The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2021

We’ve established the best thru-hiking homes (tents!), beds (sleeping pads!) how to carry them (packs!) and now it’s time to choose your comforter (sleeping bag) for the next five to six months of your life. It’s a crucial piece of gear because it 1) weighs a lot, 2) usually costs a lot, and 3) without it you’re in danger of a cold, miserable night at best or life-threatening exposure at worst. Because a crappy night’s sleep is the fastest way to ruin the trip of a lifetime, you should opt for one of the best backpacking sleeping bags for your next hike. In assembling this list, we considered factors like weight, warmth, price, materials, and features to identify top-performing bags for every type of backpacker.

Why should you trust us?

Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).

But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tested dozens of sleeping bags in pursuit of a better night’s sleep in the backcountry.

Moreover, we survey hundreds of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers every year to learn about their behaviors, demographics, and—you guessed it—gear preferences. That means our picks for the best backpacking sleeping bags aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community.

Check out AT hikers’ favorite backpacking sleeping bags from the 2017, 2018, and 2019 thru-hiker surveys.

Competence and backpacking proficiency personified.

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Best backpacking sleeping bags:

Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags: FAQs

Sleeping bags are expensive and weirdly complex. Before we get into the best backpacking sleeping bags for thru-hiking, here are a few pointers to help make the decision easier.

What Temperature Rating Should I Use for Thru-Hiking?

Most thru-hikers on the Triple Crown trails should be fine with a bag rated between 15-30 degrees. You know yourself, though. If you tend to sleep cold, opt for something rated to a lower temperature. When in doubt, the rule of thumb is to go with a bag rated at least 10 degrees lower than the lowest temperature you reasonably expect to encounter on your hike. You can also carry a lighter bag supplemented with a liner.

It’s important to keep in mind that the listed ratings usually denote the temperature at which an average person won’t get hypothermia (“limit”), not the temperature at which an average person stays warm and comfy (“comfort”). Check the label—the comfort temperature might be 10 degrees warmer than the model name. For instance, the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 lists “20 degrees” in the model name (because the average person won’t freeze to death at 20 degrees in that bag), but the comfort limit is actually 30 degrees. Women’s bags are often an exception to this rule: they tend to use the comfort rating as the advertised rating.

Learn more about temperature ratings in The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Quilts for All Budgets.

Sleeping Bag or Quilt?

The general consensus for most quilt models is that they are not quite as warm as a mummy bag with the same rating. Fully enclosed bags are still more popular than quilts, with just 34% of respondents to our 2019 AT survey using quilts during their thru-hike. Quilts are essentially sleeping bags without the underside, saving the weight of a full-length zipper and part of the bulk. The idea is that when you lie on a down-insulated sleeping bag, the down compresses enough that it doesn’t work to insulate, and users do just as well with a sleeping pad as insulation.

Quilt aficionados appreciate the freedom of sprawling sleep positions afforded by a quilt, and some have zippered footboxes to help trap heat. If you opt for a quilt, be sure to get an adequate width to avoid drafts. If you tend to sleep colder and you don’t mind a fully enclosed mummy bag (or you like it), go for a traditional sleeping bag model.

What’s the Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Sleeping Bags?

There are a few differences in women’s-specific vs. general sleeping bags, but nothing absolutely critical. Women’s bags have a different down distribution based on a general understanding of heat loss—for instance, a women’s-specific bag might have a higher concentration of down around the torso and in the footbox as opposed to a generic bag. Women’s-specific bags are also wider in the hips and narrower through the shoulder, and are often smaller in width and length. This means less empty space to heat up and keep warm.

Women’s bags are more likely to use realistic temperature ratings in their branding. For instance, the women’s REI Magma 15 bag is rated to keep an average cold sleeper comfortable at 15 degrees, while the men’s Magma 15 is only rated to keep hypothermia at bay for an average warm sleeper at the same temperature. If you want a warmer sleeping bag,  opt for a women’s model.

Wait, I’m Confused About Fill Power Vs. Fill Weight

So are most people.

