what degree sleeping bag do i need

What Degree Sleeping Bag Do I Need?

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It’s finally time to get a new sleeping bag. Yours looks like it was probably outdated 20 years ago, but it did the job.

As you begin looking for a new bag, you’re hit with a mountain of different options out there. Where to even begin…

The best place to start is by determining what temperature rating you need the sleeping bag to be. Again, even that feels a bit overwhelming. What degree sleeping bag do I need? Should I keep it safe and get something that is rated to 10 degrees? Or will a 40 degree one do the trick?

Put simply, there are a couple of different factors that will narrow down your search for the best sleeping bag for you. Are you a hot or cold sleeper? Is your sleeping pad warm enough for the conditions you will be sleeping in?

Factors to consider to find the right sleeping bag

What type of sleeping bag are you using

Are you using a traditional sleeping bag or a backpacking quilt? Is it a mummy bag or a rectangular sleeping bag? There isn’t a “better” type to use, per se, but it will have a bit of an impact on how you sleep and how warm you stay. Generally, sleeping bags sleep warmer than quilts, and mummy bags are the warmest of the sleeping bag types. I have slept comfortably in near-freezing conditions in a backpacking quilt, so the type of bag plays a part but is not the end-all-be-all.

mummy bag v quilt v rectangular bag

A backpacking quilt essentially operates like a large, wrap-around blanket. They do not have a “hood”; rather, they stop around the neck region. Many models have a cinch-cord closure at the top to prevent them from allowing too much air inside, but you would need a beanie or something similar to keep your head warm on cold nights. Quilts are not fully enclosed, instead the underside is open. Most will have attachment straps to secure your quilt to the sleeping pad, though.

Mummy bags are on the other end of the spectrum. They are designed to be “form-fitting” and to prevent any cold air from finding its way inside. There is little wasted space or material on mummy bags, making them a top option for campers who need to prioritize weight and warmth. A rectangular bag, on the other hand, allows for more movement while sleeping. This makes them excellent for those who move more while they sleep. The drawback of the extra room is that it allows cold air inside easier.

Are you a hot or cold sleeper

There are a number of reasons why someone may be a “warm sleeper“. Ranging from hormones to what you do in the hours leading up to bed to stress. Some of these reasons can be impacted by hiking all day, so chances are if you’re a warm sleeper at home, you will be on the trail as well. Luckily, for warm sleepers, often times nighttime temperatures in the wilderness are cooler than your cozy bedroom at home. You will likely not have to be as concerned with maximizing warmth at night as your cold sleeper compatriots.

warm fire

If you often find yourself putting an extra comforter on your bed at night or you wake up feeling like the heat in your place has gone out, paying more attention to your sleeping bag is going to be more important. A mummy bag that is rated to a temperature a bit below the lowest temperature you expect is going to be a strong consideration. Since sleeping bags work by trapping body heat inside the bag, retaining as much body as possible will be key.

Is your sleeping pad adequate for the temperatures you’ll be sleeping in

Understandably, sleeping bags get all the attention when campers need to stay warm in cold conditions. But sleeping pads play a huge role in staying warm and getting the most out of your sleeping bag’s insulating ability.

Sleeping pads work by slowing down the transfer of heat from your body to the cold ground. The higher the R-Value rating of a sleeping bag, the better it is at slowing down this heat transfer. This works in tandem with a sleeping bag to keep you warm throughout the night. A sleeping pad creates a barrier between you and the cold ground that is wanting to absorb your body heat. And the sleeping bag allows you to better retain that body heat.

Neither is sufficient enough to keep you warm on its own, but together, you will sleep peacefully all night. For your sleeping bag to fully meet its temperature rating, it needs an adequate sleeping pad. A 20-degree sleeping bag can be comfortable in 20-degree conditions, but if you’re sleeping straight on the ground, good luck. I don’t think of these as two different pieces of gear but rather as a holistic sleep system.

ISO and EN temperature ratings

If you have ever gone out for a camping trip with a sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees and felt cold even though the outside temperature is above 30 degrees, you are not alone. You probably felt a bit frustrated and confused, on top of being cold. Manufacturers of sleeping bags do not have to follow any strict protocol before claiming a certain sleeping bag is rated for a specific temperature. Enter the EN and ISO testing protocol.

EN (and subsequently ISO) rating procedures aim to standardize how sleeping bags are temperature-rated. This allows campers to accurately compare products across different brands. Testing is completed by placing a manikin with a long-sleeved thermal shirt and pants inside of the sleeping bag and placed on top of a sleeping pad. The room is then cooled, and the manikin is monitored with thermal sensors to determine how much heat is lost.

sleeping bag in winter

The results of this testing protocol determine 3 main sleeping bag temperature ratings:

  • Comfort

  • Lower limit

  • Extreme

An easy way to think of these temperature ratings is that the comfort rating is the temperature at which most people will be able to stay warm and sleep comfortably throughout the night. The lower limit rating is the temperature at which a warm sleeper would be able to stay adequately warm throughout the night. And the extreme rating is the temperature at which you would be able to survive the night. By survive, I truly mean survive; the ISO protocol puts it as “the risk of health damage by hypothermia is possible.”

