7 Best Sleeping Bags & Quilts of 2016
If you’ve ever spent a night shivering in the woods, unable to sleep because your teeth are chattering, then you fully understand the importance of a quality sleeping bag. If you haven’t, good! Let’s keep it that way.
Your sleeping bag will be one of the most important pieces of gear you bring on any backpacking trip. It’s critical for warmth, comfort, safety, and helping your body get the rest it needs. Your sleeping bag will also be one of the four heaviest items in your pack (shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack). So it’s a good place to save weight, which will make hiking more enjoyable.
When you start looking for a bag with the perfect balance between warmth, weight, comfort and functionality, you’ll quickly find that there are A LOT of options out there. That’s why I’ve created this guide to share the very best sleeping bags and quilts on the market. Enjoy!
Author: Dave Collins
Last Updated: December 2016
CRITICAL SLEEPING BAG CONSIDERATIONS
PRICE - Your sleeping bag will probably be one of the most expensive items in your backpack, but it could easily be your favorite piece of gear too. Budget sleeping bags can get down around the $150 range and high-end sleeping bags can easily top $500. I’ve heavily factored cost into my choices to recommend bags with great quality and value.
WEIGHT - Your sleeping bag will be one of the four heaviest items in your backpack (shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack). That’s why it’s critical to strike a balance between warmth, comfort, and weight with your choice. It won’t take long to get sick of lugging a heavy sleeping bag up a big hill.
WARMTH - Sleeping bags don’t create warmth, your body creates warmth. Your sleeping bag keeps you warm by trapping that body heat in an enclosed space. Sleeping bags with more insulation trap heat better, so they’re warmer. Sleeping bags with lots of interior space are less efficient because they create a larger area for your body to heat up.
TEMPERATURE RATING - Sleeping bags come with temperature ratings to help you choose the best bag for your hiking syle. In general, bags rated between 15F and 35F are considered good 3-season bags (spring, summer, and fall). Those are the most popular models, so that’s what I’ll focus on for this post. You may also see something called EN temperature rating, which stands for European Norm. EN is a standardized temperature rating system that keeps ratings consistent across the industry.
CHOOSING A TEMPERATURE RATING - Sadly, choosing the right temperature bag is not an exact science. Some people are “hot sleepers” and some are “cold sleepers.” Knowing your sleeping style will help narrow your search. In addition, men generally sleep warmer than women - often around 10 degrees warmer - so they tend to choose bags with higher temperature ratings. The next step is to think about the weather that you usually backpack in. For example, if you rarely backpack in below-freezing temperatures, then a 15F degree bag will probably be overkill for the majority of your trips.
INCREASING TEMPERATURE RATING - Another thing to keep in mind when choosing a temperature rating is that you can always increase your warmth by adding layers. For example, wearing a down jacket with a hood on chilly nights will boost the warmth of your bag big time. You can also sleep in long johns, wool base layers, a warm hat, and even gloves or mittens on really frigid nights.
WARMTH VS WEIGHT - Many backpackers think that warmer is always better when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag. And sometimes it is. But adding warmth also adds weight. So, if you usually like to backpack during warmer months, but you buy a 15F sleeping bag, you’re probably going to be carrying unnecessary weight on the majority of your trips. In addition, you'll likely be too hot to even zip up your bag most nights.
INSULATION TYPE - When it comes to sleeping bag insulation, there are two main types: down and synthetic. Down insulation is more expensive but has a better warmth-to-weight ratio and compresses more. Down insulation bags will also last longer than synthetic bags if taken care of properly - often 20 to 30 years. Synthetic insulation bags are less expensive than down bags, they retain heat better when wet, and they usually dry quicker as well. Synthetic bags tend to be bulkier and weigh more though.
WARM WHEN WET - Synthetic insulation bags (and, to a lesser degree, bags with treated dry down) will hold warmth better when they’re wet and dry quicker. But it’s important to remember that no sleeping bag will be comfortable when wet. If you end up having to spend the night in a wet sleeping bag, you’re probably going to be miserable any way you slice it. So my advice is to be vigilant about keeping your sleeping bag dry at all times.
DOWN FILL POWER - The fill power (fp) of a down bag measures the quality of the down insulation in the bag. Higher fill power down weighs less than lower fill power down. As you might imagine, higher fill power down is also more expensive.
QUILTS VS BAGS - In recent years sleeping quilts have started to become very popular, especially among lightweight backpackers. Using a quilt is just like sleeping under a down comforter. With a quilt, you’ll sleep directly on your sleeping pad, which reduces weight by cutting out unnecessary insulation that would be compressed under your body. Some quilts also have closed footboxes and can be attached to sleeping pads, which will help hold heat in. Mummy bags are more restrictive, but they’re a more surefire way to hold heat in because they create a fully-enclosed system with a hood.
