Sleeping bags are still the most popular nighttime insulation option with backpackers because they’re warmer in cold, damp, or drafty weather, especially below freezing. While mummy bag designs still prevail, there’s a lot more variety in the types of sleeping bags that have become available in the five years, including ones designed for side sleepers and women’s specific sleeping bags. Is it worth buying a women’s specific bag? You betcha, but they’re not as widely available as sleeping bags for men.
When choosing a sleeping bag for backpacking, you want one that’s warm, lightweight, and highly compressible since you’re going to have to haul it in a backpack. Sleeping bags insulated with 800, 850, 900, and 950 goose or duck down are the best in terms of warmth by weight, but you’ll pay a premium at the top end. Fit is also important, both width and length, especially if you’re a woman, short, or have a smaller build. If a bag is too large, it will feel colder than one that fits closely, since your body needs to work harder to fill the extra space with hot air.
Women also require more insulation than men because they have less body mass to generate body heat. Add another 10 degrees if you’re female and decide to buy a “unisex” sleeping bag instead of a women’s specific bag. Women also tend to have colder extremities, like feet, hands, and heads, and require more insulation in those areas. They also have narrower shoulders and are predominantly shorter, requiring sleeping bags that are cut differently than their male counterparts.
Here are our top 10 sleeping bag picks for 2018, including men’s and women’s specific bags.
1. Feather Friends Flicker UL 20 – Unisex/Men’s
Insulated with 950+ fill power down, the 20ºF Flicker has continuous baffles that let you move the down fill to where you need it. Weighing 26 oz, it’s perfect for cool summer nights in alpine terrain and thru-hikes.
2. Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 – Unisex/Men’s
The Versalite is available in three lengths: 5′ 6″, 6′ 0″, and 6′ 6″. Insulated with 850+ fill power goose down, it weighs in at just 32 ounces. It’s available in three lengths, making it ideal for ultralight backpackers who hike in cool mountain climates.
3. Marmot Phase 20 – Unisex/Men’s
The Phase 20 is insulated with 850+ fill power goose down and is available in two lengths: 6′ and 6′ 6″.
4. Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 – Unisex/Men’s
The Ultralite is available in three lengths: 5′ 6″, 6′ 0″, and 6′ 6″. Insulated with 850+ fill power goose down, it weighs in at just 29 ounces.
5. Montbell Down Hugger 900 #2 (25 degree) – Unisex/Men’s
A good choice for side or back sleepers, the Down Hugger 900 #2 is insulated with 900 fill power, water-resistant goose down. It weighs 24 oz and is available in a 6′ length.
6. Feathered Friends Egret UL 20 – Women’s
Available in two lengths: 5′ 3″ and 5′ 9″, the Egret UL 20 is insulated with 950+ fill power goose down and weighs just 27 oz.
7. Marmot Phase 20 – Women’s
The Phase 20 is insulated with 850+ fill power goose down that’s been treated with water-repellant coating. Weighing 29 oz, the Phase 20 is ideal for women who want to slash pack weight without compromising on sleeping comfort.
8. REI Joule 21 – Women’s
The Joule is insulated with 700 fill power duck down. It weighs 35 ounces and is available in 5′ 6″ and 6′ lengths. A wider size is also available.
9. NEMO Jam 30 – Women’s
Weighing 35 oz, the Jam 30 is available in two lengths, 5′ 6″ and 6′. It is insulated with 800+ fill power Nikwax water-resistant down.
10. Marmot Xenon 15 – Women’s
The Xenon 15 is insulated with 800 fill power, water-resistant goose down. It weighs 38 ounces and comes in a 5′ 6″ length.
Sleeping Bag Evaluation Criteria
Here is a list of the most important factor to consider when purchasing a sleeping bag for backpacking, so it fits your needs and preferences.
TEMPERATURE RATINGS: The introduction of standardized sleeping bag temperature ratings by the outdoor industry substantially improved their reliability. Bags tested with the European Norm (EN) 13537 get two ratings: a Comfort rating and Lower limit rating. The Comfort rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average woman (or “cold sleeper”) comfortable, and the Lower Limit rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep an average man (or “warm sleeper”) comfortable. The difference in the Comfort and Lower Limit ratings is usually about 10 degrees, since women feel colder than men when sleeping. If you’re a woman and decide to buy a men’s or unisex bag, get one that’s 10 degrees warmer than you need so you’re comfortable at night
INSULATION and COMPRESSIBILITY: High quality goose and duck down with fill powers of 800, 850, 900, and 950 provide excellent insulation by weight and are widely preferred by backpackers and base campers because they’re so lightweight. Some manufacturers only offer down that’s been treated with a water-repellent coating, while others prefer to offer it unadulterated. Down is naturally water-resistant so the jury is still out on whether “treated” down makes a difference in the long-term, since it’s easy to keep your sleeping bag dry with a little care.
SIZING: The fit of a sleeping bag is usually measured in terms of length and girth. Girth measures the maximum internal circumference of the bag, usually at the shoulders, hips, and feet. Measure yourself at these points and compare them to the girth to see if the bag will fit tightly or loosely. People with bigger shoulders or sides sleepers tend to feel more comfortable in bags with higher shoulder girths, while women typically need a shorter length bag and a smaller shoulder girth because they have narrower shoulders than men. It’s important to get a bag that minimizes the amount of unoccupied interior space relative to your measurements, so your body has less air to heat up to stay warm.
WEIGHT: While gear weight is important, be careful not to sacrifice your comfort by selecting a sleeping bag that won’t keep you warm or dry in the conditions you need it to. When choosing between bags with different outer shell fabrics, consider their breathability, so they will vent perspiration that can degrade your insulation, and whether they have a DWR coating, which can be important if the foot of your quilt gets wet regularly.
FEATURES: Most sleeping bags are pretty similar when it comes right down to it, but there are some features that set premium sleeping bags better than non premium bags. These include draft collars, continuous baffles, very high fill-power goose down, non-snagging zippers, draft tubes positioned behind zippers to seal out the cold, ventable foot boxes, and full length zippers that help extend the range of a bag in warmer weather.
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