3 women jumping in the air wrapping in sleeping bags

Types of Sleeping Bags: The Ultimate Guide

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Warm and comfortable, a sleeping bag is a must-have piece of gear in the backcountry. A veritable oasis in the middle of a horrible storm or at the end of a strenuous hike, curling up in a cozy sleeping bag is hands-down the best way to finish up a memorable day in the outdoors.

That being said, modern sleeping bags have come a long way from their humble origins. Long gone are the days of suffering and shivering in a bulky, damp, cotton-filled sleeping bag, as lightweight, durable, and functional materials and designs have since taken their place.

These days, sleeping bags are an essential item for any good camping trip, but buying one is no small feat. Most sleeping bags are a major financial investment, so you’ll want to be sure that you’re getting the sleeping bag that you really need for your adventures.

Since there are so many different sleeping bags out there, each made for a specific purpose, we’ve put together this list of all of the types of sleeping bags to get you started on your search. So, whether you’re just looking to nerd out on sleeping bags or you’re in search of a new best friend on your camping trips, here’s our ultimate guide to the different types of sleeping bags!

Sleeping Bags by Shape

Sleeping bags come in a whole variety of different shapes and sizes. While the shape of a sleeping bag might not seem like a huge deal, it can totally change the functionality of the bag. Thus, it’s important that you thoroughly understand the pros and cons of the sleeping bag shape you’re looking to get. Here’s what you need to know:

Mummy sleeping bag

Mummy sleeping bags are often considered the gold standard of the sleeping bag world. Much as you might expect, a mummy sleeping bag is designed to wrap you up like you’re a mummy. These sleeping bags are more or less meant to contour your body, eliminating any dead airspace and wrapping around your head with a hood to keep you warmer during particularly cold nights.

Since a sleeping bag keeps you warm by trapping in your own body heat (not by creating heat), the shape and structure of a mummy sleeping bag is ideal for anyone looking to get out into more harsh climates as there is minimal dead air space that you’d have to waste valuable energy keeping warm at night. Plus, the low-volume shape of a mummy sleeping bag helps cut weight, which is great for backpackers and mountaineers, alike.

However, mummy sleeping bags are less-than-ideal for anyone that needs a lot of wiggle room while sleeping. Since they’re designed to minimize extra space, anyone who really likes to toss and turn at night might feel a bit constrained. Unless you’re claustrophobic, however, you normally get used to this constraining feeling and stop noticing it after a while.

Pros:

  • Very good at trapping heat
  • Hood helps keep your head warm at night
  • Minimizes weight and bulk as much as possible

Cons:

  • Minimal wiggle room
  • Can feel constraining

Rectangular sleeping bag

Most often spotted at sleepovers, the rectangular sleeping bag is an old stalwart of the sleeping bag industry. Designed with a – you guessed it – rectangular shape, the rectangular sleeping bag is a simple, yet comfortable option for many sleeping bag owners.

The rectangular shape of these sleeping bags offers plenty of wiggle room for the tossers and turners among us. However, rectangular sleeping bags aren’t terribly popular among outdoor enthusiasts because their rectangular shape is inefficient for trapping heat and requires a lot of extra fabric, adding to the overall weight and bulk of the bag.

Additionally, rectangular sleeping bags lack a hood, which means they don’t keep your noggin nearly as warm as a mummy sleeping bag would during cold nights. That all being said, rectangular sleeping bags tend to be quite affordable, so if you just need a sleeping bag for car camping on warm summer nights, they’re a pretty solid bet.

Pros:

  • Offers plenty of wiggle room
  • Comfortable for larger people
  • Usually fairly affordable

Cons:

  • Not very heat efficient
  • Heavy and bulky
  • Doesn’t have a hood

Semi-rectangular sleeping bag

A semi-rectangular sleeping bag is sort of a cross between a mummy sleeping bag with a rectangular bag. Like a rectangular sleeping bag, a semi-rectangular model offers a decent amount of wiggle room. But, like a mummy bag, a semi-rectangular sleeping bag has a hood and tapers a bit at the top and bottom to be more packable in the backcountry.

