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Choose the Best Type of Sleeping Bag You'll Actually Love

WriterAubrey McShan
10 min read
Woman looks out into the mountains from her sleeping bag

When it comes to camping, your sleeping bag is easily one of the more important pieces of gear. It keeps you warm and dry as well as prevents frostbite and hypothermia in extreme temperatures. It also serves as a cozy place to relax at the end of a fun day and to recharge for the next.

But not all sleeping bags are made equal. Knowing what features are most important for you and your preferred style of camping can mean dollars saved and peace of mind earned. The size, fit, insulation, shape, and construction all play an essential role in making your final decision.

Jump to the section you’d like to learn more about:

Expert Tip:

In the sleeping bag guide, we break down everything you should know when it comes to choosing which type is best for you and your next camping adventure.

Anatomy of a Sleeping Bag

Before we move too far into this guide, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a sleeping bag we’ll be referencing as needed. Knowing this will help you gain the best sense of what we refer to throughout this guide.

Anatomy of a sleeping bag

Length

Sleeping bags typically come in a few lengths. Choose the option closest to your height. You want enough space to be cozy, but not so much that you’ll expend extra energy warming the additional area inside the bag.

Width

The width of your sleeping bag will vary by shape. A mummy-style bag, for example, is narrower than a rectangular sleeping bag. Sleeping bags designed for women tend to also have narrower widths.

Outer Zipper

Zipper length may also vary by sleeping bag:

  • Partial zippers — Typically end somewhere in the mid-region of the sleeping bag near your hips. Some bags with partial zippers also offer vented panels in the section(s) of the bag without a zipper.
  • Full zippers — Run the complete length and bottom of the bag. If you unzip a full zippered bag entirely it will open fully and lie flat like a blanket. Full-length zippers make it easier to get in and out of the bag and regulate temperature.
  • Center zippers — Open down the center of the bag.
  • Opposite zippers — Enable two bags to be zipped together to form one large bag or to split warmth side by side.

Expert Tip:

Zippers are a standard part of every sleeping bag, but some offer the option for the zipper to be on your side of choice. Note that it’s often more comfortable for right-handers to have a zipper on the left side when you’re lying on your back (and vice versa for lefties).

Zipper Collar (or Draft Tube)

A piece of fabric that runs along the length of the zipper inside the sleeping bag to provide insulation from drafts otherwise caused by an exposed zipper.

Pillow Pocket

A pocket-like area sewn into the head of the sleeping bag where you can stuff a camp pillow (or even clothing) to create a pillow. Pockets attached to the outside of your bag are a great place to stash nighttime necessities like glasses and a flashlight.

Inner Bag Liner (or Lining)

The inner surface of your bag, liners can be made of many different materials — like flannel, fleece, and silk. Each offers unique options for temperature control. You can also purchase an additional liner which is a separate bag that goes inside your sleeping bag for additional warmth.

Expert Tip:

An additional liner also helps to keep the interior of your sleeping bag clean because it’s easy to remove and wash.

Outer Bag Liner (or Shell)

The outer area of the sleeping bag, shells are typically made of synthetic fabric such as nylon or polyester and sometimes feature a water-resistant coating. Heavy cotton sleeping bag shells, on the other hand, are a great, inexpensive option for summer camping.

Seam (or Stitch)

The side seams are what connect the two sides of your bag together. The seams running across your sleeping bag — also known as baffles or quilting — are sewn in a way to keep the insulation in place and temperature regulation consistent.

Expert Tip:

Some sleeping bags use a combination of stitches to concentrate temperature in specific areas of the body.

Foot Box

Just as it sounds, this is the box-shaped area at the foot of your sleeping bag, often featuring side panels of additional insulation to keep your tootsies toasty at night. A flared foot box means there’s more space for your feet and even hot water bottles or heat packs in extremely cold camping conditions.

Inner Insulation

Inner insulation varies by material and construction. You may see the option for inner walled compartments filled with insulation (such as in the case of a foot box) and/or sleeping bags with an inner layer of insulated quilting.

  • Down insulation is warmer than synthetic material and is lighter in weight and more compressible, making it ideal for backpacking.

  • Synthetic materials like polyester trap warmth better and dry faster in wet conditions than down. It is also less expensive.

