The Best Sleeping Bags

June 29, 2016

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

When it comes to snoozing in the woods, your sleeping bag is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. This Active Junky Buyer’s Guide ranks top car camping and backpacking sleeping bags so you can pick the bag that best matches your needs, and don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

During colder winter months, Active Junky gear testers spent two weeks pitting these bags against one another in Utah’s high desert terrain as the first stage of product testing. Temperatures ranged from the low 20s to the high 50s as weather varied from sleet and rain to clear, cool skies. Perfect conditions to test 3-season sleeping bags.


Images by Richard Forbes

Sleeping bag brands we evaluated

  • Big Agnes
  • Brooks-Range
  • Klymit
  • Marmot
  • Mountain Hardwear
  • RAB
  • Slumberjack
  • The North Face

How to pick a sleeping bag

Picking a sleeping bag can be tough with the large number of choices. Ask yourself a few simple questions to narrow down your options.

Question #1: Are you a car camper, a backpacker or both?

What’s your main objective? Pull up to a car camping spot and pitch your tent right there? Or backpack to remote locations, putting in long days on the trail?

Pros and Cons of Car Camping Bags

Car camping bags have a few benefits: they are cheaper, more spacious and comfortable than their backpacking counterparts. As a result, car camping bags are bulky and less versatile than backpacking bags.

Pros and Cons of Backpacking Bags

While we don’t advise lugging a car camping bag on a backpacking trip, the best backpacking bags easily adapt to car camping. Infinitely more versatile than car camping bags (and pricier), they’re typically lighter, pack smaller and are less spacious than car camping bags. 

Question #2: Where and when do you plan on using your sleeping bag?

Weather matters and, while we’ve focused on 3-season sleeping bags in this Buyer’s Guide, many of these brands work as 2-season summer sleeping bags.  And, in some cases, as winter sleeping bags. Three-season bags carry a rating down to 10-35 degrees, allowing you to stay warm as temperatures hover near freezing.  In more moderate conditions, simply unzip to extend their range.

Question #3: What’s your budget? 

Car campers win with lower prices while still able to upgrade to more premium bags like the warm and spacious Big Agnes Summit 15.

Backpackers on a budget should evaluate the Klymit KSB 20, an innovative bag with superior packability and versatility for the weight and price. 

In truth, backpackers need to view their sleeping bag as an investment-grade piece of equipment.  Allocating $300-500 for a quality 3-season bag fits this view.

Understanding Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings

To reduce the confusion around sleeping bag ratings, here’s what you need to know: 

  • Most sleeping bags are now rated using the EN (European Norm) modus operandi.
  • The EN rating system puts forth two temperatures: the EN lower limit temperature and the EN comfort rating.
  • The EN lower limit denotes the temperature at which the average man can sleep without issue.
  • The EN comfort rating denotes the temperature at which the average woman can sleep without issue.
  • Keep in mind, these averages don’t reflect how warm or cold you sleep – and the adjustment in bag selection needed to compensate.

Down Sleeping Bag Fill vs Synthetic

To down or not to down? While light and warm, down loses loft (insulating power) when wet. For wet climates like the Pacific Northwest, look for a bag that’s filled with down that’s undergone a hydrophobic treatment. Or select a model with a water-resistant coating, like the one found in the Brooks-Range Drift 20. In the dry desert, Active Junky testers prefer the lightweight warmth of a thick, fluffy down sleeping bag where down or fabric treaments are required.

Synthetic insulation, normally heavier than down, won’t lose its insulating value as dramatically when wet, compared to natural down, which clusters, compresses and traps less air. Synthetic insulation is less costly and less compressible to suit space-rich car campers. 

Down rating is measured by “fill power” where higher ratings support warmer, lighter sleeping bags. For example, a 20-degree, 650-fill bag is larger and less expensive than an equally warm 850-fill bag. Premium backpacking bags carry fill power ratings of 750-900.

How We Tested Sleeping Bags

After two weeks in the Utah desert in winter, and extended testing in the Pacific Northwest and the Colorado Rockies during the spring, our testers slept in over 15 sleeping bags selected from top brands. The ten bags included here are the team’s favored models.

