Many backpackers will use a mummy or similar style sleeping bag for a thru-hike to keep them warm when backpacking. So why are sleeping bags so expensive?
Due to the quality of materials in the outer bag fabric, overall construction, and the fill used to create the warmth within the baffles, you will find that as gear performs better and packs smaller, the cost increases dramatically.
Now that you have a solid understanding of what makes sleeping bags cost a pretty penny, warm and comfortable, let’s discuss the parts that directly add to the price of your sleeping bag.
This will include fill power, insulation type, shape, temperature rating, and size. When considering things like the expected climate you will be sleeping in.
Why Many Thru-Hikers Choose Sleeping Bags
Most thru-hikers will utilize a sleeping bag and pad as they offer the most straightforward, lightest, and most cost-effective way to stay warm and comfortable while camping on the trail.
As most people are very comfortable with sleeping bags, they have become a mainstay on the trail, especially as many thru-hikes can start with temperatures in the teens where containing warmth is vital.
I mention a sleeping pad as they are just as important to maintain the warmth rating of a sleeping bag, so you need to look for an ASTM R-Value rating of over five, preferably for optimal performance.
A sleeping pad provides insulation from the cold ground and improves outdoor comfort.
Why the High Prices on Sleeping Bags Are Worth It
The overall price of a sleeping bag will matter based on many criteria, and most thru-hikers will choose three-season bags.
This is because they fit the temperature needs and the best weight-to-warmth ratio for a good night’s sleep.
Brand & Retailer
Some brands carry a higher price tag, and retailers will have a markup on specific gear.
Some of the more expensive brands and retailers which carry them include Arc’teryx, Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Zpacks, and REI.
These brands are all known for their high-quality and performance clothing, footwear, and accessories.
They usually come with a higher price tag to reflect the quality of the product but also to help fund research and development into new fabrics and technologies.
Additionally, some retailers may choose to mark up certain items to maximize their profits.
Sleeping bags come in a vast range of temperature ratings, you will want to pay special attention to the listed rating, though, as you are looking for the “comfort” rating.
Comfort is the actual rating for being able to lay out full and stay warm. Many sleeping bag manufacturers and packaging will list the “limit” rating instead to look more appealing.
A limit temperature rating is with you laying in a fetal position like a ball to survive at that temperature, which is not how you want to spend cold nights on the trail!
Most summer bags won’t work in the early spring or late fall when many thru-hikes begin, so be careful of getting a bag rated for 40+ degrees as these bags often have too little warmth.
Most backpackers will want to have a down fill for their sleeping bag, and others with allergies may opt for synthetic insulation, but both can perform well on a long-distance hike.
Down, in general, will end up costing you more. It also has performance issues if it should get wet, so making sure to pack it away where it is safe from water and rain is essential.
The Fill Weight is the most important number to understand as it provides the true warmth for a bag. Do note that 650 FP down will need more weight to provide the same warmth as 950+ FP down.
Synthetics will perform even when wet, so bringing along a synthetic sleeping bag when traveling in a more humid or consistently damp environment can make sense.
Sleeping Bag Shape
The mummy bag is the most traditional, but rectangular and non-hooded options are also available.
Mummy bags are designed to be lightweight and provide extra insulation around the head and shoulders, while rectangular bags are typically heavier but offer more space for movement.
Non-hooded bags are popular in warmer climates as they don’t offer the same level of insulation around the head and shoulders as a mummy bag.
Each is useful, but the mummy will be the winner for most people in colder shoulder seasons, providing them with better warmth retention at the head and neck area.
Weight and Size
Choosing the weight and size of your sleeping bag will directly impact the cost as they directly relate to the materials used and the fill used to keep you warm.
Generally speaking, the lower the weight but cooler the temperature rating, and the more compact your sleeping bag is, the more expensive it will be.
If you’re looking for a lightweight but inexpensive option, look for a synthetic or lower-FP duck-down sleeping bag in a mummy style.
The outer fabric leads to the overall durability of your gear. The issue with going lightweight is that the outside fabrics are less durable, and the thicker the fabric, the longer it will last.
If you want something lightweight but durable, look for fabrics treated with a DWR (durable water-repellent) coating, which will help protect the fabric from wear and tear.
Additionally, look for fabrics reinforced with ripstop or other protective layers to improve durability further.
What About Budget Gear? Can It Handle the Cold?
While there are many quality, expensive sleeping bags, some money may be tight, and the ability to purchase a cheaper sleeping bag is a priority.
The Klymit KSB 20 Degree Sleeping Bag is an excellent choice for those looking for a less expensive option, as it offers superb warmth and comfort at a fraction of the cost of some other brands.
The mummy-style design helps to trap body heat and keep you warm, while the polyester construction is durable and lightweight.
This sleeping bag also has a stuff sack for easy transport and storage.
High Quality Sleeping Bags for Thru-Hiking
Locating the best sleeping bag is a hard thing to say as it is very personal. Some people need a colder bag than others, and some need additional clothes or other items for a perfect performance bag.
Below you can find some of the more loved bags on the market that provide top dollar performance.
The Zip Around Sleeping Bag from Zpacks is amazingly cozy, delightful, and adaptable.
It can keep you warm and content after a lengthy day of strenuous hiking. The bag includes a full-length 2-way side zipper with an incorporated draft tube and zipper guard to ensure the wind stays out.
The zipper runs the entire way from the top to the footbox, so you can open up the bag flat like a quilt or unzip the bottom to stick your feet out if it’s too hot due to all that top-notch goose down.
The Swallow was built for the backcountry, offering just enough space to move around but small enough to help keep the heated air in and warm up fast once you set up camp.
The massive weight savings comes from their use of 950+ Goose Down to fill the baffles, which allows this regular-size sleeping bag to weigh only 1 lb 11 oz or 766 g!
As to space needed inside a pack, the Swallow comes in at a microscopic 9 liters making it perfect for you to bring on a thru-hike attempt.
The Disco is a practically perfect backpacker bag for side sleepers, with its iconic Spoon™ Shape meticulously designed to achieve the delicate equilibrium between convenience and portability.
Moreover, its thermal vents provide an excellent way to eliminate any excess heat during the summertime, thus keeping you comfortably cool.
Furthermore, the men’s models are equipped with left-sided zippers, and women’s with right-sided ones, which combines two Discos into a double sleeping bag.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Sleeping Bags
Whether you are out on a thru-hike or just on a simple camping trip, a sleeping bag will help keep you warm and comfortable to sleep through the night.
Most modern sleeping bags will be made from down to provide maximum warmth and packability, but don’t think a sleeping bag with a synthetic fill won’t perform.
In the end, you need something you can easily pack to keep you warm in temperatures you expect, and each person will have different needs for this.
Buying a sleeping bag should be an enjoyable experience and provide you with quality rest each night after the long, hard days on the trail.