Are you baffled by expensive baffles? We set out to find the best budget backpacking sleeping bags you can buy in 2019. Modern sleeping bags can cost several hundred dollars, more than some of us spend on home mattresses. If that figure sounds like too much money to enjoy a simple overnight in the outdoors, this review of value backpacking bags is for you. Our backpacking experts are no strangers to stretching a buck. They used this experience to select 10 of the top-rated sleeping bags under $200. Each of these bags then underwent a battery of hands-on tests in the field and lab to evaluate their comfort, warmth, and versatility. Below we report our findings and try to help you figure out whether you'd be happier in a cheaper sleeping bag with a couple extra hundred dollars in your pocket.
The Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2019
|Price||$199.95 at REI|
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|$159.95 at Backcountry|
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|$169.95 at Backcountry|
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|$159.95 at Backcountry|
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|$149.96 at MooseJaw|
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|Pros||Awesome warmth-to-weight ratio for the price, very compressible, tons of venting options, nice compression sack included||Thick synthetic insulation, well-balanced performance, easy to use zipper, included stuff sack||Cheap, anti-snag zipper, sturdy materials, versatile synthetic insulation||Inexpensive, burly, decent warmth, roomy fit||Extra-long zipper, lightweight, packs small, unzips into a quilt|
|Cons||Not as warm as its temp rating, no draft collar, uncertain durability||Bulkier than expected, mediocre warmth-to-weight ratio||Moderate warmth-to-weight ratio, doesn't compress well, limited extra features||Heavier than average, bulky, no storage sack, no compression sack||Colder than its warmth rating, no draft collar or stash pocket, unpleasant smell|
|Bottom Line||An exceptional deal for a lightweight bag that excels in wet conditions.||A simple but effective synthetic mummy bag.||An affordable workhorse with solid all-around performance.||A legit backpacking sleeping bag that won't cost you an arm and a leg.||Lightweight and packable, but minimal insulation.|
|Rating Categories||NEMO Kyan 35||The North Face Cat's Meow 20||Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30||Kelty Cosmic 20||Klymit KSB 35|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Features & Design (10%)|
|Specs||NEMO Kyan 35||The North Face Cat's Meow 20||Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30||Kelty Cosmic 20||Klymit KSB 35|
|Measured Weight (size long, in lbs)||1.89||2.39||2.28||2.63||3.14|
|Temperature rating (F)||35||20||30||20||35|
|EN lower limit (rating for men)/ EN Comfort Rating (rating for women)||35 / 46||22 / 33||27 (lower)||19 (lower)||21 / 32|
Best Budget Synthetic Sleeping Bag
NEMO Kyan 35
The Nemo Kyan 35 stacks up well against sleeping bags that cost up to twice as much. Perhaps its most impressive attribute is its weight. A weight under two pounds for a synthetic 3-season bag is pretty much unheard of. It also won't take up much room in your pack because it comes with a great compression sack and packs down as small the best down bags we've tried. In camp, we think you'll be pleased by the dimensions that feel surprisingly roomy for a traditional mummy bag design. Another feature we like are the zippered "gills" on the top of the bag that allow you to reduce the level of insulation on warmer nights.
Our only concern is the Kyan's overall warmth. The 35°F version that we tried didn't quite live up to its temperature rating, so it's not a great choice for colder spring or fall overnights. Fear not, though, there's a 20F version that comes with six extra ounces of Primaloft Silver insulation. We haven't had a chance to test this warmer version yet, but the advertised specs and customer reviews suggest it's every bit as good as the 35F version that we love. Pick the temperature rating that fits your needs, and we're confident you'll get a great backpacking sleeping bag at an even better price.
Read review: Nemo Kyan 35
Best Budget Down Sleeping Bag
Kelty Cosmic 20
Try as you might, it's tough to find a cheaper down sleeping bag than the Kelty Cosmic. This bag is comfortable, featuring a soft and cozy interior with enough room to accommodate multiple layers of clothing, if necessary. It packs down into its stuff sack smaller than most synthetic bags, but don't expect it to disappear in your pack. The shell is durable and adds to this bag's longevity. Features like a draft collar and an easy to adjust hood help keep warm air in and cold air out.
This model isn't the warmest bag, though, and the 20°F manufacturer rating is somewhat generous. It's toasty in the low 30's, but you'll need to layer up if temps enter the 20's. The 600 fill power hydrophobic DriDown won't dry out as fast as synthetic models (a drawback of all down models). And while this model contains lightweight down, it still weighs more than two and a half pounds. If you're new to backpacking and daunted by price tags, this down bag gives you a tremendous performance-to-price ratio overall. It's also available in a women's version that our female testers appreciate.