Types of Sleeping Bags

Group of friends poses for a picture in their sleeping bags in the mountains

A quality sleeping bag especially suited to your type of camping is an invaluable piece of your packing list. Sleeping bag types are designed for different activities as well as your style of sleep.

Sleeping Bag Types By Activity

Some sleeping bags are suitable for multiple types of camping while others are not. We recommend that first-time campers invest in a bag that will suit the type of camping they plan to do the most often.

Camping

Car campers have the most options to choose from as the packing space you are limited to is whatever your car can hold. We know that camping isn’t a one-size-fits-all adventure, but we recommend choosing a three-season sleeping bag. They’ll suit the most common weather conditions for casual campers. If in doubt, always go for comfort!

Expert Tip:

Looking for the best tips to make your next camping trip the best yet? Check out our Camping Tips & Tricks Guide!

Climbing

Climbers need a sleeping bag that is light, yet warm — as well as easily packable. Mummy-shaped sleeping bags are your best bet because their shape eliminates bulk but maintains warmth for cooler mountain conditions.

Backpacking

Backpackers (or even campers that need to trek on foot a ways to their campsite) may want to consider a lighter-weight sleeping bag that compresses into a small size for packability. Pay attention to the warmth-to-weight ratio when making your selection.

Expert Tip:

Pay close attention to carry weight. Look for a sleeping bag under 5 pounds.

Mountaineering

Mountaineers need warmth above all else. The more insulation the better in this case. Your second consideration will be moisture-resistant shell fabrics, which will also keep you warm and dry.

Sleeping Bag Types by Shape

Most popular shapes of sleeping bags for camping

The sleeping bag shape you select will also be determined by your camping style and activity. Sleeping bags are typically one of three basic shapes:

Rectangular

These sleeping bags offer the most maneuverability, so they’re great if you’re looking to stretch out in your sleeping bag as you do in your bed at home. Because the opening is so wide, more heat may escape out the top of your rectangular sleeping bag, rectangular sleeping bags tend to feature bulkier insulation to help keep you warm.

Expert Tip:

This rectangular Coleman sleeping bag will keep tall campers cozy with its Comfort Cuff™ design for your face and Thermolock™ draft tube to lock in heat.

Mummy

This hooded sleeping bag is named for its mummy-like shape, which is snug and contoured to your body to boost warmth without adding bulk. Out of any sleeping bag shape, the mummy shape remains the warmest option — making it the most ideal for extreme conditions.

Expert Tip:

A mummy bag like the Kamp-Rite is perfect when backpacking in colder temps. Weatherproof polyester helps you stay warm and dry in even low temperatures.

Tapered

Also known as a barrel, modified mummy, or semi-rectangular shape, a tapered sleeping bag is the Goldilocks of the different types of sleeping bags. They feature the same heat-trapping contouring as a mummy bag, with the wider shape of a rectangular sleeping bag for more maneuverability.

Expert Tip:

This option from North Face features an extra cozy fleece liner sure to send you into dreamland.

Double

As the name suggests, a double sleeping bag is designed to sleep two people comfortably. They’re perfect for cuddling with your sweetie, or for folks who may want extra room that a standard sleeping bag cannot provide.

Expert Tip:

This Magellan Outdoors double sleeping bag even zips apart into two separate sleeping bags for easy storage.

Other Shape Tips

In addition to your sleeping bag’s length, width, and overall fit, you may also want to consider your sleeping position and gender when choosing a sleeping bag. While not as common, special spoon-shaped sleeping bags are made for side sleepers.

Sleeping bags designated as women’s will be wider in the hips and narrower through the shoulders. Women’s sleeping bags will also be shorter, whereas most men’s bags have a minimum length of 6 feet.

Other Sleeping Bag Feature Types

Sleeping bag and backpack sitting on the ground by the river

Depending on your needs, you may also want to be on the lookout for these additional features in your sleeping bag:

  • Extra zippers — More zippers mean more ventilation options for hot nights, which can give your sleeping bag added seasonality.
  • Hoods — A hooded sleeping bag adds tons of extra warmth because the air isn’t escaping from your head. You’ll find hoods most regularly on sleeping bags with lower temperature ratings and mummy shapes.
  • Stash pockets — These are little pockets sewn into the inside or outside of your sleeping bag and can hold items you might need throughout the night like your glasses, lip balm, or a watch.
  • Storage options — Most sleeping bags come with their own stuff sack for storage, but you can also look for alternative storage options for added convenience and compressibility.