When evaluating a sleeping bag temperature rating determined using ISO tests, I generally use the comfort rating. This allows me to sleep comfortably in the expected conditions without having to bundle up excessively every night. Plus, if temperatures drop a bit more than expected, I can still stay out of harm’s way.

Brands are not required to utilize the ISO testing protocol. Most will advertise on their website or on the product page of a specific bag if it is rated using ISO testing.

Summer vs. three-season vs. winter sleeping bags

A lot of backpackers and campers will often refer to sleeping bags in categories. For example, you may hear someone describe a bag as a three-season sleeping bag. So where do these categories fit in? These are far more subjective terms, so take them with a grain of salt.

Generally, a summer (warm-weather) sleeping bag is one rated at or higher than 40 degrees. These are ideal for trips during the warmer months at lower-to-mid elevations. Additionally, trips in low desert areas during the cool months may fall into this category depending on the specific location.

Three-season sleeping bags have temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees. Many sleeping bags fall into this category and are ideal for a wide range of trips. Three-season bags work for summer trips into the high mountains and almost year-round at lower elevations, excluding summer months in low, hot deserts.

The least common are winter sleeping bags, or anything rated below 20 degrees. Suitable for shoulder seasons in high elevations or winter camping elsewhere.

FAQ

If it is a mummy bag coupled with a high R-Value sleeping pad, and you’re a warm sleeper, it may be too warm. But a 20-degree quilt paired with a lower R-Value sleeping bag can be versatile enough to work in summer conditions.

Some brands utilize ISO-standardized testing, while others utilize their own testing procedures.

The temperature rating on the sleeping bag will remain the same, but a more insulated sleeping pad can increase how warm a particular bag can feel. There are many other ways to stay warm throughout the night; the easiest is wearing an insulated jacket and/or beanie.

Conclusion

Determining the right temperature rating for your next sleeping bag can be tough. Should you choose a higher-rated bag to save a little bit of weight? Should you expect the worst and get a lower-rated bag? The truth is somewhere in between. You shouldn’t risk waking up every few hours to your body shivering to stay warm. On the flip side, you don’t need to get the coldest-rated bag you can find “just in case.”

Determine the conditions that you anticipate sleeping in the most: cold nights in the mountains, mild spring nights in a grassy meadow, or warm nights in the desert. This will narrow your search down significantly. As outdoor explorers, we rarely stick to just one type of experience, but consider where you will be the majority of the time. (you may need multiple sleeping bags if you plan to do a full range of trips)

This should narrow your range down to about a 10-degree window. Maybe you’re between a 20-degree and a 30-degree sleeping bag. At this point, consider things like how warm of a sleeper you are and the R-value of your sleeping pad. If you still aren’t sure at this point, you can lean toward whether you value a small weight savings or a little bit of extra insurance on a cold night.

Whether you determine a 40-degree bag is right for you or a 0-degree bag is your best option, put it to good use and explore what is out there!

how to pack a sleeping bag in a backpack

How To Pack A Sleeping Bag In A Backpack

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You just got your sweet new sleeping bag and can’t wait for your spring backpacking trip to break it properly.

You spend hours finding the perfect route and all fo the logistics for before, during, and after the trip. Every potential campsite has been identified, you know every possible water source along the route, and you even know exactly what your first meal back in civilization will be.

Everything is planned perfectly, all you have to do is pack your backpack and head to the trailhead. Your backpack is packed properly, right?

If you’re sleeping bag is tied to the outside of your backpack, your logistics may not be fully complete yet… Unless you have a plan for what to do when your sleeping bag gets damp or ripped.

backpacks in high desert landscape

Where should the sleeping bag be packed, inside or outside?

When all your gear is vying for space inside your backpack, it isn’t always easy to know what should go inside your backpack and what could be okay being attached to the outside.

Inside

The simplest way to think about how gear should be organized inside your backpack is in reverse order of when you will need it. You (should) only need your sleeping bag (or quilt) at the end of the day. Therefore, it goes at the bottom of your pack. You wouldn’t want to always be pulling it out to get to other things by packing it on the top.

Additionally, you want your heaviest gear closer to the top (and the center of your upper back) for optimal weight distribution. You can use more lightweight items (like sleeping bags) to act as a buffer layer at the bottom.

pack sleeping bag in lower third of pack

Some backpacks have specific zippers that allow you to access the bottom of your pack without opening the top and digging through everything. This feature will usually be called a sleeping bag compartment. Most of these packs will also have an internal divider that allows you to pack most of your other gear above it, and then open the zipper and place your sleeping bag at the bottom of it all.

