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(Inga Hendrickson)
2021 Summer Buyer’s Guide

The Best Sleeping Bags and Pads of 2021

Drifting off under the stars has never been this easy

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Big Agnes Sidewinder SL 20 ($280 and up)

(Courtesy Big Agnes)

If there’s one we’ve learned in the past year, it’s that we all need space—for both health and sanity. The 20-degree Sidewinder SL offers it in spades. Unlike a tight mummy, this 650-fill down bag is designed for restless folks who need room to wiggle into the perfect position, including those who like to sleep on their sides. For starters, the zipper—which drives straight up the middle—is sheathed in a protective down baffle, so your face won’t press up against plastic teeth all night, whether you sleep supine or in the fetal position. Traditional mummy design puts most of the fill on the front of the body for maximum core insulation, but Big Agnes distributed the Sidewinder’s down evenly throughout. The brand also added a layer of fully recycled synthetic insulation in the hip area for extra warmth and a bit of padding. Even the shape of the 36-inch square footbox (33 square inches for women) mimics the position of feet on their side. Regardless of your preferred sleeping pose, the bag performs. Both the ripstop-nylon shell and the silky taffeta lining sport a PFC-free water-repellent coating, which kept us dry on a late-summer paddling trip to the Canadian border despite three days of rain. We even stayed toasty when temps dropped into the thirties. A stretchy pillow pocket inside the hood makes for seamless, adjustable comfort all night long. 2.3 lbs (men’s) / 2.6 lbs (women’s)

Men’s Women’s


Best for Doing It All

(Courtesy Rab)

Rab Solar 2 Women’s Bag ($120)

The 30-degree Solar 2 hits just the right notes. It’s long enough for a five-foot-nine tester (rare for a women’s bag), stuffed with synthetic fill made from recycled water bottles, and packs to the size of your stove—all at a killer weight and price. On a wet, near freezing Minnesota night, we stayed comfortable. An internal zippered stash pocket keeps important items close. 2 lbs (women’s)

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(Courtesy Sea to Summit)

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Extreme Rectangular Unisex Pad ($199)

An insulated air pad with a 6.2 R-value may seem like overkill for summer, until you’re parked on a slab of cold granite gazing up at the Milky Way. The XT Extreme’s air cells deform independently, allowing the four-inch-thick pad to mold around your body. Warmth comes from layers of synthetic insulation in each cell. Bonus: it inflates in about four pumps with the included mechanism. 2.1 lbs

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Best for Backpacking

(Courtesy Kelty)

Kelty Cosmic Ultra Down 20 Bag ($200)

Kelty took its popular 20-degree Cosmic, changed rectangular baffles to trapezoidal ones (which retain more heat), swapped 550-fill down for 800, and added a taffeta liner. The upgrades shave only a couple ounces, but the comfort boost feels like going from a Motel 6 to the Four Seasons for less than $40 extra. There are lighter backpacking bags in this category, but few that are so plush and affordable. 2.4 lbs (men’s) / 2.9 lbs (women’s)

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(Courtesy Nemo)

Nemo Quasar 3D Regular Pad ($130)

Bowing is usually a sign that a mattress has seen better days. Not with the Quasar 3D. Its 3.5-inch horizontal baffles start level at the feet, grow subtly concave through the middle, and then level out again, with a raised “pillow” at the head, so testers stayed centered but could switch positions easily. When deflated, the 3D is completely flat. “It packs like a minimalist pad but sleeps like a luxurious one,” noted a tester. 1.4 lbs

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Best on a Budget

(Courtesy Backcountry)

Backcountry Stoic Groundwork Bag ($85)

We were shocked to learn that this 20-degree synthetic mummy rings up under $100. With a cozy draft collar in the hood to seal out gusts and a DWR-coated 20-denier nylon exterior, the Groundwork was as warm and protective as higher-priced options and only slightly bulkier. It’s a great pick for car camping or even short backcountry jaunts. 3.2 lbs

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(Courtesy UST)

Ust Freestyle Short Pad ($90)

Despite its sub-four-foot cropped length, which hits anywhere from knee to mid-calf, the Freestyle Short delivers surprising comfort, courtesy of a body-mapped design that puts more cushioning at the hips and shoulders. One tester stuck an empty pack under his feet and a fleece beneath his head and slept none the worse. The whole rig also inflates in three swift pumps and packs down smaller than a bike bottle. “It’s just enough pad, especially given the weight savings,” said the tester. 12 oz 

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Best for Car Camping

(Courtesy Zenbivy)

Zenbivy MotoBed Bag ($299 and up)

Cranky campers, here is the nighttime setup you’ve been looking for. The MotoBed integrates a sleeping bag, a pad, and a sheet into a bulky but simple roll that sets up and packs down in seconds. The two-layer foam and air mattress smooths out even the roughest tent sites, and it zips together with an insulated quilt to create a roomy cocoon. One tester even claims it’s “cozier than the guest room at my parents’ house.” Now that’s high praise. 8.6 lbs

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(Courtesy Klymit)

Klymit Klymaloft Pad ($150 and up)

This unique 2.5-inch-thick hybrid combines an air mattress with a plush polyester foam topper for an R-value of 2.1, ideal on 60-degree summer nights. It comes in three generous sizes (regular single, extra-large single, and double). Even the latter packs down to the size of a standard foam roller. Invest in the pump ($25) to save your own hot air. 2.4 lbs and up

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From Summer 2021 Buyer’s Guide Lead Photo: Inga Hendrickson

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