Fill power refers to the space one ounce of down occupies in a cylindrical container when allowed to loft to full capacity. High-quality down has a higher loft than lower-quality down, which means you get more warmth for less weight. Ie, 900 fill has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than 700 fill. Look for sleeping bags between 700-950 fill power. Anything more than that is just fluff.

Down or Synthetic?

Down has superior compressibility and a better warmth-to-weight ratio compared to synthetic fill, making it the ultralight insulation of choice. On the other hand, it’s also much more expensive and won’t provide much warmth if it gets wet. Duck down is less expensive than goose down, but you won’t find duck down loftier than about 650-fill. In contrast, goose down is available in 850, 950, and even 1000-fill. Some down has a hydrophobic treatment that allows it to retain some loft (and by extension, warmth) if it gets wet.

Synthetic (polyester) insulation goes by branded names like PrimaLoft and Polartec. It’s bulkier and heavier than down, but this might be a worthy tradeoff for budget-conscious hikers since it costs a fraction of what down costs.

Can I Relax if My Down Has a Water-Resistant Treatment?

You can sort of chill out. We recommend you opt for a sleeping bag with a treated down to give yourself some leeway if the bag gets damp or comes in contact with condensation on the walls of your tent. Treated down will retain its loft and insulating abilities for significantly longer than untreated down, but you still need to prevent your bag from getting saturated. There are a few varieties of treated down on the market—keep an eye out for Nikwax, DriDown, DownTek, and HyperDry.

If you’re really concerned about your down getting wet, a synthetic bag is another option, but those models tend to be bulkier. Synthetic fill has come a long way in the past few years, but down still has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio overall.

Features to Look For in the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags

There’s often a trade-off between features and weight.  More of one typically translates to more of the other.  If you’re planning for an especially long-distance trek, you may want to forgo some of the below features in favor of weight savings.

Two-way zipper: Half zippers save weight, but they’re not versatile. With two-way full-length zippers, you can open up the bottom to vent heat on warm nights.

Draft collar: The best backpacking sleeping bag in the world won’t do you much good if cold air can seep in through the giant hole at the top of the bag. So make sure you get an insulated draft collar that hangs around your neck and shoulders to cut airflow.

Stash pocket: In cold weather, you’ll want to sleep with your electronics, water filter, and maybe a few other things. An internal pocket goes a long way toward maintaining order in your bag once you move all your random shit inside.

Water resistance: DWR shell fabrics, water-resistant down, waterproof footboxes… you get the picture. Anything you can do to avoid a sodden sleep system is a win. And on that note…

Dark colors: Despite your best efforts, your sleeping bag is going to get wet at some point. When it does, you’ll need to find a sunny patch of trail and dry that sucker out ASAP. That’s why the best backpacking sleeping bags are dark-colored.

Black/dark-colored bags absorb heat and dry faster than lighter colors. This one simple feature will save you time and help keep your bag in decent shape.

Pad sleeve: Some models from Big Agnes swap the bottom insulation for a stretchy fabric sleeve designed to hold an inflatable pad. This is great if you’re sick of sleeping on what feels like the world’s most boring Slip ‘N Slide.

Pro tip: The low-budget solution to the slippery pad problem is a few strategically placed dots of silicone seam sealer on your pad to create extra friction.

Responsible Down Standard: If you opt for a down bag, make sure the insulation was ethically sourced by checking for RDS accreditation.

About Our 2021 Picks

Sleeping bags are simpler than tents and packs. They’re essentially bags of feathers, and the biggest variable will be choosing between a quilt or mummy bag  (see above). There’s sufficient diversity in the sleeping bag/quilt market that we’ve chosen to break traditional sleeping bags and quilts into separate listings. For this review, we’ll focus in on traditional mummies.

We’ve chosen a selection of bags that are lightweight, durable, and highly customizable—thru-hiker-centric models with a good warmth-to-weight ratio. Since so many of these models have an array of customization options, we’ve listed the stock model weight and fill. Be sure to check out all of the customization options for each model to fit your particular needs—many brands (especially cottage industry) have build-your-own options for fill power, temperature rating (all listings are in Fahrenheit), width/length, and even color.

