No matter where your travels take you, from national parks to backwoods to back porches, a camping sleeping bag remains a trusty companion. Since space and weight are not at a premium when you can drive to your destination, the comfort dial can get turned way up. There’s no need to suffer through the night in a constricting mummy bag, so options in this category tend to lean more towards a traditional rectangular shape or a roomier mummy. A number of lightweight options also do a nice job pulling double duty for easy backpacking trips.
Rectangular vs. Mummy
Traditional camping bags have a wide, rectangular fit with plenty of room to roll around. Clearly designed for warmer conditions, rectangular bags can often be completely unzipped down one side and the bottom to be used as a large blanket for two. There isn’t any insulation covering your head, so plan your sleepwear accordingly when taking them outside their summer comfort zone. Also, most rectangular bags are heavy and don’t pack down small, so if you are looking for an all-in-one option for camping and backpacking, we recommend choosing a mummy-style bag instead.
Mummy sleeping bags trim away material in the shoulders, hips, and feet for a shape that mimics your body. The advantage of having a tapered cut is there is little extra space for cold spots to creep in. And with a quality hood cinched around the top of your head, you can really maximize the temperature rating potential. If you find yourself at higher elevations or in colder temperatures, a mummy bag is a great option. Additionally, if you plan to occasionally mix in some backpacking, there are great mummy bags made with a roomier fit, including the the Big Agnes Encampment.
Let’s make this clear right off the bat: it’s important not to treat sleeping bag temperature ratings as hard truth. Unlike backpacking bags, which are mostly assigned a rating through a standardized process (EN rating system), individual manufacturers assign the ratings for the majority of camping bags. As such, there are some major discrepancies once you have them out in the real world. One reason for this is due to the shape of many camping bags. A rectangular bag that has a wide opening on one end will not retain heat in the same way a sealed off mummy bag can.
In the end, the temperature rating does have value and you should use it as a basic guideline. In choosing the proper approximate rating, try to get an idea of the very coldest temperature you’ll be experiencing overnight. Once you have that number, it’s a good idea to build in a little buffer (we like an extra 10-15 degrees) to avoid getting cold. And keep in mind the temperature rating is closer to a survivability rating rather than being comfortable and warm. Other factors to consider are your age—people typically don’t sleep as warm the older they get—and whether you are a cold or warm sleeper. Most campers stick to the warmer months for their outdoor adventuring, and as a result, most of the sleeping bags on this list are rated in the 25-40 degree range.
Down vs. Synthetic Insulation
There are two types of insulation used for camping sleeping bags: manmade synthetic fibers and down insulation made up of clusters of duck or goose feathers. Down offers the ultimate warmth-to-weight ratio along with excellent packability, which is why it’s highly valued for backpacking sleeping bags. For camping bags, however, weight and a compact stuffed size usually aren’t major considerations. In addition, down is much more expensive that synthetic insulation. A down sleeping bag like the Kelty Cosmic, with average quality down (600 fill), costs $50 or more than an equivalent synthetic option like the Marmot Trestles. And the gap is much larger for premium down bags, which can cost $500 or more.
Synthetic insulation dominates the camping sleeping bag category because of its affordability and practicality—14 of the 15 bags on this list have synthetic insulation. The compromises in choosing the cheaper fill type are relatively minimal for camping. With a car or camper to transport all of your gear, the larger stuffed size and extra weight are much less of a concern than when your sleeping bag has to be crammed into a pack and carried on your back. And should the insulation get wet, synthetics continue to keep you warm, unlike down feathers.
Camping has a sweet simplicity to it, and one of the great things about driving (or walking a short distance) to your campsite, is that you don’t need anything too special from your camping sleeping bag. Realistically, you can get a great sleeping bag for under $100. Spending extra brings features like a softer touch shell fabric and a lighter overall weight, which is worth it for some, but most campers will be happy with a tough nylon shell, a healthy dose of synthetic fill, and a cozy flannel lining. The Wenzel Blue Jay, which can be found on Amazon for around $50, is a great example. It’s plenty warm, comfortable, and tough enough to keep using year-after-year.