These sleeping bags are a good option for people who don’t want to carry around a ridiculous amount of weight and bulk, but who also can’t compromise too much on wiggle room. So, if you like to be comfortable in the backcountry and don’t mind carrying around a little extra weight, the semi-rectangular sleeping bag just might be for you.

Pros:

  • Decent amount of space for movement
  • Has a hood for warmth at night

Cons:

  • Not as warm as a mummy bag
  • Not as much wiggle room as a rectangular sleeping bag
  • Semi-bulky and heavy
  • Doesn’t really excel at anything in particular

Double-wide sleeping bag

Double-wide sleeping bags are the ultimate sleep system for an active couple. Made with enough room for two, a double-wide sleeping bag can keep two people cozy and warm all at the same time.

While there are a few different models out there, most double-wide sleeping bags have a zipper on either side, as well as two hoods for warmth. Most double-wide sleeping bags function a lot like two mummy bags zipped together but are much more elegant than that.

Double-wide sleeping bags are great for couples as they are often (but not always) lighter and less bulky than two separate sleeping bags. However, they aren’t light, by any means, and someone will have to carry the whole thing, so perhaps the other partner can carry the tent.

The main drawback to double-wide sleeping bags is that they are often difficult to find, as very few companies seem to make them. Those double-wide sleeping bags that do exist tend to be quite expensive and are only offered in a limited temperature range. However, if you’re keen to cozy up with your adventure partner, a double-wide sleeping bag is a great choice.

Pros:

  • Often lighter than two separate sleeping bags
  • Let you cozy up with another person
  • Can be incredibly warm and spacious

Cons:

  • Bulky to pack
  • Usually quite expensive
  • Offered in a limited size range
  • Specialty item that has a limited use

Barrel-shaped sleeping bag

Barrel-shaped sleeping bags are very similar to semi-rectangular sleeping bags as they’re really a cross between a mummy bag and a rectangular bag. Unlike a semi-rectangular bag, though, barrel-shaped sleeping bags tend to be a little more tapered in the feet and a little less so in the shoulders. 

Thus, a barrel-shaped sleeping bag is usually a great option for people with particularly wide shoulders or for anyone that really likes to stretch out at night. However, a barrel-shaped sleeping bag has many of the same drawbacks as a semi-rectangular bag, including increased bulk and weight and decreased warmth, when compared to a mummy bag.

Pros:

  • Extra space in the shoulders
  • Tapered feet for reduced weight
  • Hood for warmth at night

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Not as good at trapping heat as a mummy bag

Quilt sleeping bag

A quilt is a new-ish kind of sleeping system that’s highly favored by ultralight enthusiasts. Much like a quilt you would have on your bed at home, an outdoor quilt is designed to go on top of your body, instead of around it like a sleeping bag. 

Quilts are usually made of super lightweight materials and high-quality down that covers you from above to trap in heat. While they often have some sort of system, like buttons or a strap, to wrap the down around the sides of the body, quilts work on the assumption that any down that’s squished under your body is more or less useless.

The down in a sleeping bag that’s trapped under your body is effectively useless because your body weight smushes the down and eliminates the loft that traps in body heat. Thus, quilt makers eschew the underside of a sleeping bag, cutting weight and saving space in your pack by creating a down blanket that you drape over yourself. It’s actually pretty cool.

That all aside, while quilts are great for ultralight backpackers, they’re not a great option for everyone. The weekend warrior will probably find that a quilt is too expensive to justify the cost (ironic because of the lack of material, we know) and that they’re actually much warmer sleeping in a mummy bag.

Although quilts are effective at keeping one warm at night, it takes practice to be able to use them correctly. Thus, most people are probably better off just using a quality mummy sleeping bag.

Pros:

  • Reduce weight and bulk in your pack
  • Can keep you pretty warm with minimal insulation at night
  • Lots of wiggle room

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Hard to find
  • Not for everyone
  • Takes practice to get used to
  • Not as warm as a mummy bag

Elephant’s foot sleeping bag

One of the more unique sleeping bag types out there, the “elephant foot” sleeping bag is designed specifically for light-and-fast pursuits in the mountains. A cross between a mummy sleeping bag and a quilt, the elephant’s foot sleeping bag is a hoodless, zipperless option for people who just need to keep their body warm at night.

