In the mountains, the deserts, the forests, and even our driveways, we’ve been slumbering away in sleeping bags now for months. Some new, some not so new. We’ve tried mummies, down bags, synthetic bags, thin, thick, wide, and tapered. Rather than a listicle covering a dozen bags, these are our editor’s faves from the basic categories. The thing is, we’re living in a golden age of outdoor gear, where most stuff is pretty dang good. Whether you like a bag or not depends on your body size, if you chose the right temp rating for the conditions, the way you sleep, the bag’s color, how the zipper works, little extras like pockets and draft collars, even the sounds the fabric makes while you roll around.
NEMO’s claim to fame in the sleeping bag world are their spoon bags, with a kind of hourglass shape to them. They’re meant to facilitate side-sleeping (hence “spoon”), with roominess built in to shift and move. The Riff has that shape, but it’s meant for lightweight backpacking, so it’s a smidge less roomy than some of their other offerings. But even if you aren’t a side sleeper, the Riff is a terrific bag. Comfortable, warm, plush, with great little touches like a phone pocket, a pouch you can stuff clothes into for a little pillow, and a thick draft collar at your chin. This is the bag you can take in 99 percent of situations, short of freak winter weather, and be fine. Bag weighs 1 pound, 13 ounces for men’s regular; 2 pounds, 3 ounces for women’s. The fill is Hydrophobic 800 down.
Favorite ultralight: Sea to Summit Spark II 28-degree
• BUY $379 (Unisex)
The original Spark was a featherlite bag that sacrificed almost everything for weight and packability—except warmth. The Spark II is roomier (though that’s relative) and more of a complete bag, providing more comfort and warmth. I had trouble moving around in the OG Spark, in the Spark II, I’m nice and cozy. No bells or whistles, and a half-length zipper, equals the astounding weight of only 10.6 ounces for the men’s regular. Fill is Ultra-dry 850 down.
Favorite synthetic fill: Mountain Hardwear Lamina Eco AF 15-degree
• BUY $260
We’ll get to the color and name in a moment, but first, this is a very good synthetic bag. It packs down smaller than most synthetics, will of course perform better than down if it gets wet, and has a silky, soft feel against the skin. It’s narrowly cut to reduce weight and increase packability, the two strikes synthetic-fill bags have against them when compared with down, but if you’re a reasonably stationary sleeper, that won’t matter at all. We don’t normally recommend synthetic bags in the backcountry, but we’d be confident sending friends out in one of these.
Now then, it’s white. It’ “Eco AF” meaning “As F*ck” (insert: how you doin’ fellow kids.gif). The Eco part was the draw when Mountain Hardwear first released this bag in 2019. All parts of the bag, down to the zipper pull, are either 100 percent recycled or lean heavily on recycled material. It’s white because it’s dye-free, a huge reduction in water use and pollution. The impact of textile dyeing isn’t often talked about in outdoor gear manufacture, but it’s a big environmental problem. Dyeing alone uses something like 80 liters of water per sleeping bag, and can contribute to water pollution. So, Mountain Hardwear did without. We love it, and hope to see more of this in the future. The bag does of course get dirty, but it doesn’t really attract dirt, and also, so what? Who wants sparkling clean outdoor gear anyway? It weighs 1 pound, 13.3 ounces for size regular. Recycled synthetic fill is the insulation.
Favorite car camping bag: Sierra Designs Frontcountry 20-degree
• BUY $170
Zipperless bags are kinda Sierra Designs’ thing—their Cloud series of zipperless backpacking bags are awesome, and we love those too. But nothing really beats the ease and comfort of this rectangular cozy palace, the Frontcountry bag. You can fold the front flap down if you’re hot, pull it up to your chin for max hygge, there are even little pockets for your hands if they’re cold. It’s the perfect car camping bag. Synthetic fill insulation, and yeah, the bag weighs a whopping 5 pounds, but your car is carrying it, not you.
Favorite luxury backpacking bag/my god, it’s gonna be cold out there bag: Big Agnes Torchlight 20-degree (Honorable Mention: Patagonia 850 19-degree bag, if you can find one)
• BUY $400-420: Men’s — Women’s
Big Agnes already made my favorite cold weather bag, the Hitchens UL, but they upped their game with the Torchlight. It’s an expandable bag—zippers on the side can open, extending the bag’s volume by 5 inches per side. If you want to be super tucked in and cozy, keep ’em zipped. If you wanna flop around, unzip for maximum floppage. There’s no loss of warmth when the sides are expanded, somehow. It’s true. Even without the expandable sections, this is a great bag for colder 3-season trips. Very light, very warm, very comfy. Weight is only 16 ounces for men’s regular. Insulted with 850-fill DownTek, water repellent down.
Oh, and that Patagonia bag is no longer made. Too bad, because it’s one of the most warm, comfortable, well-made, and unique bags out there. They can still be found on eBay though if you look hard enough. Also, interestingly, some of Patagonia’s non-U.S. websites still feature the bags for sale, possibly one can be found that way.
Favorite budget backpacking bag
A used bag. If you can find a lightweight high quality down bag in good shape on Craigslist, or through one of the increasing online used gear marketplaces, it’ll likely be a much better buy than a sub-$200 bag, which will probably be heavy, synthetic, and not particularly packable. When on a budget, always go used when it comes to important backpacking gear.