Our Top Choice for Under $100
REI Co-op Trail Pod 30
Everyone should have an opportunity to enjoy the majesty of the great outdoors. No matter their bank balance. REI embraces this philosophy with the affordable Trail Pod 30. It's not as light or as packable as some of the top performers, but it's still a legit backpacking sleeping bag. The 30°F temp rating seems accurate to us, which means it's suitable for most 3-season applications. Our testers are also impressed with the comfort provided by its roomy dimensions and soft polyester lining. Also, the zipper snags less and is easier to use than some much more expensive competitors.
This model is an ideal bag for novice backpackers or anyone on a genuinely tight budget. However, if you have some cash to spare or you plan to spend a lot of nights in the backcountry, a higher performing budget bag will probably be worth the added cost. For an extra hundred bucks, there are several models that compress substantially smaller and offer significant weight savings. But for short distance overnight trips, there's no better deal than the REI Trail Pod 30.
Read review: REI Co-op Trail Pod 30
Why You Should Trust Us
Jack Cramer and Ross Robinson combined forces to find the best budget backpacking sleeping bag. Jack is an avid climber and an experienced backcountry traveler. His backpacking chops include a 3-month National Outdoor Leadership School course, a solo trek across Mongolia, and countless off-trail overnights throughout the Lower 48. Ross is a similarly seasoned backpacker and world traveler who gained his expertise on separate 500+ mile hikes in Peru, Thailand, and Germany. None of these travels were as lucrative as the authors would have liked, so they also know what it's like to be shopping for gear on a budget.
This review began by researching more than 100 of the most popular backpacking sleeping bags. Ten of the top-rated bags were then purchased to undergo full hands-on testing. Our team of testers then brought them on overnight trips throughout the American west, where they evaluated their comfort, versatility, and features. Back in the lab, we weighed each bag on our scale, measured their packed size in a third-party compression sack, and slept in them under controlled conditions to determine their warmth. An overall score was then calculated by weighting performance in each of these areas according to what our experienced authors consider to be the most critical characteristics in a budget backpacking sleeping bag.
Analysis and Test Results
A sleeping bag is a cornerstone piece of gear in the modern overnight kit. Even in the nicest of climates, storms and cold temperatures can roll in unexpectedly. When they do, your comfort and safety often depend on the performance of your sleeping bag. The obvious question then becomes — is it ok to settle for a budget model? Or due to its importance, is it better to spend more to get the absolute best bag? After testing more than twenty premium and budget bags, here's our advice:
Can I Get by with a Budget Sleeping Bag?
The difference between a budget and a premium sleeping bag is kind of like the difference between flying economy and flying first-class. Both accomplish the same purpose, but one is vastly more enjoyable. There is also a vast enough difference in cost that it will factor into most people's decisions. "Economy" sleeping bags can go for under $100 while "first-class" bags filled with goose down retail for $500+.
For this review, we defined a budget backpacking sleeping bag as a 3-season bag with a 20-35°F temperature rating and an MSRP under $200. Any bags with similar characteristics that cost more than $200 we called a premium backpacking sleeping bag. We observed substantial differences between these two categories in terms of weight and packed size. Premium bags, on average, weigh a pound less and compress 3 liters smaller. The differences extend to comfort and versatility. More expensive models feature more luxurious materials and sophisticated designs that make them more useful across a greater range of temperatures and conditions. After the exertion of a day backpacking, however, our testers noted almost no difference between budget and premium bags in terms of their sleep quality.
Our advice for sleeping bag purchases, therefore, is to follow the airline travel analogy. Frequent business travelers may need the perks of a first-class ticket, but the added cost probably isn't worth it for the average joe. When it comes to sleeping bags, we think the lower weight and smaller packed size of a premium bag are easily worth it for frequent, or more serious, backcountry travelers. Occasional and recreational backpackers, however, can sleep nearly as well and save a couple of hundred dollars in a budget bag without compromising their safety should a storm arrive.
After you decide that a budget bag is right for you, it's still important that you get a good deal. Sleeping bags are like any consumer product--price often corresponds to quality. But not always.
We believe the Nemo Kyan 35 is an outstanding value. In our performance tests, it scored as high as many premium bags, but it only costs $200. The Big Agnes Husted 20 and REI Co-op Trail Pod are other examples of great deals. Each receives better performance scores than other similarly priced bags. Keep in mind, however, we use list price, but it's not uncommon to find some of these budget sleeping bags on sale.