The elephant’s foot sleeping bag resembles a potato sack made from super high-quality ripstop nylon and down. Designed to be form-fitting with a wide opening at the top and a 3/4ths length, these sleeping bags are meant to be worn with a large puffy jacket to help reduce overall pack weight.

These sleeping bags often feature a drawcord around the torso, which allows you to trap in heat at night or sleep upright during an alpine bivouac situation on a climbing trip. Plus, elephant’s foot sleeping bags tend to be incredibly lightweight and packable, which is great for ultralight backpackers. The catch? They’re usually pretty darn expensive.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight
  • Packable
  • Simple

Cons:

  • Very specialized
  • Expensive
  • No hood
  • Can be annoying to get in and out of

Sleeping bags by temperature rating

Besides the shape of a sleeping bag, the other way we can differentiate between two models is in their temperature rating. All sleeping bags made for use in the outdoors have a temperature rating that lets you know what conditions are appropriate for using that particular model.

While you might think that this is straightforward, it turns out that the world of sleeping bag temperature ratings is a murky one, with many people confused by what it all actually means. In fact, sleeping bag temperature ratings can mean one of three things, depending on what company you purchase your sleeping bag from. Here’s what you need to know about sleeping bag ratings:

  • The comfort rating of your sleeping bag is the lowest temperature that you can feel comfortable using a sleeping bag in. Usually, this is the kind of temperature rating you’ll find on a women’s or a kids’ sleeping bag
  • The lower limit rating is the lowest possible temperature that a sleeping bag will keep you warm in. This number is always going to be lower than a given sleeping bag’s comfort rating as it’s designed to quantify the lowest temperature you should ever consider using a sleeping bag in. This is often the kind of temperature rating you’ll find on a men’s sleeping bag.

In general, a sleeping bag temperature rating denotes the lowest temperature in which you should use a sleeping bag, regardless if it’s the comfort rating or the lower limit rating, but this number comes out of a lab test, it doesn’t really reflect how you might feel in the real world. Since wind, moisture, and humidity, as well as your own body all affect how cold or warm you feel, these sleeping bad temperature ratings are a fuzzy guide, at best.

You might also be confused as to why women’s and kids’ sleeping bags use the comfort rating while men’s bags use the lower limit rating. Basically, since women and children tend to get much colder than men due to differences in body construction, women’s and children’s specific sleeping bags often have more insulation in them than a comparable men’s bag would.

Basically, the best advice in this murky world of temperature ratings for sleeping bags is to find a sleeping bag that’s rated to a slightly colder temperature than the ones you might find yourself in. This will help you stay warm throughout your camping trip for a better overall experience.

Summer Sleeping Bag

As you might expect, a summer-weight sleeping bag is designed to be used in the summer months. But, whose summer are we talking about here? Generally speaking, “summer” refers to the conditions you can expect at low-to-mid elevations in North America and Europe, though there’s a lot of variance in those places, so it’s most useful to talk about “summer” sleeping bags with a temperature rating.

For the most part, a “summer” sleeping bag should be rated between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, though depending on where you’re traveling to, you might want a bag above or below those temperature ratings. Essentially, the purpose of a summer-weight sleeping bag is to keep you warm at night in fairly mild conditions.

Pros:

  • Generally fairly lightweight and compact
  • Often somewhat affordable
  • Easy to pack

Cons:

  • Not very warm
  • Not suitable for harsh environments

Winter Sleeping Bag

In direct contrast to a summer sleeping bag, a winter-weight sleeping bag is meant for use in the coldest months of the year. Of course, as with a “summer” sleeping bag, it’s hard to be definitive about what we mean by “winter” as the cold season in some places is 60 degrees and rainy, while in others, it’s negative 40 degrees and blizzarding.