Generally, larger backpacks (65L+) are the ones that have a designated sleeping bag compartment, but there are some smaller ones if you do not need a pack that large.

Outside

The short answer is that your sleeping bag should not be attached to the outside of your backpack. If there is one item you cannot afford to get wet, it is a sleeping bag. There is no reason to risk it getting wet or dirty while being strapped to the outside. This is one instance where it is a non-negotiable for me and anyone I give recommendations to about backpacking.

In the event that you throw this advice into the proverbial garbage, make sure you have a waterproof bag to keep your sleeping bag in; a regular trash bag would even be better than nothing.

There is one exception to this rule, and it’s only technically an exception. I will store my sleeping bag in the large mesh pocket on my backpack if I camped in a spot that is prone to condensation and some got onto my bag. Even then it is in an exterior pocket, not attached via straps.

Storing it in that mesh pocket will allow it to dry out while I hike, assuming that the sun is shining. In some cases, I will take an extra hour or so in the morning to lay my bag out on a rock or on the ground in the sun to let it dry out.

Should you use a compression sack?

This is mostly about your personal preference. I do not use compression sacks for my sleeping bag or really any gear for that matter. I prefer to just stuff my sleeping bag into the bottom of my bag. Maily because I can utilize the space inside my pack better and more efficiently.

Placing a sleeping bag inside a stuff sack creates a distinct cylindrical shape, which doesn’t always fit perfectly into the bottom of the pack. However, having everything packed into modular stuff sacks can make staying organized easier for some folks. So if you are one of those, there is nothing inherently “wrong” or “worse” by doing so.

One exception to this is if the weather forecast is calling for significant rain. This is an instance where I will utilize waterproof stuff sacks, even for my sleeping bag. There is nothing worse than crawling into a damp sleeping bag at the end of the day.

Why it matters where you pack your sleeping bag

Your sleeping bag is arguably the most important piece of gear when backpacking. Without one you’d have no way to insulate yourself during the night. (obviously) So it shouldn’t be too groundbreaking that keeping your sleeping bag dry and taking care of it is important.

You can attach your sleeping bag to the outside of your pack using sleeping bag straps or bungee cords, but it will be exposed to any tree branches, rocks, etc. Any of which can rip through your stuff sack. (and if you’re unlucky your sleeping bag too)

Additionally, this can throw off your center of balance and make you more prone to tripping and falling when on uneven terrain.

If you are going to utilize gear loops on the outside of your pack, I would use them to attach lightweight items that you may want to access during the day. Using them for trekking poles (if your pack does not have designated trekking pole loops or attachments) makes more sense than tying your sleeping bag to them.

Remember, utilize easy to access points of your pack for items you will want throughout the day. Put the items you will not need til the end of the day toward the bottom of the inside of your backpack.

FAQ

Placing your sleeping bag inside your pack without a stuff sack is best done by stuffing it in at the bottom of the backpack.

I prefer to stuff my sleeping bag versus rolling it because I find it packs down smaller. Neither is “wrong”, but I do see manufactures recommend stuffing their sleeping bags and none recommend rolling them.

Just because you can does not mean that you should. Attaching gear to the outside of a pack can through off your balance when hiking and becomes subjected to getting wet or ripped. Neither of which you want to happen to your sleeping bag.

I recommend storing your sleeping pad in the stuff sack that comes with it and keeping it toward the bottom of your bag, usually on top of your sleeping bag.

Conclusion

It can be tempting to just tie your sleeping bag to the outside of your pack before you head of on your next day of hiking. I mean who wants to think about gear organization first thing in the morning.

But when you have to take it out to get to your rain jacket or bag of snacks during the day, you will be wishing those items were quicker to get to.

Plus, if you make a habit of stuffing your sleeping bag into your bag before you even breakdown your tent, you won’t have to worry about remembering to do it. You also won’t have to be unloading your whole back when an afternoon rain storm pops up.

Prioritize your future convenience by taking the extra second in the morning to make your next outdoor adventure your best yet!

campsite near river
how to store a down sleeping bag

How To Store a Down Sleeping Bag

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Everyone loves buying and using gear, that’s the fun part!

Researching for hours to find the perfect sleeping bag (one that is light, packs down super small, and will keep us warm on even the coldest nights) and then taking it out for the first time. It’s the equivalent of a kid on Christmas morning.

Once that camping or backpacking trip is done, though, we all want to get home and toss our gear into storage until the next trip. Who has time for something like cleaning gear? As it turns out, that part of the trip is very important in making sure our gear actually lasts til that next trip.

When it comes to down sleeping bags (or quilts), properly storing them can be the difference between lasting a couple of years and a couple of decades!

camping with sleeping bag

How to properly store sleeping bags between uses

Once you have found your new favorite sleeping bag, the next thing to focus on is making sure it lasts as long as possible. There is nothing worse than finding the perfect piece of gear, only for it to last only a short period of time. Sleeping bags should last you plenty of years, especially if they are taken care of properly.

