The Best Sleeping Bags for Backpacking of 2023: Staff Picks

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the bag.

Ken Knapp|Published November 3, 2022

4 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 out of 5 stars
A camper unfurls an REI Magma sleeping bag in a tent.

Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable these days, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We'll do our best to update it accordingly. 

Considering how much time you spend with it, your sleeping bag may be the one piece of gear you think least about during use—assuming it’s doing its job. If you’re sound asleep in your tent, it’s doing its job. If you’re hiking blissfully along not cursing the shoulder-crushing Bagzilla in your pack, it’s doing its job.

While the job is simple, the technology to do it is anything but. And the complex standards behind bag testing can give even the gear-nerdiest among us a headache. You’ll find a brief primer on how to understand bag temperature ratings at the end of this article, along with an equally important "sleep system" concept, which is the idea that your sleeping pad rating is also critical to your comfort.

Our experts’ picks for the best sleeping bags available at REI also consider other factors, of course, like a bag’s fit and feature set. Even the smallest detail can make the difference between a restless night and blissful slumber. And if you’re a naturally restless slumberer, we’ve even got a bag (or two) for that.

Staff Picks

For quick recommendations, check out our roundup below, or scroll down for in-depth reviews:

 

Best Overall Sleeping Bag for Backpacking

Disco 30 Sleeping Bag - Women's
Disco 30 Sleeping Bag - Men's

NEMO Disco 30 Sleeping Bag

Tested lower limit ISO 20°F (women’s); 31°F (men’s)

Tested comfort ISO 31°F (women’s); 41°F (men’s)

Weight 2 lbs. 5 oz. (women’s regular); 1 lb. 15 oz. (men’s regular)

Insulation 650 fill-power water-resistant down

Sustainability features PFC-free insulation certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS)

Sleep studies reveal that most of us shift positions throughout the night, ultimately spending more time on our side than in any other position. But even if you’re not one of those people, the Disco 30’s side-sleeping-friendly design just so happens to make it way lighter than it should be for how roomy it feels.

The bag’s spoon shape adds room near the elbows and knees for comfortable shifting while keeping the bag super-packable, and it’s a big reason why it nabs our best overall spot. An REI backpacking specialist in Plano, Texas, who also works as one of the co-op’s virtual outfitters, is a big fan: “This bag is light and accommodating of all types of sleep positions. I’m a side sleeper and I’m obsessed with this bag.” One customer reviewer agrees: “I LOVE the cut of this bag... and its softness and warmth make me look forward to getting into it each night.”

The big difference between the NEMO Disco 30 and its side-sleeper cousin below (the Forte 20) lies in the insulation. The Forte has a synthetic fill, while the Disco uses 650 fill-power down to keep weight low in a bag that’s so generously cut. A PFC-free water-repellent treatment on the down helps it maintain insulating efficiency in wet conditions.

If you occasionally slide down to the foot of your tent at night, or your shelter is simply a snug fit, you may appreciate another NEMO touch. They made the footbox of the shell fully waterproof to prevent interior condensation from sneaking into your bag. If, on the other hand, balmy conditions threaten to make things too toasty, there’s a solution for that, too: A pair of slits called Thermo Gills™ can be zipped open to cool things down. Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long, men’s regular and long


Best Budget Sleeping Bag for Backpacking

REI Co-op Trailbreak 20 Sleeping Bag

Tested lower limit ISO 5°F (women’s); 18°F (men’s)

Tested comfort ISO 18°F (women’s); 29°F (men’s)

Weight 4 lbs. 13 oz. (women’s regular); 3 lbs. 7 oz. (men’s regular)

Insulation Water-resistant polyester

Finding a backpacking-friendly bag for just north of $100 is a rarity. If you’re just getting into the activity, though, a budget-friendly bag will free up dollars for other big-ticket items like your tent, pack and sleeping pad.

The Trailbreak is suited to cold nights as well as soggy weather, thanks to its heavy-duty, water-resistant polyester fill, which maintains insulating abilities in damp conditions better than down. The bag offers other nice touches that are typical of REI Co-op bags: multiple drawcords that can be adjusted by feel for fast, fumble-free cinching of the neck and hood openings at night, and an offset quilt construction that wards off cold spots.

A few compromises at this price are inevitable: Weight and bulk are perhaps its biggest drawbacks. And some reviewers have complained about a snagging zipper (though that’s an affliction that affects many bags). On balance, though, new backpackers could hardly find a better value. One customer reviewer sums it up nicely: “Such a warm and toasty sleeping bag and such a great deal.” Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long, men’s regular and long


The updated Cat’s Meow 20 Eco hasn’t been out long, so consider this a sort of preseason pick. That said, The North Face Cat’s Meow has been an outstanding synthetic bag for more than 40 years. And our backpacking expert is confident this latest version will uphold the family tradition.