Thus, most winter bags will have a temperature rating below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, though you may need a bag that suited for conditions much colder than that. Commercially available sleeping bags can be found for temperatures as low as negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit (which is COLD!), but it’s unlikely that you’ll need that temperature rating for a sleeping bag unless you’re heading to the polar regions or some incredibly high elevations.

Pros:

  • Can keep you warm in some crazy cold temperatures
  • Some have a waterproof shell for use in harsh conditions

Cons:

  • Usually heavy and bulky
  • Can be annoying to pack
  • Often expensive or hard to find for extreme conditions

Three Season Sleeping Bag


Calling a sleeping bag a “three season” bag is somewhat tricky as it implies that you can use the bag in the spring, summer, and fall. While most sleeping bags rated to as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit can be considered “three season,” unless you live somewhere with relatively little change between spring, summer, and fall, you’ll probably be sweating profusely in the summer months in this bag.

At the same time, even a sleeping bag rated to 10 degrees Fahrenheit can feel cold in early spring and late fall, so a three-season sleeping bag isn’t a fool-proof system. That being said, the main attraction of a three-season sleeping bag is the fact that it can take the place of two or three sleeping bags in your gear closet.

However, as we’ve said, most people will highly benefit from having a number of different sleeping bags to better handle a variety of temperature situations in the different seasons. A three-season sleeping bag is only really recommended for people who camp infrequently and in mild environments.

Pros:

  • Can replace two or three sleeping bags in your gear closet
  • Warm enough for spring and fall nights

Cons:

  • Can be too hot in the summer
  • Often not warm enough for the end of fall or beginning of spring

Four Season Sleeping Bag

Similar to a three season sleeping bag, a four season sleeping bag is meant to be used in a variety of conditions. However, unlike a three season bag, a four-season bag can also be used in the winter. 

As you might imagine, a four season sleeping bag is pretty hard to come by and is most often used in places with moderately warm summers and moderately cold winters. Since they are usually rated to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, they can’t quite handle polar conditions and are much too warm for hot summer nights.

Pros:

  • One sleeping bag to replace them all
  • Can handle a moderate winter night

Cons:

  • Too warm for a hot summer’s night
  • Not warm enough for frigid conditions
  • Usually pretty bulky and heavy for summer trips

Sleeping bag by insulation type

A sleeping bag works by trapping your body heat next to you, effectively insulating you from the outside conditions. Modern sleeping bags made to be used in the outdoors are made with either down or synthetic insulation, each of which has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at them now.

Down Insulation

Down insulation is basically just the down feathers from ducks and geese. These feathers are designed to keep these sea birds warm as they swim, dive, and fly in cold air and cold water, so you can imagine they’re pretty darn good at their job.

Down is one of the best materials for insulating when it comes to a warmth-to-weight ratio, as down is incredibly lightweight but can keep you surprisingly warm. Plus, down compresses superbly, meaning it’s easy to stuff a gigantic down sleeping bag into a very tiny stuff sack with minimal effort.

The downside? Down doesn’t work at all when it’s wet. So, if you get a down sleeping bag, you have to be committed to keeping it dry at all times. While many companies also make treated down sleeping bags that are meant to repel moisture, this works only to a point and will leave you pretty cold if your sleeping bag gets soaked. 

Oh, and down is pretty expensive, so you’ll have to spend a pretty penny for that lightweight, compressible sleeping bag you’ve been eying.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Easily compressible
  • Great warmth-to-weight ratio

Cons:

  • Doesn’t keep you warm when wet
  • Expensive

Synthetic insulation

Synthetic insulation is made from spun nylon or polyester fibers that can trap heat pretty well, making it a good alternative to down for a sleeping bag. The advantage of synthetic insulation over down in a sleeping bag is that it still keeps you warm when wet. So, synthetic bags are great for anyone traveling to particularly moist environments, like Alaska or the Pacific Northwest.

Additionally, synthetically insulated sleeping bags tend to be much cheaper than their down counterparts. This means they’re a good option for anyone looking for decent bang for their buck.

