How Much Should You Spend on a Sleeping Bag?
What's the difference between a $100 sleeping bag and a $600 sleeping bag? Camping and Hiking Expert Nicole O. answers that very question in the guide below!
A sleeping bag is one of the first things to pop into someone’s mind when thinking about camping or backpacking. Curling up into a cozy sleeping bag after a long day of hiking is a wonderful feeling. Sleeping bags are important for getting quality sleep (which directly impacts how much you will enjoy your trip) and for survival while sleeping in the elements, so it is necessary to pick the right one.
However, picking out a sleeping bag that fits your backpacking needs can be difficult. There’s an overwhelming number of options for something that seems so simple. In this article, I’ll help describe the major differences between sleeping bags to help you know what to look for when shopping for sleeping bags. I will also explain why some sleeping bags are more expensive than others.
Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Sleeping Bag
Down vs. Synthetic
One of the biggest differences between sleeping bags on the market is their insulation. As a result, it is generally one of if not the biggest factors in price differences between sleeping bags.
The two options are down (made from duck feathers) and synthetic fill, usually made from polyester fibers. Down bags are a lot lighter and compress significantly smaller, generally making them a much better option for those who care to prioritize the weight of their backpacking gear. On the other hand, synthetic-filled bags weigh a bit more and don’t compress as easily, making them relatively bulkier sleeping bags. However, they cost significantly less than down bags.
Another important difference between synthetic and down is that if the bags get wet, synthetic bags will still offer warmth and insulation; however, down bags become virtually useless, which is unpleasant and can potentially turn into a dangerous situation on cold nights. So it is important to consider your environment. For example, if you often backpack in a rainy, humid environment, carrying a synthetic-filled sleeping bag for safety might be worth the weight penalty. But if you want to have the lightest, most packable sleeping bag, you’ll want to splurge the extra money for a down-filled sleeping bag.
Shape is a huge factor that affects a sleeping bag’s performance and price. A cheaper bag tends to be a simple rectangular cut, while a pricier bag will have a mummy cut that is shaped close to your body.
While some people find mummy bags a little restrictive, almost anyone concerned about weight will use them since they are much smaller and weigh a lot less. Not only do they weigh less, but they are also warmer since they fit relatively tight to your body, making it harder for heat to escape and so that you don’t have a lot of dead space to heat. So if you’re camping in cold weather or backpacking where weight matters, a mummy bag should always be the go-to option.
Some sleeping bags try to get the best of both worlds by having a roomier mummy cut or a semi-rectangular cut, which are great options if you truly hate how restrictive mummy bags are.
If you plan to go car camping during the summer, rectangular sleeping bags can be a great, comfy, inexpensive option. But generally speaking, the lightest, most expensive sleeping bags will be a mummy cut.
A sleeping bag’s weight also greatly affects its price. The more lightweight something is, the more it costs in the backpacking gear world, and sleeping bags are no exception to that rule.
Weight is often the determining factor for a lot of hiker’s purchases because the less something weighs, the less effort it takes to carry it up and over mountains or long distances. If you hike or backpack frequently, it is worthwhile to consider upgrading gear because the more weight you have strapped to your back equals more pressure on sensitive joints like your knees and ankles. Frequently carrying heavy weight can also lead to back or shoulder pain.
The more lightweight technology the sleeping bag manufacturer uses, the more a sleeping bag will cost. So if you’re only going out on a short trip once or twice a year or car camping, saving the money and dealing with a heavier sleeping bag might make more sense.
The temperature rating for a sleeping bag is by far the most important factor for deciding which sleeping bag you want to buy. Unfortunately, temperature ratings can be confusing because there are a few different temperature ratings, and sometimes different brands will advertise different temperature ratings. So I’ll explain them really quickly to you! The three main temperature ratings used are:
- Comfort limit: The lowest temperature at which the average cold sleeper will feel comfortable in said bag.
- Lower limit: The lowest temperature at which the average hot sleeper will feel comfortable in said bag.
- Survival/extreme limit: This is the lowest temperature at which you will survive using this sleeping bag. It is for emergencies in which you’d shiver in your sleeping bag all night, so you’d want to buy a bag that is at least 30 degrees higher than this to sleep comfortably.
Advertising sleeping bag temperatures differently can make buying a sleeping bag hard since you might not know the intricacies of sleeping bag ratings (and why would you?). So it is important to double-check the rating that they use! As a cold sleeper, I still try to keep a buffer room of about 10 degrees, so if I’m planning on going out in 20-degree weather, I will buy a 10-degree bag, just to be safe in case the weather report is off, which often happens in the mountains!
Sometimes cheaper bags will advertise the survival limit instead of the comfort limit. I started backpacking with a 5-degree bag that cost around $60. I recently upgraded to a $700+ sleeping bag with a 15-degree rating. The cheaper bag advertised its survival rating, but the expensive bag advertised its comfort limit. It is way warmer than the inexpensive bag that probably had a comfort limit of 30 degrees or so.
Basically, the warmer the bag, the more expensive it’ll be since it uses more insulation. It can quickly get expensive if you want a warm and lightweight bag.
I hope this article helped you understand the differences between sleeping bags, their prices, and their quality. If you need help picking out the perfect sleeping bag for your next outdoor adventure, please feel free to reach out to a Camping and Hiking Expert or me for free, personalized advice.