BAG LENGTH - Check with the manufacturer to find the correct length sleeping bag to fit your height. If you’re on the edge, the longer size will usually be a better fit. With a quilt, consider bumping up one size for the ability to pull it over your head on really chilly nights.
BAG WIDTH - Mummy bags usually come in standard widths, so if the cut is too slim you’ll probably need to choose a different model. Slim cut bags are great for saving weight and efficient warmth, but they are more restrictive. Most quilts come with the option of choosing a width. A little extra width in a quilt can be nice for making sure there are no drafts when shifting around at night. This can be especially helpful if you're wearing a bulky puffy coat on truly frigid nights.
ZIPPER LENGTH - Mummy bags often come with different zipper lengths. Full-length zippers are ideal because they give you the ability to open the bag completely for ventilation. Some bags reduce weight by cutting down on zipper length. If you usually like having your feet tucked in, a shorter zipper might not bother you, but most people prefer the flexibility of a full-length zipper.
DWR - Durable water repellent is a treatment that causes water to bead up on the outer shell of a sleeping bag rather than soak in. DWR will wear off over time and need to be reapplied, but it’s a nice feature to have. It won’t make a bag anywhere near waterproof, but it does add a little extra water protection.
HOOD - Almost all mummy bags come with hoods to help contain heat loss from your head. Most backpacking quilts don’t have hoods, so you’ll want to retain that heat another way. Wearing a warm hat or a down jacket with a hood are the two most common ways to protect against heat loss on chilly nights in a quilt.
BUYING ONLINE - Check the seller's return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused sleeping bag within a certain timeframe after purchasing. I recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning/exchanging it if it doesn’t feel quite right. I’ve been buying lightweight sleeping bags online for years and I’ve yet to have any problems. Also, I'm a huge fan of Amazon Prime, where you can get unlimited free two-day shipping.
STORAGE - Never store any sleeping bag compressed. Always take it out of its stuff sack and store in a dry location. Keep your sleeping bag in a large sack with room to spread out or hang it up. Storing your sleeping bag while compressed can damage the insulation of your bag and hurt its ability to hold heat over time.
7 BEST SLEEPING BAGS & QUILTS OF 2016
WEIGHT: 1lb 4oz
In my opinion, there's no other sleeping bag or quilt that beats the warmth, weight, functionality, and affordability of the Enlightened Equipment Revelation. The Revelation can be left open like a blanket on warm nights or be cinched up tight when the temperature drops. It attaches directly to your sleeping pad to create a toasty den, even if you tend to squirm around during the night. If you’re like me and you dislike feeling constricted in tight-fitting mummy bags, you'll love the freedom of the Revelation. See my full review here.
The Revelation Quilt is my top pick sleeping bag/quilt. For more of my top picks, check out the CleverHiker Top Picks page.
RELATED: The temperature, length, and width are all customizable for the Revelation. I recommend bumping up one size in length and width for extra coverage on really chilly nights. The Enlightened Equipment Enigma has the same design with a closed footbox. The Convert has a full length zipper.
WEIGHT: 1lb 6oz
Katabatic Gear is known for quality products and attention to detail. The Flex 22 is no exception. Just like the EE Revelation, this quilt has a flexible (and fantastic) design. Both quilts work very similarly, but the Flex 22 has a couple of nice upgrades. The most notable is that the Flex 22 has a better attachment system for connecting to sleeping pads. The downside is that this quilt costs significantly more than the Revelation.
RELATED: The temperature, length, and width are all customizable for Katabatic's Flex quilts. Katabatic also makes the popular Palisade, which is a lighter quilt with a closed footbox.
WEIGHT: 1lb 3oz
Western Mountaineering makes some of the highest quality sleeping bags in the US. They also make some of the lightest and warmest sleeping bags around. The Western Mountaineering SummerLite is an insanely light mummy bag with a full-length zipper and draft tube for holding heat in. It has a simple design and slim-fit for heat efficiency. It’s got everything you need in a down mummy bag and nothing you don’t. The main downside with WM sleeping bags is that they come with a sizeable price tag.
RELATED: Western Mountaineering also makes the exceptional UltraLite 20 bag for colder sleepers.
WEIGHT: 1lb 13oz
The Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Spark 35 is one of the lightest and most compressible synthetic sleeping bags around. It’s also one of the most affordable sleeping bags on this list, which is always nice. Its unique design is surprisingly warm and comfortable. The main downside with this bag is that it has a half-zip, which makes it less versatile and a bad fit for those that don’t like having their feet tucked in.
RELATED: The HyperLamina Flame is a warmer bag (21F) with the same design. That extra warmth does come at a significant increase in total weight though (2lb 12oz).