Best Men’s Backpacking Sleeping Bags

At their respective temperature ratings of 15, 20 and 25 degrees, the Marmot Helium 15, Brooks-Range Drift 20 and Rab Endurance Neutrino 400 were our testers’ favorite premium backpacking bags.

Marmothelium15 Marmot Helium 15 $263.31 - $269.28 The Helium was among the warmest tested in the 3-season category, thanks to 850-fill, hydrophobic-treated goose down. It featured the top hood, a 6-baffle design that counters the need for a pillow. 

Rab neutrino endurance 400 sleeping bag Rab Neutrino Endurance 400 25 $382.76 - $434.95 The Brooks-Range Drift 20 is an ultralight beast of a bag, our top pick at the 20-degree mark. Testers appreciated the strength of the 15d nylon fabric along with the hydrophobic properties of the 850-fill DownTek insulation.

When temperatures weren’t quite as brutal, testers chose the 25-degree Rab Endurance Neutrino 400. This sub-2lb. bag kept testers warm as temperatures hovered around freezing. 

Best Value Bag: Klymit KSB 20

Ksb 20 sleeping bag 1 Klymit KSB 20 $133.73 - $189.95 The Klymit KSB 20-degree Down Sleeping Bag combines design ingenuity with quality, affordable materials. Stuffed with 650-fill Down, it isn’t as compressable as other down, but at 3lbs and under $200, this model is a full-on bargain.

Best Women’s Backpacking Sleeping Bag

The north face blue kazoo 15 1 The North Face Blue Kazoo 15 $188.34 - $267.84 Though heavier than the Flash, the The North Face Kazoo earned the top spot among female testers when temperatures dropped below freezing. A snug, lofty bag (only 650-fill), the Kazoo isn’t an overly compact sleeping bag, but the warmth is unbeatable at the price.

Best Car Camping Sleeping Bags

The Active Team put car camping bags to the test as well.

Slumberjack country squire Slumberjack Country Squire 20 $161.71 - $170.84 The Slumberjack Country Squire 20 is worthy of royalty, a plush duvet of a sleeping bag that barely stuffs in its duffel bag (yes, it comes with a duffel bag). Nearly large enough to be a double sleeping bag, this behemoth is our first choice as a car camping comforter. 

Key Attributes

As we thoroughly tested these sleeping bags, we asked our gear testers to consider five attributes, picking the standout attribute for each sleeping bag. The attributes are as follows:

Performance: Did the sleeping bag keep the tester warm? Did it perform well in the temperature range? Did the zippers get stuck? Was it comfortable all night long? How did it handle moisture?

Weight: Is it light enough and compressible enough to backpack with it for days at a time? 

Durability: Testers slept under the stars and often cooked breakfast or drank their coffee while still in their sleeping bags. Did the duress of a backpacking trip -- including living in it while awake -- rip the fabric? Were testers concerned about wear and tear?

Versatility: If it’s a backpacking bag, is it comfortable enough to be a go-to car camping bag as well? Will it perform well in a variety of climates?

Quality: This attribute considers everything from down fill-power to quality of the fabric, stitching, baffle construction, etc. Quality is closely linked to performance, durability and longevity. 

Read on for the full sleeping bag reviews and to find the best sleeping bag for you

Best Men’s Backpacking Sleeping Bags Reviews

Marmot Helium 15 

Marmothelium15 Marmot Helium 15 $263.31 - $269.28 Field Notes: The Marmot Helium became a contender for top honors on the first night out, with one tester reluctant to test-sleep anything else. After trying a handful of others on subsequent backpacking and car camping trips, he was enthused to get back to the Helium.  From start to finish, it was, as we say, love at first night. 

Pros: Your average 3-season sleeping bag hangs right around that 20-degree mark, so the Helium’s 5-degree advantage is key, particularly when sliding into the lofty, 800-fill sleeping bag’s warmth on frigid desert nights. The baffles are curved and contoured to prevent the down from shifting and testers felt absolutely no cold spots over multiple nights. Also, the zippers operated smoothly and consistently, a perpetual problem with some other models. Hip and foot box volume are sensibly allocated so testers never felt claustrophobic in this mummy sleeping bag design. Also, the 20-denier Pertex Microlight nylon fabric easily brushes off moisture and defies potential snags.

Cons: When temperatures dropped well below freezing, adding the ability to fully cinch down the best-in-class hood’s draw string would earn this 9.9/10 bag a perfect score.

