Sleeping equipment keeps you warm and protected against the elements (rain, snow, wind etc.) while sleeping outdoors. A sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of sleeping equipment because it is in direct contact with your body and thus responsible for keeping you warm by trapping the body-warmed air within its insulation fibers. Sleeping bags offer different levels of insulation and therefore a sleeping bag should be always selected according to the temperatures you expect to encounter. Here we selected and reviewed the best down sleeping bags of 2021. We only included 3-season down sleeping bags as these offer the best versatility – they can be used year-round, except for the coldest winter nights. If you are looking for a sleeping bag for temperatures lower than 20° F, check out our review of the Best Winter Sleeping bags instead
If you also need other sleeping gear, check out our other selections of backpacking sleeping gear as well.
1. Buying a Down Sleeping Bag – What is important?
Down sleeping bags have a better weight-to-warmth ratio (they are lighter for the warmth they provide) than those with synthetic insulation. Furthermore, they also pack smaller and thus take up less space in a backpack.
Down insulation is made from goose or duck plumage which is very lofty and fluffy – this material has many tiny air pockets where the body-warmed air gets trapped. Therefore, down insulation provides great warmth while being lightweight. The quality of down is measured by the fill-power index. The fill-power index tells us how many cubic inches one ounce of down occupies and typically ranges from 300 (low-quality down) to 900 (high-quality down). The higher the fill-power index, the better weight-to-warmth ratio the down has. However, keep in mind that a sleeping bag with low-quality down can still be warmer than a sleeping bag with high-quality down if it contains more ounces of down – but obviously this also makes it heavier. In this selection we only included products with a down fill-power index of at least 550 (very good and excellent quality of down).
As down in any case quickly loses its thermal insulation if it gets exposed to moisture or water, many manufacturers treat their down with DWR (Durable Water Repellant) – such as Mountain Hardwear’s Q Shield down. DWR treated down resists moisture longer than regular down and thus provides good warmth in humid environments. However, synthetic insulation is still preferred for very humid environments as it gets less affected by moisture than down. To learn more about the differences between down and synthetic insulations check out our article Down vs. Synthetic Jackets (it works the same way for sleeping bags). Note that we only included down sleeping bags in this selection – which, for most people, are a better option due to their low weight, packability etc. If you want to make sure that the fowl providing the down for your gear or apparel haven’t been live-plucked or force-fed (to make foie gras), you should go for a sleeping bag with Responsibly Sourced Down.
The face fabric of a sleeping bag should be breathable, sturdy and water-resistant. A breathable face fabric prevents condensation from building up on the inside while water resistance is required to protect the down from moisture. The durability highly depends on the durability of the face fabric and it should therefore be abrasion-resistant.
Manufacturers usually list temperature ratings by the EN 13537 standard. This standard includes 4 different ratings; extreme temperature, lower limit, comfort temperature and maximum temperature.
The extreme temperature tells us the lowest temperature at which an average woman will survive with the possibility of getting hypothermia. The lower limit rating defines temperature at which an average adult male will be comfortable and the comfort temperature states at which temperature an average woman will stay comfortable. The maximum temperature rating is the limit at which the sleeping bag causes overheating.
There are several different styles of sleeping bags; mummy, quilt, wearable and envelope. Each of these styles has advantages and disadvantages. In this selection we only included mummy types as they are the most versatile – they snugly enclose your body (for low temperatures) and have a zipper for ventilation (high temperatures).
Lightweight equipment reduces the strain on your body and thus allows you to hike faster and easier. Therefore, a sleeping bag should be as light as possible. All products in this selection weigh less than 3 lbs. Nevertheless, they do provide great warmth as they use high-quality down insulation. Read more about why it is important to use lightweight gear for hiking in our article Why hike lightweight.
Most sleeping bags are available in two sizes; regular and long. In general, you should go for size L if you are taller than 6 ft. (180 cm). However, always check the sizing before making a purchase.
We only list top-tier products. Read how our selections of best hiking products differ from others here.
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2. The Best Down Sleeping Bags of 2020 Review
The Best Down Sleeping Bags – List
- Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15
- Kelty Cosmic Down 20
- Marmot Helium Down
- Nemo Disco 15
- Therm-a-Rest Questar 20
|Feature/Product||Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15||Kelty Cosmic Down 20||Marmot Helium Down||Nemo Disco 15||Therm-a-Rest Questar 20|
|Average Weight||2 lb. 8 oz. (Regular Size)||2 lbs. 6 oz. (Regular Size)||2 lbs. 1 oz. (Regular Size)||2 lbs. 12 oz. (Regular Size)||2 lbs. 3 oz. (Regular Size)|
|Average Weight (Metric)||1134 g (Regular Size)||1077 g (Regular Size)||935 g (Regular Size)||1240 g (Regular Size)||992 g (Regular Size)|
|Type of Down||DownTek||DriDown||Down Defender||Nikwax Down||Nikwax Down|
|Outer Material||Ripstop polyester w/ DWR||20D Nylon taffeta w/ DWR||Pertex 20d 100% Nylon Ripstop w/DWR||30D Nylon Ripstop w/ DWR||20D Polyester w/ DWR|
|Compressed volume||2.92 Liters (Regular Size)||5.2 Liters (Regular Size)||7 Liters (Regular Size)||7.8 Liters (Regular Size)||5.4 Liters (Regular Size)|
|EN Lower Limit Rating||n/a||19° F (-7° C )||14° F (-10° C)||15° F (-9° C)||20° F (-6° C)|
|EN Comfort Temperature||n/a||30° F (-1° C )||25° F (-3.8° C)||n/a||32° F (0° C)|
|Responsibly Sourced Down||n/a||n/a||n/a||Yes||Yes|
1. Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15
- Alpine Climbing
The Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 down sleeping bag is, as the number in the name indicates, suitable for temperatures well below the freezing point (15°F ≈ -9°C), but has otherwise not been rated according to the EN 13537 standard . The insulation consists of bluesign-certified 650-fill-power DownTek, which maintains insulating value as each plume repels water rather than absorbing it. The Big Agnes Anvil Horn 15 down sleeping bag is available in no less than three sizes – Regular, Long and Long Wide. Naturally, the bigger the size you need, the heavier and bigger the packed size is. As a special feature, this sleeping bag is equipped with the so-called Flex Pad Sleeve on the backside, which means you can slip in a rectangular sleeping pad of your choice, and change positions throughout the night without rolling off the pad. The Regular and Long size fits most pads around 20-25 in. wide (Long Wide around 25-30 in.), and the two Long sizes accommodate 78 in. (198 cm) long pads while the Regular can only fit in a 72 in. (183 cm) long pad.