When it comes to getting longevity out of your sleeping bag, the most important things are:

  • Make sure it is dry before storing it away

  • Clean it before packing it away

  • Store it properly and in the right location

Letting it dry out

drying a sleeping bag

As with any piece of gear, bringing it home from a trip where you got rained on and immediately throwing it into storage is a recipe for failure. This is more obvious with a tent because it is subjected to the rain more than other pieces of gear.

But sleeping bags can also become damp from rain (or less obvious from sweat) and the effects are worse than for a tent.

Two main problems occur when down sleeping bags become wet and are not allowed to fully air out.

The first is that down-fill loses its insulating capability when wet. This happens in the moment, so if you are backpacking and your down bag gets wet, always take time (when it’s not raining) to let it dry out. Taking an extra hour or two in the morning to enjoy an extra cup of coffee isn’t a bad way to make sure your sleeping bag dries out. Otherwise, you will end up crawling into a cold, damp sleeping bag the next night.

drying a down sleeping bag

The second big issue is mold and mildew. Bacteria, mold, and mildew thrive in damp conditions, and you do not want them to thrive within your sleeping bag. (for hopefully obvious reasons) This can happen when you do not let your sleeping bag air out before storing it away between trips. It is very deflating to grab your gear out to start loading up for your next trip only to find that your sleeping bag is now a breeding ground for mold.

Keeping your sleeping bag clean

It is no surprise that sleeping outdoors (even in a tent) can get rather dirty. Whether it be mud, dirt, twigs, rocks, or anything else you find outside really, it will find its way into every nook and cranny of your gear. Sleeping bag included.

No matter the type of debris, the end result is the same. A reduced lifespan of your sleeping bag.

As dirt, mud, and sweat build up on your sleeping bag, they degrade the outer material of your sleeping bag. This can develop holes and make the sleeping bag useless as the fill doesn’t stay inside. Also, if the bag is moving a little bit in your backpack during the day, the increased friction from just a bit of dirt can do big damage over the course of a few days.

muddy shoes at tent

You wouldn’t come home from a hiking trip and immediately toss your dirty, sweaty clothes into the drawer for next time. You run them through the washer (maybe twice) before folding or hanging them before you need them again.     

A sleeping bag should be treated with the same care.

Best storage sack and storage location

Once you have ensured that your sleeping bag is dry and clean, how and where do you store it?

A lot of sleeping bags these days come with a large cotton or mesh sack, and that is your number one choice of what to store your bag in. This storage bag will be airy enough to allow in some air circulation, and it will prevent you from having a large sleeping bag just hanging around in your closet.

If your sleeping bag did not come with a large cotton storage sack, using a large pillowcase or something similar would work too. The key is to prevent the sleeping bag (specifically the insulation inside) from being compressed.

storage sack for sleeping bag

Once you have the bag in a breathable storage sack, now you need to find a good place to keep it. In the garage? In the attic? Does it even matter?

You want to make sure wherever you store it long-term has AC and heat and is dry. Places like garages, attics, basements, etc. are often times not heated or cooled. This makes them poor storage locations for sleeping bags because of the extreme temperatures. Additionally, a place like a bathroom closet is subjected to too much moisture and humidity to make it a viable storage place.

Why you should avoid storing your sleeping bag in a stuff sack

Down insulation works by having small air pockets within the insulation that trap warm air. This insulation needs loft (think fluffiness) to maximize its ability to trap warm air. When the insulation is compressed, it becomes much less effective at creating those air pockets.

how not to store a down sleeping bag

The insulation will “bounce back” when it is decompressed, but over time it loses its ability to do this. This is why your sleeping bag will be just as warm on night 4 of a backpacking trip as it was on night 1. However, if you were to store your sleeping bag in a compression sack for months between uses, it will have lost some insulating ability.

FAQ

Sleeping bags should be stored in a large mesh or cotton sack in a cool, dry location. You want to avoid compressing the sleeping bag, and you also do not want it stored in extreme temperatures or high-humidity areas.

Do not store a sleeping bag in a compression sack or stuff sack. This will degrade the insulation inside, shortening the lifespan significantly.

If possible, you still want to store it in accordance with the recommendations above. (loosely stored in a cool, dry location) A night or two being stored in non-ideal conditions will not harm the bag noticeably.

Conclusion

Storing your sleeping bag properly is often an afterthought when you return home from your latest camping or backpacking trip. But, taking the extra couple of minutes to store your sleeping bag correctly goes a long way in preserving it for future use.

You want to follow the three steps to ensure your sleeping bag lasts for camping trips for years to come.