Favorite Feature: The secondary zipper follows the right shoulder down for about six inches, allowing warm sleepers to shed heat and any owner to be less nervous about deploying the 15-degree bag in summer. 

Tester Comment: “I’ve been testing a lot of sleeping bags and this is my favorite. So comfortable, intuitive, and the best hood and baffle system I’ve ever tested. Helium or bust!”

Bottom Line: This bag is tough to beat and is one of the best 20-degree sleeping bags Active Junky tested. Quality down, updated construction and a comfortable fit and feel make this a winner across three seasons. 

Best For: Investing in a bag to do it all. Enjoying a warm sleeping bag that compresses down to a manageable size.

Key Attribute: Performance

Mountain Hardwear Hotbed Flame 20

Mountain hardwear hotbed flame 20 Mountain Hardwear Hotbed Flame 20 $114.45 - $139.92 Field Notes: After testing this bag both backpacking and car camping, multiple testers agreed Hotbed is a solid pick for both activities. Comfortable without being too large to pack in, this affordable bag is an excellent crossover product.

Pros: Most sleeping bags have silky, nylon interiors that duplicate the outside of the bag. Not so with the Hotbed with a cottony inner lining more akin to your sheets at home than coarser sleeping bag fabrics. Beneath this comfortable fabric are 5 in. of synthetic Thermal Q Thermic MX insulation to maintain warmth when hit by light rain or morning condensation. Mountain Hardwear makes it easy to zip two Hotbeds together to snuggle up in the backcountry. Another bonus: the microfleece-lined stuff sack makes for a great pillow. 

Cons: Though affordable Thermal Q Thermic MX Insulation repels moisture, it isn’t light at almost 3.5lbs and twice the packed size of lightweight sleeping bags like the Brooks-Range Drift 20 and Marmot Helium 15. However, it offers extra length (78”) so 6’5” testers fit comfortably in the regular model.
 
Favorite Feature: That interior fabric made for a dreamy night’s sleep as if you’re at home in your own bed—instead of in the woods tucked into the Hotbed. 

Tester Comment: “Not my first choice as a backpacking bag, but it’s a comfortable and reasonable choice for those who car camp more than they backpack.”

Bottom Line: Serious backpackers on a budget should look to the lighter, more compressible Klymit KSB. The Mountain Hardwear Hotbed 20, however, is more spacious, comfortable and cozy.

Best For: Well-suited for travelers who split their time between mellow-moderate backpacking trips and car camping excursions.

Key Attribute: Versatility

Rab Enduro Neutrino 400

Rab neutrino endurance 400 sleeping bag Rab Neutrino Endurance 400 25 $382.76 - $434.95 Field Notes: After a stuff sack mix-up, our tester believed he brought a 20-degree bag on a 3-day backpacking trip where temps dropped below freezing under the rim of the canyon. This 25-degree Rab ended up in his pack and, even as temperatures hovered near the EN Lower Limit, he remained snug in the Neutrino 400. Combine it with a puffy and long johns to go low, it was the team’s favorite ultralight sleeping bag. 

Pros: Rab is entrenched in the gritty minimalism of modern alpinism. Even if you’re simply a casual backpacker, such a carefully-designed product makes a significant, positive difference. This nearly weightless bag stuffs down small, perhaps equal to the Brooks-Range Drift 20 for smallest. The comfortable hood was easy to cinch even as gusts of wind pounded the Pertex Endurance outer fabric. Pertex Quantum lines the body of the bag with both fabrics treated with DWR to ensure the Nikwax-protected hydrophobic down doesn’t come face-to-feather with moisture. 

Cons: Our single concern was a few renegade down clusters sneaking through the central, inner seam of the bag. Will leakage be a problem over time? Rab has a solid guarantee that covers the original owner to inspire confidence in resolving any concern with their customer service team.  

Favorite Feature: The Pertex Endurance fabric makes for a reliable exterior. It’s durable with no snags or tears even after being tossed over thorny brush and used as a quilt over rough sandstone by our inquisitive testing staff.

Tester Comment: “I’m a big fan of Rab in the mountains—now I’m a big fan of Rab in the desert, too. Frosty nights and cold mornings were nothing to the Endurance Neutrino 400, and I loved the hood when it was windy.”

