The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags for 2019
We aggregated outdoor media and customer reviews on the best sleeping bags—and then tested the most popular sleeping bags over hundreds of miles of backpacking. Here's our findings.
We analyzed the top 7 comparative sleeping bag reviews and hundreds of customer reviews to determine the most popular three-season backpacking sleeping bags. From the 12 most popular sleeping bags, we narrowed it to the 5 warm high quality sleeping bags for three-season backpacking. We think the best backpacking sleeping bag is the Feathered Friends Swallow and the Egret is the Best Women’s Sleeping Bag. The Best Budget Sleeping Bag is the REI Magma. The Best Big and Tall Sleeping Bag is the Western Mountaineering MegaLite is a comfortable, wide sleeping bag. The Best Sleeping bag for side sleepers is the Montbell Down Hugger 800 #3.
Table of Contents
Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag for Most People:
Feathered Friends is a well-loved sleeping bag manufacturer for good reason. Their bags are simply top notch and backed by a lifetime warranty. Every review--both professional and customer-- found these bags to be very warm (better than the rated temp). Reviewers also liked that the cut is generous enough to feel comfortable without being oversized. The Egret appears in many “best women’s sleeping bag” roundups including Switchback Travel, Section Hiker, Clever Hiker, and winning Outdoor Gear Lab’s Editor’s Choice Award. The Swallow also received praise from these sites, scoring Switchback Travel’s top pick for backpacking sleeping bags.
The women's Egret is available in 5’3” and 5’9” lengths, and the men's Swallow in 6’0 and 6’6”. Their materials are identical, but the cut is slightly different. As a sleeping bag user, the two models give you a wider length and width spectrum that you'll find offered by most manufacturers. The Swallow is wider in the shoulders and the Egret wider in the hips. The Egret also has more down in the footbox and torso, adding extra warmth to those areas which are more commonly colder for women.
The loft on both the Egret and Swallow is incredible, appearing ready to burst at the seams with poofiness just a few minutes after being removed from the stuff sack. It’s hard to believe you’ll ever get the bag back in that tiny stuff sack. Other bags I’ve tested over thousands of miles have just not had this “full” of an appearance. For example, after years of use of the very well regarded Western Mountaineering Versalite, a “men’s” 10F rated bag with a narrower cut and 6’0” length (I am 5’7”), I can say the wider cut in the hips, added areas of insulation, and more appropriate length (5’9”) of the Egret easily make it much warmer than that 10F bag.
Regardless of your gender, if your height is near 5’9” we recommend considering the Egret. Getting a bag in the appropriate size and length is important to maximize warmth, weight, and comfort. Feathered Friends is among the only bags we considered offered in 5’9” length, allowing outdoor enthusiasts at that height access to a better warmth-to-weight ratio than found in other bags.
I had previously thought a ‘women’s specific” sleeping bag was utter nonsense (what could be that different?), but I am now a believer. My hips and feet were always cold spots when testing other bags. The Egret’s thoughtful design addresses these common issues. “Women’s” cut bags expand the range of sizes accommodated, especially in the hip area where traditional cut bags can be restricting for women and wide shoulder areas can feel drafty. No matter what the label says, choose the best fit for your body! The Wirecutter recommends the Egret as an upgrade option for anyone who sleeps cold (Full disclosure: that story was co-written by Liz Thomas, Treeline Review’s current Editor-in-Chief, who did not choose the winners for this story.).
The Egret and the men’s version, the Swallow, don’t have any fancy features like lipbalm pockets or zippered vents. Outdoor Gear Lab cites the lack of gimmicky features as a feature itself. The materials are light but durable, and the zipper is not prone to snagging. The bags are among the lightest weight available for that temperature rating, at 27.2oz for the 5’6” Egret, and 27oz for the 6’0” Swallow thanks to 950+ fill power down. (Even though the Egret is shorter, it makes up for the weight difference with more down fill in areas that otherwise may be drafty like the footbox).
The only real downside to the Egret or the Swallow is the price. Because high quality bags can last at least 10 years, we think it is an investment worth making over other bags. If you’re concerned about sizing, Feathered Friends is noted for their customer service. They’re also among the only brands of sleeping bags we considered that is willing to work with you on custom sizing. If you’re unsure about your purchase, Feathered Friends offers a 30-day return policy.
