A sleeping bag for camping is one of the most important buys you can make when shopping for new camping gear. Get the right one and you will be all set for a cosy, comfortable night's sleep under the stars.
You see, camping is easy in the daytime, when you're relaxing in a comfy camping chair, drink in hand, or jovially firing up a camping stove after a long day hiking. But i’s really nighttime that makes or breaks a camping trip, especially if you’re not tucked up in one of the best sleeping bags for outdoor adventuring.
As with most of the gear we test for you, choosing the ideal sleeper is greatly influenced by the type of climate you’ll be regularly sleeping out in. That’s why we’ve chosen the best sleeping bags for different weather conditions.
We’ve also included bags at several price points, so you can choose the toughest, toastiest sleeping bag you can afford - as always, it pays to spend a little more to get gear that'll last you a long time, rather than ending up in landfill after just a few camping trips.
Also consider the thickness and weight, as they will have an impact on your pack load if you're travelling by foot (as you would when wild camping or hiking, for example). If you’re religious car camper (ie, you always drive to a campsite), you can afford to splurge on heavier bag that you can throw in your boot or trailer.
But if you're trekking, a lightweight sleeping bag would be much handier, as would a lightweight camping mat. Get one small enough, in terms of pack size, and you can roll it up neatly on the back of your backpacking rucksack.
Before we get to list, let's look at what else you need to consider when choosing the best sleeping bag for the kind of camping you're doing and where.
Best sleeping bag: our expert pick
- Sleeping bags can be categorised as either down (the light plumage in between a bird’s skin and its feathers) or synthetic. Although down takes a bit of looking after (you need to store it uncompressed and keep it dry, for example), this material delivers huge bang for buck and is relatively lightweight. So unless you’re training to be a camping porter, we suggest going for the lightest option you can get away with.
- With that in mind, our top pick for the best sleeping bag top pick the Thermarest Hyperion, a lightweight sleeper with ample room for a comfortable night’s slumber. Keep in mind that in temperatures below zero, though, you’ll need the big guns to stay truly comfortable. We have those listed below too.
What are the most popular sleeping bag materials?
Sleeping bags tend to rely less on technology, per se, and more on high quality materials. That said, there are a range of outershells, down treatments and heat-capturing trickery that are worth keeping an eye out for.
When choosing among the best sleeping bags, it’s best to stick to better known outdoor manufacturers such as Thermarest, Rab, Vango, Mountain Equipment, Mountain Hardware, Montane, Mammut, Patagonia and North Face.
These brands will not only have wide ranges to choose from, ensuring you get the ideal spec and sizing for you, but they also have strong environmental pedigrees. That means such companies would offer ethical down choices, for example.
Should I buy a synthetic or down sleeping bag?
Sleeping bags are split into two broad groups: down bags and synthetic bags.
Broadly speaking, down sleeping bags offer lightness and unparalleled warmth... along with the opportunity for you to catch hypothermia if they get soaked. Why? Down absorbs the water, clumps together and provides no insulation when wet.
Down bags have evolved a wide range of waterproof coatings and down treatments to try and stave off the damp problem, but these are sometimes only partially effective, and the treatments often lose their potency over the years.
With down bags, pay attention to the baffle construction, as better sleeping bags employ a range of funky shaping tactics to avoid all the down clumping together at one end, and to prevent cold spots forming between the pockets.
Also keep a sharp eye out for ethical down, down quality (cheaper types will include duck), and fill power. The latter is a measurement of the ‘loft’ you’ll get from 1 gram of down. Better quality down will ‘loft’ (fluff up) better than cheap down, giving you more insulation per gram.
Synthetic bags tend to be heavier for the same warmth rating on a down bag, and are usually bulkier in pack terms, but will see you right in the dampest scenario. Artificial down materials like Thinsulate mean that even the wettest synthetic bag will insulate you.
There are a host of materials that try to strike a balance between weight, durability and warmth, so it’s worth looking at a few. On the other hand, synthetic fill bags suffer from de-lofting over time, which reduces their warmth.
Are the temperature ratings accurate?
