If you were attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, starting roughly now (being mid to late March) and going northbound, how many sleeping bags and of what types would you need, assuming cost is not an option?

So a little background. I've talked to a number of people who have thru-hiked northbound on the AT, and have heard about the various sleeping conditions. Assuming a pace of about 5 months, would different bags be needed for March in GA, June in VA, August in VT, etc? Obviously I don't plan on carrying more than one bag at a time, but if need be bags could be mailed to spots on the trail at certain dates.

Minimizing weight is always #1 on the priority list, but staying warm up north in the later months would be #2. I've mostly lived in the VA region of the AT, so I am used to backpacking with a very lightweight sleeping bag in summer months.

Also, I'm hoping for this to be information given a usual year, not necessarily the spring going on right now in 2012. I am planning to thru-hike the AT in 2013.

  • Would love to hear from someone who has thru-hiked the AT Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 0:29
  • OT to the question, but do you have anywhere (a blog, perhaps) on what all you are doing to plan/train for your AT trip? I've always wanted to attempt it, but literally have no idea how to get started.
    – Pulsehead
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 12:28
  • @pulsehead - that's a great idea but I just don't have the time. Part of getting ready is a financial thing, and part is a physical thing, which leaves very little time on my end to blog. There is a tremendous amount of information online though, so most aspects of preparing have been covered many times.
    – Justin C
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 13:54

3 Answers 3


It somewhat depends on how warm you sleep and how much you're willing to layer up in your bag. I've met people who claim they used one 30F bag the whole trip (with thick layers at the start, and used as a quilt through the rest of the trip). I would call them "ultralight freaks".

The more normal setup is to start with a 0-20F bag, depending on your normal warmth level, then transition to a 30-45F bag/quilt once the weather turns (and send home the extra layers).

I've only met a few people who used synthetic bags on thru-hikes, and they were all quilt users, so assuming you go for down, I would aim for these companies (in this order): Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends, Montbell, Marmot (only 800+ fill, the rest of their bags aren't so good), Mountain Hardware. There are a bunch more of course, but when you're going to spend 130-150 days in a sleeping bag, it's worth getting one that will still be lofty at the end of your trip, and for that you have to shell out for good down fill.

If you're more interested in quilts, Jacks R Better, or Nunatak if you are literally made of money.

You mentioned a 5 month hike starting in March - by my calculation you would be done in August which should make weather issues moot, even in Maine. So you would likely be fine with your summer bag til then.

Note I have not hiked the AT, but I have hiked the PCT and CDT, and listened to endless gear talk from my hiking partners.

PS: if you are totally insane, do what this guy I met on the CDT did: used a garbage bag as his sleeping bag for the first half of the AT (he started later though - June). Sound comfortable?

  • Since you are already mentioning brand names, check out GoLite, particularly if you can get it in person, where it costs less (a lot less). GoLite has some very good bags and quilts to check out, and they focus on weight as a priority. (Full disclosure: I worked at GoLite for a couple months)
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 7:22
  • GoLite falls below the listed companies IMO - bags are a bit heavier for the same temp rating, people seem to find their ratings to be optimistic too, and the half-center zips are weird/not ideal for the wide range of temperatures seen on a thru-hike.
    – Ryley
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 17:47
  • I think it all comes down to opinion at this level. The other companies are great, but I've been very satisfied with GoLite products, they have a great eco-friendly pedigree, and you can get ones that don't have a center zip if you don't like it (and quilts). I can buy a Feathered Friends bag for twice the price and save a couple ounces... but that's up to preference.
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 20:50
  • 1
    Yeah, fair enough - I think the Q specified that money wasn't an object, so I rolled with that. There are definitely reasonable budget-conscious alternatives!
    – Ryley
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 21:01

I met a guy who left February 14th, the same day as I did, and he used a 40F Katabatic quilt the whole time. He slept with his down coat and gloves on. I didn't meet many people with 0F bags.

I took a 0F Feathered Friends bag and was never uncomfortable. I swapped it out for a 35F bag in early May and had a few cold nights in Northern Virginia.

Leaving late to mid March, you're going to see some cold nights. Just remember that the trick is layers. With a merino base layer, a sleeping bag liner, nice down coat, and a 20F bag, I think you'd be comfortable enough most nights, and sweating your balls off in the summer.

If I was going to try to get one bag that would last me the whole trip, I'd probably do a 35F bag, and bring a liner and plenty of layers. I basically used the 35F bag as a blanket on the summer days. The only place I was ever ridiculously hot was Pennsylvania.


I'm taking an Eddie Bauer bag, 850 fill down, 20 degree and 2.5 pounds, and I've used it before and it's pretty nice on a chilly evening. And when I say chilly, I mean anything from 45 degrees to 10 degrees, and I tend to sleep on the cooler side of the spectrum. Their gear is terrific, especially their FA lines, and no I don't work for them, I've just had really good luck with their items. And it's only $350, much better than other name brand companies that were listed but equally invaluable. Hope this helps

  • F or C? Everyone else specified :)
    – Aravona
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 14:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.