Choosing a sleeping bag for your bug out bag is important. There are some basic factors to consider in order to make the best choice. There is no perfect bag for everyone and every situation.
Consider the following when choosing a bag.
Length of time you want the bag to last. Is your idea of bugging out less than a week or indefinitely? Will you be using this bag for camping trips in the meantime?
When you think of bugging out do you just mean a week or less or are you thinking about what if you have to be nomadic for a much more extended period of time?
I do not think it is a realistic option for even those that are in great shape and very skilled to plan on bugging out and staying in the bush for more than a relatively short period of time. For starters, you can only pack in so much food and if you start scavenging and stealing then you are going to get into trouble eventually.
While some plan on hunting, fishing, and foraging, that is probably not going to work out that well.
To me, a bug out bag is something that you use to get to a better place where or a bag that will allow you to hide out and survive for a few weeks or so until you can figure out something better or conditions improve so that you can return to where you came from to start with.
Of course, a sleeping bag can be handy in more situations than just bugging out. I am just trying to help you consider a few things when deciding how much to spend and how high a quality of bag you really need. Going with a lighter weight solution that can get you through a few weeks or a month may be better for you than dropping serious cash on something that you might not ever use. Plenty of people have bug out bags but have never camped a day or don’t enjoy doing it regularly.
People come in all shapes and sizes and so do sleeping bags. While you don’t want to be cramped you also do not want a sleeping bag that is too roomy because it will not work as well at keeping you warm. You may also be able to save a little money and reduce the weight of the bag you need to carry if you are smart and get one that is the right size for your body type. Smaller women and teens may do better with a youth-sized sleeping bag than an adult size for example.
Many of the moderate to high priced bags also have several sizes to choose from.
Down or synthetic are considered the best materials for sleeping bags. Down is better overall except for the fact that it bunches up a lot if it gets wet so one must avoid being in that situation. Keeping your down sleeping bag in a dry bag or similar can prevent it from getting wet even if you get caught out in a storm. Keeping a few garbage bags in your bug out bag can also help.
Synthetic materials can be heavier than down so those that are trying to reduce weight may want to avoid some synthetics.
I would never recommend any sleeping bags that have any cotton materials for a bug out bag. Cotton flannel lining is nice and cozy when you are car camping and not concerned about hardcore survival or having a camp out with the kids in the backyard.
Don’t put cotton sleeping gear in your bug out bag period.
There are different options at varying price points. For example, if you just want something that will keep you warm and dry for a few weeks then an emergency bivy like the one sold by Survive Longer Outdoors, combined with a few extra emergency blankets would serve you well even if conditions turn out to be really cold. If you want to go really light, you could get a hammock tent and emergency bivvy and have a good sleep system that keeps you off the ground.
This can be a good option for those that like having a sleeping pad usually but would prefer to not have the weight and bulk A hammock tent is also usually lighter weight and far less bulky to carry than a standard backpacking tent. While some may be around the same weight, you have to remember that it will allow you to eliminate the weight and bulk of a sleeping pad. Remember that any space or insulation you can put between yourself and the ground will keep you warmer.
If you live in a mild or warmer climate than you certainly do not need to purchase a sleeping bag that is heavy. It may cost more and you will not be comfortable. Warmer bags add weight to your bag as well. Don’t be tempted to go overboard and buy a warmer bag than you need. It is far better to carry an extra emergency mylar blanket or two in case of freak weather events.
At the same time, you need to understand that you may need to bug out in bad weather and colder temperatures. For colder climates or just climates with four real seasons, you could plan well by having a mid-weight bag and a lightweight emergency bivy that you can use as an additional layer on the outside of your bag may still be cheaper and lighter weight overall than having a really thick bag.
Temperature ratings of bags are just estimates
All you can go by is the manufacturer rating. Sometimes there is an ideal comfort range rating and an extreme situation rating. Before buying any sleeping bag, make sure to read the fine print on the description so you don’t get the wrong bag for your needs.
If you tend to get cold easily then you might want to go with a bag rated to a lower temperature than what is typical in your climatic zone. Consider if you are bugging out to a higher elevation as well. It can get a lot colder the further up a mountainside you go.
Your tent or shelter will offer some protection and warmth
Tents that are made to fit closer around you will keep you warmer than if you are sleeping in a tent with a high ceiling or that is made for more people than are in it.
Check out “The Backdoor Survival Guide to the Best Tents” for more details on different types of tents and a few choices to consider.
A note on double sleeping bags
If you have considered having a double sleeping bag if you are a couple that is bugging out together or if you plan on co-sleeping with a child, do everyone a favor and get bags that are separate but can be zipped together. This offers more sleeping options. There may be times when sleeping together is not convenient or possible.