“Cat’s Meow was my first-ever backpacking sleeping bag. They’ve updated it multiple times over the years and it’s still a solid bag,” says our expert, who is both an REI virtual outfitter and Portland, Oregon, store sales specialist. “I love it. It’s always been at the lighter end of the synthetic bag spectrum, and that’s still true today.”

Past performance is not always a guarantee of future results, but one might reasonably expect good things from the 2022 edition, especially because The North Face isn’t making any radical changes with the proven design. 

Nice touches abound, including shockcords on the underside for attaching the bag to a sleeping pad so you stay in place. There are also more recycled materials in both the synthetic insulation and the nylon shell.

The bag’s size range (regular, long and extra long) also makes it a good fit for more people—the men’s extra-long can accommodate up to a 7-foot backpacker. The only scrunching down extra-tall folks need to do with this bag is when they stash it inside the included compression stuff sack. Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long; men’s regular, long and X-long

 

Best Down Sleeping Bag for Backpacking

REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag

Tested lower limit ISO 3°F (women’s); 16°F (men’s)

Tested comfort ISO 17°F (women’s); 28°F (men’s)

Weight 2 lbs. 4 oz. (women’s regular); 1 lb. 12.2 oz. (men’s regular)

Insulation 850-fill-power water-resistant down

Sustainability features Insulation and shell contain bluesign®-approved materials; insulation is certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS)

The REI Co-op Magma lineup (these 15° bags and the 30° Magmas below) might be the most beloved sleep sacks we’ve ever made. You’d be hard-pressed to find a gear expert at the co-op who doesn’t get just a little misty-eyed over a Magma bag. 

As our experts contemplated the best down bag, their criteria became self-evident: It’s all about the quality of the down, and few bags can top the Magma’s 850-fill-power rating. The result is lofty warmth in a bag that weighs relatively little considering its 17° comfort rating. A water-resistant treatment on the down helps keep you toasty even in damp conditions.

Our gear editor’s take: “I use my women’s Magma 15 when winter camping or generally heat-hogging year-round. It makes it into my pack every trip.”

Other nice touches on the Magma include a roomy footbox, a cozy draft collar at the top of the bag, an antisnag zipper and differentiated drawcords that let you discern the neck from the hood drawcord by feel. Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long, men’s regular and long

 

Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag for Side Sleepers

NEMO Forte 20 Sleeping Bag

Tested lower limit ISO 10°F (women’s); 22°F (men’s)

Tested comfort ISO 20°F (women’s); 32°F (men’s)

Weight 3 lbs. 5 oz. (women’s regular); 2 lbs. 14 oz. (men’s regular)

Insulation PrimaLoft® RISE synthetic

Sustainability features Insulation contains recycled materials

Side sleeping in a mummy bag always presents a dilemma. Do you attempt to roll both body and bag simultaneously? Or, do you pull arms and legs into a tight fetal position as you attempt to pivot sideways inside of it? Both methods work OK, but NEMO came up with a third and, in our opinion, better option. Thanks to added room at the elbows and knees, the Forte lets you casually rotate those joints sideways without bringing the whole bag with you. Simple.

The spoon shape might look a little odd at first, but it works beautifully. “Once someone is in this bag, they’re buying it,” says our Farmington, Utah, REI camping specialist. It’s also worth noting that the Forte’s hood articulation and oblong opening are conducive to side sleeping because they help preserve breathing space after you roll.

The warming and cooling systems in this bag are also unique. Insulated with PrimaLoft® RISE—an incredibly lightweight and efficient synthetic fill that’s made from 80 percent postconsumer content—the women’s bag is rated for warmth down to 20°F, yet weighs just a little over 3 pounds. The “cooling” comes from Thermo Gills™ vents on top, which dump excess heat efficiently when temps start to rise. Cherry on top: The Forte includes a pillow pocket that lets you stuff clothing inside to create a dreamy perch for your noggin. Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long, men’s regular and long

 

Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag for Backpacking

REI Co-op Magma 30 Sleeping Bag

Tested lower limit ISO 18°F (women’s); 30°F (men’s)

Tested comfort ISO 29°F (women’s); 39°F (men’s)

Weight 1 lb. 6.5 oz. (women’s regular); 1 lb. 3.8 oz. (men’s regular)

Insulation 850-fill-power water-resistant down

Sustainability features Insulation and shell contain bluesign®-approved materials; insulation certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS)

The entire Magma lineup is featured in our picks primarily because we couldn’t figure out which one not to include. Our camping specialist at the REI store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, puts it this way: “When I’m talking to customers, I tell them that the Magma is the best sleeping bag REI sells. Period. That’s based both on the bag’s specs and my personal experience.” 

