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Sleeping Bag Buying Guide

In this guide, gear editor Kristin Hostetter shows you how to pick the right sleeping bag for any outing.
Gear School 09 Bag illo 445x260Gear School 09 Bag illo 445x260


Bags fall into three basic categories.
1. Summer
2. Three-Season
3. Winter


Summer bags are suitable for temperatures of about 30°F and higher. They’re lightweight (because less insulation means less weight), and they pack down tiny (often as small as a cantaloupe). Summer bags often have full-length zippers, which allow you to zip them almost completely open for ventilation (or to use as a quilt) when the night gets really steamy. Most summer bags are simple sacks without too many bells and whistles. You won’t have much need for a hood or a draft collar (see below for descriptions of features) on hot July nights, for instance, so why spend the money on things you don’t need?

Ideal for temperatures of about 20°F and above, these bags are best suited for spring and fall trips, as well as summers in the high mountains when temps can dip below freezing at night. Good three-season bags have added features to combat colder temperatures like cinch-able hoods, draft collars, and zipper draft tubes (see below for descriptions of features).

These puffy cocoons, good for about 20°F and below, have all the features of a three- season bag (cinch-able hoods, draft collars, zipper draft tubes), but are beefed up with more insulation. Winter bags are always bulky to pack, so you’ll want to buy a good compression stuff sack to help you tame it.

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