However, synthetic insulation doesn’t have as good of a warmth to weight ratio as down, which means synthetic bags are often heavy and bulky when compared to down bags. But, if you need a sleeping bag that will keep you warm when wet while not breaking the bank, a synthetic bag is a great choice.

Pros:

  • Keeps you warm when wet
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Poor warmth-to-weight ratio
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Not as compressible as down

Sleeping bags by body type

In addition to shape, many sleeping bags are designated by a particular body type, whether that’s men’s, women’s, or children’s. While many people have difficulty telling some of these sleeping bags apart, there are actually a lot of important differences between them. Here’s what you need to know:

Men’s 

Men’s sleeping bags often get the designation as “unisex” since they are often considered the “standard” kind of sleeping bag. Regardless of what you think of that designation, men’s sleeping bags usually have insulation that’s evenly dispersed throughout the body of the bag, as well as a shape that contours a traditional man’s body. 

Plus, as we’ve already discussed, men’s sleeping bags use the lower limit rating for their temperatures, unlike the comfort rating, which is used in women’s bags. Thus, men’s sleeping bags aren’t as warm as a women’s bag of the same temperature rating. If you’re not sure what kind of sleeping bag to get, you’ll probably be fine with a men’s or unisex model.

Pros:

  • Considered “unisex”
  • Evenly dispersed insulation
  • Contours the shape of a man’s body

Cons:

  • Hip area often isn’t wide enough for women
  • Not as warm as a women’s sleeping bag of the same temperature

Women’s 

While there’s a bit of a reputation for women’s gear as being just a smaller, pink, more expensive alternative to men’s gear, when it comes to sleeping bags, there are some important differences between men’s and women’s models that you ought to know about.

First things first, women’s sleeping bags are better designed to fit the shape of a woman’s body, thanks to their narrower shoulders and wider hips. This is helpful for women who have this body shape as it provides them with more room where they need it most while reducing dead airspace elsewhere.

Additionally, women’s sleeping bags often have extra insulation around the feet and the torso, since women tend to get colder than men. This is also why women’s sleeping bags use a comfort rating for their temperatures, rather than the lower limit rating found on a men’s bag.

Finally, women’s sleeping bags usually come in different sizes than a men’s bag. While a “standard” men’s sleeping bag is six feet long, with the “long” being 6’6″, women’s standard length sleeping bags are often 5’6″ with the long option coming in at a solid six feet in length.

Ultimately, it’s better to choose a bag that fits your body size and shape, rather than one that “matches” your gender. If you’re a woman that fits better in a men’s sleeping bag or a man that fits better in a women’s bag, get whatever feels best to you.

Pros:

  • More insulation in key areas
  • Narrow shoulders and wide hips to eliminate dead airspace
  • Different lengths for women’s heights
  • Use comfort rating instead of lower limit rating

Cons:

  • Often more expensive

Children’s

A children’s sleeping bag, as you might imagine, is designed to be used by, well, children. These sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes to match a child’s height but are all going to be smaller than a standard adult sleeping bag.

Depending on what kind of children’s sleeping bag you get, it might also have extra insulation in it as kids tend to get cold pretty quickly. Children’s sleeping bags, like women’s, often use the comfort rating for temperature, instead of the lower limit rating, too.

The downside to a children’s sleeping bag is that it’s often hard to find one that’s high-quality and meant for the outdoors, not a sleepover. Those you can find are usually pretty expensive, especially when you consider that your kids will grow out of them soon. But, if you want to get outside with your kids, a children’s sleeping bag is a must-have.

Pros:

  • Designed for the length of a kid’s body
  • Often use comfort ratings for temperature
  • Usually pretty light and compact

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Kids grow out of them
  • Limited purpose item

In Conclusion

A sleeping bag is a critical piece of any good outdoor gear list, so it’s important to make sure you have the right one for your needs. There are so many different kinds of sleeping bags out there, so you’ll need to do some research on the types of sleeping bags before you make your choice. Whatever sleeping bag you choose, however, it’ll surely be your best adventure companion for years to come. Happy camping!

Featured Image Credit: “The Hungry Hungry Caterpillars (or hikers??)” by UI International Programs is licensed under (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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