With a total bag weight of under 1-½ pounds, the men’s Magma 30 is the logical ultralight sleeping bag pick. It features the same ultrawarm, water-resistant 850-fill-power that you’ll find in all REI Magma bags. The gossamer Pertex® nylon shell, tightly woven to keep down plumules from slipping through, also helps reduce weight.

We’d be remiss not to point out that “ultralight” is one of the more contentious labels in outdoor gear. Minimalism purists adopt all sorts of strategies to shed ounces. An REI backpacking specialist in Knoxville, Tennessee, who also works as an REI virtual outfitter, offered this alternative: “If the weather is going to be perfect, my best ultralight sleeping bag is my sleeping bag liner (Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor), which weighs just 8 ounces.” That said, any ultralight fan will appreciate that the Magma 30 packs down to the size of a loaf of bread. Buy here.

Versions: Women’s regular and long, men’s regular and long

 

Our virtual outfitter in the Plano, Texas, REI store explains her cold-weather pick this way: “This bag is right around 3 pounds—and other cold-weather bags are simply a lot heavier.” Our Knoxville virtual outfitter agrees: “A lightweight bag that takes you down to zero degrees? That’s a great option.” (The EN lower limit of the men’s bag is exactly 0°.)

The Ascent’s 750 fill-power down insulation is key to delivering that degree of warmth at such a low weight. Sea to Summit further added its UltraDry water-repellent polymer treatment to the fill because risking dampness in your down insulation isn’t something to be trifled with when conditions are bitterly cold. “Down water-treatment tech has come a long way, too,” reports our virtual outfitter, so you can be confident using this bag in moist conditions.

Customers also love the bag’s dual zips (one on each side), plus another zip in the footbox. As one customer reviewer put it, “Multiple zippers prevent mummy-bag claustrophobia and provide enough ventilation options to make this suitable for all four seasons.” It’s perhaps more accurate to call the bag a “relaxed mummy,” so it’s also roomier than a typical cold weather bag to begin with. Buy here.

Versions: Regular, long

 

In general, you’re either a quilt person or you aren’t. There aren’t many fence-sitters on this issue. Quilt proponents tend to be ultralight hikers or hammock campers who like its simplicity—no hood, zippers or insulated bottoms often found in mummy bags—while quilt detractors worry that they won’t be able to stay warm without having a full sleeping bag.

The Magma Trail Quilt’s design may convince members of both camps, cleverly helping retain more warmth and a slightly more secure feel. Instead of having four distinct corners like a comforter, it has an enclosed, sleeping-bag-like footbox. The two top corners can then be unfurled like a standard quilt or cinched around you on colder nights. You can also attach the quilt to your sleeping pad with cords that keep you centered while still allowing some ventilation adjustments.

If you compare the Magma Quilt to sleeping bags in this temperature range, it’s worth noting that the 30°F estimate was determined solely by the REI Co-op Testing and Concept Lab because there’s no industry standard test for quilts, as there is with sleeping bags. The 850-fill-power water-resistant down insulation, though, is the exact same ultra-efficient stuff that’s in all of REI Co-op’s Magma sleeping bags. Buy here.

Versions: Short, regular and long

 

REI Co-op has been making (and updating) the Kindercone for so long that its first users are all grown up now. Launching in the early 2000s, it filled a need for parents seeking a legit bag for a child who they hoped to introduce to a lifelong love of the outdoors. Then and now, the bag has just the right mix of tech and hardiness that tends to keep both kids and parents happy.

The shell stands up well to wear and tear, as does the sturdy polyester fill. Using an inherently water-resistant synthetic fill instead of down keeps the price affordable and the fear of water spills and splashes at bay. The Kindercone is estimated to provide warmth down to 25°F, which should keep tykes plenty comfy on most three-season backpacking trips. Because the Kindercone tips the scales at just a hair over 3 pounds, budding backpackers should also be able to carry their bag—just like the grownups do.

Nice touch: a size-adjustment feature that lets the bag grow with your child. The included stuff sack is attached to the bottom of the bag, allowing you to snug extra length of the bag inside, then cinch it taut. Moving the adjustment point makes it possible to accommodate whatever growth-spurt stage your child is in, up to 5 feet. (And you’ll never lose the stuff sack. Win.) Buy here.

 

Shop Backpacking Sleeping Bags 

 

Buying Advice for Backpacking Sleeping Bags

For backpacking, you want the lightest, most packable bag that will deliver a cozy night’s sleep while still fitting into your budget. Not surprisingly, the lighter and warmer the bag, the more it will cost. Read How to Choose Sleeping Bags for Backpacking for a deep dive into the subject. Below are some of that article’s primary tips about choosing a backpacking bag:

Temperature Rating

Insulation in a bag is key to how warm it will be, but factors like how snug it fits also matter. (Generally, roomier bags are harder for your body to keep warm.) Thankfully, you don’t have to contemplate that complexity because sleeping bag ratings do it for you.

