycled materials.
FOR SUMMER CAMPING: Basin and Range La Sal
The La Sal Sleeping Bag from Basin and Range is very efficient choice for warmer weather camping. With real down filling and an ultralight shell, it’s easy to pack and remains comfortable on warm summer nights under the stars.
FOR THREE SEASON CAMPING: Big Agnes Torchlight 20
As with all other items fit to size, here is finally a roomy sleeping bag that has added width and length without adding weight. An all-around great bag for almost every season, it is good for temperatures down to 18 degrees.
FOR THREE SEASON CAMPING: Nemo Forte 20
Have you ever tried to sleep on your side in a sleeping bag? If you have, you understand the struggle of twisting your whole body with the bag or just trying to do a semi-fetal position tuck. It’s never very comfortable and NEMO has found a solution: a side sleeping bag. With extra room for your appendages, feel free to roll in this three-season bag that goes down to 18 degrees.
FOR EXTREME COLD: Therm-A-Rest Polar Plunger
This ultimate cold winter sleeping bag will keep you cozy up to -20 degrees. Sounds stellar, right? Made from 800-fill-power goose Nikwax, this bag weighs only 3 pounds, so it’s a lightweight addition to any pack.
FOR CAR CAMPING: Exped MegaSleep Duo
This unisex sleeping bag hosts two people, which is great for car camping. Weighing 8 pounds, you won’t want to take this one backpacking. Made from a cozy polyester insulated material, this bag will keep you warm up to 15 degrees, which is pretty impressive for a car camping bag.