No matter what you choose, remember to treat your sack-o’-fluff with care. A sleeping bag is a big investment, and can be not only the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and sheer misery, but can keep you safe in plummeting temperatures. During sunny breaks, shake out your sleeping bag and let it dry in the sun. As often as possible, remove it from the compression sack to allow a full loft, and never store it compressed when you’re not hiking.

Note to the comments section: the following sleeping bags are listed in no particular order.

The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags of 2021

Feathered Friends Hummingbird (Best Warmth-to-Weight Ratio)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Feathered Friends Hummingbird.

MSRP: $509
Weight: 24 ounces
Temperature Rating: 20 or 30 degrees
Comfort Rating: n/a but FF’s ratings are generally considered accurate for comfort
Insulation: 14 ounces of 950-fill down

Details

Made right in Seattle, Feathered Friends bags come with a hefty price tag, but the craftsmanship, customer service, and overall quality make their bags a worthy investment. The Hummingbird fits neatly in the middle of FF’s lineup. At 1 pound, 12 ounces, this isn’t the lightest 20-degree mummy bag on the list, but the generous draft collar, deep hood, and durable face/lining fabric are worth it. Besides, less than two pounds for a 20-degree bag is nothing to sneeze at. This is one of the slimmer models from Feathered Friends, which saves weight and means less space to heat up, but might feel constricting to some sleepers.

Feathered Friends doesn’t use industry-standard temperature ratings, but their in-house rating system is widely considered to be conservative. Rated temperatures are therefore assumed to roughly represent the temperature at which an average sleeper will remain comfortable.

Materials and Features

Insanely floofy 950-fill down is packed into a Pertex Endurance water-resistant face fabric. The bag has a deep hood and a thick draft collar to further insulate. Zippers have removable casings to prevent fabric snags, and the hood has a cinch for colder nights.

Nobody’s Perfect

As mentioned above, the slightly narrower design of this bag might feel tight to some users. We also wish the company would put out some EN-rated temperature data on their bags to facilitate more meaningful cross-brand comparisons.

Shop the Feathered Friends Hummingbird

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Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 (Lightest Mummy)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Therm-a-Rest Hyperion.

MSRP: $420 (reg. length)
Weight: 20 ounces (reg. length)
Temperature Rating: 20 degrees
Comfort Rating: 30 degrees
Insulation: 900-fill Nikwax hydrophobic down

Details

Therm-a-Rest upped their sleep system game recently. They avoided the pitfalls of generating overly engineered systems, opting to follow along the lines of their fan-favorite NeoAir sleeping pads: lightweight, streamlined, and optimized for long-distance hikers. This sleeping bag is ultralight, packable, and no-frills—even the zipper is only half-length. The temperature rating is accurate (20 degrees limit, 30 degrees comfort), and it packs down extremely small. It is the lightest sleeping bag on this list.

Materials and Features

900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down stays lofted if it gets damp, with zoned insulation ensuring the most heavily insulated parts are on the tops and sides, where you need to conserve the most heat. The face fabric is 10D Polyester Ripstop, and the bag has a hood with a draft collar.

Nobody’s Perfect

The “legs” can feel a bit narrow compared to the insulation up top, and the half-length zipper makes a smooth entry and exit more difficult. The hood can feel a little shallow and not entirely secure on your head when you roll over.

Shop the Therm-a-Rest Hyperion

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Western Mountaineering UltraLite (Comfiest Premium Sleeping Bag)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Western Mountaineering UltraLite.

MSRP: $525
Weight:
28 ounces
Temperature Rating:
20 degrees
Comfort Rating:
25
Insulation:
17 ounces of 850+ fill down

Details

A slim design and high-quality, made-in-the-US construction define this classic Western Mountaineering bag. The temperature rating is accurate thanks to smart down distribution, multiple shock cord cinches to protect against drafts, and a thick draft collar. The zipper stays blessedly snag-free, and the hood is deep enough to feel secure while moving around. For ultralighters looking for a Western Mountaineering quilt (and who don’t sleep cold), the NanoLite weighs in at 12.5 ounces, retails for $345, and is rated to 38 degrees—about as high a thru-hike temperature rating as you should go for.

