In this article, we’re examining one of the most important accessories for backpacking – the sleeping bag. We don’t need to tell you why it’s important to have a proper sleeping bag on a backpacking trip. But you might be surprised at how much there is to consider when choosing one.
We’ll examine all the variables worth your consideration. Let’s start with one of the most important: weight.
Sleeping Bag Weight – What to Consider
As any backpacker knows, weight is an all-important variable. Minimizing the weight of your pack is essential in making your overall experience more comfortable. However, lighter equipment often means that there is a sacrifice in other areas. The same is true with sleeping bags.
Backpacking sleeping bags tend to fluctuate between one-pound on the lighter end and four-pounds on the heavier end. Many factors influence weight, including the quality of materials, type of fill, size and shape of the bag, and more.
To consider the weight of your sleeping bag, you need to also consider other factors. A lightweight sleeping bag isn’t much good if it doesn’t function as you need it to or if it won’t keep you warm during the night.
So, before we can settle on an ideal sleeping bag weight, we need to consider these other factors in turn. Let’s start with perhaps the most important consideration, the temperature rating:
Simply put, if your sleeping bag can’t keep you warm enough during a backpacking excursion, it is useless. A sleeping bag’s entire purpose is to keep you warm and comfortable. Not only is it a comfort issue, but it is also a safety issue.
You’ll find sleeping bags identified by their temperature rating. The temperature rating is relayed as a temperature, typically in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. This number represents the lowest outside temperature for which a sleeping bag can keep the average sleeper warm.
Read later – How to Clean a Sleeping Bag
ISO and EN Standards
Sleeping bag temperature rating is usually given as either an ISO or EN standard. They’re mostly the same, but ISO is the newer standard (and slightly more accurate).
Either way, both of these standards give a bag two temperature ratings, denoted by different temperatures.
The first rating is a comfort rating, which is a higher temperature, and given as the temperature at which a cold sleeper will stay comfortable. The assumption is that a cold sleeper will require a higher temperature to be comfortable.
The second rating is a limit rating, which is a lower temperature, and represents the temperature that a warm sleeper will stay comfortable.
Taken together, these numbers give you a good estimate of whether your bag will keep you warm, but it’s not a guarantee. Additional factors might influence your warmth while you sleep, such as wind, precipitation, your subjective preferences, your tent, your clothes, and more.
Choose a bag with a temperature rating that is lower than the temperatures you expect to encounter. That way, you ensure that it protects against any conditions that you might face. It also helps give you peace of mind should you ever encounter weather anomalies.
Type of Fill
Another factor worth considering in purchasing a new sleeping bag is the type of fill. The fill is important when considering the weight of the sleeping bag, but it has other functional importance as well.
Sleeping bags generally have synthetic or down fill. Each has its unique advantages and disadvantages.
Down fill is made from the plumage and feathers found on geese and ducks.
Perhaps most notably, down has the most impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. In other words, it requires less down to keep a consistent level of warmth, making it generally more effective as a lightweight sleeping bag material, especially when you are backpacking in colder climates.
But it’s also important to note that not all down is equally efficient. Many bags will denote down fill power, representing how much warmth the down can generate in consideration of its weight. A higher number is better (ideally between 700-800), and it means that the down can more efficiently keep you warm without weighing you down.
Aside from being lightweight, down also packs down more efficiently than synthetic. So you will not only receive a lightweight bag, but it will also pack down smaller, taking up less space in your bag. Down is also more durable than synthetic material, although this also depends on the sleeping bag’s construction.
Of course, with the good comes the bad, and there are some negatives as well. The primary performance disadvantage is that down does not excel in wet conditions. Down feathers become clumped and lose their ability to insulate as efficiently.
Also, these performance advantages come at a cost and down is quite a bit more expensive than synthetic. Expect to pay a premium for a down bag over synthetic, all other factors being equal.
Above, we told you that down fill was warmer, more lightweight, and able to pack down more efficiently. And yes, indeed, synthetic fill doesn’t match down in these areas, but it’s no slouch either. You can still find synthetic bags that offer very impressive warmth-to-weight ratios and still pack down small.
Additionally, if you are backpacking in wet conditions, synthetic is the fill of choice. Synthetic maintains its form even when wet, which allows it to maintain its efficient insulation.