Having two bags that just zip together also allows for the weight of sleeping bags to be distributed throughout two bug out bags and it ensures that each person has a sleeping bag in case they get separated for some reason.
Minimal Bags On A Budget
I like these bags because they are lightweight and easy to pack. They are also mummy-style so you get good heat retention and they are large enough that tall folks are not left out. On top of it all, this bivy is easy on the budget and made by a reputable company.
This fully synthetic bag is rated to 50F-60F so on its own it is only good for warmer climates or summer use. Remember that you can add liners to lightweight sleeping bags or use a mylar blanket during extreme situations. Sleeping in layers of clothing will also add to your warmth factor. This bag only weighs 2.5 lbs and it is easy on the budget. It packs in the included compression sack for easy attachment to your bag.
I am adding this liner in because it weighs a mere 11 oz and provides a cost-effective way to add 5-10F to the warmth rating of your sleeping bag. That can be very nice if you get temperature swings or want a more versatile sleeping system.
Moderate to Very Cold Weather Bags
These are bags that are rated to keep you warm under extreme conditions and in very cold climates. Before you buy a sleeping bag that is rated for extreme temperatures I advice considering if you truly need it or not. These bags are not inexpensive because they are made to be very warm and lightweight. Consider that a tent will add to how easy it is for you to stay warm. In climates where temps vary a lot, it can be nice to have a sleep system that involves layers that can be added or removed as needed.
At the same time I have a heavier bag than I need at times but what I do is put it underneath me and just use a blanket or similar when camping. It provides extra cushioning at least even if it is not cold enough to bundle up in.
I like that this company has a range of lightweight bags that are rated to cold to very cold temperatures. They also offer different bags for people of different heights. I think that shows a lot of thought in terms of saving on space and ensuring that people get a good fit so they get the most warmth out of their sleeping bag. If you check them out on Amazon make sure to click the right options to get the best price for your body type and temperature needs.
All the bags in this line weight between 2-3 lbs depending on the temperature rating and length you buy. That is amazing. I have carried some heavy sleeping bags before. If I was planning on bugging out and living outside or under really harsh conditions for any length of time, I would save up the money for a bag like this and then use the saved weight to pack extra food. In my experience food tends to be the most limiting factor as to how long you can stay out in comfort if you plan your gear out well.
As far as I can tell, Columbia still makes decent gear. The company has changed a bit over the years. Their clothing lines seem to have suffered the most in terms of quality.
This sleeping bag is rated to 10F making it suitable for winter camping in many areas and for excursions to mountain tops. You can get this sleeping bag in a length of 79 or 84 inches so make sure to double-check the length before purchasing. It is made of ripstop fabric and hollow fiberfill for lightweight warmth and durability.
This bag has a feature I have not seen before. There is a sleeve and strap on the back that allows you to attach your sleeping pad or camp mattress so that you don’t slide around during the night. I really like the idea of that because I definitely find myself sliding around when I use my old REI bag that is similar to this Columbia and my Therm-A-Rest camp mattress.
This line of sleeping bags is amazing for those that want a lightweight bag that is rated for moderate cold. You can get two versions of this bag. The first version weights only 1.3 lbs and will keep you warm at temps in the 36F-46F range. The second version weighs in at 1.74 lbs and is rated for temperatures 23F-32 F.
This bag is made of real down and you get a compression sack that makes the bag into a compact 4.5″x 10″ bundle. You can totally unzip this bag and use it as a blanket or if your significant other has the same size bag, you can zip them together to form a giant sleeping bag! This is the lightest and most compact bag I have found that offers this level of warmth and versatility.
This Marmot bag comes in right at 3 lbs. That is a reasonable weight for a good bag. It is rated to 30F making it suitable for most seasons. It is made with polyester hollow fiber filling and a ripstop polyester exterior that is designed to be moisture resistant. If it was me I would probably spray it down with silicone spray to make it, even more, water-resistant. You can get this bag in two lengths. The same bag is also available in other temperature ratings. The weight goes up accordingly.
If you want a versatile and somewhat lightweight bag that won’t break your budget, then you should consider the White Fang.
The entire bag is made of polyester from what I can tell despite some of the wording they use in the description that may cause one to think there is some cotton or silk in it. It is rated to keep you warm at a temperature range of 35F-40F but the manufacturer states it can be used down to 20F in extreme situations. I think what they are saying is that you would probably survive but not be very comfortable.