  • Make sure it has time to fully dry out

  • Spot clean to make sure dirt and debris don’t become permanently part of your sleeping bag

  • Store it in a proper way in a location that is not subjected to extreme temperatures or high humidity

Taking care of your gear is not the “sexy” part of backpacking or camping trips. But buying new gear every year or two because you don’t bother to take care of it isn’t cool either. Get the longest lifespan possible with your sleeping bag with proper sleeping bag storage.

Take pride in getting the most out of your sleeping bag and getting the most out of your next outdoor adventure!

rainy road
sleeping bag vs quilt

Sleeping Bag vs Quilt: How To Know Which Is Best For You

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When you hear the word camping, what comes to mind?

A staked-out tent with a fire ring outside that is surrounded by chairs? Cozying up inside your sleeping bag after a night of roasting marshmallows around the fire? Or maybe waking up in the morning feeling like your sleeping bag is stuck to your skin because of the hot, humid overnight weather.

We all have our favorite camping memories, and most involve curling up in a sleeping bag at the end of the day.

For an increasingly larger number of people, it is a quilt that they are nestling up in for the night. Most popular among backpackers, quilts are becoming more popular each year.

And we are not talking about the kind of quilt that is hanging up on your grandmother’s wall. Backpacking quilts present a lightweight, versatile replacement to the traditional mummy bag. But is it truly better than the old tried and true?

sleeping bags in tent

Sleeping Bags and Backpacking Quilts: What’s the Difference?

Sleeping bags

When most people think about camping or backpacking, a sleeping bag is one of the first pieces of gear that comes to mind. The traditional bag needs no introduction.

As more and more gear becomes available, the options for sleeping bags continue to grow. The mummy bag first appeared about 100 years ago, and it continues to be the go-to sleeping bag design for most backpackers. Its tapered design (narrow in the foot box, wider in the shoulder area, and “hood” to keep your head warm) allows for maximum warmth while cutting down any excess weight and material.

sleeping bags in a tent

A lot of sleeping bags have full-length zippers, allowing for flexibility in how much airflow you get. This is a huge plus on warmer nights because you leave more of the bag unzipped to prevent becoming too warm in the bag. Full-length zippers also allow you to fully unzip the bag and use it more like a blanket. This is great for day use or when sitting around a fire before heading into your tent for the night.

The current market offers a huge range of fill materials and fabric materials. So whether you are looking to save as much weight as possible or gearing up for a winter camping trip, you will be able to find a sleeping bag that fits your exact needs.

Backpacking quilts

When I first heard about backpacking quilts, the first thing that came to my mind was a decorative quilt that goes on a bed. Alas, nobody is suggesting hauling one of those around through the wilderness. Even if you would have the best-looking sleep system.

One of the biggest differences between quilts and sleeping bags is that a backpacking quilt is not fully enclosed. The back of one of these quilts is open. This means that you will be sleeping directly on your sleeping pad. (imagine removing the underside of a sleeping bag) This gives two major advantages: weight savings and versatility.

EE quilt

With less material, quilts offer a lightweight option to a traditional sleeping bag. Also, you can use a quilt as a blanket without having to worry if your sleeping bag has a full-length zipper. For these reasons, quilts have become the go-to option for ultralight and lightweight backpackers.

Like sleeping bags, quilts come in a wide range of models. For example, some quilts have sewn-closed footboxes. While others have drawstring closures that allow you to control the amount of airflow to your feet and legs. Enlightened Equipment is one of the most popular makers of backpacking quilts and two of their models easily illustrate this difference. The Revelation has a drawcord closure and zipper in the foot box, while the Enigma is fully sewn closed.

One other big difference between quilts and sleeping bags (particularly mummy bags) is that quilts lack a “hood”. You have to make sure you have a warm beanie if you are anticipating cold weather while using a quilt.

How do sleeping bags and quilts compare?

Warmth

ADVANTAGE: Sleeping bags

Assuming that the fill is identical, the sleeping bag will offer a little bit more warmth. This is because sleeping bags are fully enclosed. The fill on the underside of the sleeping bag will get compressed down, making it less effective and insulating heat. However, some insulation is better than none.

Additionally, a mummy bag has a hood that wraps around and helps keep in heat around the head. This is huge in cold weather conditions because usually when my head and face get cold, the rest of my body is soon to follow suit.

Lastly, the fully enclosed foot box of a sleeping bag provides draft protection on those breezy nights. Quilts that have a drawcord closure on the foot box always seem to let at least a tiny amount of cold air in, no matter how tightly you cinch down the cord.

If you are using a sleeping bag without a hood, the difference between a sleeping bag and a quilt becomes less. But the sleeping bag still gets the nod assuming all else is equal. Does it get better than curling up in a warm, cozy sleeping bag on a cool fall evening?

Weight

ADVANTAGE: Quilt

A quilt has less total fill, material, and fewer (or no) zippers. It is not hard to see why quilts easily win the weight category. Think about turning your car into a race car. You would remove all of the non-essential parts and pieces in an effort to make it lighter.

