There’s no better place than the Great Outdoors. I am certain that this is a sentiment shared by many—especially in 2020, as the dreaded ‘rona has kept many of us confined to our four walls.
Wild camping is a hugely popular activity among professional and enthusiast outdoor folk. Get away from the hubbub of noisy campsites, well-lit spaces and other people; immerse yourself completely in nature. Alongside your tent or other shelter, a sleeping bag is probably one of the most essential items you can own for wild camping.
I have always spent good money on a sleeping bag. To me, the thought of snuggling up and knowing that I will be warm and dry after a long day outdoors is one of the best feelings out there. In this article I will talk you through important considerations for sleeping bags, and the top models available for a range of budgets and uses.
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Wild Camping
Below are the key considerations you should take into account as you begin your search for your perfect sleeping bag.
Temperature and Seasonal Rating
Arguably the most important function of a sleeping bag: how warm is it?
Sleeping bags have a seasonal rating and be graded somewhere between one to four season use:
- One-Season. Very light thermal capacity. Used in tropical climates and by light-weight travellers.
- Two-Season. Minimum for most wild campers. Used primarily in summer and for temperatures down to 5-7°C.
- Three-Season. The most common choice among campers. Used from spring through autumn and rated to around 0°C.
- Four-Season. Used by those who will be camping in winter or at altitude. Usually rated to around -10°C.
Each sleeping bag also comes with at least two temperature ratings:
- Comfort Rating. This is the temperature at which your average man or woman can have a comfortable night’s sleep.
- Extreme Rating. This is the lower limit at which the sleeping bag would offer thermal assistance in a survival scenario. It is not to be relied upon, and it is always recommended that you layer up as much as you can if you find yourself in an extreme scenario.
Obviously, every sleeping bag will suit people differently. I typically run very warm at night, so I have often got away with my three-season sleeping bag in sub-zero temperatures with a few layers on.
If you are unsure what you need or are a first-time buyer: find out the minimum temperature you might encounter in your wild camping spot and make sure your comfort rating is good enough!
Sleeping Bag Shape and Size
A lot of people don’t realise that the shape and size of the sleeping bag can actually have a significant effect on the bag’s performance. If it’s too big, a lot of heat might escape out of the top; too small, and you may feel claustrophobic and sleep poorly.
Straight sleeping bags are common, and most of us probably had one as a kid. They offer more room for your to wiggle around in and they are most similar to a duvet, but heat may escape much more readily in the night. They also use more material, which becomes a problem for the savvy backpacker trying to save space in their pack. This may be the best option for you if you like a little more room to sleep and aren’t worried about pack space & weight.
‘Mummy-style’ sleeping bags have become the most common shape for wild camping. They taper towards the foot, removing dead space around the thinner parts of your body, and offer much better thermal efficiency. Naturally, less material is used and so they back down smaller and lighter. They can take a little getting used to due to their restricted space, but it shouldn’t take long for you to have a very comfortable night’s sleep.
Size is also an important factor. Getting a bag that is too long, short or slim for your body shape will be uncomfortable. Most major manufacturers offer gender specific fits, and will often make Short, Long and Wide versions in addition to their regular size. I would wholeheartedly recommend getting a well-fitting bag.
Down or Synthetic?
Ah, the ancient debate. Many swear by down as the best insulation, but the rise in synthetic fill technologies means that it has a lot to offer, too.
If you aren’t sure what down is and does, read this comprehensive guide to down from RAB.
When it comes to sleeping bags, both types of fill offer advantages over the other. Generally, down has a much higher warmth-to-weight ratio. This usually means that down bags are warmer, lighter and more compressible than the same temperature rating of synthetic bag.
So… why would you buy a synthetic bag?
Synthetic fills have one distinct advantage: they dry much more quickly. Down will “wet” more readily and can take an age to dry; synthetics resist moisture and dry significantly faster. If you’re camping without a shelter or somewhere humid, then a synthetic may well be your best option. They are also considered much more “ethical” as they do not use animal products in any way – a hugely important consideration for many outdoors-y people.