Sleeping Bag Temperature Guide

You'll certainly want to use the temperature rating as a guide when comparing sleeping bags. But keep in mind that other factors can also impact how warm or cold you feel inside your sleeping bag.

The perfect combination to achieve optimal warmth relies heavily on your bag and pad, pajamas, and how humid the area is. We recommend choosing a sleeping bag with a temperature rating lower than the lowest nighttime temperature you expect at your campsite.

You can always unzip your bag if you're too warm, but adding another layer is tough when you're already away from home.

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Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Rating Temperature (in Fahrenheit)
Winter Lower than +15°F
3-Season Between +15°F to +30°F
Summer Higher than +30°F

ISO Temperature Ratings

Temperature ratings are determined by a standardized lab test conducted by the International Standards Organization (ISO), which rates sleeping bags on a scale of two factors:

  • The comfort rating

  • The lower limit rating

You can think of these ratings as the lowest temperature at which a hot and cold sleeper, respectively, might feel comfortable. Not every sleeping bag is ISO tested, though they may supply their own estimate to help you choose.

You can also use seasonality as another sleeping bag temperature guide. Summer sleeping bags are rated for 30°F and above, winter sleeping bags are rated for 15°F and below, and three seasons are for between 15°F and 30°F.

Sleeping Bag Insulation Types

To contain the warm air in your sleeping bag all night long, your sleeping bag has insulation between its inner and outer fabrics. Most often, you’ll be choosing between down and synthetic sleeping bag insulation, and the fill amount of that insulation.

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Sleeping Bag Insulation Types
Type Materials Features Benefits Best Activities
Down Made from goose or duck feathers
  • Can be packed extremely tightly and still retain its loft, even with high-fill sleeping bag options
  • Down tends to be lightweight
  • Usually offers more warmth and less weight
  • Lightweight
  • Performs well in colder, dryer conditions
  • Durable
  • Mountaineering
  • Climbing
  • Backpacking
Synthetic Made from polyester or other non-organic materials
  • Perfect for beginners
  • Can be lightweight + less bulky
  • Great for casual camping
  • Affordable
  • Can still retain heat even when wet
  • Fast-drying — perfect for wetter conditions
  • Camping
  • Mild-climate climbing

Down insulation:

  • Down is made from goose or duck feathers and is sought after for its ability to be packed extremely tightly yet retain its loft — even with high-fill sleeping bag options.

  • It is also very light. If you’re looking for more warmth and less weight, down is a great choice.

Synthetic insulation:

  • This is made from polyester or other non-organic materials.

  • Compared to down, synthetic sleeping bags tend to cost significantly less, so they’re a great entry point for beginner campers.

  • Certain types of sleeping bags may use proprietary technology to keep their insulation light and less bulky.

  • Unlike down, synthetic insulation retains heat when wet and dries quickly, making it a better choice if you’re camping in wet or snowy climates.

Lofting

Lofting refers to the space taken up by the down in your sleeping bag. The more filling a sleeping bag has, the higher its loft (or fluffiness) will be. This helps trap more heat!

Fill Power

Fill power is a way to measure your loft’s insulating capabilities and ability to ‘fluff back up’ after being compressed. The higher the fill power number is, the less down is required to keep you warm. This means the bag is lighter weight. Higher numbers also indicate greater loft and insulating efficiency — or higher quality down (and often higher price).

Have Fun Out There!

While most of the sleeping bags you’ll see while shopping won’t have every single feature discussed, they all have the same goal: to keep you comfortable while camping. At Academy Sports + Outdoors, we’re proud to offer a wide variety of sizes and types of sleeping bags so you can find the one that’s right for you and that you’re excited about!

To help you find your best fit, we’ve stocked our sleeping bag selection with every type of camper in mind:

Want to learn the best camping tips we have to share? Check out our camping guide for beginners and our camping tent-buying guide.