Buy the Feathered Friends Swallow and Egret
Best Wide Sleeping Bag/Tall Sleeping Bag:
The Western Mountaineering MegaLite is a highly lauded bag among reviewers from one of the most trusted sleeping bag brands. It won the Outdoor Gear Lab’s Editor’s Choice Award. Like Feathered Friends, Western Mountaineering is a trusted brand with decades of experience making high-quality down sleeping bags. They have many offerings to choose from. At least one Western Mountaineering bag appears on review roundups like Outdoor Gear Lab, Clever Hiker, Switchback Travel, and Section Hiker.
We chose the MegaLite as our top pick for larger users who want a roomier cut around the shoulders. Sleeping bags are notoriously constrictive for those with broad or muscular shoulders. At 64” shoulder girth, the MegaLite remains very lightweight at just 24oz for the 6’0” length. It’s 30F temperature rating is on the upper end of our target range, but user reviews (Backcountry) consistently found this bag’s rating is conservative. Almost all users were very satisfied with its warmth, perhaps because those who have wider shoulders and torsos often sleep warmer. Users also liked the soft feel of the fabric, smooth zipper, and how small the bag compresses when packed.
As with our overall picks, the biggest downside of the MegaLite is the price. But again, with sleeping bags in particular, you get what you pay for. We think a high-quality sleeping bag like the Megalite is worth the price because it can provide up to decades of service. The cost per year compared to a less expensive bag works out to be less than needing to replace your bag every few years. Western Mountaineering also is noted for the customer service and ability to repair and re-fill down in their bags for an almost non-existent charge (we had a rip and re-stuffing done for practically the cost of shipping). These bags last decades and have a lot of happy customer reviews over the years.
Compare prices on the Western Mountaineering Megalite
Best Affordable Sleeping Bag:
If dropping $500+ on a sleeping bag is just not going to happen, the REI Magma 15 is a solid choice. At the time of writing, the Magma 15 was the bestselling sleeping bag at REI.com. The bag retails at about 3/4ths the price of the other sleeping bags we recommend and you can save more if you time your purchase with an REI sale or coupon promotion.
The Magma boasts some impressive stats that are comparable to the Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering bags we recommended for our Overall and Wide Pick. It’s constructed with lightweight 15D Pertex fabric and 850 fill down. It also has a solid zipper and a nicely shaped footbox.
The Magma 15 is made of 15-denier ripstop nylon by Pertex that performed well in our water resistance test. But by our tests, it wasn’t as good at being downproof in daily use as our overall pick, the 10-denier Feathered Friends Egret (women’s) and Swallow (men’s). Our staff found the Magma’s 15-denier fabric to not feel as durable as that on the Feathered Friends, either. It’s counter-intuitive for a 10-denier fabric to feel more durable than a 15-denier fabric. But we think that even though both bags use Pertex fabrics, it’s a little like comparing a Ford Fiesta to a Ford Expedition and calling both Fords. The two fabrics are by the same company, but have different features (and likely, different prices per yard). While Pertex is notorious for being secretive about their proprietary fabrics, we do know that Feathered Friends uses QuantumPro Endurance coating.
The updated 2019 version of the REI Magma is marketed as a 15F bag, available as both men’s and women’s (the previous version offered a 10 deg men’s and 17 deg women’s). They call both 15F bags, but the men’s is rated 28F/16F comfort/lower limit, and the women's is rated 17F/3F comfort/lower limit. Yes, when it comes to the women’s bag, REI named a 17-degree bag “15 degrees.” Treeline Review team members think this is REI’s attempt to capture more of the sleeping bag market since people are more likely to Google “Best 15-degree bag” rather than a 17-degree bag.
Reviewers at Switchback Travel, Outdoor Gear Lab, Clever Hiker have found the Magma to be not as warm as other bags marketed at the same temperature rating. However, with an EN comfort rated of 28F and lower limit of 16F, it falls squarely within our 20-30F temperature target, while still weighing just 28.2 oz.
These temperature ratings are consistent with our own testing with the Magma. Guide Duncan Cheung finds the men’s temperature rating to be accurate. But with the women’s temperature rating, he says his many students who buy this bag find it reliably warm above 20 degrees, but “they never pushed it down below 20.”
Basically, don’t expect the Magma to function as a 15F bag, but more like a 20-30F bag, and you’ll be happy. Time it with a sale and a coupon code, and this bag is one heckuva deal.