Top Sleeping Bags for Wild Camping in 2021
Taking all of that into consideration, here are my top picks for wild camping sleeping bags, to suit a range of needs:
Marmot Phase 20
Best for: Warmth
Fill: 850 Down
Marmot are a well-known and trusted brand, who consistently make excellent gear. Their Phase 20 sleeping bag has been tried and tested, and comes out extremely warm and snug. It uses 850 fill power down and is rated to -7°C for comfort. Weighing only 640g and packing down to a very trim size, this is also a great sleeping bag for anyone conscious of pack weight and space.
It is certainly not the cheapest bag, but if you’re looking for a light sleeping bag to keep you safe and warm in the wild winters of Scotland: this would be an excellent choice.
Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32
Best for: Lightweight
Fill: 900 Down
A super lightweight bag by another very well-known manufacturer. The Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 32 offers thermal protection down to a comfort limit of 0°C, for only 462g of weight. It packs down to just a little larger than a water bottle – great for saving space.
Some people have found that the temperature rating is perhaps a little low, and it is not quite good enough for its 0 degree rating. That being said, if you’re at all a warm sleeper or don’t mind layering up – then you’ll likely be comfortable in this bag for three seasons of UK camping. (Don’t forget, a lot of the super warm bags are made for climates and altitudes much, much colder than we experience in the UK!)
Nemo Kyan 35
Best for: Value
Fill: PrimaLoft Silver – Synthetic
If you’re a little more budget-conscious but still want a decent sleeping bag, then the Nemo Kyan 35 might be perfect for you. It doesn’t particularly excel in any category, but testers have found that it offers impressive warmth and weight for its price point. It is rated down to 2°C and it is a synthetic bag, which may seal the deal for some of you. Nemo also offer the Kyan 20 which is the same design but rated down to -7°C.
SWTMERRY Sleeping Bag
Best for: Budget
If you’re looking at all of these bags and feeling dismayed by the price, then don’t worry: You can still buy sleeping bags for under £50! Of course, they may not last as long or actually live up to their temperature ratings, but for general wild camping you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
If you are not bothered about pack weight or saving space, then grab something like the SWTMERRY Sleeping Bag from Amazon. With a straight design and full-length zipper, it is roomy and versatile for wild camping trips and family camp-outs.
Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30 (Author’s Recommendation)
Best for: Wet climates, value
Fill: Thermal-Q Synthetic
I love Mountain Hardwear’s range of synthetic sleeping bags! In 2019 they redesigned their entire range, and in fact my favourite sleeping bag (Hyperlamina Spark) is no longer in production. However, I have since tried out the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 30 and would rate it just as fondly as the previous model.
I split my time between the UK and British Columbia, so a warm, synthetic sleeping bag is a must for me. I am super impressed with how water resistant these bags are, and how efficient they are at keeping me warm. I spent 6 months backpacking around Patagonia with this sleeping bag and a leaky tent – the sleeping bag kept me warm and dry despite the constant drip, drip, drip!
Another trusted name in the outdoor biz, I would wholeheartedly recommend any sleeping bags from Mountain Hardwear.
Rab Neutrino 400
Best for: Women’s fit, comfort
Fill: 800 Hydrophobic Down
Most of the models I have listed come with a specific Men’s/Women’s fit; but if you are wanting a stellar option for a more typical lady figure then look no further! Consistently a top-scorer for wild camping sleeping bags, the Rab Neutrino 400 is an excellent all-rounder.
The 400g Nikwax down is lightweight, lofty and warm – and compresses really well. It is often chosen for use with bivys or open-sky camping, as the hydrophobic element of the down keeps moisture away from the bag’s core.
Rab are one of the leading names in outdoor gear and get their top reputation for good reason.
There is a bounty of great sleeping bags for wild camping to choose from and – at the end of the day – it often boils down to personal preference. It can be a little daunting to spend a couple of hundred pounds on an unknown, which is why I would always suggest reading personal reviews and doing a load of research. If in doubt, head to your nearest outdoor gear store and get in a load of sleeping bags!