Look for a bag that will keep you warm at a temperature that’s slightly lower than the lowest nighttime temperature you might possibly encounter on your trips. Many people err on the side of getting extra warmth, too, because they always have the option to shed layers or to unzip their bag in milder conditions.

Type of Insulation

Down or synthetic? Synthetic insulations offer solid performance at lower cost than down. That’s what you’ll get from the synthetic fill in bags like The North Face Cat’s Meow 20 Eco. Some synthetics, like the PrimaLoft® RISE fill in the NEMO Forte 20, also are beginning to approach down in warmth and packability.

In comparison to synthetic insulations, though, down will almost always be warmer for its weight, lighter and more compressible—and cost substantially more. Down’s other knock is that dampness can degrade its insulating ability, but many premium down fills have a water-resistant treatment to mitigate that problem. (The Sea to Summit Ascent AcIII 0 bag features the brand’s premium UtraDry down water repellent.) Down’s superior performance factored into our best overall bag pick, the NEMO Disco 30.

A higher fill-power rating indicates a down grade that offers more warmth for less weight. The REI Co-op Magma 15, Magma 30 and Magma Trail Quilt all feature the highest grade of any bag in this roundup: 850 fill-power down. (All Magmas add a water-repellent finish to their down fills as well.)

Weight

Insulation is the big factor in weight, but materials and shape (read: roominess) also matter. Especially important for backpackers, weight is related to compressibility. Generally, lighter bags stuff down smaller for packing, too. When you compare weights, make sure you compare bags with the same temperature rating. Also make sure you compare bags designed for the same gender—see our not-so-fun fact about ratings standards and women’s bag weights, below.

Temperature Ratings Explained

Being able to compare one brand’s 20°F bag against another’s used to be a problem because outdoor brands tested them differently. Decades of work to standardize those ratings thankfully means nearly all brands play by the same rules now, though those rules are complicated. Read Understanding Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings for an in-depth explanation. Below are the highlights:

An “ISO” or “EN” temperature rating indicates the test standard used. Either rating requires rigorous, standardized testing and the two standards are roughly comparable. So, as long as you see one of those acronyms on a temperature rating, a bag can be reliably compared to any other ISO- or EN-rated bag. 

Note that, while these test standards can be applied to most backpacking bags, certain types of bags are not covered. Sleeping bags without hoods, quilts (REI Co-op Magma Trail Quilt 30) and kids’ bags (REI Co-op Kindercone) are all assigned temperature ratings by independent tests performed by the brands that make them.

Bags are assigned two temperature ratings: comfort and limit ratings. Comfort rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average cold sleeper comfortable and is generally the temperature assigned to women-specific bags. Lower-limit rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep a warm sleeper comfortable and is generally the temperature assigned to men’s or unisex bags. If a temperature rating omits the term “comfort” or “limit,” then it’s likely a brand’s estimate, not an ISO or EN test result.

Not-so-fun fact: Women’s (cold sleepers’) bags that use the warmer “comfort rating” as their standard will inevitably be heavier than the equivalent men’s (warm sleeper’s) bags. It simply requires more of a given insulation to achieve more warmth. The rating standards aren’t intended to give women bag buyers a weight penalty, but the net result is that that’s exactly what happens for most bags. Because of this fact, many people will choose to buy the men’s version of a bag.

Know, too, that data gathered over the years about the “average male” and “average female” metabolism informs current sleeping bag ratings. In future seasons, the industry is likely to move to a less binary view of warmth ratings.

A temperature rating is not a guarantee of warmth. Standardized ratings are super important because you can reliably compare bags from different brands. But metabolisms vary greatly from person to person, as do variables like humidity, wind, type of shelter, ground conditions, clothing and personal preferences.

Sleep Systems

One big factor in your warmth level is the sleeping pad you pair with your sleeping bag. Your pad/bag combo is your sleep system, which gives a more accurate picture of how warm you’ll sleep.

If you use a less-insulated pad at colder temps, your sleeping bag might not live up to its temperature rating. To learn more about pad warmth ratings and get a look at how bags and pads work in tandem to keep you warm, read How to Choose a Sleeping Pad.

How to Choose a Backpacking Sleeping Bag 

Methodology

REI Co-op’s gear buyers, in-store experts and our community of member and customer reviewers have strong opinions about their gear, so we turned to them to find the best available at the co-op. We also laid out a range of categories to meet the needs of readers in different situations. Some of the bags here are all-time greats, others are a perfect fit for someone on their very first backpacking adventure. We also sprinkled in a few one-of-a kind items and some up-and-comers that are a good bet to become classics in the seasons to come.