Buy the REI Magma Sleeping Bag
Best Sleeping Bag for Side Sleepers:
The Montbell Down Hugger 800 #3 is the least expensive bag of our picks at $319, and has some unique features that will appeal to side sleepers, tossers-and-turners, and people who sleep in a ball. Montbell is a Japanese brand known for high quality, lightweight gear, and is the ubiquitous hiking/camping store in Japan much like REI is in the US. We liked that the Down Hugger is among the lightest weight bags we considered at 24oz. But what convinced us this bag is a winner is the comfort associated with its Spiral Stretch sewing system.
What makes the Montbell 800 #3 bag so unique is its construction. The baffles are sewn on a bias, known as Montbell’s patented “Super Spiral Stretch System.” This tailor’s trick makes the bag feel stretchy and allows users to sprawl out, freely bending their knees or elbows. Reviewers of any of Montbell’s Spiral Stretch sleeping bag models rave about the unparalleled comfort it provides. Aside from a sleeping quilt, the Montbell Spiral Stretch is the best bag for side sleepers, tossers-and-turners, and people who like to sleep in a ball. The Spiral Stretch is far more comfortable and less restrictive than other bags we’ve tested.
We hiked the 500-mile Colorado Trail with the Montbell 800 #3 and found the fabric incredibly soft. Unlike other bags, Montbell’s proprietary shell fabric doesn’t feel like a sleeping bag shell but more like bedsheets. The down is also quite soft, though not as poofy as the other bags we considered (likely because it’s a 30F bag vs. a 15F bag).
The one downside with the Montbell Down Hugger 800 #3 is the temperature rating. Marketed as a 30F bag, it has an EN Comfort Rating of 40F and Lower Limit of 31F. It’s not as warm as other bags on our list. However, the Down Hugger #3 still makes a solid summer bag in most areas. and is reasonably priced. Plus, reviews reported excellent customer service including multiple references to free zipper repair on Montbell items that had already seen many seasons.
Buy the Montbell Down Hugger 800 #3
What’s the Difference Between a Backpacking and a Camping Sleeping Bag?
When it comes to sleeping bags, there are all kinds of shapes and sizes, fabrics and types of insulation, and a wide price range. The reason is that sleeping bags are designed for different use cases. In this story, we’ll guide you through the differences and point you towards the most versatile sleeping bags designed to meet your many needs.
This article focuses on the best sleeping bags for backpacking, as opposed to car camping or sleeping on a friend’s couch. The backpacking sleeping bags mentioned here would also serve well for summer mountaineering and alpine climbing trips. If you’re looking for car camping sleeping bags, we’ll have that story ready for you next month.
Backpacking sleeping bags prioritize warmth, weight, and packability (small size when compressed). To achieve these goals, the backpacking-worthy sleeping bags have a “mummy” shape, conforming to the body. This minimizes size and therefore weight of the bag and also provides maximum warmth by not requiring you to heat up extra “dead air” space inside your bag. Just like a big house takes a lot more energy (from gas, electric, etc.) to heat than a small one, an oversized sleeping bag requires more energy (from you) to heat than one that fits closer to your body.
Another commonality of the bags recommended here is their down fill. Down, the fluffy feathers from geese, is the warmest insulation available for its weight. Synthetic materials (such as Climashield Apex) have come a long way, but they just don’t quite compete in warmth, weight, and compressibility. Although down is more expensive than synthetic insulation, we think it is worth the investment. However, we recognize vegans may prefer a synthetic sleeping bag and are working on a best synthetic sleeping bag story.
The lightweight fabrics and high fill power down also equate to a high price tag. When presented with all the options, it may seem silly to buy a bag that costs 2-3X more than other options. However, this is one area where there is near universal agreement among experienced outdoors people: of any piece of gear you want to invest in, it’s a sleeping bag. A quality bag that is taken good care of will last for decades (yes, decades!).
Down insulation is graded by how much it expands, creating pockets to trap air and, therefore, insulate. Think of it as “floofiness.” The “fill power” number is how many cubic inches of space one ounce of the down takes up. So, one ounce of 800 fill down takes up 800 cubic inches of space (think 3.5 gallon jugs of milk). 800-950 fill power is on the higher end of what geese can produce. While there are 1000 fill power down options, such as in Rab’s Zero G Down Jacket, the Montbell Plasma jacket line, or Mountain Hardwear’s $1300 mountaineering mummy suit. This is the extreme upper end and very expensive due to its limited supply. The amount of this down that would be necessary to fill a sleeping bag is cost prohibitive (did you see that mummy suit?), so it’s not used in this application.
