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Backpacking is a relatively new thing for me. I picked it up in South America in 2016. I didn’t bring trekking gear along for my seven-month trip, instead renting my gear in Patagonia and Peru. It was seriously nice not to have a sleeping bag to stuff and a pair of hiking boots to tie to the side of my backpack most of the trip. But there were a couple of nights that I wished for a dependable tent or familiar set of trekking poles. If I had had a 3-season sleeping bag for travel – something lightweight and compact – I can imagine I would have spent a lot more time outside. If you’re lugging it around, you might as well use it, right?
I’ve decided to slowly build out my kit of backpacking gear this year, but outdoor gear is EXPENSIVE. There are endless materials, weights, seasons, and brands, and marketing buzzwords to wade through. Seriously, what the hell are Pertex® and Houdini®? Rather than buying the first “sleeping bag for travel” that popped up, I’ve done tons of research and wanted to share more about the process of choosing a sleeping bag. Anyone who’s ever spent the night in a shitty sleeping bag knows this is a good place to start.
So if you want to buy a sleeping bag for travel that is warm, functional, lightweight, and compact enough to be easily stuffed into your travel backpack for long-term travel? Here are some things to consider when shopping for a sleeping bag along with my picks for the best 3-season sleeping bags right now. The photos from a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park!
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Travel
Sleeping bags are one of the most essential pieces of backpacking gear. They’re an investment in your sleep and comfort, which I would argue, is invaluable. Here are some things you’ll want to consider when shopping for your perfect sleeping bag.Cost: When it comes to sleeping bags, cost and quality are closely related. Budget sleeping bags start at $150 while the ultralight, down, and subzero sleeping bags can run you $500+ or more. Keep in mind what you actually need when shopping. If you’re looking for something light for an African safari, you’ll need a different bag than if you’re trekking in China.
Our Recommendation: Go with a mid-range bag($200-$300) unless you’re brand new to backpacking and need something super cheap or experienced and ready to invest in a bag that will last you a lifetime.
Warmth: When selecting a sleeping bag, you’ll want to consider how warm it will keep you. Sleeping bags are designed to trap body warmth, so more insulation and less interior space make for a warmer bag. Most sleeping bags are named with a number that indicates their lower limit (ie. Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20°), but it’s a bit less straightforward than it seems.
The Temperature Rating system in the sleeping bag industry lacks standardization. Unfortunately, this means it can be tough to figure out exactly how warm a bag will be without having tested it. As a rule of thumb, the temperature ratings on sleeping bags in the US typically refer to temperatures that you could survive in rather than temperatures you’d be comfortable in. It can be hard to predict exactly how warm a bag will keep you, but you can generally estimate the comfortable temperature is 10-15° up from the lower limit.
European Norm (EN) ratings have been mandated for all sleeping bags sold in Europe to help fix this problem. The rating refers to how warm the bag keeps a sleeper wearing a synthetic base layer in a tent with a sleeping pad, and produces an upper limit, comfort, lower limit, and extreme. Bags with EN Lower Limits of 10°F and 30°F will make for a pretty solid 3-season bag.
Our Recommendation: Everyone sleeps at different temperatures and you can always make a bag warmer by adding layers of clothing. That said, if you’re looking for a versatile bag, a 3-season sleeping bag (bags with EN Lower Limits of 10°F – 30°F) is a solid choice.
Insulation Material: Down is the gold standard for sleeping bag insulation. It’s lightweight, it lasts longer, and it tends to be warmer than synthetic insulation. The down content of sleeping bags is measured by fill power (fp), and the higher the number, the better the warmth-to-weight ratio. That said synthetic insulation can also be desirable if you’re looking for something less expensive or something that will perform better if it gets wet.
Our Pick: Down, hands down. Look for a bag that’s 800 fp or higher for the most warmth.
Style: The mummy bag is probably what comes to mind first when you think of sleeping bag styles. Mummy sleeping bags taper in at your feet and pull over your head like a hood so only your nose and mouth are exposed when fully zipped. The slim cut of the bag is designed to maximize insulation. A rising alternative to mummy bags amongst serious backpackers, however, is the sleeping quilt. With a down sleeping quilt, you’ll sleep directly on your sleeping pad using the quilt as a comforter. The sleeping quilt cuts back on weight by eliminating excess material and insulation and is a favorite of ultralight backpackers. That said, as it doesn’t have a hood, you’ll want to pack extra layers to keep your body warm. The drawbacks are that down quilts are harder to keep in place and won’t keep you as warm in very cold weather.
Our Pick: Let’s stay classic on this. Unless you’re shaving every ounce out of your backpacking kit, the mummy bag is more versatile and easy to use.