Keeping with the car analogy. Backpacking quilts are designed with efficiency in mind. They thrive in lightweight backpacking kits, serving their specific purpose and nothing more. Some sleeping bags are designed this way, but most are made with comfort and features in mind. The extra row of seats in your SUV makes for a more comfortable trip when hauling around a large group. But when not, they are just extra weight.

Ease of use

ADVANTAGE: Sleeping bag

The sleeping bag was the clear winner here because there really is no way to improperly use one. You unroll it, unzip it, slide inside, and then zip it back up. Plus, it takes mere seconds to take it out of your pack and have it ready to hop into for the night.

sleeping bag on grass

A backpacking quilt is not much more difficult to use or longer to set up. That said, most campers are not used to using a quilt, so it will take a little bit longer the first few times. The only differences between setting up a quilt versus a sleeping bag can be the foot box, the zipper, and the sleeping mat attachment straps.

You may have to cinch tight a drawcord at the bottom of the quilt, close a short zipper on the bottom half of the quilt, and loop a few straps around your sleeping pad to ensure you do not slide off during the night. There is some variance between quilt models, so you may have to do all or none of these extra steps.

Temperature regulation

ADVANTAGE: Quilt

A quilt offers a more versatile usage than a sleeping bag. Whether you need to encourage airflow on a warm night or bundle up on a cold evening, you can do it easily with a quilt.

Most sleeping bags have a full-length zipper, which works great on nights when you need to curl up to stay warm. However, warm weather presents a different challenge. You need to stay cool enough to be able to sleep without waking up drenched in sweat. Since many sleeping bags do not fully unzip (to serve like a blanket), it is difficult to stay cool enough.

The advantage a quilt has is that it lacks an underside and can (usually) be used like a simple blanket. Models that do not have a sewn closed foot box work wonders. You can leave that area open while draping the main part of the quilt over your torso. This promotes maximum airflow to allow the breezes to pass through your quilt to keep your body cool throughout the night. (allowing you to sleep peacefully)

Price

ADVANTAGE: Tie

The range of prices for sleeping bags is much wider than that of a quilt. For example, you can find sleeping bags for as cheap as around $30 and as expensive as $1000+! You can also purchase these at a range of stores; from Walmart to online outdoor gear specialty stores.

Quilts have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among those interested in going lighter weight. But they are not nearly as widespread as sleeping bags. Because of this, the range of price starts higher; you cannot walk into your nearest Walmart or Target and walk away with a backpacking quilt.

When you compare similar products, you find that both are in the same price range. For example, comparing the Therm-a-Rest Parsec 20 Sleeping Bag ($469) and the Therm-a-Rest Vesper Down Quilt 20 ($459) shows that price is a toss-up between quilts and sleeping bags.

mountain lake

Both products are made by Therm-a-Rest, are rated to 20 degrees, have near identical dimensions, and are considered ultralight products. All that said, there is a $10 price difference between the two. Showing you that neither a backpacking quilt nor a sleeping bag is necessarily the “economical” choice.

FAQ

The biggest advantages of a backpacking quilt are that they are lightweight, provide better temperature regulation, and they can double as a blanket during the day or around the campfire before heading to bed.

Using a backpacking quilt is not much different than a traditional sleeping bag. Depending on the model, you may need to cinch the foot box closed, zip up part of the quilt, and attach straps around your sleeping mat.

You should be using a sleeping pad regardless of whether you use a sleeping bag or camping quilt. On warm nights, you can get away with almost any sleeping pad, but on cold nights you need one that has a high enough R-Value.

The biggest difference between the two is that a sleeping bag is fully enclosed, while a quilt is open on the underside. Sleeping bags offer the cozy experience that most associate with camping, while a quilt offers a lightweight, more versatile option.

Conclusion

Quilts have become the preferred choice of lightweight backpackers and thru-hikers because of their low weight, versatile use, and competitive pricing. Additionally, quilts pack down as small (if not smaller) than a comparable sleeping bag.

Many new backpackers gravitate toward sleeping bags because they can be found at many non-outdoor specialty stores, have “budget” options, and have been synonymous with camping for decades.

Regardless of which you decide is best for you, take it and get out there to explore!

beach camping
sleeping pad inside sleeping bag

Sleeping Pad Inside Your Sleeping Bag: Hidden Secret or Big Mistake?

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You wake up in the middle of the night to the wisping wind cascading over your tent and rustling the nearby leaves. At first, you think it is a wild animal approaching, but after a couple of seconds, you realize it really was just the wind all along.

Pesky dream state always lingering over into reality for those first few seconds of being awake.

Once your heart rate calms down, you realize your sock must have fallen off during the night. Because your feet are freezing.