Synthetic bags are also cheaper, which is a major bonus!
When it comes down to it, you can find high-quality (and low-quality) bags which utilize both types of fill. You need to consider this factor alongside all the other factors we have mentioned.
The shape of your sleeping bag is also an important consideration. The shape influences a bag’s weight because it determines how many materials need to be used. It also has a big impact on functionality.
You will typically be choosing between a more form-fitting bag and a roomier bag.
Many backpackers prefer a form-fitting bag, which includes the popular mummy bag design. This design is narrow at the legs and slightly wider around the upper body, with a hood covering your head and contours to your body. Mummy bags require fewer materials to make, which also saves on weight.
Mummy sleeping bags provide a tighter or a looser fit, depending on which is more comfortable for you. Many people find it difficult to sleep in these bags because they’re more constricting than a rectangular bag and there is not enough room to move around or adjust positions.
It’s important to note that form-fitting bags like a mummy sleeping bag are more efficient insulators and tend to be warmer. Your body heat does not disperse throughout the bag, heating a smaller area more efficiently. Additionally, there is less room for chilly drafts or winds to enter the bag.
Roomier bags offer functionality that is more-or-less the opposite to the form-fitting designs. These are more similar to the traditional rectangular sleeping bags. Many backpackers and campers find these sleeping bags more comfortable because there is more space to move about within the bags, allowing you to sleep on your side, front, etc.
Of course, these bags also have the trade-off of being less efficient insulators. They disperse your body heat along the interior of the bag and have more room for it to escape through the top-side. This setup is an important consideration if you are sleeping in colder conditions.
Roomier sleeping bags tend to be less expensive, but it depends on many other factors as well.
The final important factor that contributes to the weight of the sleeping bag is the outer shell fabric. Many ultralight sleeping bags utilize extremely thin outer fabric.
The thickness of the fabric is represented by the shell denier (D), which is a number that goes lower the thinner the material. A lower D means the bag will weigh less overall. However, the bag also becomes less durable as the denier decreases. It also becomes slightly less insulated, although the denier doesn’t impact this nearly as much as the fill.
Backpacking bags usually use nylon or polyester. The fabric is often also treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) to increase moisture repellant. It’s a handy feature to look out for.
The Bottom Line – How Much Should Your Sleeping Bag Weigh?
As you can see by now, picking a sleeping bag is about much more than simply what it weighs. That said, weight is still a very important factor, especially for backpackers. Ideally, you want a lightweight sleeping bag that also provides you all the functionality you need for a comfortable sleep.
You need to consider the above factors and decide what is necessary to be comfortable during your backpacking excursion. Do you need a summer bag? Something that delivers warmth in the winter? Once you have considered these factors, you can start to compare weight ranges. This way, you are getting a lightweight sleeping bag, but also (and perhaps more importantly) you are getting a suitable bag for your backpacking conditions.
First, pick a bag rated for the temperatures you are facing, and then compare other factors (fill, shape, etc.). Most of these factors affect the weight of the sleeping bag anyway. Generally, a high-quality lightweight sleeping bag will range from one-pound on the lighter side to 3.5 lbs. on the heavier side.
Ultralight sleeping bags tend to utilize extremely light fabrics and zippers, shaving the ounces wherever they can. However, these ultralight materials also tend to be less durable. There’s a definite trade-off between weight and durability, as is the case with most ultralight camping equipment.
Remember: It’s Also About Pack Size
Remember, weight is also closely related to pack-down size. In other words, how small does your sleeping backpack fit into your backpack? For many backpackers, size is just as important as weight because it determines how much space they have in their bags.
As mentioned, certain materials pack down more efficiently, such as down. But the size of the sleeping bag also matters. Either way, pay attention to how efficiently your bag packs down, which will be an advertised feature of any product you buy.
Putting it All Together: The Cost of Your Bag
Of course, there is one all-important factor that we have yet to mention that comes into play in any purchase decision – the price! Sleeping bags, like most camping equipment, can range in price quite considerably.
Generally speaking, the more durable, lightweight, and insulated the sleeping bag is, the more expensive it will be. For each factor above, the price tends to increase as the performance increases. Although this isn’t an exact rule, it has a strong correlation.