And the best sleeping bags for travel are…
Marmot Hydrogen Down Sleeping Bag | The Ultralight Sleeping Bag
Warmth: 33.6 degrees (F) – EN Comfort // Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.// Price: $329 – $349
Weighing in at just a pound and a half, the Marmot Hydrogen Down Sleeping Bag is an excellent, super light 3-season sleeping bag. The bag has curved baffles to prevent the down from shifting (…if you’ve ever owned down, you know this is a real problem) and a down treatment that helps keep the bag warm in wet conditions. This baby packs up tiny and light making it perfect for long-term travel. Read reviews on the Marmot Hydrogen Down Sleeping Bag here.
NEMO Disco 15 Sleeping Bag | The Roomiest Sleeping Bag
Warmth: NA // Weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz.// Price: $299.95– $319.95
Do you sleep with one leg outside of the sheets? The spoon shape of the NEMO Disco leaves tons of room at the elbows and the knees so you can kick around without compromising warmth. While the bag doesn’t have an EN rating, it is a good sleeping bag for cold weather, and it gives the flexibility to sleep in your bag whether you’re in the backcountry or in a hostel with subpar bedding. Read reviews on the NEMO Disco 15 Sleeping Bag here.
REI Co-op Magma 15 | The Best Warmth-to-Weight Sleeping Bag
Warmth: 16 degrees (F) – ISO // Weight: 1 lb, 12 oz // Price: $389
The REI Co-op Magma 15 stands out because it’s got all the features you might want in a bag, even if you’re still not sure what you’re looking for! It’s lightweight with a fitted shape, but it’s roomy at the knees. The bag is packed with 850-fill-power goose down and has a water protectant cover to keep you cozy. It’s pricey without being the investment of a lifetime, making this bag the one with the best all-around sleeping bags for travel. Read reviews on the REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag here.
Marmot Trestles Eco 0 Sleeping Bag | The Best Budget Sleeping Bag
Warmth: 15.6 degrees (F) – EN Comfort // Weight: 3 lbs., 8.3 oz// Price: $202 – $212
The Marmot Trestles Eco 0 is a long shot from ultralight. Even so, the all-purpose synthetic filling offers exceptional warmth that rivals down. It’s also worth noting is that the sleeping bag has a 3D hood, a 3D foot box, and a fold-down second zipper so that you have plenty of options for ventilation and changing the bag around to keep you comfy. They make their new “Eco” version with recycled materials. Read reviews on the Marmot Trestles Eco 0 here.
Western Mountaineering UltraLite Sleeping Bag | The Versatile Sleeping Bag
Warmth: NA // Weight: 1 lb 13 oz // Price: $525
Based in San Jose, Western Mountaineering stands for quality, and their UltraLite 20 is no exception. It’s a down sleeping bag that’s (perhaps obviously) super light. The bag isn’t cheap by any standards. But if you’re looking for a sleeping bag for travel that will get you through anything (and last forever and ever), the Western Mountaineering UltraLite is one of the best. Read reviews on the Western Mountaineering UltraLite here.
Feathered Friends Swallow 20 | Best Backcountry Sleeping Bag
Warmth: 20 degrees (F) – EN Comfort // Weight: 1 lb 12 oz // Price: $449
Seattle-based Feathered Friends is also a name you’ll see popping up more often these days. Their mummy bags fall nicely on the spectrum between lightweight and warm, snug and roomy, and water-resistant and breathable. The Feathered Friends Swallow 20 uses premium materials like 900fp goose down and an updated shell fabric that is lighter than ever. Production is extremely limited, so if you plan to buy this bag, shop early! Read reviews on the Feathered Friends Swallow 20 here.
Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt 20| Best Sleeping Quilt
Warmth: NA // Weight: 1 lb 4 oz // Price: $280
Ultralight backpackers swear by sleeping quilts. The Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt gets crazy good reviews for how versatile and lightweight it is. It comes in 50°F, 40°F, 30°F, 20°F, 10°F, and 0°F, all of which have 850 fp. That means the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt 20 is exceptionally warm for its weight! And since it’s a quilt (rather than a mummy bag), you can adjust the warmth and fit of the bag by adjusting the elastic straps. All Enlightened Equipment sleeping quilts are all made in the USA, and they offer custom bags if you have specific requirements in mind. Read reviews on the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt 20 here.
The ZENBIVY Light Bed | The Comfiest One
Warmth: EN 23° limit // Weight: 1 lb 13 oz // Price: $359
The ZENBIVY Light Bed is a newcomer on the well-established sleeping bag scene. It’s actually a sleeping quilt with a sheet, so you can sleep comfortably however you lay. The Light Bed weighs only 1 lb 13 oz and compresses down to 4L. The Light Bed is distinct in its use of cords and hooks rather than zippers. This both cuts back on weight and allows you to flexibly anchor the quilt onto the mattress. The bed is incredibly soft and deceptively warm for how light it seems. Read more here.