The UltraLite is very similar to the Feathered Friends Hummingbird listed above in terms of weight and price, but the cut of the Western Mountaineering bag isn’t quite as narrow resulting in a comfier

Materials and Features

The UltraLite has 16 ounces of 850-fill down and a beefy draft collar to seal the heat in and the drafts out. The shell is a tough-yet-breathable ExtremeLite technical fabric. The hood and collar both have shock cord cinches to seal you off from the elements. Plus, this is another brand made in the US.

Nobody’s Perfect

Like the Feathered Friends Hummingbird, the shoulders are on the narrow side, which is beneficial for heat retention, but some people might find confining. It also boasts the same soul-crushing pricetag as the Hummingbird despite weighing a quarter-pound more (or, looked at another way, it weighs the same as the REI Magma below, costs $130 more, and is only a few degrees warmer).

Shop the Western Mountaineering UltraLite

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REI Magma 15 (Popular Among AT Thru-Hikers)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: REI Magma.

MSRP: $389
Weight: 28 ounces
Temperature Rating: 15  or 30 degrees
Comfort Rating: 28 degrees
Insulation: 16 ounces of 850-fill down

Details

REI’s products continue to stand up to the “name brands,” and the Magma is no exception. Reasonably priced with a low weight and a simple, effective design, this bag is compressible, durable, and accurately rated. The leg and foot space allows for a variety of sleeping positions, and the hood is deep enough for secure protection. This bag has the highest warmth-to-rate ratio of any REI-branded sleeping bag. It was also the single most-used bag among respondents to our 2019 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker survey.

The Magma comes in a women’s-specific version that costs the same, weighs 36 ounces, and is rated for a comfortable night’s sleep down to 17 degrees (in contrast, the men’s bag is rated for comfort down to 28 degrees). REI also makes a Magma quilt that’s rated to 30 degrees, weighs 20 ounces, and starts at $299.

Read our review of the Magma 30.

Materials and Features

The Magma 15 has 16 ounces of 850-fill goose down (accounting for more than half the bag’s total weight, a generous ratio), and a Pertex ripstop nylon face fabric. A draft collar and drawcord keep the cold air out, and the zipper has a no-snag update that eliminates the frustration and potential fabric rips that come with getting your zipper caught in the liner or face fabric.

Nobody’s Perfect

The draft collar doesn’t span equally around the neck, leaving some gapping. Though it has a good warmth-t0-weight ratio, it still underperforms in this department compared to the Feathered Friends Hummingbird.

Shop the REI Magma

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Marmot Trestles (Best Budget Sleeping Bag)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Marmot Trestles 15.

MSRP: $115
Weight: 3 pounds, 6 ounces
Temperature Rating: 15 degrees
Comfort Rating: 27 degrees
Insulation: 36 ounces of SpiraFil synthetic insulation

Details

Hiking gear is expensive—sometimes crushingly so. A synthetic sleeping bag like the Marmot Trestles is a great way to shave several hundred dollars off your gear budget while still ending up with a quality, reliable sleep system. The tradeoff, of course, is that you’ll end up with a gigantic, nearly 3.5-pound bag instead of a sleek sub-two-pound bag for the same warmth, but we can’t have everything in life, sadly.

If this tradeoff sounds acceptable to you, the Trestles—a longtime pillar of the synthetic sleeping bag market—is a great option. It’s the least expensive bag on this list, and its straightforward, no-frills design gets the job done. The bag’s ventilation solution is a two-zipper system that allows you to fold down the front of the bag like a blanket in warm weather, a more intuitive and comfortable way to dump heat than many of the elaborately-vented, strangly-zippered offerings on the market today.

Materials and Features

Burly 70D polyester face/liner fabric encompasses 36 ounces of Marmot’s proprietary SpiraFil synthetic insulation. Word on the street is that Marmot’s “anti-snag” zippers are high quality and achieve what they set out to (i.e. not snag).

