Backpacking is a unique way of camping that gives you the freedom to hike on trails for long distances and set up camp almost anywhere. Because you carry everything in your backpack, it’s important to make the pack as light as possible to prevent exhaustion or injury.
When attempting to reduce backpack weight, the best way to do this is by starting with the heavier items. A tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad are usually the heaviest gear a backpacker will carry.
So what’s a good weight for a backpacking sleeping bag? How can you reduce the amount you carry while still getting the ideal sleeping bag for all your camping needs?
Weight Considerations for a Backpacking Sleeping Bag
It’s possible to find a lightweight sleeping bag that is around one or two pounds. Usually, the weight is reduced by minimizing the amount of fill inside the bag.
This can mean the bag won’t be as warm as a heavier bag with more fill. It’s essential to know what the minimum temperature will be at night so you can choose a sleeping bag accordingly.
If the weather will be relatively warm, don’t carry unnecessary weight by packing a warm but heavy sleeping bag. Usually, the warmer a bag is, the heavier it will be.
For warm-weather backpacking, opt for a very lightweight sleeping bag that does not have a very high temperature rating. You may even be able to sleep comfortably without a sleeping bag if the nighttime temperatures are warm enough.
Some people might also try to decrease weight by opting for a sleeping bag that does not have a hood or other accessories. Instead, backpackers can wear a knit hat or balaclava to keep their head warm while sleeping on colder nights.
Most backpackers prefer down-filled sleeping bags over synthetic because they are often lighter, warmer, and more compressible. Some of the lightest sleeping bags are down ones and many have 650-850 fill down and will be warm at temperatures as low as 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although very lightweight sleeping bags are often between one to two pounds, this may not be the best weight for all backpackers. You will also have to take into consideration the type of backpacking you do and your overall pack weight needs.
What Kind of Backpacker Are You?
Most backpackers and hikers try to minimize the weight of their backpack to make their experience more enjoyable and reduce the strain on their bodies. Not all backpackers would consider themselves to be lightweight backpackers even though they are mindful of the weight they are carrying.
Those who are more interested in getting their pack down to the lightest weight possible are often categorized by the base weight of their backpacks. Base weight is how much your backpack weight with just the essentials inside.
This usually means the weight of the big four (backpack, shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping pad) and any other smaller gear that you bring on every trip. It does not include consumable products such as food, water, and fuel for a camp stove.
The idea behind a base weight is that you have an amount you can focus on reducing over time by upgrading gear. Because food, water, and fuel are used up during the duration of your trip reduces in weight as it is consumed.
If you are upgrading all your gear at once, decide on your base weight and use that to determine how much each item should weigh. If you already have a lightweight backpack, tent, and sleeping pad, weigh them all and add up the total.
Subtract the total weight of your current gear to determine how much is left for a sleeping bag. Then research lightweight options and choose the one that is affordable and meets your needs.
Backpackers who categorize themselves based on their base weight are often divided into several categories. Most backpackers will have a base weight of approximately 30 pounds while lightweight backpackers are often under 20 pounds.
Ultralight backpackers usually have a base weight that is under 10 pounds. Some can go even lower in weight but this usually requires quite specialized and expensive equipment or other strategies.
If you consider yourself to be a more traditional backpacker and are fine with a base weight around 30 pounds, you won’t need to spend a lot of money on an ultra-lightweight sleeping bag. But if you have always carried a base weight of 30 pounds and would like to become a lightweight backpacker, you may need to upgrade to a lighter sleeping bag depending on which one you currently own.
Lightweight Alternatives to a Sleeping Bag
Ultralight backpackers may also opt for a quilt over a sleeping bag because they can be very lightweight. Some quilts weigh as little as 15 ounces and can even be more affordable than a sleeping bag.
Quilts are different from sleeping bags because the insulation is located on the top and sized while the back is left open. It is thought that the insulation on the back is often compressed and doesn’t provide much warmth.
When paired with a lightweight sleeping pad, you should have enough insulation to ensure your back does not get cold at night. Quilts are sometimes easier to climb inside and do not have any zippers to add extra weight.
You can purchase quilts that have up to 950 fill power which makes them incredibly warm with very little weight. When paired with a sleeping pad, the total weight of all your sleeping gear combined could be less than a traditional sleeping bag and pad.
Another option is to forgo a sleeping bag for a sleeping bag liner if the weather is warm. Some liners can add up to 15 degrees of warmth to a sleeping bag and can also be used on their own.
If you are backpacking during the summer in a particularly warm climate, pack a sleeping bag liner instead. Then you can add or remove layers of clothing to add extra warmth if you need more.
In addition to sleeping quilts and sleeping bag liners, you can also sleep in a hammock when backpacking. There are many lightweight backpacking hammocks available which can be very comfortable.
Some are as light as 6 ounces with straps a little over 2 ounces, making it much lighter than even the lightest sleeping bag. However, the weather must be good to make sleeping in a hammock an option.
The other good thing about hammocks is that they act as a bed and shelter in one. You wouldn’t need to bring a tent along if you planned to sleep in a hammock.
But, if you need to bring a tarp to stay dry, a quilt or blanket to stay warm, and mosquito netting to prevent bugs, then the weight can add up. You would have to do the math, but it might be better to opt for a tent and sleeping bag at that point.
Choosing a Lightweight Backpacking Sleeping Bag
If you decide that a lightweight sleeping bag is the best option for your backpacking adventures and you’re in the market for one, there are a few things to think about. Although weight is a big consideration, there are other things that can make your trip more enjoyable.
The compressibility of the sleeping bag is very important because this determines how much space it will take up in your backpack. Even if it is light, a bag that doesn’t compress well will leave little room for the rest of your gear.
Sleeping bags that are the most compressible are those filled with down compared to synthetic. For a smaller sleeping bag, choose a mummy-style that is fitted to your body.
Don’t get one that is too wide or too long because it will take up valuable space in your backpack. An ill-fitting sleeping bag may also leave you cold at night because there will be excess room around your body.
The bag should also be durable enough so you can pack it into your backpack without first putting it inside a stuff sack for protection. A stuff sack will add weight to your backpack and isn’t really necessary.
But if you are worried about the sleeping bag getting damaged or wet, you can opt for a lighter version of a stuff sack like a plastic garbage bag instead.
Determining the ideal weight of a backpacking sleeping bag means considering multiple factors. First, decide what type of backpacker you are and what base weight is ideal for your backpacking needs.
Once you know how much your other gear weighs, you will know how many ounces are left for a sleeping bag. If you think there is a chance you will want to shave off even more weight in the future, choose the lightest sleeping bag you can afford right now.
Don’t just look at weight though, take into account the durability, your warmth needs, and the size of the bag too. Make sure it is easy to compress and pack into your backpack so it doesn’t take up too much room.
Once you have a lightweight sleeping bag that is perfect for your lifestyle, you can enjoy many happy days of backpacking and camping under the stars. A good backpacking sleeping bag will make all the difference to your back while you’re on the trail and at rest.