June 12, 2023
In the world of backpack hunt- ing, your gear can make or break a hunt. I’m often asked what the most important piece of gear is for this hobby and my immediate response is always the same: your pack and sleeping bag. Your pack carries all the necessary gear needed for your time in the back- country. It needs to fit properly to ensure you don’t injure yourself and are comfortable throughout the duration of your hunt. But why is a sleeping bag essential?
Your sleeping bag is the foundation of your camp—it’s what will help you have a sound sleep after a long day afield. It is also what could save you in an emergency situation. When temps drop below freezing on the mountain, you want a bag that will keep your body warm to help prevent hypothermia. But despite those important aspects, it is also one of the largest things in your pack. This means that choosing the correct bag for backpacking is important to save ample space in your pack all while ensuring it fits your weather needs. Read on to understand what makes a good sleeping bag and which fits your requirements best.
Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes, and in different insulations and weights.You have bags that are made specifically for backpacking—meaning they are light, snug, and pack down small. Car-camping or base-camp bags are roomy and heavy because they aren’t meant to be hauled in a pack.
In general, there are three different shapes for sleeping bags: rectangle, semi-rectangle, and mummy style. A rectangle bag is going to be your base-camp bag. It will have plenty of room for stretching out and will be heavy. A semi-rectangular bag is considered a“modified-mummy”bag and gives bigger users a little more wiggle room.
A mummy-style sleeping bag is the most common for backpacking. This style is very tight and snug—but for good reason. The slim shape of the bag keeps your body heat in to boost warmth. It also cuts weight and helps the bag pack down small—all important components when backpacking. Don’t plan on going spread eagle in a mummy bag—they are restrictive in movement and require you to roll over with your bag, rather than in it.
The biggest decision when choosing a sleeping bag is deciding between two different insulation types: synthetic and down. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
A synthetic-insulated bag is made with poly- ester fibers and has a heavier warmth-to- weight ratio compared to a down bag. What does that mean? Comparably, a synthetic bag that is rated at the same temperature as a down bag will weigh more and will not compress as small.
But don’t turn away from synthetic bags because of this—they are still solid performers in the backcountry. Why? Because they are water resistant when some down bags are not. Synthetic bags perform well in the rain and snow because they are designed to still insulate even when damp or wet—and they dry fast.
Down sleeping bags are made from the undercoat of geese and ducks, and are superior when it comes to warmth and weight. When looking to cut weight in your pack without sacrificing how warm you’ll be at night, down is the way to go. The “fluffiness” of goose and duck down allows these bags to reach a higher fill-power than a synthetic— meaning a warmer bag. Additionally, this fluff makes the bag extremely compressible.
Sleeping bags filled with down are durable and retain their loft and warmth for years when taken care of properly. A down sleeping bag is best for cold, dry weather—moisture is not a friend of down. However, in recent years, manufacturers have come up with a solution for this well-known problem and began treating down with a water-resistant coating that doesn’t add weight. This coating has aided in preventing water absorption and helps your damp sleeping bag dry faster.
You’ll see a large difference in price tags between synthetic and down bags. The two different materials vary in demand, meaning one is a lot pricier than the other.
If you’re budget conscious, synthetic is the way to go. The frugal decision will still get you a solid performing bag. Sure, it will take up a little more space in your pack, but you’re safe from wet weather conditions and still have a warm place to lie your head at night.
If you’re willing to shell out a few Benjamins, down should be on your radar. The demand for goose down is high, which means prices can be expensive. A cheaper alternative is duck down. But for extreme warmth and compactness, the high price tag is worth shelling out the money.
Here are a few high-quality down and synthetic sleeping bags to consider for your next backcountry adventure.
KUIU 0° SUPER DOWN
KUIU knows a thing or two when it comes to backcountry hunting and making gear that doesn’t sacrifice weight for comfort. This 0-degree bag is filled with 850+ fill- power European Goose Down that is treated with a Toray water-resistant coating called Quixdown. This treatment has been independently tested and declared the highest-rated DWR-treated down in the industry—it makes KUIU down bags virtually waterproof. A vertical baffle design allows heat to transfer from your head to toes freely, and flow gates throughout the baffles keeps the down from shifting.
Weight: 1 lbs. 11.5 oz.
NEMO RIFF 15° DOWN
This bag is designed for side sleepers and cut in NEMO’s Spoon shape to give you more room at the elbows and knees to shift positions without sacrificing warmth. The bag is filled with 800-fill-power hydrophobic down and features Thermo Gills that allow you to vent your body heat without letting the cold in. NEMO’s Blanket Fold draft collar mimics a soft blanket feel around your upper body while a pillow pocket allows you to stuff your extra clothes in for added head support. Available in two lengths: Regular or Long.
Weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz.–2 lbs. 9 oz.
KLYMIT KSB 0°
This combo down and synthetic bag weighs in a little heavy but provides you an affordable bag for freezing temperatures. The top of the bag is filled with 650-fill-power down while the bottom is synthetic, both of which give you a solid warmth-to-weight ratio. Flexible Stretch Baffles keep the filling next to your body. What’s more, you can adjust the bag to your height thanks to Klymit’s Length Lock technology. Available in two length: Large or Extra-Large.
Weight: 3.9–4.5 lbs.
STONE GLACIER CHILKOOT 0°
The Chilkoot 0° bag utilizes industry-leading materials to achieve an overall weight and temperature rating that is best-in-class. The 850+ Fill power goose down ensures you'll be comfortable at night during the coldest of conditions. With its articulated footbox and differential cut it's sure to provide warmth and maintain loft around the body regardless of your sleeping position. Weighing just over 2 1/2 pounds, the Chilkoot won't slow you down on your mountain pursuit this season.
Weight: 2 lb. 10 oz.
THERM-A-REST HYPERION 20°
The lightest bag in our test, the Hyperion is filled with 900-fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down that helps the bag stay dry in wet weather all while maintaining its loftiness. To maximize warmth in all the right places, the bag has zoned insulation with 70 percent of the fill on the top while 30 percent rests at your back. Best part? The bag packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle. Available in three sizes: Small, Regular, and Long.
Weight: 1 lb. 3 oz.–1 lb. 6 oz.
ALPS MOUNTAINEERING AURA 35°
This synthetic-fill bag is lightweight and compactible, all at an affordable price. Filled with TechLoft Micro insulation, the Aura is made with siliconized finish fibers that aid in maximum insulation, loft, and making the bag compact into a small package. This contoured, hooded-mummy shape fits snuggly for a comfortable sleep, while an insulated chest and zipper baffle combat heat loss. A second zipper gives sleepers extra ventilation. Available in two sizes: Regular and Long.
Weight: 2 lbs. 12 oz.–3 lbs.