A quick glance reveals that, alas, your entire lower body slid off your inflatable sleeping pad and onto the tent floor. Only the third time that has happened this season…

A natural instinct may be to just place your inflatable pad inside your sleeping bag. Taking away even the possibility you could fall off of it. While at first, this may sound like an incredible idea, there are actually a few good reasons why you should avoid doing this.

tent in field

Should you put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag?

The short answer is no, you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag.

I will dig further into why some people do and why you should not in a minute.

First, can a sleeping pad even fit inside a sleeping bag?

sleeping pads and bags

So most sleeping pads will fit inside a sleeping bag. The exceptions would be if you have a long or wide sleeping pad.

Additionally, a mummy-shaped pad would fit better within a mummy bag, and likewise for a standard-shaped set.

Why someone would want to put the sleeping pad on the inside?

There are a couple of main reasons why someone would want to put their sleep pad inside their sleeping bag.

First, their sleeping bag does not stay on top of their sleeping pad throughout the night.

If you toss and turn during the night then you may have woken up halfway of your sleeping pad once or twice. On top of being annoying and uncomfortable, you can lose a lot of body heat because of the cold ground. It is natural to think that putting your sleep pad inside your sleeping bag will solve the problem.

But, there are some better options than using your sleeping pad improperly.

sleeping well while camping

One option is to get a larger sleeping pad. Wider pads have 5-6″ of extra space for you to roll around throughout the night. At only an extra ounce or two of weight, the extra room is well worth it.

The second option is to get a sleeping pad or sleeping bag that has straps. These straps either wrap around the sleeping pad or clip on to ensure the two pieces of equipment stay together. This option is a bit more limiting because this is not a widespread feature at this point.

The other big reason people put their sleeping pad inside their sleeping bag is because it is more comfortable.

This one is a bit more subjective, but it is a reason I have heard for preferring the sleeping pad inside the sleeping bag.

Some people prefer the material of the sleeping pad to that of the sleeping bag. (even though I think these folks are a bit crazy. I prefer not to sleep directly on my mattress at home)

I for one love being engulfed by my sleeping bag and all its warmth and coziness!

Why you should not put sleeping pads inside your sleeping bag

The simple reason that you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag is that you are sacrificing warmth.

The bottom of your sleeping bag becomes irrelevant if it is around the outside of your sleeping pad.

Normally, the sleeping pad serves as the barrier between you and the cold ground. While you cacoon yourself inside your sleeping bag. Getting 360 degrees of insulation.

cocooned in sleeping bag

When you put the underside of your sleeping bag against the ground (underneath the sleeping pad), it loses its purpose. It does not prevent the cool temperatures from the ground from getting through. The sleeping pad still does its job, but without the layer of the sleeping bag between you, more cool temperatures get to your body.

Also, with additional weight on top of it, the bottom of your sleeping bag will compress more. This will cause your bag to lose some loft and insulation over the long-term.

In addition to losing insulation from your sleeping bag, putting your sleeping pad inside your bag will create much less space. This is a dealbreaker if you are a side sleeper because you will lose the ability to sleep on your side or rotate your body easily. (think if your sheets and comforter were tightly tucked in on all sides at your bed at home)

Sleeping pad inside sleeping bag (2)

Ways to secure your sleeping bag to your pad

There are some sleeping bags that have straps designed to go around sleeping pads to prevent sliding off. My favorite being the quilts from Enlightened Equipment. They offer incredible versatility and can be customized to your exact needs. They include sleeping pad attachment straps that wrap around your sleeping pad to secure the two together.

You could also do a DIY version with any type of elastic band or strap. And even in a pinch you could tape, though I would not make a habit of this because it could damage your sleeping bag.

Don’t overlook getting a wider sleeping pad. A lot of sleeping pads create the sense that any movement will cause you to fall off because of their narrowness. Getting a wide sleeping pad will give you an extra ~6 inches which gives you a wider platform to sleep on. Doubles as a more comfortable experience and they make it much harder for you to slide off.

Ways to stay warmer at night

If you are thinking about putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, you may be dealing with being cold during the night.

There are plenty of ways to keep warm while camping in a tent, even when winter camping or at high elevations.

The best place to start is with your sleep system.

Make sure that your sleeping bag is rated for about ~10-15 degrees colder than the temperature you are expecting. Even if you are able to max out your sleeping bags temperature rating, it is best to have a little bit of a buffer.

The key to getting the most out of your sleeping bag is to have a sleep pad with a high enough R-Value for the conditions you are camping in. This ensures that more of the cold air coming from the ground is reflected away from your body. A sleeping bag does not reflect outside air away from your body. Rather it helps retain the body heat that you are emitting.

FAQ

You should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, even if it does fit.

You lose insulation from your sleeping bag and you have much less room inside your sleeping bag.

Conclusion

Putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag may sound like a genius-level move, but it isn’t. You lose warmth and compress your sleeping bag down by doing so.

