I'm looking to purchase a camping sleeping bag. I'd like one that's high-quality, durable, and suitable for weekend hiking/camping trips during spring, summer, and fall in New England. (Most of my trips will be hiking with a backpack rather than driving to a campsite.) What factors should I consider when investing in a sleeping bag?

For example:

  • Given that the temperature varies so much in New England, what should I look for in terms of temperature rating?

  • Does having a camping pad underneath the sleeping bag affect what I
    should look for in a sleeping bag?

  • What type of material should I look for?

  • Does the shape matter in terms of performance, or do some shapes just provide less bulk so they're easier to pack/carry?


2 Answers 2


For hiking with a backpack I would recommend the following considerations:

Weight I would go as light as possible. Generally the lighter you go the more expensive you go, but on those long treks it will make a huge difference.

Temperature Rating A good 3-season bag is generally at the 20 degree mark.

Shape Since you will be trekking with this, definitely get one that tapers at the feet and has a hood. They tend to be less bulky but more importantly are warming and allow you to keep the heat in easier.

Material There's really two basic types, synthetic and goose-down feathers.

Synthetic offers a lower price point and dries quicker.

Goose-Down offers a better compressed state (they can generally get smaller the more pressure you use) and are more durable but they are more expensive.

Personally, I'd go with a synthetic just for price.


There are some gender targeted bags, too.

Women's bags are generally a little more narrow at the shoulders.

As for sleeping pads, while they are used for comfort, pads are best for sleeping in really cold places. The pad acts as extra insulation and helps prevent heat loss through conduction with the ground.

  • 1
    don't forget that synthetic doesn't last nearly as long even if you take extremely good care of it (i.e. never compress it).
    – Ryley
    Jan 24, 2012 at 22:55
  • 3
    And the fact that down bag doesn't only dry slower than synthetic, they are also completely useless (=will not warm your body) when wet, while synthetic will still be usable (if not very comfortable) even wet.
    – Noam Gal
    Jan 25, 2012 at 7:23
  • I see you mentioned that goose-down is more compressible-- and I would not downplay that aspect at all. I originally purchased a 35L technical daypack and a synthetic (nice, but less expensive than down) sleeping bag. The sleeping bag would not go into a compression sack, and uncompressed it took up the entire volume of the pack. I had to exchange it for down because of volume. Feb 7, 2012 at 22:22
  • 2
    One thing to consider is when you will be doing most of your camping. My 20 degree bag is way too hot for most nights, and generally overkill for the conditions which I tend to be in. If I were doing it again, I'd get something like a 40 degree bag or 50 degree bag and wear an extra layer while I sleep if the bag temp is not warm enough. Being enclosed in a tent also increases the temperature slightly, so I could easily get away with a bag with less insulation than my current setup.
    – Benzo
    Jun 25, 2012 at 18:46

One of the main questions is choosing between down and synthetic filling. Down bags are much lighter, they last longer because the down takes less damage when compressed, and they are generally warmer. They have two downsides: they are more expensive and the down quickly loses its insulating properties when wet. If you have the money to buy a down bag, I would definitely go for it, as it offers toasty sleeping with fewer grams on your shoulders and less space taken in the backpack.

The temperature ratings are not to be trusted in absolute terms, since all people are different with respect to bearing cold. You can easily have a dreadful night in a bag that would be quite cozy for someone else. You can use the ratings to compare at least the various models from one manufacturer, but don't depend on them.

Shapes do not matter much, any modern sleeping bag meant for your height will do. The mat, on the other hand, matters immensely, especially if you tend to be cold and want to sleep in temperatures near 0°C and lower. (That’s a good topic for a separate question.) As for varying temperatures, it’s better to err on the warm side.

To put it shortly, you mainly care about the filling, down vs. synthetic. Then the performance will be similar between all modern bags with comparable weight.

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