6 Best Sleeping Bags & Quilts of 2018
If you’ve ever spent a night in the backcountry too cold to sleep, shivering uncontrollably, desperately waiting for the sun to rise, then you fully understand the importance of a quality sleeping bag. If you haven’t, good! Let’s keep it that way.
A proper sleeping bag is one of the most important choices for any backpacking trip. It’ll be 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, and backpack), so it’s a good place to save weight as well.
When you're 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.
For more of my top gear recommendations, have a look through these popular CleverHiker Gear Guide links:
CRITICAL SLEEPING BAG CONSIDERATIONS
BEST - It’s important to remember that what’s “best” for me, might not necessarily be best for you. I work very hard to detail the strengths and weaknesses of every item I review with the ultimate goal of putting the decision making power in your hands. In the end there’s rarely one clear “best” choice, but hopefully I can help you find equipment that will work best for you.
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 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, backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad). 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 a heavy and bulky sleeping bag, but you don't want to compromise on warmth either. In an ideal world, you'd own 2-3 sleeping bags to choose from depending on the trip, but most backpackers choose one bag that will keep them warm at the lowest temperatures they plan to hike in.
WARMTH - Sleeping bags don’t create warmth, your body creates warmth. Your sleeping bag keeps you warm by trapping 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 warm up.
TEMPERATURE RATING - Sleeping bags come with temperature ratings to help you choose the best bag for the conditions you'll be hiking in. European Norm (EN) is a standardized temperature rating system that keeps ratings consistent across the industry, but not all companies use EN ratings. The number listed with most sleeping bags (example: Magma 10) is the EN Lower Limit, which is usually 10-15 degrees lower than the EN Comfort Rating, which I find to be a much more realistic rating. In general, bags with EN Lower Limits between 10°F and 30°F are considered good 3-season bags (spring, summer, and fall), but that will largely depend on individuals and the conditions they hike in (see “choosing a temp rating” section below).
CHOOSING A TEMPERATURE RATING - Sadly, choosing the right temperature rating is not an exact science. Men tend to sleep hotter than women (usually by about 10 degrees) and some people are “hot sleepers” or “cold sleepers.” Combine that with the fact that a bunch of other factors contribute to warmth (sleeping pad insulation, clothing, hydration, nutrition, altitude, etc.) and now things are just downright confusing. For this list, I choose bags with temperature ratings that I feel will be a good fit for the average 3-season backpacker. Most of the bags on this list will keep the average user comfortable when temperatures dip to freezing, or a few degrees below. If you know you’re a hot or cold sleeper, you may want to adjust your choice accordingly.
INCREASING TEMPERATURE RATING - Another thing to keep in mind when choosing a sleeping bag is that you can always increase your warmth by adding layers. For example, wearing a down jacket with a hood on chilly nights inside your sleeping bag will significantly boost your warmth. You can also sleep in wool base layers, a warm hat, gloves, and even your raincoat/pants if things get truly frigid. Other tricks include eating a meal right before bed, keeping well hydrated, putting a hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag by your feet, and finding natural insulators (like pine needles) to put your sleeping pad on.
DOWN VS SYNTHETIC - 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 (sometimes decades) than synthetic bags if taken care of properly. Synthetic insulation bags tend to be less expensive than down bags and retain heat somewhat better when wet. Synthetic bags tend to be much bulkier and weigh more than down bags. In my opinion, down bags tend to perform far superior, so they make up the majority of my recommendations.
WARM WHEN WET - Synthetic insulation bags (and, to a lesser degree, bags with treated dry down) will technically hold in warmth better than down when 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 not to choose a sleeping bag based on how it will perform when wet. Instead, always remain vigilant to keep 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. In general, 850 fill power and up is considered very high quality down. Anything lower than that will be more cost effective, but won't have quite as good warmth-to-weight.