Bottom Line: If you already have a 0-degree sleeping bag up to a 15-degree bag and/or are looking for a lightweight 3-season bag that will do well in summer, look at this Rab sleeping bag. It’s a top tier bag that everyone from alpinists to fast and light backpackers will appreciate.

Best For: Alpinism, fast and light backpacking, use in warmer climates

Key Attribute: Weight

Klymit KSB 20

Ksb 20 sleeping bag 1 Klymit KSB 20 $133.73 - $189.95 Field Notes: We encourage testers to ignore price during field testing. The Klymit KSB misled testers, who grossly overestimated the cost.  With an ingenious design and warm construction, it packs to a reasonable size to score high among multiple testers, though it is not the lightest bag included on the test with 650-fill down.

Pros: With a reputation for startling innovation, Klymit never ceases to surprise. Delight came when our first tester slid into the KSB and noticed the flexible baffles. Essentially enormous rubber bands to replace traditional baffle stitching, these hip bands allow you to stretch and sleep in any desired position minus the discomfort of a tight mummy bag or heat loss of a baggy one. The affordable 650-fill, while only marginally compressible, is warm and lofty in a bag only slightly over 2.5lbs.

Cons: While the stretchy baffles are a hit in the midsection of the bag, it appears the same rubber band-like baffle is duplicated as the hood’s draw string. When cinched tightly, the band is uncomfortable. Compensate for this design misstep with a warm beanie. 

Favorite Feature: The stretchy baffles. A unique feature that merits applause. We’re excited to see how Klymit’s designs evolve in the future.

Tester Comment: “It kind of looks like a big trash bag when you pull it out of the stuff sack. But it couldn’t be further from trashy—this thing is a beast. The baffles blew my mind. I slept comfortably, when I wasn’t shaking my head and admiring the design. I’ll be recommending this bag to all of my friends who backpack on a budget.”

Bottom Line: The only way to find this quality at this price might be on craigslist or searching bargain bins at your local outdoor store. A great deal, we recommend KSB for first-time and budget-focused backpackers.

Best For: Budget backpacking, new-backpackers, use in bivouacs and rugged camping scenarios due to heat retention of baffle design.

Key Attribute: Innovation

Brooks-Range Drift 20

Brooks range drift 20 Brooks-Range Drift 20 Sleeping Bag Starting at: $569.95 Field Notes: This 850-fill Drift 20 made testers salivate in a compression sack the size of a double-meat Subway sandwich. While nearly impossible to restuff, the compressible Drift 20 caught the eye of the fast and light crowd to earn the coveted comment, “If I could afford it, I’d buy it.” 

Pros: Brooks-Range Mountaineering designs are precise and minimal, and the Drift 20 is no different. Aside from a tiny internal pocket, nothing’s added in a bag considered roomy by mountaineering standards. 850-fill DownTek insulation is some of the highest quality insulation on the market. Testers loved the vertical baffles (part of BR’s “Flow Construction”) and puffy draft tube that blocked the cold. Down to 20 degrees, male testers stayed warm in the Drift 20-degree sleeping bag.

Cons: The fabric of this sleeping bag appears susceptible to tear so testers were more careful with the Drift 20 than the Rab Endurance Neutrino 400. 

Favorite Feature: The hood and collar combo feels heavenly on crisp, windy nights as a high-volume baffle surrounds the head like an angel’s halo of warming down clusters.

Tester Comment: “After backpacking with it, I’d take Drift 20 anywhere. Car camping, mid-winter hut trips, bikepacking trips, you name it. It’s a compressible luxury—so comfortable. Once again, if I could afford it, I’d buy it.”

Bottom Line: Though expensive, this compressible bag is a value for serious, do-it-all gram-counters. 

Best For: Everything from ultralight backpacking to car camping. 

Key Attribute: Versatility

Best Women’s Sleeping Bag Reviews

The North Face Blue Kazoo

The north face blue kazoo 15 1 The North Face Blue Kazoo 15 $188.34 - $267.84 Field Notes: When forecasts predicted dropping temperatures, testers were relieved that TNF’s Blue Kazoo was in the mix. Over the initial two-week testing trip, this 650-fill sleeping bag was a favorite rom backpacking trips to car camping scenarios and proved to be a solid choice in cold weather sleeping bags.

