After a long day of hiking, setting up camp, and a relaxing meal around a campfire, there is nothing so wonderful as climbing into my sleeping bag and falling asleep – as long as I’m warm enough to fall asleep, that is. If you’ve ever tried to sleep in a cheap or inadequate sleeping bag, you know how long and exhausting a night camping can be. But how do you go about shopping for a sleeping bag when the item descriptions are filled with terms like loft, temperature rating, and continuous baffles? That’s where this guide comes in. I will help you find the best sleeping bag for your situation by reviewing four of our top picks for the best 3-season down sleeping bags that will keep you warm and dry for years to come.
My Experience That Led To Finding a Great Sleeping Bag
I grew up camping and have continued the tradition with my own young family. We’ve camped in the backyard, in the desert, and in the mountains. I’ve led scout troop campouts and even spent one wedding anniversary camping in the snow because we couldn’t wait for the weather to warm up any longer. Almost all of the camping I’ve done has been tent camping, so I am no stranger to sleeping on a thin pad on the ground. After many years of using a basic, run-of-the-mill sleeping bag I’d been given in college, I was ready to purchase a sleeping bag that would last for decades.
Our top sleeping bag pick:
In all of my research, I found person after person recommending Western Mountaineering sleeping bags and gear as the best purchase they’d ever made. Western Mountaineering is the gold standard in camping and backpacking gear for good reason: their sleeping bags are some of the lightest on the market (thanks to highly-compressible goose down) and use the highest quality materials and construction. Western Mountaineering sleeping bags are not cheap, so I had to be sure I was getting the right bags for my needs. Although I have gone with whatever I could find for the best price in the past (we all have to start somewhere!), I was ready to make a long-term investment this time. As a result, it was very important to me to choose a product that would last and a company that would stand behind their work.
I knew I wanted a sleeping bag I could use even in my hot, Southern summers—where nighttime temperatures are often upwards of 65°F—but that would also keep me warm on cool spring nights. I ultimately decided that a 20°F rating would be perfect for my situation. It is what I recommend to most campers shopping for a sleeping bag of their own. I’ve found my to be the perfect level of warmth for camping during most of the year.
What I Love
One thing I love about this sleeping bag is its ability to both retain heat and compress down to fit in my pack. I love the fact that I do not have to sacrifice space for warmth, especially on longer backpacking trips where I am carrying my gear all along the trail. I was also pleasantly surprised by the design of the hood; it lies flat as opposed to curving up around my head. Since I often sleep on my stomach and side, this is a feature I do not want to be without. The draft collar and zipper tubes keep warm air from escaping out the top of my sleeping bag or through the zipper. I really appreciate these features on cold nights. I can be warm on both sides without my needing to flip over in the night to rotate which side lies next to the zipper opening.
Another design feature I have come to really love is the way the goose down is stuffed into the sleeping bag shell. Thanks to continuous baffles (the way filling is stitched into the shell) throughout the sleeping bag, I can move them down slightly to provide more or less warmth throughout the bag. For campers that toss and turn a lot at night, however, the continuous baffling can be more frustrating than helpful.
Our runner-up sleeping bag:
Big Agnes is a favorite brand of sleeping bags and camping equipment for people who want a little more room or to share with a loved one. Big Agnes makes quite a few double sleeping bags, although, for the purposes of this article, I’m focusing only on the single, 3-season bags. Even with a single bag like the , you will find a bit more shoulder and hip room than in a standard mummy sleeping bag without adding extra bulk to your pack.
Although I have not personally had a problem rolling off my sleeping pad, I know fellow campers who do. Rolling off your pad onto the cold, hard tent floor is an unwelcome surprise. Even if the drop in temperature doesn’t wake you up in the night, you will certainly feel the stiffness in the morning. To combat that problem, the comes standard with a sleeve to keep your sleeping pad snugly attached to your sleeping bag all night long.
Another great feature of the is that it unzips from all sides, meaning you can get in or out on either side. Double zippers also let you vent from either the top or bottom (or both) if you get too warm during the night.
Big Agnes is another company with a reputation for standing behind their gear. Since I was looking for a sleeping bag that would last me for fifteen years or more, I limited my search to bags and companies with solid customer service, superior construction, and stellar reviews. In the end, I ended up choosing the instead of the Big Agnes Summit Park 15 because I did not need the extra width and I wanted the highest-quality goose down. But I’ve met other campers that love their Big Agnes bags—both down-filled (like the ) and the styles with synthetic filling as well.
Our most versatile sleeping bag choice:
One of the more unique styles in the down-filled sleeping bag market is the . Instead of a zippered side, you slip in and out of the enlarged opening at the top.