Nobody’s Perfect

Three pounds, six ounces. Yikes. This is, by far, the heaviest bag on our list. It also doesn’t pack down very small: the stuff sack volume is around 13 liters, compared to 11 liters for the 850-fill down REI Magma 15.

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NEMO Riff 15 (Best For Side Sleepers)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: NEMO Riff.

MSRP: $400
Weight: 2 pounds, 6 ounces
Temperature Rating: 15 or 30 degrees
Comfort Rating: 28 degrees
Insulation: 19 ounces of 800-fill hydrophobic down

Details

NEMO’s signature spoon-shaped (or hourglass-shaped) cut was designed with side sleepers in mind. It leaves more room at the knees and elbows so you can roll, shift,  and generally flop around unencumbered throughout the night. An integrated pillow pocket accommodates a spare puffy or hiking clothes just as well as an actual camp pillow while the two Thermo Gill vents on the top of the bag can be easily unzipped to dump heat on warmer nights.

Read our review of the NEMO Riff.

Materials and Features

A generous 16 ounces of high-quality 800-fill, Responsible Down Standard-certified down ensures that the Riff is plenty warm, and the PFC-free hydrophobic treatment on the insulation helps it to retain that warmth when wet. A DWR-treated 20D nylon ripstop shell provides an additional line of defense against moisture.

Nobody’s Perfect

The Riff is on the narrow side for a NEMO bag, streamlined for weight savings rather than luxury. Also, it costs and weighs more than the similarly-rated REI Magma.

Shop the NEMO Riff

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Big Agnes Torchlight UL 20 (Most Versatile)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Big Agnes Torchlight UL.

MSRP: $400 (reg. length)
Weight: 34 ounces
Temperature Rating: 20 degrees
Comfort Rating: 27 degrees
Insulation: 16 ounces of 850-fill DownTek hydrophobic down

Details

This lightweight offering from Big Agnes has one of the company’s highest warmth-to-weight ratios. It has luxurious 850-fill water-resistant down, but the Torchlight’s dual side expanders are its true claim to fame. The expanders are controlled by two-way, full-length zippers on either side of the bag and can be unzipped to provide about five inches of additional space.

It’s really nice to be able to zip the expanders to minimize drafts on chilly nights and still have the option to loosen the bag up for a roomier, more relaxed night’s sleep when it’s not freezing. Our reviewer, who describes himself as a “rotisserie chicken sleeper” who tosses and turns all night, loved that the expandable Torchlight was able to accommodate side and stomach sleeping. You can also partially unzip the expanders to accommodate wider hips or shoulders while minimizing air gaps elsewhere.

Materials and Features

The Torchlight UL is loaded with 850-fill DownTek (treated, hydrophobic) and a nylon ripstop face fabric also treated to be water-resistant. The draft tube along the zipper, combined with the draft collar under the hood, offers even more protection.

Nobody’s Perfect

At 34 ounces, this “ultralight” sleeping bag is one of the heaviest offerings on our list, even though it has the premium materials and price tag of a fast and light model. Still, this is likely the price one pays for the extra girth and zippers afforded by the side expanders. Some users also complain that the zipper has a tendency to stick.

Read our review of the Big Agnes Torchlight UL 20.

Shop the Big Agnes Torchlight UL 20

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NEMO Kyan 35 (Best Synthetic Backpacking Sleeping Bag)

Best backpacking sleeping bags

Best backpacking sleeping bags: NEMO Kyan 35.

MSRP: $200 (reg. length)
Weight: 2 pounds 1 ounce
Temperature Rating: 35 degrees
Comfort Rating: 46 degrees
Insulation: 18 ounces of PrimaLoft Silver synthetic fill

Details

Synthetic sleeping bags can’t yet compete with down for weight and packability, they wipe the floor with their feather-filled competitors when it comes to budget. And for a warm-weather bag like the 35-degree Kyan, there’s little enough insulation that a synthetic bag still remains feasible in terms of weight and bulk. NEMO’s signature Thermo Gills (the blue slash thingies in the picture above) can be opened to dump heat on warm nights or zipped up to trap heat when the mercury drops.