The bag has a nice foot box area that unzips for ventilation. I think it is kind of neat that you can basically wear this bag. there are foot and armholes so you can set up in your tent and still stay snug while reading or drinking coffee. It weighs in at 3.3 lbs.
I cannot write an article on sleeping bags without including a few Kelty bags. Matt bought a similar bag to this 20 years ago and he is still using it. There is not a single hole in it despite all the trips over the years. The Cosmic 20 is rated to 20F and made of real down and polyester. It is a special type of down that is more moisture-resistant than many. The DriDown is made with a polymer coating that creates a hydrophobic layer on each piece of down. This results in a bag that not only is more water-resistant but also that dries out faster if it does happen to get wet.
Kelty bags have a strong antimicrobial feature. They just don’t get smelly even if you are using them a lot. Of course, we always make sure to hang bags up to air out and get some sun so that helps. The bag weighs about 3 lbs.
This bag is very similar to the vintage one that I own and use. This bag is rated to 19F and weighs in at about 2.5 lbs. The filling is 600 fill power waterproof duck down. The ripstop nylon shell is extremely tough and the whole bag is very waterproof. I really love REI bags because of the experience I have enjoyed over the years. I cannot believe my antique bag still doesn’t have a hole in it and resists water.
You will pay a bit for REI but you will get a bag that will last a lifetime. If this bag doesn’t fit your needs then please take a look at the other REI bags out there. They make a lot of different bags so I am willing to bet you will find one to meet your needs.
This Kelty is more affordable because it is made with synthetic fibers rather than down. I like how when it is unzipped you still have this nice cozy nest. The outside is comprised of a 75D Polyester Taffeta Shell while the filling is ThermaPro Synthetic Insulation. This bag weighs in at just over 2.5 lbs. For the money, this is an exceptional bag.
While researching for this post I found plenty of more expensive bags that I did not feel as good about as this one. If you want a name brand with a budget price tag, then take a closer look at the Kelty Tuck. This bag also comes in a 0F version that weighs a bit more if you need a colder weather bag. This 20F version of The Tuck would be excellent for layering. A liner like that discussed earlier in this article would work well with this bag.
Expedition and Extreme Cold Sleeping Bags
There are sleeping bags that are made for mountaineering or hunting trips in very cold conditions. These bags are rated to subzero temperatures. I would never want to bug out in weather that cold! Since most people are not ever going to need a bag like this I am just going to share a few links and brief descriptions here for those that are interested in this type of extreme bag. Many are not lightweight if they are rated at negative temperatures. At the 0F mark, you can still get a fairly lightweight bag for a decent price and weight.
This bag by Browning is rated to -20F and weighs in at around 8 lbs 6 oz. It is big enough for larger people. The filling is 7 denier TechLoft Silver insulation while the rest is made of 210T nylon diamond ripstop fabric paired with an inner microfiber liner. For the money, this bag is about the warmest you will get and the weight is actually not that bad for this level of warmth. There are plenty of 10F bags out there that weigh 5 lbs.
These bags are amazingly lightweight for the warmth rating you get. They also come in three lengths: short, regular, and long. The price and weight vary based on your choice. The weight range is 3.25-3.5 lbs! The included compression sack that compresses to an 8″ diameter and 11″ long roll for easy packing. The inside is 650 Fill Power Premium Quality Hydrophobic Down. There is an Allied LofTech base for comfort and warmth. The outer and inner shell is made of 400T Rip-Stop Nylon fabric.
A pack of mylar emergency blankets is cheap insurance against the cold.
Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and buy a dozen emergency mylar blankets and distribute them in each bug out bag or get home bag. They work and they cost $1-$2 each. In an emergency, they can even be used to signal for help if needed.
Watch out for used gear. Sometimes you can find some great stuff.
There is nothing wrong with buying a used sleeping bag if it is a good brand and in decent condition. Check for stains, rips, and tears. Of course, I recommend thoroughly cleaning any used bag before use. When in doubt, spray with Lysol or similar and lay in it in the sun for a few hours. As I said, my REI down bag was $15 used more than 15 years ago and I am still using it today and there is not a single major hole or tear.
Plenty of people get quality gear as gifts or they buy it thinking that they are going to go on a lot of trips and use it a lot and then never get around to it. You can take advantage of this and get some great stuff for your bug out bag. In my area, there are outfitter stores that specialized in used equipment. If you live in an area that attracts a lot of outdoor types, then you might have a store like that as well.
eBay is another place to look for open box deals or where people are selling stuff they were given or purchased and used little or not at all.
What sleeping bag to you have in your bug out bag? What types of sleeping layers do you have packed?