All bags for this review use down that is not live-plucked from the birds. Some brands have also committed to higher standards of animal welfare, certifying their down sources through the Responsible Down Standard, or their own program.
How are Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings Determined?
When you see temperature ratings on bags, it’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison. Different manufacturers rate the warmth of their bags in different ways. For example, how warm a bag feels also depends on the insulation in your sleeping pad. Different sleeping pads, just like sleeping bags, have different temperature ratings. To read more about sleeping pad insulations, check out our Best Sleeping Pads guide.
In 2005, the European Standard EN 13537 was created to provide a framework for sleeping bag apples- to-apples comparison. Outside of Europe, sellers are not required to use this standard, though some do (especially companies that also sell their sleeping bags in Europe).
The EN 13537 standard includes 4 temperature specifications. Of these specifications, we examined the more useful two: EN Comfort is the lowest temperature at which a typical female can sleep comfortably, and EN Lower Limit is the lowest temperature at which a typical male can sleep comfortably.
As described in the How to Choose the Sleeping Bag for You section, there are many factors that affect warmth when sleeping. Regardless of the testing protocol used to rate a bag, your experience may vary. That’s one reason why we have a few suggestions of ways you can extend the warmth of your sleeping bag and what to do when you feel cold. We said it above and we’ll say it again: if you want to sleep warm in your sleeping bag, get not only a warm sleeping bag, but also a warm sleeping pad. See our Best Sleeping Pads guide for more on how to choose an insulating pad.
By trade, I’m a mechanical engineer designing and building machines to test the reliability and safety of fitness equipment. I’ve put this engineer’s mindset to work when refining my backpacking gear choices over the years, honing in on details, learning about the nuances of material and design choices. When I’ve been unable to find what I want in gear, I’ve embraced MYOG (Make Your Own Gear), either modifying existing gear to include features I want, or in the case of my current long distance backpack, taking my favorite elements of several different packs, and combining them into my dream pack built from scratch.
When asked about what I’m good at, one of my go-to answers is sleeping. I’m someone who’s always needed a good solid 8+ hour block of sleep to be able to function, so when I started backpacking ~2007, it was imperative that I find a comfortable way to sleep in the backcountry. In my 8,000+ miles of backpacking, including the entire Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Hayduke Trail, and Sierra High Route, and multiple ascents of Cascade Volcanoes including Mt. Hood and Rainier, I’ve had the time and variety of conditions to refine my sleep system to perfection.
I’ve been on the executive board of ALDHA-West (American Long Distance Hiking Association - West) for the past 4 years. As part of our five annual pre-backpacking season educational events (called “Rucks”), I’ve conducted many pack shakedowns and been a panelist on lightweight gear forums. I’ve shared my knowledge and expertise with hundreds of new backpackers. Running these events also keeps me on top of the newest available options for all kinds of backpacking gear.
How we Researched
To narrow down the field of backpacking sleeping bags to just the best, we combed reviews from all over the web, including Outdoor Gear Lab, Switchback Travel, Clever Hiker, Section Hiker, The Wirecutter and Backpacker. To further investigate the bags, we looked at consumer reviews on REI, Backcountry, and manufacturer websites. We also considered our own personal experiences.
The field was narrowed to 12 contenders and just 4 bags made the final cut to win our recommendation.
What Makes a Good 3-Season Sleeping Bag
To narrow down the very wide field of sleeping bags into our finalists list, all 12 sleeping bags that made our contender list had to meet the following criteria:
Temperature rating between ~20-30F
This range is appropriate for typical 3-season use (late spring to early fall in most places), covering most trips backpackers would tackle. Temperature ratings can vary from one manufacturer to another because they may use different testing methods. There is also significant person-to-person variation in comfort levels.
In general, women tend to sleep “colder” than men, and require a bag with a lower temperature rating to be warm. Of course, this is also variable from person-to-person, but our experience has been (and most professionals agree) that the 20-30F rating is a good temperature rating for most people.
We aimed for a target of under 2 lb. With a backpacking focus in mind, keeping the weight minimal is ideal. With today’s lightweight fabrics and high lofting down bags, many bags meet this minimum requirement.
Quality and durability
Sleeping bags are a significant investment and when cared for, can and should last many years, even with heavy use. We looked for bags with quality construction and durable materials that will stand the test of time.
There’s nothing worse than waking up with loose feathers flying all around you.
Several factors impact how likely feathers will escape through micro-holes in your sleeping bag’s fabric. Some shell fabrics are more puncture resistant than others. This is impacted by 1) how tightly the fabric is woven together; 2) any coatings on the fabric.