An incorporated quilt combined with the enlarged opening make this design incredibly versatile: If you’re too warm, fold the quilt down to let air flow into the sleeping bag. Wrap the comforter tightly around yourself to prevent heat from escaping on nights when you need help staying warm. Most mummy sleeping bags are really only suitable for sleeping on your back, but not the Side and stomach sleepers like me will especially appreciate the ability to lay the blanket across their shoulders and still stay warm at night.
Things To Consider
One major disadvantage of a mummy sleeping bag is that my feet often get too hot when I’m camping in warm weather. One solution is a double-zippered bag like the . Another option is a foot vent like in the . If you feel too hot, simply slide your feet out of the foot vent to cool off. When you’re ready to warm back up, tuck them back inside.
The same comforter that allows you to modify your sleeping style and warmth level can be removed and used alone around camp. Deep pockets inside the blanket keep your hands and arms warm and let you keep the quilt in place whether you have it wrapped around yourself or are using it with the sleeping bag.
All in all, this was the most unique and versatile sleeping bag I considered and one I would really love to see in action on the trail. The is the closest to what I was looking for in a long-term sleeping bag, but Sierra Designs does offer variations of this same sleeping bag in different fill materials and loft heights if you want to try the design but need something a little different than I do.
An intermediate sleeping bag option:
If you are looking for a high-quality down sleeping bag, but you aren’t ready to invest in one of the amazing bags on our list so far, consider the . The price point is often less than other down sleeping bags with the same features, making it a great option if you are just getting started with year-round camping.
In general, continuous baffles are considered a high-end feature, but some campers prefer filling that stays put all night. If you don’t need or don’t care for adjustable filling, you will appreciate the quilt-through construction that holds everything in place. The proprietary down insulation is water resistant and designed to dry more quickly than other down-filled bags. The ripstop shell is made from the same material as most tents, so it will be durable and repel water.
Features and Options
Kelty offers a long, regular, and short version of the as well, in case you are looking for the best sleeping bag for your particular height. In general, campers at or above 6 feet tall will appreciate the long, while those below 5’5″ might prefer a short model.
The is heavier than comparable sleeping bags and is made from slightly less durable materials, but it is still far and away better than the sleeping bags most people have sitting in the garage or basement. If you are ready for a sleeping bag upgrade but not to commit fully to one of the other amazing bags on this list, start with the Kelty Cosmic 20. You will be hard-pressed to find another sleeping bag of this quality for the price.
Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag
How did I decide which sleeping bags to include on this list? My goal was to offer four outstanding options that met the needs of most campers during the majority of the year. The three main factors I considered when choosing a sleeping bag were temperature (or season) rating, fill material, and size.
In general, the temperature rating of a sleeping bag will tell you the lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep an average sleeper comfortable. Temperature rating should be used as a general guideline instead of a specific guarantee. Every camper has a slightly different idea of the ideal sleeping temperature and the temperature rating process varies by manufacturer. Give yourself some wiggle room when identifying your ideal temperature rating. Choose a sleeping bag that is rated just a little lower than what you expect to encounter for the most comfortable night’s sleep.
The most versatile sleeping bags, known as 3-season sleeping bags, have a temperature rating (in Fahrenheit) of +10° to +35°. Summer-only bags are rated above +35°, while winter-only bags are rated below +10°. For most campers, a 3-season sleeping bag is the most versatile option. On the rare occasions that you will be camping in warmer or cooler temperatures, you can modify your sleeping situation to accommodate the weather without having to buy separate sleeping bags for each season. All the bags on our list are 3-season sleeping bags with a rating around 20°F because they meet the needs of almost all campers in most situations.
Understanding EN Testing Standards
Thanks to a 2005 law (EN 13537), European testing standards are the most closely regulated. As a result, you can expect a more uniform result with any sleeping bag that undergoes the EN test. Although each sleeping bag manufacturer can decide how to rate its own sleeping bags, it is worth knowing the basics of the EN test before you shop for a sleeping bag since many companies are adopting the EN test to make worldwide sales easier.
The EN test assumes that each camper is sleeping in one layer of thermal underwear and a hat with the sleeping bag over a single sleeping pad. If you sleep in more (or less) clothing when you camp or generally feel hot or cold when you sleep, use that information to adjust your ideal rating accordingly.
Upper Limit describes the highest temperature an average male can comfortably sleep with the bag zipper open and his arms outside of the bag. If the nighttime low is any higher than this, you may find the sleeping bag too warm for a comfortable sleep.
Comfort Limit is a mid-range temperature that is comfortable for an average female. I prefer to use the comfort limit when evaluating sleeping bags because it sits between the high and low extremes.
Lower Limit is the temperature at which an average male can sleep for eight hours without waking. Most campers will not be comfortable at the lower limit unless they sleep hot in general or use some other method of warming themselves (such as wearing more clothing to bed or sleeping on a thicker pad).