The classic mummy shape of most sleeping bags is designed to provide maximum warmth with minimum materials. Sleeping bags thus offer arguably the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulating layer. This warmth is determined by the quantity and quality of the insulation, along with the thermal efficiency of the bag's design. Both work by preventing the heat that's given off by your body from escaping to the outside world.
There are two primary types of sleeping bag insulation: down feathers and synthetic fibers. By weight, high-quality down (800+ fill power) is better at trapping heat than synthetic. High-quality down, however, is extremely expensive, so budget bags must use synthetic or lower quality down for their insulation. The performance differences between these less expensive materials are less apparent and harder to generalize.
The other significant factor that affects warmth is sleeping bag design. The more form-fitting a bag is, the less extra volume your body needs to heat, and all other things being equal, the warmer you will feel. Other specific features can also influence warmth. Draft tubes and draft collars, for example, ensure that heat doesn't escape out the main zipper and hood closure, respectively.
You can get a rough idea of a sleeping bag's warmth by considering its insulation and design, but without considerable experience, it's hard to make a confident prediction. A standardized test was developed to resolve this problem and to give consumers consistent temperature ratings. These European Norm (EN) ratings use a copper mannequin, rather than a human being, to scientifically measure warmth. Our testers noticed significant differences in how warm they felt in bags with similar advertised EN ratings. Our testers, for example, stayed comfortably warm in the Big Agnes Husted at temperatures near its 19°F rating (EN lower limit) but shivered in temps 20° above the Klymit KSB 35's similar 21F rating (EN lower limit).
To share this hands-on knowledge with you, we've scored each bag's warmth relative to the others on a scale of one to ten. We've also tried to comment on a bag's warmth relative to its advertised EN rating. Picking the best sleeping bag, however, is not as simple as picking the bag with the highest warmth score. Rather it's also essential to consider the temperatures in which you will use the bag. We recommend 35°F bags like Nemo Kyan for warm summer nights and lower elevation trips in spring and fall. A 20F bag like the Kelty Cosmic is a better choice for "cold sleepers" and full 3-season use.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of a budget sleeping bag is the weight. For example, an ultralight premium bag like the Rab Mythic 400 provides similar warmth to the Therm-a-Rest Saros but weighs more than 2 pounds less. This weight probably isn't a dealbreaker for short overnights near the trailhead, but it becomes more important for longer trips deep into the backcountry.
Fortunately, some budget sleeping bags are designed to be genuinely lightweight. The Nemo Kyan 35 and Klymit KSB 35 both weigh less than 2 pounds and are suitable for warmer 3-season applications. For full 3-season use, the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30 and The North Face Cat's Meow offer additional warmth while weighing only a half pound more than comparable premium sleeping bags. For any long-distance backpacking we caution shoppers from purchasing the heaviest budget bags, like the Therm-a-Rest Saros and Marmot Trestles, because their additional weight will almost certainly reduce your happiness.
At the same time, try not to get too caught up on the weight of your sleeping bag. The difference between the lightest expensive bag and the lightest budget bag is hardly noticeable. It's also a viable strategy to save money with a budget bag and use the savings to get a lighter tent or backpack to reduce the total weight of your overnight kit.
The weight or packed size of your sleeping bag matters little if it's uncomfortable. This issue goes for some of the ultralight premium bags. Fortunately, budget bags haven't gone to the same lengths to reduce weight, so there weren't any bags in this review that seemed uncomfortable enough to disturb the sleep of the average backpacker. For larger folks or more restless sleepers, however, comfort can be an important consideration.
In our view, the comfort of a sleeping bag comes from the spaciousness of the interior dimensions and the feel of the lining materials. All the budget bags that we tried had roomy interior dimensions compared to the narrower cut of some ultralight premium bags. Side and stomach sleepers will likely appreciate particularly wide bags like the Kelty Cosmic 20 and Therm-a-Rest Saros which give you a larger foot box to stretch your legs.
From a materials perspective, most of the budget bags had similarly soft fabric linings made of glossy ripstop nylon. The REI Trail Pod 30 and Big Agnes Husted 20 were pleasant exceptions. Our testers consider their matte polyester taffeta fabric to be even more comfortable.
The Husted 20 also has a smart piece of fabric that directs the hood drawstring away from your face. One surprisingly aspect of comfort that we didn't anticipate was smell. Several testers complained about the unpleasant smell of the Klymit KSB 35 during the first month of testing before it was properly broken in.