Down quality can also impact how likely micro-feathers may escape. Quality of down is related to the down-to-feather ratio. Down is less common than feathers, so a mix that has more feathers is less expensive.
The quality of the how the down is processed can also impact how likely you’ll wake up to escaped puff. Leftover quill shafts and quill points can pop through the fabric. Higher quality down has fewer of these pointy down-parts that can sneak through the fabric.
Down leakage is most noticeable in lower quality bags. All of the bags that we recommend have minimal down leakage.
Cost was not a primary consideration in this roundup, because, as mentioned above, this is the one item in your kit you don’t want to skimp on.
Customer Service and Manufacturing
With such a huge investment as a sleeping bag, it’s important to know the manufacturer stands behind its product and provides excellent customer service. We also appreciate the opportunity to buy made in the USA products when feasible. In the case of sleeping bags, we are lucky that several great brands make their bags here.
Down comes from ducks and geese, often grown for meat production. The Responsible Down Standard is a voluntary certification process that ensures certain humane standards are met in producing the down, such as no live plucking or force feeding. All of the manufacturer's included in this round up either use RDS certified down or have their own standard in place for humanely raised down. If you prefer a 100% vegan option, we’ll have a synthetic sleeping bag story soon.
There’s significant controversy over the long term durability and efficacy of water resistant down. For that reason, we did not use waterproof down as a criteria to determine whether a sleeping bag made our list. Waterproof down is down that has been treated with a coating that makes it less likely to become soaked and loose its insulative abilities when exposed to moisture. However, some skeptics claim that the coating can cause down to clump, reducing its overall insulative ability.
Two of the major high-end sleeping bag companies, Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends don't use waterproof down, citing they aren't adopting it because limited benefit and no data about performance over the long term yet. To read more about their reasons, here are Western Mountaineering’s statement and Feathered Friends’ Statement about Waterproof Down.
Of the sleeping bags we considered that made our finalist list, only the REI Magma has waterproof down. We think that if you take the proper precautions like using a waterproof pack liner, a waterproof compression sack, and even some waterproof backpacks, that an untreated down sleeping bag will serve you well even in wet conditions. See our full Best Backpacking Backpacks story for more on waterproof backpacks and waterproofing your backpack.
How we Picked/Judged from the Contenders
From the list of contenders, we narrowed down the list by considering the positives and negatives reviewers found. If a complaint came up frequently, such as the troublesome zipper of the promising-looking Marmot Phase 20, the bag was knocked out of the running. We also chose to leave out bags that were very new, since we don’t have data on their performance and durability over the long term. We think a sleeping bag is a huge investment to make without years of supporting data. The bags we recommend are proven to last.
The final winners were all bags with overwhelmingly positive user experiences, with almost no complaints. The top award winners, the Feathered Friends Egret and Feathered Friends Swallow were an easy pick - they fit our criteria for warmth, weight and quality with virtually no negatives aside from price.
The other bags that won our recommendations stood out as great options for folks who need something just slightly different in terms of size (MegaLite), price (Magma), and comfort (Montbell), but still met all our primary criteria without significant negatives.
How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag
When using your bag outdoors, take care to minimize dirt buildup. One way is by using a groundsheet (aka, footprint) under your sleeping bag and sleeping pad whenever you’re sleeping without a tent (aka, cowboy camping).
Many folks prefer to wear clean(ish) clothing while in their sleeping bag to minimize the dirt and smell transfer. We often wear a lightweight baselayer like the Icebreaker 150 merino as sleep clothes.
Even with great care, at some point, you probably will want to wash your sleeping bag. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but the process is generally this: Wash bag in a front load washing machine (no agitators) on the gentle cycle and only use soap specifically formulated for down (Nikwax Down Wash). Regular laundry detergent will strip the down of it’s natural oils and reduce its ability to loft. Use at least one extra rinse cycle to ensure all soap is washed out. Dry in a large commercial dryer on low heat with some tennis balls thrown in to help break up the clumps of down as they dry.
This is a detailed step-by-step description of how to wash a sleeping bag.
Table of Contents
Best Sleeping Bag: Feathered Friends Swallow (men’s) and Egret (women’s)
Best Budget Sleeping Bag: REI Magma
Best Sleeping Bag for Big & Tall People: Western Mountaineering Megalite
Best Sleeping Bag for Side Sleepers: Montbell Down Hugger #3