WEIGHT: 1lb 13oz
If you’re looking for a lightweight down mummy bag at an affordable price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the REI Igneo. This isn’t the lightest, warmest, or most compressible sleeping bag on the market, but it does come surprisingly close. The place where the Igneo really shines is it’s price tag. So if you’re a backpacker on a budget that still wants the quality and weight savings of a down mummy bag, this is your guy.
RELATED: The REI Joule is the women’s version of this bag.
The Sea to Summit Spark Sp II is a fantastically lightweight mummy bag with one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios around. It has a very slim fit and simple design to keep weight to an absolute minimum. The baffles on the lower half of this bag are sewn through, which reduces its temperature rating and make it a poor choice for chilly trips. The main downside with this bag is that it has a 1/3-zipper, which greatly reduces versatility and will make it a bad fit for those that don’t like having their feet tucked in. It's also a relatively pricy bag for it's limited temperature range.
WEIGHT: 1lb 1oz
ZPacks makes some of the lightest gear for truly ultralight backpackers. Their Solo Down sleeping bag has a simple design and one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios of any bag on the market. This bag does have a slim fit, a small footbox, and a sizable price tag, so it’s not the ideal fit for every backpacker.
RELATED: The temperature, length, and width of this bag are all customizable. ZPacks also offers the ability to add a draft tube and different zipper configurations at additional cost.
If weight (2lb 8oz) and bulk are not as much of a concern for you, definitely take a look at the 20F REI Lumen synthetic sleeping bag. This is one of the best budget buy sleeping bags you’ll find anywhere. If your main priority is a great backpacking bag, I’d choose one of my other recommendations. But if you’re looking for a budget camping bag that can make a few backcountry trips as well, this is an excellent choice.
RELATED: The REI Lyra is the women’s version of this bag.
Marmot recently redesigned their popular Hydrogen sleeping bag to make it even lighter (1lb 7oz) and warmer (25F) than before, and it also comes at an affordable price. This down mummy bag has all the bells and whistles and still manages to keep weight to a minimum. Marmot also redesigned the popular Helium sleeping bag, which is warmer (13.5F) and heavier (2lb 1oz).
The new Therm-a-Rest Corus HD is a lightweight quilt (1lb 6oz) that comes at an affordable price. It's not rated for chilly trips (35F), but it does have one of the best pad attachment systems of any quilt I've ever tested. It has enough interior space so you can layer up on frigid nights, which makes it a good choice for lightweight 3-season hiking. See my full review here.
I absolutely love the idea behind Big Agnes’ sleep system bags. They save weight and increase comfort by connecting your sleeping bag to your pad and removing the unnecessary insulation between the two. The problem is that these bags still have poor warmth-to-weight ratios. The 45F Pitchpine has sewn-through baffles and is too chilly for most of my spring and fall trips. The 20F Zirkel UL is 2lb 5oz and hangs my head off the pad, which must have been a design oversight. This is an excellent company building great gear, so I have no doubt they’ll dial in their ultralight sleep system bags. Until then, I’ll wait and watch.
Sierra Designs is another company making really unique and exciting new backpacking gear. Their Backcountry Bed is a very comfortable and innovative design. It comes in a variety of temperature ratings and weights. The downside is that even the lightest model of this bag still has a poor warmth-to-weight ratio. These bags are just too heavy and spendy for me to take on my backcountry trips.
The Nemo Tango Down Comforter is another really unique bag with a comfortable design that falls short in the area of warmth-to-weight. If you hate feeling constricted in mummy bags and mostly backpack in warm weather, this comforter could be a good option for you. My main problem is that for a 30F bag, I would prefer for it to weigh much less than 1lb 13oz. A quilt will provide the same comfort with more warmth for less weight.
The Hammock Gear Burrow 20 is similar in design to the Enlightened Equipment Revelation and Katabatic Flex. I prefer the zipper design of the two models listed above over the snaps on the Burrow. Also, the standard width of the Burrow is 4-inches slimmer. They do offer a wide size, but I wish there was an option to go wider like the other manufacturers. Also, make sure to ask for their free pad attachment system because it's not automatically included (and isn't quite as good).
I hope you found this guide useful. If you want to provide feedback or recommend an item, please use my contact form to get in touch. I'd love to hear from you!
If you're interested in my other backpacking gear recommendations, check out the following resources:
Disclosure: The trust of my audience is of the utmost importance to me. That’s why I only recommend equipment I love from companies I trust. I have not been paid to review any of the products listed above. A couple of items were provided to me for free to review, but I purchased most of this equipment myself. Also, I am under no obligation to give positive reviews to any of the products listed above. This gear just rocks. This page contains affiliate links. Check out my terms page for more info.