The convenience of car camping offers major sleep system improvements over backpacking: The size and weight of your gear simply don’t matter as much, so you can choose fluffier, heavier, longer and more comfortable sleeping bag options.
For this guide, we searched for car-camping sleeping bags that provided the most comfort possible in a tent. We only considered car-camping sleeping bags, not backpacking sleeping bags. We first looked at customer reviews for every car-ccamping sleeping bag on REI.com. Hundreds of customers slept in each of the sleeping bags in this guide, then they reported back about their experience. After we’d narrowed the list down to the most-loved models, we chatted with several REI experts, including Chris Pottinger, lead gear designer at REI, and Jon Almquist, product manager at REI.
Then we ordered the seven highest-rated sleeping bags, packed them into our car and drove out to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for a weekend of car camping. We took notes about how packable each bag was, then spread each out on the tent floor. Over the course of two nights and three days, we lounged in and slept in each bag. We examined zippers and materials. We combined the bags with a variety of sleeping pad options. Then we packed the bags back into their stuff sacks, threw them in the car and put them straight in storage. After a few days, we checked for smell and mustiness. Here’s what we found.
The Best Down Sleeping Bag
Versions: Men’s and Women’s
Fill: 600-fill-power DriDown
Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz. (women’s); 2 lbs. 10 oz. (men’s regular); 2 lbs. 14 oz. (men’s long)
Fits Up To: 68 inches (women’s); 72 inches (men’s regular); 78 inches (men’s long)
Temperature Rating: 30°F
The Kelty Galactic 30 Sleeping Bag is a well-made, highly insulated down sleeping bag. Its rectangular shape is perfect for car camping, as most three-season campers are unlikely to need the added warmth of a mummy bag. Back sleepers, stomach sleepers and side sleepers alike will also find this bag’s shape highly comfortable: You can roll and move without the bag coming with you and its spacious design feels almost like a normal bed.
We appreciated the Galactic’s full zipper, which gives the warm bag proper venting on summer nights. For cooler weather, a cinch cord at the top of the bag keeps it close to your face for added warmth, if you need it. Finally, we loved the materials and loft of this bag; unlike some of the other bags we tested, the polyester lining didn’t feel too slippery against the skin.
One major benefit of the Kelty Galactic Bag is that it comes in many lengths for people of varying heights. There’s a women’s model (68 inches long) and two lengths of the men’s model (the long is 78 inches; the regular is 72 inches). Taller women can buy a men’s bag with no change in features, other than the color offerings.
“I’m not a mummy kind of girl, need space for my feet, so finding a super-lite and breathable bag that functions in a variety of climates wasn’t easy. I love the smooth interior fabric and the fluffy down. I don’t get tangled up when I turn during the night and the down feels cushy like my regular comforter,” said one customer.
Although we didn’t experience any zipper problems, some users complained of a sticky zipper. We recommend keeping the zipper clean of debris by cleaning the bag every few months. (And if a problem does arise, Kelty offers a lifetime warranty for sleeping bags.)
The Best Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Fill: Polyester Fibers
Weight: 3 lbs. 12 oz. (long); 3 lbs. 9 oz. (regular); 3 lbs. 7 oz. (short)
Fits Up To: 78 inches (long); 72 inches (regular); 66 inches (short)
Temperature Rating: 30°F
The REI Siesta 30 Sleeping Bag is a rectangular, synthetic sleeping bag that’s perfect for car campers who don’t want the added cost or heat of a down bag. The Siesta 30 is also a very good option for people who plan to camp in wet climates, as synthetic bags dry more quickly than down bags.
After a night of sleeping in low 50-degree temperatures, this was the best synthetic bag we tested: The material inside was a bit slippery against the skin, which is normal for polyester bags, but it still felt cozy. The Siesta 30 rectangular shape makes it an excellent fit for sleepers of all kinds and we think this bag feels more like an at-home bed than a sleeping bag. Plus, most three-season car campers won’t need a tapered, mummy-shaped bag.
We especially liked that this unisex bag unzips from both sides to allow for ventilation and sleeping customization—you can open the bag fully for use as a quilt. As an extra bonus, this bag can be zipped into another Siesta 30 bag, making a double bag for a couple. There are a number of length options available, too: short (66 inches), regular (72 inches), and long (78 inches). The zipper felt smooth and its big size means you can easily find it in the night. We found that packing up the Siesta 30 was a breeze, too, compared to the other synthetic bags we tested: It’s easy to roll up and fits nicely into a roomy storage bag, which has a mechanism for compression if needed.