Sleeping bags are filled with synthetic (often polyester) insulation, duck and/or goose down, or a combination of synthetic and down filling together. The type of insulation greatly influences a sleeping bag’s price and effectiveness.
Down filling is the warmest for its weight and lasts the longest, which makes down-filled sleeping bags popular for anyone trying to conserve weight or space. You will pay more for a down sleeping bag, but with proper care, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. When your down sleeping bag seems to lose some of its loft (height), simply follow the manufacturer’s directions for washing and drying the bag. Once the down is fully dry again, your sleeping bag will be as good as new.
Synthetic insulation weighs more than down but costs less. In addition to saving money, there is one other reason you might choose a synthetic filling: if you expect that your sleeping bag will often be wet. Synthetic filling dries much faster than down and is not as heavy when wet. Some synthetic sleeping bags are also better than down for campers with severe allergies. As long as you can keep your sleeping bag dry, however, and have no allergies to down, down filling is almost always worth the cost.
With down sleeping bags especially, the loft is a good measurement of how much warmth you can expect from the sleeping bag. When comparing two sleeping bags of the same weight, the bag with the higher loft will be warmer. The smaller the down that is used to fill the sleeping bag, the more air it can trap inside to act as insulation. If you are comparing sleeping bags that list fill instead of loft, a higher fill number denotes down filling that expands to a greater volume. With either fill or loft, larger numbers equal a warmer sleeping bag.
Size and Shape
When it comes to bag shape, the two main varieties are mummy and traditional. Mummy sleeping bags narrow closer to the feet, while traditional sleeping bags are the same width all the way down. Mummy bags are much warmer than traditional or box-style sleeping bags. If you want the warmth of a mummy bag but need a bit more legroom, look for a wider or relaxed-fit bag.
Most high-end sleeping bags are mummy-style bags. Mummy bags are much warmer than traditional sleeping bags, although the shape does limit the sleeper’s ability to move around. There is some variation in bag width, however, which can be useful if you have especially broad shoulders or are very tall or short. No matter what online reviews say, the best sleeping bag is the one that fits YOU!
Weight and Bulk
Another consideration is the weight and bulk of a sleeping bag. If you will be carrying your gear long distances in a pack, saving even a few ounces or inches is a big deal. This is another reason they fill many high-end sleeping bags with down or down-synthetic blends: down insulation is much lighter and easier to compress than synthetic filling. And when you unpack the sleeping bag, down filling fluffs up to its original loft faster and for many years longer than synthetic filling. Aim for a sleeping bag that weighs 2 pounds or less if you will be doing backpacking or need an ultralight pack.
If you read our recent article on the best family camping tent and are ready to head out to the mountains this summer, you will need the best sleeping bag as well. For the most durable and lightweight option, look for down filling or down alternative if you have any allergies to down. A mummy bag will keep you the warmest for the weight and size of the sleeping bag. A higher loft and/or fill number will translate to a higher-quality sleeping bag. When you are ready to upgrade to the best sleeping bag for your needs, start your search with the four excellent bags on our list.
Q: What is the best temperature rating for a sleeping bag?
A: That will depend on where and when you usually camp, as well as whether you are usually warm or cool when you sleep. In general, a sleeping bag rated for 20-30°F should keep most campers comfortable in most situations, especially if you have access to a tent fan in the summer or an additional camping quilt in the winter. In the end, the best sleeping bag rating will vary with your specific situation.
Q: How can I tell what a sleeping bag’s temperature rating is?
A: You can find the temperature rating of most sleeping bags on a tag either on the side or inside of the stuff bag. Some tags will have multiple ratings, either for the low- comfort- and high-end rating (as described earlier) or different comfort ratings for men and women.
Q: What does water-resistant down mean?
A: Some companies are offering water-resistant down filling, which is an appealing option if you want a down-filled bag but know you will be camping in wet or damp conditions. Water-resistant down is not waterproof, but it does dry out faster than traditional down filling.
Q: Do I need a women’s or kid-sized sleeping bag?
A: That really depends on what you want out of your sleeping bag. Women’s sleeping bags tend to be a bit warmer and shorter than their male counterparts. Some women’s bags are also narrower at the shoulder and wider at the hip. Many women are perfectly comfortable in a unisex bag or even a children’s bag. High-quality children’s sleeping bags are smaller than adult bags and some include a sleeve for a sleeping pad to keeping children from rolling off their sleeping pads at night.
Q: Can I use my sleeping bag in a hammock?
A: Yes! Sleeping in a hammock is actually my very favorite way to camp. You can climb into your sleeping bag on cold nights or use it as a bottom blanket if the weather is a little bit warmer.