Buying the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag

An ultralight sleeping bag is one of the best methods of reducing pack weight and becoming an ultralight backpacker.

But so many lightweight sleeping bag models exist–picking the best ultralight bag to meet your needs is a tough process.

Plus, some have astronomical costs. Are the costs justified? Let’s find out.

What I’ve Learned About Ultralight Sleeping Bags

Below is the most comprehensive guidebook to buying, caring and researching ultralight sleeping bags on the web. For that reason, there’s a table of contents to help you navigate.

Updated With the Latest & Greatest in June 2013

Overview on Ultralight Sleeping Bags

Qualities to look for in backpacking sleeping bags are:

rei halo sleeping bag
  • Weight – Assuming this is a summer sleeping bag, it should weigh around 1 pound. Winter sleeping bags can weigh around 3.5 pounds. If you’re trying to backpack ultralight, don’t bring the sleeping bag’s stuff sack
  • Material – Down sleeping bags are (generally) lighter than synthetic. They also are more compressible.
  • Mummy style – This style sleeping bag encases you like a mummy. It’s more efficient as mummy sleeping bags form to your body and leave little room for “cold pockets” to develop
  • Half-zipper – Half-zipper sleeping bags are lighter as they shed zipper weight.

Having all the above characteristics makes a sleeping bag suitable for the backcountry. Keep in mind, if you plan to just spend your time  car camping, you do not need an ultralight sleeping bag.

How to Choose the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag for YOUR Needs

The obvious benefit of using ultralight sleeping bags is they greatly reduce the weight of your pack. But when a product is designed to satisfy a big requirement like this, other quality areas can be sacrificed.

RELATED: Learn How to Buy the Best Backpacking Tents

So it’s very important you do your homework before purchasing an ultralight bag. After all, it’d be pointless to lighten your load if it means freezing overnight.

Here are some questions to consider and answer when choosing a model.

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What Type of Insulation Does it Feature?

The two major styles of sleeping bags are synthetic and down fill. They feature very distinct qualities, each suited to different campers’ needs.

  • Synthetic – They’re a bit heavier than down varieties, but synthetic bags are perfect for rainy weather. The insulation’s loft will not be affected in wet conditions, keeping you warm during a storm. Since synthetic sleeping bags are typically heavier, it’s important to look for the lightest insulation fills, which are: Climashield, Polarguard, and Primaloft.
  • Down – Lighter and warmer than synthetic sacks, down bags are the best choice for drier climates. But they lose lots of loft during wet weather, greatly reducing the quality of insulation. One way manufacturers fight this problem is by waterproofing down bags’ shells. Unfortunately, this cuts down the breathability of the bag.

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What’s the Shell Made Out Of?

Ultralight sleeping bags are made with a variety of shell fabrics, most of them falling under the microfiber category.

When choosing a model, be sure it’s windproof and has decent resistance to moisture. But with the latter, also be sure the bag is still breathable under its waterproof armor.

Pertex is a common shell material for high-end ultralight sleeping bags, and will be your best option.

What’s the Temperature Rating?

This is one of the most important qualities to look for when choosing a new sleeping bag. Each model should proudly display its temperature rating on the packaging, making it easy for you to find.

Sleeping bags are rated based on the temperature range they’re best suited for. A popular rule of thumb when choosing a bag is to pick one with a rating that’ll be suitable for the absolute coldest weather you anticipate having to sleep in. I personally buy sleeping bags that have a temperature rating of 20F.

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How Well Does it Fit?

Seems like an obvious question, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many campers pick a bag solely based on its design and weight. But fit is a factor that can’t be ignored.

When lying in your sleeping bag, the fit should be pretty snug so as to reduce the amount of empty space that needs to be heated up. Since ultralight sleeping bags shave as much weight off as possible, it’s vital that the fit is perfect and you do not have pockets of air.

Some manufacturers use elastic to conform the bag’s fit to the camper. If you have your eye on a one without elastic, be sure to give it a test run on the show room floor.

A little room by the feet is good for comfort, but don’t get a bag with too much space down there unless you plan on storing clothes or other items in your bag with you.

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Caring For An Ultralight Sleeping Bag

If you provide perfect care for your bag by practicing the right sleeping bag storage techniques, your bag’s lifespan will be countless seasons.

Even while on the trail, you should be conscious of:

  • Keeping out dirt and debris from your tent, reducing the likelihood it winds up in your sleeping bag
  • Crumpling it randomly when compressing it
  • Sleep with a liner to reduce the number of times it requires cleaning

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Reviews of Ultralight Sleeping Bags

At last. The moment you’ve been waiting for.

In reviewing lightweight sleeping bags, it’s clear that four ultralight sleeping bags rise above the rest.

Here they are…

Why the Marmot Plasma is the Best Overall Ultralight Sleeping Bag

marmot plasma sleeping bag

Think an ultralight sleeping bag is best for you? Depending on how light you want to go, you are going to lighten your bank account by 250-500 dollars.

