Unless you’ve really fallen in love with your grandfather’s M-1949 sleeping bag (circa World War 2 up to the 1970’s) that needs a backpack extension to carry, you can cut down on weight with your sleeping bag requirements if you want to go light backpacking.
But first, you need to lower your sleeping bag requirements by looking for other alternatives in terms of:
Weight – Look for sleeping bag alternatives that will not go over 3 lbs. Sleeping bags are one of the “3 Essentials” for backpacking gear items, the other two being your tent and backpack. While you can shave off probably only ounces from your tent and backpack weight, you can shave off more weight with your sleeping gear.
Compressible – Aside from weight, a bulky sleeping bag is hard to carry around. Naturally, summer sleeping gear will be smaller than a winter bag. Try choosing sleeping bags that are down feather insulation filled that can pack down to the smallest sizes. Compression straps and stuff sacks also significantly cut down on bag volume for more compression and compactness.
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Adequate Warmth – Your sleeping bag alternative will only be as good as how warm it will keep you. Aside from the bag, take into account how your tent will keep out the cold night air. Take into account as well where you’re planning to camp and spend the night, how cold it gets, the season, and if there are strong wind currents in the area. Also consider if your alternative is enough to sleep in with just normal clothes or if you need to sleep in warm clothing.
Spacious Interior, Zipperless, and Draft Collar – Buy a sleeping bag alternative that is not tight and has extra foot space or extra length. Go for zipperless for easy entry and exit to avoid getting stuck in a bag in case the zipper fails or gets damaged. Draft collars or head gaskets are also important against cold weather since more than 60% of body heat escapes through the head.
With these requirements, check out these very light sleeping bag alternatives:
1. Western Mountaineering UltraLite
Weighs only 1 lb and 13 oz, is down insulated, and can keep you warm even up to -7ºC. It’s a mummy bag alternative that will keep you comfortable in different climates. The UltraLite also has a full down draft collar with no excess bulk.
2. Sea to Summit Spark SP III Bag
Weighs only 1 lb and 8 oz, is down insulated, and can keep you warm up to -4ºC. This sleeping bag has a traverse baffle construction and a contoured draft collar with a draw-cord to cover most of the head. This ultra light alternative takes up very little space in the bag when inside its compression sack that can be compressed further with its 4 toggles.
3. Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed
Weighs only 2 lbs 1 oz and can keep you warm up to -3ºC. You actually have a choice for the regular or long size. The Backcountry Bed has a contoured shape and a zipperless design for better comfort. Although lightweight, it is thermally efficient with an integrated comforter, insulated hand and arm pockets, and self-sealing foot vents.
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4. Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Flame
Weighs only 2 lbs and 12.1 oz and can keep you warm up to -6ºC. This alternative is engineered to be the lightest and warmest using synthetic insulation instead of down feathers. Still, the Flame eliminates cold spots caused by traditional stitching and puts the warmth around your core and feet, where you need it most. The insulation compresses well and maintains an excellent loft. It also has a draft collar that prevents warm air escaping from the head.
5. Marmot Atom
Weighs only 1 lb and 8 oz and can keep you warm up to 4ºC. The perfect mummy bag for light backpackers for less extreme weather, the silky fabric makes it good for warm weather as well. It can be folded down for easy access and has been treated to make it water resistant in wet weather. There is even an internal stash pocket to keep things hidden and a multi-baffle draft collar to prevent heat loss from the head.