QUILTS VS MUMMY BAGS - Down quilts have steadily gained in popularity over the past few years, especially among ultralight backpackers. The reasoning is simple: down quilts provide the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any backcountry sleep system. They do this by cutting out the ineffective down that’s normally compressed under your body in a mummy bag. With a quilt, you’ll sleep directly on your pad and it feels similar to a down comforter. Quilts don’t have hoods, so it’s important to pack a warm hat or hooded clothing (puffy coat) for chilly evenings. Most quilts have pad attachment straps to help hold in heat, but mummy bags work better in cold/windy conditions because they’re less drafty. I prefer the flexibility, weight, and comfort of quilts when nighttime temperatures are above freezing (32°F) and mummy bags when temps dip below freezing.
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 fairly 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 do tend to be more restrictive. Most quilts come with the option of choosing a width. A little extra width in a quilt can be very 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.
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.
STORAGE - Never store any sleeping bag compressed. Always take it out of its stuff sack and store in a dry location. Hang your sleeping bag up, or keep it in a large sack with room to spread out. Storing your sleeping bag while compressed can damage the insulation of your bag and hurt its ability to hold heat over time.
6 BEST SLEEPING BAGS & QUILTS OF 2018
EN Comfort Rating: 22°F
Weight: 1lb 14oz
Chosen For: Ultralight Value
REI’s new Magma 10 (and Magma 17 for women) has a combination of weight, warmth, and cost that no other sleeping bag on this list can match. The Magma gets it right where it matters the most - quality materials, an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, comfort against the skin, no-snag zipper, and a well shaped footbox and hood. The Magma’s combination of quality and cost makes it one of the best value sleeping bags I’ve ever tested, hands down. The Magma isn’t the highest quality sleeping bag on this list (Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends still get that nod), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its performance.
EN Comfort Rating: 25°F
Weight: 1lb 13oz
Chosen For: Ultralight Quality
Western Mountaineering makes some of the highest quality, lightest, and warmest sleeping bags I’ve ever tested. The UltraLite is one of their most popular designs and in my opinion it’s the highest quality sleeping bag on this list. Every detail on this bag is dialed in (materials, zipper, footbox, hood, down collar, differential cut, continuous baffles, draft tube, you name it) and the end result truly shines. The biggest downside with WM bags is their sizable price tag, but they can also last for decades if treated with care. Western Mountaineering’s Alpinlite (a wider version of the UltraLite) and Versalite (a slightly wider and warmer version of the UltraLite) are also both excellent choices. Bonus: WM bags are made in the USA.
EN Comfort Rating: N/A
Weight: 1lb 6oz
Chosen For: Ultralight Versatility
The Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt has a combination of weight, versatility, and affordability that makes it an exceptional choice for ultralight backpacking. The Revelation can be left open like a blanket on warm nights or cinched up tight when the temperature drops. If you dislike feeling constricted in tight-fitting mummy bags, you'll love the freedom of the Revelation. All quilts tend to be draftier than mummy bags (read “quilts vs mummy bags” section above), but the pad attachment straps of the Revelation help. Enlightened Equipment quilts are made to order (lead time required) and come in a variety of temps, lengths, widths, and colors. For 3-season use, I prefer the 10°F model (read “choosing a temp rating” section above) and I bump up one size in length and width for full coverage. Bonus: EE quilts are made in the USA.
EN Comfort Rating: N/A
Weight: 1lb 15oz
Chosen For: Ultralight Quality
Feathered Friends is an industry leader in quality down gear and the Swallow Nano 20 (and women’s Egret Nano 20) is a prime example of their expertise. The Swallow has an excellent combination of warmth, weight, and space, all for a relatively affordable price, especially given the quality of their materials and construction. Feathered Friends doesn’t list EN temperature ratings, but I’ve found their ratings to be on the conservative side compared most competitors. Like many of FF’s bags, the Swallow also comes in a slightly lighter UL version. The Hummingbird Nano 20 is the same design with a slim fit and the Swift Nano 20 has a roomier cut. Bonus: FF bags are made in the USA.