Again, you don’t need a lightweight sleeping bag for car camping. You can find far cheaper sleeping bags. But for adventuring in the Rocky Mountain backcountry, the best bag you can buy is the Marmot Plasma.

For backpackers, it does not get better than this:

  • It weighs a mere 1 pound, 15 ounces
  • Has a comfortable 900 goose down fill, making it compressible and
    warm. Yes, you read that correctly. 900 goose down.
  • The shell uses a Durable Water Repellent finish that helps repel water. It isn’t 100% waterproof, but it’s damn close.

Learn more about the Marmot Plasma at the following stores:

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Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina +32 Sleeping Bag

mountain hardwear ultralamina sleeping bag

Mountain Hardwear Sleeping Bags combine frugality with quality. While down sleeping bags are usually the best lightweight bags, the Ultralamina +32 is synthetic and ultralight. This means that it won’t become useless when wet. BIG advantage if you backpack through wet environments.

The Ultralamina +32 Synthetic Sleeping Bag is superior to other lightweight sleeping bags in many ways:

  • Cost – At less than $200, this Mountain Hardwear ultralight sleeping bag won’t break the bank
  • Lightweight – Less than 2 pounds. And yes, it’s still synthetic
  • Enhanced Loft – No more cold pockets!

Best Features

The low price is certainly a huge advantage for the Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina, but even better than that is its lightweight design and small stuff size. For a synthetic bag to weigh in at under 2 pounds, as this model does, there must be some kind of magic happening in the engineering department.

Still, this lightweight sleeping bag has its drawbacks…

Disadvantages include:

  • Comfort – Synthetic fill simply isn’t as comfortable as down filled sleeping bags
  • Compactness – While this Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag is more compact than its predecessor, synthetic does not pack as tightly as down. No way around it.

Recommended Personality: Someone getting into ultralight backpacking that doesn’t have an endless bank account OR an ultralight backpacker that hikes through wet regions, such as the US Southeast.

Learn more about the Ultralamina at the following stores:

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Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20F Sleeping Bag

western mountaineering ultralite sleeping bag

If there was a backpacker’s dictionary, the definition of quality would be this Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bag.

For ultralight backpacking equipment, few lightweight sleeping bags have all the benefits as the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20F sleeping bag, which include:

  • Super lightweight – This ultralight sleeping bag weighs a mere 1 pound, 10 ounces
  • European Goose Down – Down sleeping bags equate to comfort and with 850+ goose down fill, this Western Mountaineering sleeping bag is like sleeping on a cloud
  • Cold Weather Sleeping Bag – The Western Mountaineering Ultralite sleeping bag is designed for 20F weather, meaning it can be used for three seasons and is ideal for Glacier National ParkOn the other hand, there is a distinct disadvantage: Western Mountaineering sleeping bags are expensive.

While any lightweight sleeping bag will dent your bank account, the Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20F equates out to a month’s rent in some cities.

But, you get what you pay for and when it comes to ultralight backpacking, this ultralight sleeping bag will last years and is light as a feather.

One of the best things about the Ultralite, aside from its practically weightless design, is its water-resistant abilities. Most down bags don’t promise the kind of dry interior climate that the Ultralite does, because waterproofing tends to totally seal the shell. But the Ultralite’s Pertex shell is highly breathable.

The European goose down used to craft the bag makes the Ultralite beyond comfortable. Have you ever slept on a cloud before? Sleeping in one of these is as close as you’ll ever get.

Recommended Personality: A deep pocketed backpacker looking to go ultralight

You can pick up this sleeping bag at either:

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Golite Z Series Sleeping Bag

go lite adrenaline sleeping bag

Down sleeping bags by GoLite, such as the GoLite Z Series combines the best of all worlds.

Slightly more than 2 pounds, 850 down fill, and waterproof fabric fabric at the heads and toes makes this a great buy. Especially for only $350!!

Advantages of the GoLite Z Series include:

  • Weight – 2 pounds, 3 ounces.. That’s ultralight.
  • Down Fill – 850 Down Fill aka Extreme Comfort.
  • Cost – While not inexpensive, you won’t be evicted for buying this sleeping bag instead of paying rent

Although it isn’t as lightweight as the Plasma, the GoLite Z series is 200 bucks cheaper. If you have the funds, go for the Plasma. If you want to save some extra cash to buy something like an ultralight backpack, then I’d recommend the Z series.

Learn more about the GoLite Z series sleeping bags.


PHEW. That’s a LOT. Still with me? Still wanna go ultralight? Then I’d recommend learning more about ultralight backpacking, ultralight backpacks and just going ahead and buying your first piece of ultralight gear.

Just go for it! You won’t regret it.

More Sleeping Bag Information

Choosing the Best Sleeping Bag for your needs is vitally important. Are you backpacking? Car camping? Need a down feather sleeping bag? Find out what’s right for you.

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Glacier National Park Travel Guide

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