Our best advice is to settle on a price range you are comfortable with and compare sleeping bags within that price range. This approach helps you to narrow down your choices and also helps avoid getting overwhelmed with choice!
Other Factors to Consider in Purchasing a Sleeping Bag
Up until this point, we’ve focused on the most important factors in choosing your perfect sleeping bag. However, it doesn’t stop there. There are other features that you can consider which affect a bag’s overall functionality and design. Let’s check out a few:
Many sleeping bags come equipped with a pocket placed within arms-reach. While this may not seem like a major bonus, it’s useful to store belongings and avoids you having to get out of the bag to access them. This setup is useful if it’s a cold night, and you don’t want to let all the heat escape from your bag.
A pillow pocket is a neat piece of ingenuity that allows you to stuff clothes into a compartment at the top of your bag, creating a pillow out of clothing. For backpackers, it’s useful because it saves you packing a pillow, and you can have multifunctionality from your clothes.
Find out which one is the best for you – Best Camping Pillows
We briefly mentioned hoods above, but they’re so important, they’re worthy of their section. Hoods are a fixture on mummy sleeping bags, but you can find hoods on all sorts of sleeping bags. They’re extremely useful for keeping your head warm during a cool night.
Best Budget Choice: Teton Sports Lightweight Sleeping Bag
To wrap up our section on lightweight sleeping bags, here’s a great option for you to consider. This lightweight option from Teton Sports is an excellent choice because it combines lightweight functionality with cold-weather performance. On top of all this, it’s an extremely affordable option (especially when considering how expensive these bags can get).
Because it’s on the less expensive side, it’s not as light as an ultralight sleeping bag (measuring at 2.5-4 pounds depending on which size you choose). That said, it’s extremely well insulated and has been EN-rated for a Limit of 32F (0C) and a Comfort of 41F (5C). It packs extra insulation at the feet, and there’s a hood that wraps around your head.
It’s a great example of a mummy sleeping bag, slimming down at the feet to provide a form-fitting wrap around your body. The design saves on materials and also allows your body-heat to more efficiently fill the interior of the bag.
Overall, it’s a great choice and one of our top recommendations. Not as light as an ultralight bag, but it’s among the most affordable high-performance options.
Don’t Forget a Sleeping Pad (Sleep System)
This article focused on sleeping bags, but they are only one part of a backpacker’s overall sleep system (the gear they use for sleeping). The other important component is a sleeping pad.
A sleeping pad is a soft pad to sleep on, and it’s necessary to help your sleeping bag perform its desired function. Not only is the pad meant to be soft and comfortable, but it also provides an extra level of insulation between the sleeper and the ground, preventing heat loss through the bottom of the tent.
Sleeping pads, just like bags, are rated for certain temperatures. Therefore, you should consider this rating when purchasing a new pad. You want your pad and your bag to be rated for the temperatures you will be facing, or you can bet on a less-than-comfortable sleep.
Sleeping Pad Weight
Once you’ve considered the pad’s temperature rating, you can consider its weight rating as well. Like sleeping bags, backpacking sleeping pads are designed using lightweight materials, and you can purchase them in a variety of weight ranges.
Their weight will primarily depend on their size, fill, and level of insulation. Typically, you can expect a warm-weather (3-season) sleeping pad to weigh less than a cold-weather (4-season) sleeping pad.
Together with your sleeping bag and combined with the proper attire, you’re equipped to handle whatever conditions you face on your backpacking trip!
Putting It All Together
Wow, sleeping bags are a lot more complicated than you thought, aren’t they? And while this may seem a little overwhelming, all of this complication is very necessary. You’ll be extremely happy that you considered these factors when your bag is keeping you warm and dry throughout your backpacking adventure.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide, and we hope we’ve given you the tools necessary to decide on the perfect bag for meeting your needs, whether you’re looking for a summer sleeping bag or something backpacking sleeping bag for the cooler months. We started considering a sleeping bag’s weight, but we quickly learned that it’s a lot more than that. Consider the weight as it relates to all other aspects of a bag’s functionality.
It may seem like a lot of information to process, but you should consider it now rather than regret it later!