Weight and Packability
For most, the primary weight and packability consideration for a camping bag is whether or not it can be carried from the garage to the car, squeezed in with the rest of your stuff, and then moved from the trunk to the tent. That said, we still recommend checking the weight and stuffed size that will be listed in the product specifications to get an idea of just how large and heavy the bags are. Synthetic bags are typically made with thicker fabrics and require more insulation to provide sufficient warmth, which can add up to a surprising amount of bulk. The 10-pound SlumberJack comes to mind as one example. And if you’re considering a double bag (covered in more detail below), you’re talking about packed dimensions listed in feet rather than inches.
Sleeping Bag Lining
The interior of a sleeping bag varies quite a bit from bag to bag depending on its intended use, but the tried and true flannel lining is still our camping favorite. The soft touch fabric simply can’t be beat, and it’s plenty durable and washable in most cases. The one downside is the flannel adds extra weight compared with an integrated polyester that you’ll find in a crossover camping and backpacking bag.
Mummy bags typically have a ¾-length side zip that requires some wriggling to get in and out of and can’t be opened up completely should you want to zip the sleeping bag together with another compatible bag. That’s why for camping, we prefer a bag that fully unzips. Not only is it easy to create a large and comfortable space for two if you zip it to another bag, but unzipping the bag on its own opens it up for use as a blanket. And if the bag has a tough exterior shell, you can use it as an outdoor picnic blanket in a pinch.
A third type is the no-zip, which is limited to a couple designs, including the Frontcountry Bed that made our list. The large oval opening requires some modest flexibility and patience to get out of, but going zipper-less can be nice. There’s no fumbling in the night for the zipper pull and you don’t have to worry about snags or heat loss (if the bag lacks a good draft tube). In the end, we don’t see the zipper-less design completely taking over the market. The in and out convenience and ability to use the bag as a blanket with a full zip sleeping bag is the better answer for most campers.
Double Sleeping Bags
A double sleeping bag is simply a standard sleeping that has doubled in width to accommodate two campers sleeping side-by-side. These bags are often an effective selling point to get a reluctant partner to finally try out camping. But is it worth getting the double bag as opposed to just zipping together two compatible sleeping bags? Our simple take is: no. While they’re undoubtedly spacious and a touch cheaper than getting two single bags, we’ve never been in a scenario where zipping two bags haven’t worked just as well—and it gives you the flexibility to camp solo as well.
But who are we to tell you not to get a double bag? And if you find it’s what you want, we recommend the truly massive and comfortable The North Face Dolomite Double 20. Not only is the Dolomite Double a double, but it has enough room inside for a two full size adults on each side and a storm-frightened toddler (or dog) in the middle.
Kid’s Sleeping Bags
If you have a little kiddo or are shopping for one, we highly recommend picking up a sleeping bag that is sized proportionally. Unless you only camp in areas with very warm overnight temperatures, a 4.5-foot person in a sleeping bag designed for a 6-footer is a recipe for cold and uncomfortable nights. They just can’t heat all of that extra space. To keep from having to replace sleeping bags every couple years as your little camper grows up, consider getting a sleeping bag that has an adjustable length, like the REI Kindercone. Kids bags, like the Kindercone, are often made in a bunch of fun colors, which sure doesn’t hurt in getting them excited for some time spent outdoors.
Mattress or Pad
If you’ve ever had a pad deflate or slept directly on the ground in cold weather, you know firsthand the importance of an insulated pad beneath you. More, when you lay on a sleeping bag, you compress the insulation, which impacts its ability to warm you (this is particularly true for down fill, but does impact synthetic as well). As a result, it’s important to choose a sleeping mattress or pad that will protect you from the ground if you’ll be camping in cooler temperatures (typically under 50-60 degrees).
For summer camping where it stays warm at night, you can use a large, uninsulated airbed, but if it’s cold, get a sleeping pad with some form of insulation (most often synthetic or foam). Sleeping pads are given an R-value rating, and the higher the number, the better it insulates you from the cold. As a general guideline for 3-season use, we recommend a rating between 2.5 and 4. Summer campers can get away with less, while winter adventurers will want something that exceeds 5 (and may want to consider adding a second pad for additional protection). Checkout our favorite camping sleeping mattresses for a breakdown of our top picks as well as buying advice.
Read more about Best Camping Sleeping Bags of 2018