“I loved the Siesta 30,” said one customer. “I was worried I’d be hot as I tend to run hot in general. We went camping in Indiana in June, and I think it was about 60-65 degrees at night. Never got hot, and if it did I’d have just opened up the bottom end to get some air. It also fits in the stuff sack easily, unlike some brands you get at discount stores. I like the storage feature of the stuff sack where it has a mesh extender to allow you to let it be stored without as much compression.”
The Best Mummy Bag
Versions: Women’s and Men’s
Fill: 600-fill DriDown
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz. (women’s); 3 lbs. 1.6 oz. (men’s long); 2 lbs. 12.8 oz. (men’s regular); 2 lbs. 9.6 oz. (men’s short)
Fits Up To: 68 inches (women’s); 78 inches (men’s long); 72 inches (men’s regular); 66 inches (men’s short)
Temperature Rating: 20°F
MSRP: $149.95- $169.95
If you love mummy bags, we think the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag is the best choice for a mummy-style car-camping bag. We found its materials to be the most comfortable of any mummy bag we slept in, and although we don’t think you need a 20-degree mummy bag for most three-season car-camping excursions, the Cosmic Down 20 has an added benefit of working decently for backpacking trips, too: It’s warm, light and compresses easily.
The Cosmic Down 20 offers a hood that cinches under the chin, as well as a tapered design that allows for ample foot room but still keeps your feet warm on cold nights. There’s also a draft collar that flips up over your neck and shoulders (which is perhaps both a hindrance and a blessing, depending on the climate).
As with most mummy bags, the Cosmic Down is designed to fit close to your body, but you’ll want to buy the right size for you. (If you decide to purchase this bag, we recommend heading to your local REI to try a few sizes first.) To maximize temperature control, look for a version of the Cosmic Down that sits close to your body but doesn’t force your limbs up against the bag’s walls. Kelty offers customization in the form of four lengths: Long (78 inches); regular (72 inches); short (66 inches) and women’s (68 inches). The women’s bag offers added warmth and a wider-hipped silhouette, compared to the men’s bags.
“This is one nice bag! I took it on a 6,340-mile road trip and used it for a month,” said one customer. “It got down to the mid-30s and I was very comfy and warm. The zipper is nice and smooth. I never felt cramped. I’m 5’5” and always had room to move comfortably. It is easy to pack up and then fluffs right up once I’d get it out of the stuff sack.”
Sleeping Bag Buying Advice
Car-camping sleeping bags are typically cut wider than backpacking bags. They offer more room to roll around, like a normal bed, more loft, and are typically heavier than backpacking bags. Car-camping bags are less efficient than backpacking bags for retaining body heat because of their wider shape, so they are a better choice for campers who plan to sleep in moderate climates. Car campers can typically choose from synthetic or down options.
Backpacking sleeping bags are typically mummy-shaped, which makes them warmer on cold nights. They are usually lighter in weight and more easily compressed than car-camping bags. Most backpackers prefer sleeping bags stuffed with down, which is warmer and more compressible than synthetic fill.
Should I buy a down or synthetic sleeping bag for car camping?
Choosing between a down or synthetic sleeping bag for car camping is all about cost, climate and personal preference. For car camping, synthetic bags are a low-cost option that will keep you warm enough during the spring, summer and fall months in most climates. Synthetic materials also dry more quickly than down, so a synthetic sleeping bag can be a good choice for people who plan to camp in humid or wet climates.
Down sleeping bags are lighter and warmer than synthetic sleeping bags and are generally better suited for backpacking trips. That said, some people may prefer the coziness and loft of a down bag over a synthetic bag because synthetic materials like polyester and nylon can feel slick on the skin. Down bags are typically more expensive than synthetic bags.
“Take some time, go to the store and try them out,” says Chris Pottinger, lead gear designer at REI. “Put your hands on synthetic and down bags. This is an intimate product that will be close to or next to your skin, so jump into it and see how it feels.”
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s sleeping bags?
Although some sleeping bag manufacturers divide their gear into gender-specific categories, the most important considerations for a sleeping bag are length and shape. Regardless of gender, choosing a sleeping bag that’s the right length for you (short, regular or tall) is important: If your feet hit the bottom of the bag, they’re prone to getting colder. Most “women’s” car-camping bags come in shorter lengths, compared to men’s, which can be good for shorter people (not just women).