2. Kelty Cosmic Down 20
- Alpine Climbing
The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 utilizes 600 fill-power DriDown for insulation. Kelty’s DriDown is hydrophobic like the DownTek mentioned above; each down plume is treated with a molecular level polymer to be water-resistant. Therefore, DriDown stays dry for longer when exposed to moisture than regular down and provides good warmth in moist conditions. In addition to that, it also dries up to 33% faster than untreated down. The face fabric of the Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is made of 50-denier ripstop polyester which offers good breathability and abrasion resistance. The sleeping bag has also a natural fit footbox, thermal comfort hood, and a zipper that reaches to the foot box. The zipper is equipped with a draft tube. The Kelty Cosmic Down 20 is a great option for recreational hikers and mountaineers because it provides great warmth for a relatively low price.
3. Marmot Helium Down
- Alpine Climbing
The Marmot Helium Down is a very lightweight sleeping bag (the lightest in this review) which provides great warmth – it has EN Lower Limit at 14° F. It differs from other products in this review by using an insulation of a higher quality – nothing less than 800 fill-power down and thus provides great warmth without making the sleeping bag heavy. The down is also DWR-treated so that the warmth doesn’t decrease significantly if it gets wet. The face fabric is made of Pertex Microlight material which is durable, abrasion-resistant and windproof. In addition to that, it is also treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellant) for better weather protection. The Marmot Helium Down uses curved baffles which reduce the migration of down and eliminate cold spots. It is also equipped with a 6-baffle hood, draft collar, anatomical footbox and a durable two-way zipper for ventilation. The Marmot Helium Down is best for those who need a top-quality sleeping bag for year-round hiking and mountaineering. It has the best weight-to-warmth ratio of all products in this selection.
4. Nemo Disco 15
- Alpine Climbing
The Nemo Disco 15 is extremely comfortable. It is wider in the areas around the elbows and knees than ordinary sleeping bags, to offer better comfort through the night as you can easily reposition yourself. The Nemo Disco features Nikwax 650 fill-power hydrophobic down and thus has a good weight-to-warmth ratio and retains its loft even if it gets exposed to moisture. The face fabric is made of 30-denier nylon for good abrasion-resistance and durability. It is also treated with DWR to repel water rather than absorbing it. The Nemo Disco 15 is equipped with a pillow sleeve, internal pocket and full-length zipper. The pillow sleeve comes in handy as you can insert a jacket or other clothing in it to create an improvised pillow. The Nemo Disco is a great option for those who find ordinary sleeping bags too tight and uncomfortable, and is also available in a women’s version. It offers similar warmth as the Marmot Helium Down but is slightly heavier.
5. Therm-a-Rest Questar 20
- Alpine Climbing
The Therm-a-Rest Questar 20 down sleeping bag utilizes RDS-certified 650-fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down just like the Nemo Disco 15 above, but is somewhat lighter and thus a bit less warm. Nikwax-treated down absorbs 90% less water and dries 3 times faster than untreated down. The Therm-a-Rest Questar 20 comes in three sizes – Regular, Long and somewhat uniquely, Small – which fits persons up to 5’6’’ (168 cm). All sizes, however, feature the brand’s W.A.R.M. Fit which means that there is additional room for multiple natural sleeping positions. To maximize warmth, the sleeping bag features a box-baffled construction with mesh walls to maximize loft and minimize cold spots, and different zones of down density depending on where you need it the most. Like the Big Agnes sleeping bag, you can integrate the Questar 20 with a sleeping pad of your choice – in this case with to the removable SynergyLink™ Connectors which help to minimize heat loss.
3. Questions and Answers
What is a good weight for a backpacking sleeping bag?
High-quality 3-season sleeping bags for backpacking typically weigh less than 3 pounds (1500 grams) while high-quality winter sleeping bags for backpacking weigh less than 4.5 pounds (2000 grams). Note that down sleeping bags are lighter than synthetic while providing the same warmth.
How do I choose a sleeping bag for backpacking?
You should choose a sleeping bag according to the temperatures and conditions you expect to encounter on your adventures. For dry conditions we recommend using a down sleeping bag while in very humid conditions you will be better off with synthetic insulation. Down insulation loses warmth if it gets exposed to moisture.
Are down sleeping bags better than synthetic?
In dry conditions they are better because they are more thermally efficient – they have a better weight-to-warmth ratio. However, in very humid conditions down quickly loses warmth. .
What temperature is a 3-season sleeping bag for?
3-season sleeping bags are made for temperatures above the freezing point– 32° F (0 C°).