Your sleeping bag is arguably your most important piece of backcountry gear. If it’s cozy, you’re a happy camper. If it’s too warm or not warm enough, rubber-room constrictive, or sticky like plastic wrap, a bad bag will ruin the experience. The trick is to pick the right bag for what you’re doing. Insulation is the most important factor. For alpine trips, find a sack that’s rated at least ten degrees lower than the coldest temperature you expect to face. Summer trips in mild environments call for a rating between 30 and 40 degrees. During shoulder season, we reach for a 20-degree bag with at least a three-quarter zip—warm enough for cool mornings but easy to vent on milder nights. Finally, if we’re car camping, we pay attention to ratings, but cushion matters a lot, which is why we’re excited about built-in memory foam. Seriously. It’s great.
Klymit KSB 20 Down
Gear of the Year
The KSB deserves praise on price alone. A top-shelf, 2.6-pound down backpacking bag for under two Franklins? Then we slept in it and truly fell in love. Testers raved about the stretch baffle system—the horizontal sections are sewn with elastic thread—and the oversize foot box, which offered loads of room to move. “I could bring my knees right up to my belly,” said one tester. We slept warm and happy right to the bag’s limit, with the breathable fabric reducing condensation and an insulating collar locking in heat. The 650 duck-down fill isn’t made with the best feathers, but it packs down small and made this bag the best value in the test. 20°
Price $190 Weight 2.6 lbs
Eddie Bauer Flying Squirrel
Best For: Music festivals and bivouacs.
The Test: They had us at Flying Squirrel. Think of it less as a sleeping bag and more as an 850-fill down burrito wrap that works just as well in your car’s emergency kit as your Coachella bag. You’ll be plenty warm on nights above 40 degrees enveloped within the two sheets, while the zipperless design makes it easy to customize the bag fit—keep it loose like a blanket, or pull it tight for a mummy-ish feel. The Squirrel packs down tiny, stuffing into a pocket about the size of a travel pillow, while the 20-denier nylon face fabric proved tough. This rodent almost won Gear of the Year on personality alone.
The Verdict: The coolest sleep solution we’ve seen in years. 40°
Price $299 Weight 1.5 lbs
Best For: Sleeping under the stars.
The Test: Buy the minimal Moonwalk and you can get rid of your tent and tarp. The underside is 100 percent waterproof and designed to lay directly on the ground, with minimal overhead cover (like the company’s Escape Pod bivy), if you’re adventuring in dry climes. A sleeping pad (not included) slides into a fabric sleeve along the bottom, lifting the 700-fill down baffles off the wet. Affording even more protection, the treated feathers are hydrophobic and kept their loft even on dewy trips. The hoodless design cuts weight and bulk, but we missed the warmth on nights nearing the bag’s limit.
The Verdict: Perfect for fast-and-light back- and bikepacking. 30°
Price $280 Weight 2.1 lbs
Coleman Comfort-Cloud 40
Best For: Picky car campers.
The Test: This one will make you want to ditch your mattress at home. Coleman built a layer of memory foam into the bottom of the massive rectangular unit that’s thick enough to skip the pad. The roomy interior is lined with furry fleece that’s as warm as it is cozy. The synthetic insulation let testers sleep soundly several ticks colder than the bag’s 40-degree rating. The downside to all this comfort? Size. Even if it’s rolled up and compressed with the built-in retention string, you’ll need a Thule box to bring it along. But when it comes to unbeatable comfort, who cares?
The Verdict: The most comfortable sleeping bag—heck, actual bed—we’ve tried. 40°
Price $80 Weight 6.4 lbs
Marmot Ion 20
Best For: Worry-free backpacking.
The Test: This bag is a study in efficient design. Along the bottom, Marmot layered its proprietary synthetic insulation, which, unlike feathers, keeps you warm even when crushed. More expensive, higher-performing 850-fill down runs along the sides and top for max warmth. The feathers are carefully distributed, with more where we get cold (toes) and fewer where we don’t need them (mid-thigh). Finally, the company switched the baffle direction in the foot box to make it toasty and ergonomic. Props also to the slightly overhanging hood and the mini zip that folds down the top.
The Verdict: “Serious warmth for this weight,” concluded the mountain guide on our team. 20°
Price $419 Weight 1.8 lbs
Mountain Hardwear Hotbed Flame
Best For: Paddlers on a budget.
The Test: Sleep under a tarp in the Pacific Northwest in October and you know you’re going to get wet. Really wet. But the Hotbed Flame felt as dry on the last night of our trip as it did on the first. Credit the synthetic Thermal.Q insulation, made from fibers of various sizes that, like down feathers, create big, fast-drying loft. The baffles are welded rather than sewn, reducing bulk and cold spots and making this bag more packable than its competitors. A kayaker stayed warm well into the mid-thirties sprawled in the roomy interior.
The Verdict: Bare-bones—on cool nights, we wanted a neck collar—but a good choice for rainy climates. 20°
Price $159 Weight 3.3 lbs
L.L.Bean Ultralight 850 Down
Best For: Demanding campers with fat wallets.
The Test: That straight-down-the-middle product name is dead accurate. Unsheath this cold-weather weapon and watch it transform into a downy palace that sparked land wars with a tent mate. “It spills over even my widest mattress,” said one flabbergasted tester. It also beat its claimed temperature rating when the thermometer plunged on a weekend backpacking trip in the Canadian Rockies. When it was time to pack up, the bag magically compressed to the size of a big cantaloupe. All that luxury and it weighs just over two pounds. Astonishing.
The Verdict: Supreme comfort in the cold, with a price tag to match. 15°
Price $499 Weight 2.3 lbs
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