EN Comfort Rating: N/A
Weight: 2lb 11oz
Chosen For: Roomy Comfort
The NEMO Disco 15 (and women’s Rave 15) has a unique spoon shape that makes it much roomier than the typical mummy bag. If you tend to shift around throughout the night and dislike like the tighter fitting nature of mummy bags, the Disco is an excellent option. This bag also has two “thermo gills” that help vent heat on warm nights, as well as a bunch of other convenient features. The biggest downside with roomy bags like the Disco is they’re less heat efficient (your body has to warm the extra space, so they tend to be colder). For backpacking, I personally prefer the warmth-to-weight ratios of quilts and mummy bags, but the spoon shape of the Disco is very comfortable. If you’re willing to accept a slightly heavier, bulkier, and less heat efficient bag for a significant upgrade in roominess, the NEMO Disco is your jam. NEMO also makes this bag in a slightly lighter and more compressible Riff 15 model (women’s Jam 15).
EN Comfort Rating: 30°F
Weight: 2lb 13oz
Chosen For: Budget
The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is a great budget buy for beginners, campers, and those that aren’t as concerned with weight and bulk. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for, so don’t expect the same quality out of the Cosmic as the other bags on this list. That said, the Cosmic is functional and comfortable enough to get the job done well at a fraction of the price. This is the heaviest and bulkiest bag on my list, so if you plan to backpack a lot over the years, I’d recommend investing in one of my other high quality recommendations. But when cost and functionality are the most important considerations, the Kelty Cosmic Down is tough to beat.
The following sleeping bags and quilts didn’t make my final list, but they’ve got a lot of good things going for them. In this section I’ll try to quickly highlight each bag's main strength and explain why it didn’t make the final cut. And you never know, maybe one of these bags will be the right fit for you.
EN Comfort Rating: 30°F
Strength: Ultralight Quality
Patagonia’s new 850 Down 19°F sleeping bag has a lot to love, and I’m really looking forward to giving mine more trail time this year. I especially like the hood, footbox, and center zip, which allows me to sleep on either side without feeling a zipper underneath me. The specs of Patagonia’s 850 put it in the same ballpark as brands like Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends, but I’m not ready to put it in the same league as those time-tested brands just yet. Still, for their first ever sleeping bag, Patagonia is making a strong showing.
The quality, warmth, weight, and affordability of REI’s new Magma 10 (and women’s Magma 17) knocked out a lot of the competition this year. The following sleeping bags are all high quality designs with a lot of great features. These bags just didn’t make the cut this year due to my preference for the Magma.
The following quilts are all high quality options with excellent features. In the end, these quilts didn’t make the cut because Enlightened Equipment’s Revelation significantly beats them in price (not necessarily overall quality though). I’d still highly recommend all of the following products, I just think EE has them beat in value.
The Big Agnes Mystic UL 15 and Therm-a-Rest Antares HD 15 both incorporate pad attachment systems to help keep your mattress underneath you throughout the night. While I like this idea in principle, I haven’t found the results to be worth the increase in weight. Also, these bags fall short when you put their warmth, weight, and cost up against REI’s Magma.
These mid-range sleeping bags are quality options caught between the budget of Kelty’s Cosmic Down 20 and the quality of REI’s Magma. When push comes to shove, I personally would recommend either saving money with the Cosmic or investing in the quality of the Magma. That said, all these bags are a decent quality upgrade over the Cosmic, so if you’re truly in the mid-range market, these bags are definitely good options.
The more time I spend on the trail, the less value I see in recommending synthetic sleeping bags (read “down vs synthetic” section above). The following quality synthetic sleeping bags all come with affordable price tags, I just find them hard to recommend over budget down options.
If you enjoyed this review you'll probably like my other gear lists as well. Here are some popular resources from the CleverHiker Gear Guide.
- CleverHiker Top Gear Picks
- Best Lightweight, Ultralight, & Budget Tents
- Best Backpacks & Stoves
- Best Sleeping Pads & Hammocks
I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best sleeping bag to fit your needs. If you want to provide feedback or recommend an item I missed, please use my contact form to get in touch.
Thanks for reading and happy trails!
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