Sleeping bag shape is also a key indicator of how comfortable you’ll be during the night; some brands divide this feature out by gender, as well. Most car-camping bags are rectangular-shaped and thus not privy to this factor. But if you’re buying a mummy-style bag, you’ll need to think about your body’s shape and temperature: “Women’s” sleeping bags tend to be warmer than “men’s” bags so they’re best for people who sleep cold and have narrow shoulders and wider hips. “Men’s” bags are usually designed for people who sleep warmer and have broader frames.
How do sleeping bag temperature rating systems work?
Several years ago, REI helped lead an effort to standardize temperature rating systems to level set the industry. “Anybody could say anything about their bags before this,” says Jon Almquist, product manager at REI. Now, most major brands and all brands sold through REI use EN ratings, Almquist says. EN ratings offer a standardized look at how warm your sleeping bag will be in certain conditions. Usually, you’ll see two numbers: A comfort rating (the ideal temperature during which to use the bag) and a limit rating (the lowest temperature at which warm sleepers tend to sleep comfortable, but cold sleepers will feel chilled). These numbers are based on extensive testing with mannequins.
At this time, this rating system has yet to extend to car-camping sleeping bags. “[However], you can generally assume that now, most companies are rating their bags fairly honestly,” says Almquist. Weight and price often give an indication for how much down insulation your bag contains, too, which tells you about how warm it will be; with down sleeping bags, you really do get what you pay for.
What temperature rating do you need if you’re car camping?
The answer to this really depends on the climate. For most people, a 30-degree bag will be warm enough for nearly any three-season camping trip. If you plan to camp in colder temperatures, talk to a local REI representative. Some of the bags in this guide come in colder or warmer temperature designations, depending on where you’re headed.
What is down fill power?
Down fill power is a number that tells you about the quality of the down used in a sleeping bag. The number comes from a lab test that measures how many cubic inches of loft one ounce of down fill can produce. Higher down fill power numbers make for a bag with better insulation and more loft, or fluffiness. Bags with higher quality down are generally more expensive than bags with lower quality down or bags with synthetic fill.
The down-to-feather ratio also impacts the quality of the down. You’ll sometimes see two bags with the same fill power, like 650. But the bags could be filled with different combinations of down and feathers, such as 90/10 or 80/20 (the first number is the percentage of down and the second number is the percentage of feathers). Pottinger says regardless of fill power, better quality down will have fewer feathers.
Sleeping bags generally last for a long time; Pottinger says that for many people, one sleeping bag can get them through 20 years of camping. To give your bag as long of a life as possible, take care of it when you’re in the wild: Sleep with clean clothes and consider using a sleeping bag liner to slow the buildup of body oils and dirt in your bag. You might also consider airing your bag out daily during your trip.
Once you’re home, hang your sleeping bag in a closet. “Get as much air as possible into it,” says Pottinger. The worst case scenario is to put your bag back in its stuff sack under compression in a damp place. The best case is to hang it or put it in a storage sack or pillowcase in a cool space.”
Of course, you’ll need to compress the bag when you’re traveling, which is fine—but storing a sleeping bag for a long time in its compressed forms can cause the natural and synthetic materials in a sleeping bag to break down, says Pottinger, limiting the life of the bag.
You should also refrain from washing your sleeping bag often. “You can judge when it’s dirty or gross, which is up to your personal opinion,” says Pottinger. “Wash the bag maybe once a year or maybe once every other year.” To spot clean a small dirty section of your bag, apply a small amount of mild soap to the dirty spot, then use a soft-bristle toothbrush to clean the shell and rinse with a wet sponge.
When you do decide to wash your bag, check the bag’s washing instructions, which are often on the tag. Never use a top load machine, as it can do major damage to a sleeping bag; instead, use a front load machine on a gentle soak setting with mild detergent. “Then dry the ever-living hell out that bag,” says Pottinger, especially if it’s a down bag. He recommends a three- or four-hour cycle in a dryer, to make sure there’s no chance for moisture to live in the bag. You might also think about taking your sleeping bag to a professional dry cleaner, especially if it’s stuffed with down.
This is, again, up to your personal preference. In general, though, with good care and maintenance, you should be able to use the same bag for many years.
“With sleeping bags, you get what you pay for,” Pottinger says. “As a general rule of thumb, I’d encourage people to spend more on a sleeping bag because sleep is so important and you want to be warm and comfortable. Also, your body isn’t going to change much over time so your sleeping bag will stay with you. Other gear will break down but your bag really won’t. Get it at age 20 and you’ll have it forever!”
Rips and tears can be fixed by a manufacturer or a sleeping bag specialist, and DWR (waterproofing) can be restored, too. Manufacturers can also help you with broken zippers, leaking down and other sleeping-bag specific problems.