Materials and Features

DWR-treated 20d nylon ripstop face fabric helps to keep moisture from penetrating the bag’s insulated core (and the synthetic insulation there will retain loft when wet). NEMO uses a special, proprietary version of PrimaLoft Silver that’s meant to maximize warmth and minimize weight and bulk, bringing the material closer to down in terms of performance. Without a doubt, it’s significantly lighter than many other synthetic bags in a similar temperature range and is comparable in weight to many 650-fill down bags in a similar temperature range.

Nobody’s Perfect

Although the Kyan is competitive among 35-degree bags, many cold sleepers and thru-hikers whose journeys will span colder months will find this temperature rating inadequate. Remember, 35 degrees is the tested lower limit beyond which an average warm sleeper might experience hypothermia; the limit for a comfy night’s sleep is a balmy 46 degrees. Synthetic bags rated to 15 or 20 degrees do exist (see the Nemo Forte or Marmot Trestles) but they start to get unwieldy in a backpack pretty quickly.

Shop the NEMO Kyan

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Kelty Cosmic 20 (Best Budget Down Sleeping Bag)

Best backpacking sleeping bags: Kelty Cosmic 20.

 

MSRP: $140
Weight: 2 pounds, 10 ounces
Temperature Rating: 0, 20, or 40 degrees
Comfort Rating: 32 degrees
Insulation: 16 ounces of 550-fill down

Details

Kelty’s Cosmic down sleeping bag may not be the most affordable bag on this list (that honor belongs to the synthetic Marmot Trestles) but it comes damned close. At $140 for the regular length, 20-degree model, it’s the only down sleeping bag of backpacking quality that costs about the same as your average synthetic offering. And although the Cosmic underperforms compared to other down bags, it’s still superior to synthetics in weight, packability, and comfort. Two pounds, 1o ounces isn’t exactly lightweight, but it’s still an acceptable weight for a thru-hike, and the bag’s 21-degree temperature rating (32 degrees for comfort) puts it comfortably within the target temperature range for most thru-hikes. The 2021 update to this classic bag includes trapezoidal box baffles, which allow down to pile up under the seams to minimize heat loss, and a trapezoidal footbox that allows your tootsies to lay more naturally.

Materials and Features

Kelty keeps the price of this bag down by using not-so-premium 550-fill duck down and nylon taffeta shell (not quite as durable as nylon ripstop). Previous incarnations of this sleeping bag used a combination of down and synthetic fill, but after a recent update, the Cosmic line now features 100% down insulation. The shell features C0 and PFC-free DWR treatment.

Nobody’s Perfect

The Cosmic is on the heavy side for a down backpacking sleeping bag. The polyester taffeta lining is also somewhat rough feeling compared to the silky-smooth nylons common in many premium bags.

Shop the Kelty Cosmic 20

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More of the Best Thru-Hiking Gear of 2021

Original article by Maggie Slepian.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 9

  • Noelle : Nov 8th

    Hi, I’d love know how many of the sleeping bags could accommodate a pillow in the hood area. It’s hard to tell from the photos. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Shannon : Mar 9th

    Thank you for the super informative article, this was extremely helpful as I am in the process of “upgrading” my bag. I currently have the REI Joule 21 which is a solid bag, but am looking for something warmer and am also hoping to find something that isn’t as constricting around the head/neck area. I was wondering if you or anyone had any recommendations for stomach sleepers? I know I’m not the norm and I have tried to change my sleep position as I know it’s not conducive to camping but if anyone has found a bag that has worked for them or one that they think might work, I’d really appreciate it! 🙂

    Reply
  • Kylie : Mar 9th

    I may be biased…. but no love for the Hyke and Byke?! 800-fill down for ~$200 and fun colored bags….. literally cannot beat it. A budget backpackers dream.

    Reply
  • Douglas Skites : Mar 12th

    I’m in the market for a bag so I appreciate this article. I’m also looking at the Rab Mythic ultra 360. Any reason you decided not to include it in your analysis?

    Reply

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