Be wary of taking minimum temperature ratings literally, as these results are achieved in a lab and are therefore only guidelines - real-world variables will impact a sleeping bag’s temperature performance.
Most sleeping bags state an EN rating, which is a European standard (EN13537) covering four temperature ranges. These are: upper limit, comfort, lower limit, and extreme (a survival only rating and not to be followed for normal use).
On a related note, check the fit of a sleeping bag before you buy, as different lengths and chest sizes are often available. The better the fit (you want it to be snug but not tight), the warmer you’ll be. Don’t be tricked into thinking you’ll be wearing more than just base layers in a sleeping bag, either, as extra clothing changes the fit of the bag and sometimes makes it colder. If it's nippy out, lay your jacket on top.
Ready to find the best sleeping bag for you? Then let's take a look at the current cream of the camping crop...
The best sleeping bags to buy now
1. Montane Deep Heat Sleeping Bag
The ideal choice for survival experiences
Reasons to buy
The Montane Deep Heat Sleeping Bag delivers on two key fronts: it’s very warm and, at a shade over a kilo and a half, it’s pretty lightweight too. In addition, Montane have deliberately designed the bag to work in cramped conditions, such as bivvy sites where sitting up might be the most relaxed you’ll get.
The sleeping bag’s hood is designed to move with your head, keeping the insulation where you need it at all times and enabling proper protection, even if you’re propped up in a bivouac. In short, this is a bag for adverse weather camping and survival missions, as the specs go on to prove…
Not only is there an internal stash pocket for any batteries you don’t want frozen, there’s also a water bottle pocket, which means your Nalgene can be a hot water bottle at bedtime, and still be unfrozen by dawn.
2. The North Face Gold Kazoo
A versatile, middle-weight sleeping bag for summer to autumn camping
Reasons to buy
The North Face Gold Kazoo is a solid choice for 3-season requirements, it’s got some different design cues to mark it out from the crowd, and neat touches that will keep you warmer and happier than a cheaper competitor.
The ethically approved 700 fill ProDown is hydrophobically treated, keeping it drier and warmer for longer, while anti-compression pads are designed to keep you more insulated from the ground – a cunning plan, as that’s where you lose most heat.
A well-thought out fitted hood and zipper baffle combine with a draft collar to combat heat loss for minimal weight too, and there are even pad loops to connect the bag securely to a pad, making it ideal for springtime bivvying.
3. Vango Nitestar Alpha 350
A reliable budget sleeping bag for spring summer camping
Reasons to buy
Those of you seeking a comfortable sleeping bag that does away with needless frills in order to keep the cost down will love the Vango Nitestar Alpha 350. We’ve tested Vango’s budget sleeping bag during late spring through summer camping and found it reliably warm and comfortable to sleep in.
It’s soft and snug once you’re inside, and Vango has designed it with a two-way auto-lock zip so that it doesn’t unzip itself in the night while you’re sleeping – no-one wants to be woken up by a draft during the wee hours.
This Vango sleeping bag packs down reasonably small into a 4-strap compression stuffsack, so it won’t take up much room at all in your car, if car camping. That means it won’t add much weight to your pack when backpacking either.
Vango has used an insulated zip baffle to retain heat when the temperature drops, so you won’t encounter any nasty cold spots in the sleeping bag. Instead, you’ll continue to feel warm and cosy throughout the night – the ideal scenario for a good night’s sleep. Need to air it? The Nitestar Alpha 350 has a hanging loop exactly for that purpose.
4. Rab Ignition 2
A lightweight synthetic fill sleeping bag for spring/summer camping
Reasons to buy
The Rab Ignition 2 is a lightweight yet durable synthetic insulated sleeping bag that will serve you well for spring-summer camping trips.
The synthetic fill makes it ideal for inclement conditions, while a plethora of robust materials – including a 30D ripstop outer fabric and YKK zips – add up to a very durable package.
A classic mummy taper shape makes up the design, hugging your body without restricting movement too much. There are left and right-hand zips available, depending on your personal preference.
5. Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Flame
The best sleeping bag for soggy camping trips
Reasons to buy
The HyperLamina Flame is an excellent choice for potentially rain-lashed camping, as the synthetic insulation keeps you warm regardless of how wet it is. This sleeping bag is no technical slouch either, packing in a half length centre zip, a face gasket and Lamina welded construction.
Another reason why it's routinely considered to be one of the best sleeping bags money can buy is something called mapped insulation. This clever design works to keep heat in and weight down.
6. Thermarest Hyperion 32F/0C Sleeping Bag
The best sleeping bag for those seeking minimum pack load, big warmth
Reasons to buy
The Thermarest Hyperion is squarely aimed at those covering ground, where weight is of vital importance. Lightweight and with the pack size of a large water bottle, this is one for the fast and light crowd, as well as anyone who doesn’t like lugging heavy loads.
Why else does it top our best sleeping bag buyer's guide? Well, the massive 900 Fill Power ethically sourced Nikwax Hydrophobic Goose Down ticks all the boxes, while a RipStop shell and inner lining, which also has ThermaCapture Lining to trap more heat all add up.
Finally, neat touches like the synergylink connector, which straps the sleeping bag to a camping mat, really make this particular wonder stand out.
7. Mammut Tyin MTI Winter Sleeping Bag
The sleeping bag that laughs in the face of ice and rain
Reasons to buy
The Mammut Tyin might not be the lightest winter sleeping bag, but the artificial insulation is a definite win in anything other than very dry conditions… Or in other words, anywhere in Europe.
Not only are there three layers of insulation in the main sleeping bag, there are additional layers in the foot box to stave off those dreaded midnight chills. As well as shrugging off general dampness, the Tyin bag is made from robust Polyamide, so it will last you many a camping trip.
This best sleeping bag contender is also rated for washing and tumble drying at 60 degrees, so you can get that expedition musk properly laundered out – something that down bags are usually much less tolerant of.
8. Vango Venom 300
An excellent value two-three-season sleeping bag
Reasons to buy
A stone cold classic, for years the Vango Venom has been a byword for budget-friendly lightweight sleeping bags. Boasting considerable technical assets for a minimal spend, it’s no surprise that this bag is recommended by DofE groups.
One of the cheapest picks in our best sleeping bags guide, the Venom 300 brings with it a box wall construction, which ensures an even distribution of warmth once you're nestled inside it.
The ethically sourced hydro barrier-treated down (at 700 fill power) is teamed with a durable, water-resistant mini ripstop 30D nylon fabric. It'll see you through three-season outdoors trips without much of a whimper.
9. Mountain Equipment Iceline
The best sleeping bag for winter camping
Reasons to buy
It’s not a new sleeping bag, but the classic Mountain Equipment Iceline has graced many an expedition to very cold places, and rightly so.
Designed to keep you warm down to a 'good night's sleep temperature' of -30°C degrees, with 994g (minimum fill power 800) of 90-10 Russian Goose Down, and all wrapped in a rain-resistant and breathable Gore Thermium 10D outer shell. All that makes this the best sleeping bag for cold weather camping.
Mountain Equipment has gone to town with the baffle design, packing in a variety of shapes in different areas to maximise loft to keep you warm. An anatomically shaped hood hugs your head, and a neck collar provides a snug yet soft fit.
The fact that the Iceline comes ‘expedition fitted’ (so it’s roomier than usual) is another reason why this serious bit of camping gear is top of our best sleeping bags list. When you’re done using it, just roll the bag into the supplied waterproof roll-top stuff-sack.
The final word
Unless you’re going full winter camping and need super-warmth, the Thermarest Hyperion takes the cake with it’s attention to lightness. Light is right as the outdoor experts say, and for less than half a kilo the Hyperion is impressively warm and fully-featured. Down does require a bit of care, but it’ll repay you in both the short and long term once you master it.
That said, if you’re planning to be very cold at altitude, the Mountain Equipment Iceline is a proven, bulletproof hotel in a bag. It’s not light and it’s not small, but if temperatures are on the wrong side of zero, you’ll be glad you carried it out there.
About the author...
Mark Mayne is an outdoors journalist who specialises in camping, hiking and diving.