Behind weight, the second biggest drawback of a budget bag seems to be the packed size. The smallest premium down bags can be less than half the size of similarly warm budget bags. Depending on the types of overnights you like to do this may or may not be an important issue. If you mostly backpack on wide established trails the extra volume is unlikely to be a huge problem. However, if your adventures include hikes through dense woods or off-trail, then a bulkier sleeping bag becomes less desirable.
All the bags we tested came with a sack for storing them in your backpack. The quality and effectiveness of these sacks varied considerably.
For evaluating minimum packed size, we tried to keep things fair by using the same 15L Outdoor Research compression sack for all the bags. The Klymit KSB 35 and Nemo Kyan 35 were both impressive standouts for achieving minimum packed sizes below seven liters. On the other end of the spectrum, the Therm-a-Rest Saros and Big Agnes Husted 20 had compressed volumes that were more suitable for car camping than backpacking overnights.
All sleeping bags need to be able to keep a single person warm within their specified temperature range. Some sleeping bags, however, can also be comfortably shared between two people or continue to offer their warmth even if they get wet. Other bags have clever designs that allow you to adjust the level of insulation to extend the usable temperature range. The more of these things a single bag can do, the more versatile it is, and the more value it provides.
One significant factor that influences sleeping bag versatility is the type of insulation. Down feathers, regardless of whether they have been hydrophobically treated or not, will clump if they get wet. When clumped, these feathers lose virtually all ability to insulate. Synthetic fibers, in contrast, don't clump when wet and retain a considerable portion of their insulative power even when soaked. This property gives synthetic bags a clear advantage for wet activities and climates.
Another factor that influences versatility is the length of a sleeping bag's main zipper. Full-length zippers allow you to vent excess heat or use the bag as a blanket on warmer nights. The Klymit KSB 35 even has a longer than full-length zipper that lets you unzip it around the foot of the bag. This arrangement gives you option to use it as a true quilt or share it between two people on an ultralight mission.
Versatility increases with smart accessory features. Neck baffles, or draft collars as they're also known, are extra tubes of insulation near your neck that seal heat inside the main compartment of a bag. This feature extends the bag's usable temperature range to colder conditions. In the other direction, the "gills" on the Nemo Kyan 35 allow you to reduce the amount of insulation to ensure you don't overheat on a warmer night.
Features and Design
Sleeping bag makers have come up with lots of ways to make their products stand out from the crowd. Some of these features are undeniably useful, but others don't make a whole lot of sense. Our reviewers tested each in the field to evaluate these myriad features, and examine how effectively they addressed the problem they were designed to solve.
Ten years ago, it seemed as if every sleeping bag zipper had a horrible snagging problem. Today that's thankfully no longer the case. The ubiquitous zipper manufacturer YKK now offers a Y-shaped zipper slide that reduces snagging and comes on several bags. Other bags use stiffened fabric adjacent to the zipper to keep the silkier lining fabric out of the teeth. The stiffened fabric grove on The North Face Furnace is a particularly useful anti-snag design.
Zippers can also be modified to offer additional venting options or enhanced versatility. We're big fans of the extra long zipper on the Klymit KSB 35 because it allows you to vent only your feet or to unzip the bag into a true quilt.
The Marmot Trestles 30, in contrast, adds a second zipper to let you vent from the hood opening. This detail is kind of nice but requires additional weight and results in lower overall versatility than the KSB's smarter design. Additional zippers on the Nemo Kyan 35 boost versatility while adding minimal weight. It includes two tiny featherlight zippers to operate the "gills" on the top of the bag that adjust the amount insulation.
Another feature that's appearing on a lot of bags is a small stash pocket. These pockets are great for keeping your phone or headlamp close at hand. We especially like lighter stash pocket designs that are located on the inside of the bag because they will keep the batteries in your electronics warm and working well. The zipperless stash pocket on The North Face Furnace is an excellent example of this.
A final feature that more sleeping bag makers are introducing in their newer models is a system for attaching the bag to a sleeping pad. Most of our testers think these attachment systems are unnecessary because it can be downright tricky to roll off a pad inside a cramped two-person tent. Some people, however, do appreciate being able to secure their sleeping bag to their pad. Either way, we've chosen to only award bags additional points for sleeping pad attachment systems that are also removable. The Therm-a-Rest Saros incorporates such a system pretty nicely.
Other Sleeping Bag Reviews
This study is our best shot at a review of the 3-season backpacking sleeping bags under $200. If the performance of these bags isn't quite up to your standards, you can check out higher end models.Related: The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2019
— Jack Cramer and Ross Robinson