Pros: With the best cinching hood of women’s sleeping bags tested, it socked in warmth and allowed for a minimal yet comfortable breathing channel. The women’s-specific shape offered plenty of room in the hips while it narrowed in the shoulders and feet to maximize heat retention.

Cons: Bulky when packed, the Kazoo could be stuffed with a higher fill down to increase compressibility. But such an increase in down fill power would likely jeopardize Kazoo’s attractive price point. Slight zipper snags were a recurring problem.

Favorite Feature: The overall warmth of this down sleeping bag. Multiple features – including the fill, baffle construction, hood design, etc. – united for an exceptionally warm 15-degree bag.

Tester Comment: “Warm. Affordable. Cozy. Fits part of what I want to do, and will look to a lighter bag for trekking and backcountry trips.”

Bottom Line: If warmth is the focus, the Kazoo is an excellent bet. While lacking compressibility, the bag earned its extra ounces when testers pitched camp in cold locales.

Best For: Spring and fall camping as well as backpacking.

Key Attribute: Performance

Best Car Camping Sleeping Bag Reviews

Slumberjack Country Squire 20

Slumberjack country squire Slumberjack Country Squire 20 $161.71 - $170.84 Field Notes: Mummy bag lovers giggled when they caught a glimpse of the Country Squire’s enormous canvas duffel bag that replaces the age-old stuff sack for this monstrous model. Chuckles gave way to snoring as the Country Squire is among the most comfortable sleep systems available — in or out of the campground.

Pros: Even tall testers had room to move around in this bag, perhaps with enough margin to be a 2-person sleeping bag. While we didn’t test out this theory, being surrounded by the luxurious poly cotton liner felt more like home than pioneer homestead.

Cons: This 20-degree bag weighs almost 11 pounds and chews up trunk or rooftop space. Use of 12oz Cotton Duck shell material hampers the ability to block breezes so sleeping outside is not advised unless clouds are scarce and skies are calm. 

Favorite Feature: The cotton lining had testers snoozing as soon as they hit the pillow. Unbelievably comfortable, the lining can be removed and washed — a rarity in the sleeping bag market.

Tester Comment:  “It is good to be King — or at least a Squire — if you’re big and have plenty of room to transport this bag.  Goodness at an amazing price."

Bottom Line: Look no further for the ultimate car camping sleeping bag, one wrapped in 11lbs of cottony bliss. 

Best For: Car camping, use as a duvet in an RV or camper van.

Key Attribute: Quality

Big Agnes Summit Park 15

Big agnes summit pakr 15 6 Big Agnes Summit Park 15 $222.72 - $290.36 Field Notes: On the big size, Active Junky’s 6’5” testers were instantly intrigued by the roomy 15-degree bag lovingly nicknamed the “Windsock.” So enormous that a gust of wind could cause the whole thing to get airborne, Summit Park meant warmth well below freezing. And one tester embarked on an impromptu winter backpacking trip with it, sleeping above the snow line.

Pros: The sleeping pad sleeve fit several different pads. While mummy sleeping bags with pad sleeves often make it challenging to turn during the night, Summit is roomy enough to permit internal movement from back to side while employing the pad sleeve. DownTek insulation excelled, as condensation failed to infiltrate the loftiness of this sleeping bag during winter camping while quilted down baffles never yielded cold spots. In extreme conditions, the Summit is a superior outer bag when a smaller mummy is inserted – saving money in the process.

Cons: If you aren’t big and tall, explore some of Big Agnes’ other offerings. Average Joes will be drowning in this wide bag.

Favorite Feature: The sleeping pad sleeve was a top contender for favorite feature, but honors go to the water-resistant DownTek loft as it adds serious versatility and multi-climate performance to the Summit Park 15.

Tester Comment: “On an extended road trip, this rates 10 out of 10. I wouldn’t backpack with Summit Park 15, unless we’re facing extreme cold and don’t have far to travel on foot. Luxurious without being overdone, this bag is ideal for bigger adventurers.”

Bottom Line: While on the big side for backpacking at 4.5lbs, it can be carried. Testers prefer it as a plush car camping bag or as an outer bag for mid-winter excursions.

Best For: Road trips, car camping, winter camping, use as an outer bag

Key Attribute: Versatility

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