If comfort is the reason you are thinking about it, try a different sleeping pad. (I.e., switch to an inflatable pad if you have been using foam pads)

If you are tired of sliding off your sleeping pad during the night, try getting a wider pad or a sleeping bag that has a sleeping pad attachment system.

It is foolish to sacrifice body heat or the longevity of your gear to fix an issue that has multiple better solutions. Your sleeping bag and you will feel better with a permanent solution that allows you to continue exploring the outdoors!

snowy camp
Foam vs inflatable sleeping pad

Foam vs Inflatable Sleeping Pad: Which is Better?

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Like many great rivalries, there exists the classic, old-school side and the cool, modern new-school.

In the world of sleeping pads, this rivalry is foam vs inflatable sleeping pads.

The classic foam pad that you unroll each night and strap to the top of your pack each morning. Versus the compact inflatable pad that you blow up each night and deflate each morning before rolling it up into your backpack.

Both are good options as a backpacking sleeping pad. But they each do different things well and have different drawbacks. Using the wrong one can ruin any trip, leaving you groggy and tired each day.

desert camping

Foam sleeping pads

The classic foam sleeping pad is instantly recognizable and is synonymous with camping and backpacking. Known for being lightweight, durable, and affordable, closed-cell foam pads are popular among backpackers. Just because they are popular, though, does that make them the right choice for you?

To start, what are closed-cell foam pads?

Closed-cell foam sleeping pads usually range between 0.5″ and 1.0″ thick, and provide backpackers with a lightweight, durable sleeping pad. These foam pads roll up or fold up and are commonly stored on the outside of a hiker’s backpack.

foam sleep pads

Most popular foam pads nowadays have a dimpled surface that creates pockets that can trap hot air leaving your body. This helps create a layer of warmer air between your body and the ground. Additionally, many pads have a metallic, thermal reflective material on one side. This material reflects warm air back toward your body and cold air back toward the ground.

Pros

  • Easy set-up

  • Affordable

  • Durable

One great thing about foam pads is their ease of setup. Simply unroll or unfold it and presto! you have your sleeping pad. Even after a long day of hiking, you can (probably) muster the 5 seconds of effort to lay out your sleeping pad.

Inflatable sleeping pads require dozens of deep breaths and exhales to blow up. (good luck when the air is already thin up in the mountains)

Another big upside to foam pads is their affordability. Inflatable pads usually range between $100-$300+! A closed-cell foam pad will cost you a fraction of that. You’d be hard-pressed to find one close to $100.

This makes it a bit more palatable if you lose or ruin one; a replacement isn’t going to cost an arm and leg.

One other great part about a foam pad is its durability. Unlike an inflatable pad, you won’t have to worry that every rock or root under your tent may mean the end of your cozy bed. These pads are made from dense foam, and it would take a lot to damage one badly enough that it couldn’t be used.

Foam pads are no longer the standard bearers of the sleeping pad world, so obviously there must be some drawbacks, right?

There are indeed.

Cons

  • Comfort

  • Low R-Value

  • Packability

The first major downside is comfort level. Think about rolling out a glorified yoga mat on your bedroom floor each night. Now imagine having a nice air mattress to sleep on instead. Not as appealing as a real mattress, sure, but compared to that yoga mat?

Some people are more immune to the lack of comfort a basic foam pad provides. Generally, I am not one of those people. I have used a foam sleeping pad (and very well may in the future as well), but the truth remains that they just are not as comfortable as an inflatable sleeping pad.

winter camping

The other big knock against closed-cell foam pads is their lack of R-Value. Most foam pads hover around the 2.0 mark, and that puts a limit on the conditions in which you can use them. They are relegated to warm-weather camping for most of us.

Another issue with closed-cell pads is their packability. Inflatable pads can be rolled up into a small cylinder and stored almost anywhere in your backpack. Whereas, a foam pad is much bigger and can only be stored on the outside of your pack.

The storage aspect isn’t as big of a drawback as the first two. I love utilizing outside storage pockets and straps when it makes sense. If you normally store your bear canister on the outside of your pack, though, this is when it can become a much bigger issue.

Inflatable sleeping pads

Move over foam sleeping pad; enter the superior inflatable sleeping pad!

It is superior, right?

Well…..it depends on how you are using it, and who you ask.

To start, what is an inflatable sleeping pad?

Most inflatable sleeping pads are made from a fabric (nylon, polyester, etc.) that has been coated with polyurethane to provide waterproofing. They will have a valve to allow air in and out; they can be inflated either by exhaling deep breaths into the valve or by using a pump sack. Pumps sacks take all the hard (and dizzying) work out the inflation process. They simply attach to the valve and you open the sack to fill it with air before rolling it down into the sleeping pad.

There are various shapes, thicknesses, and widths, so you will be guaranteed to find one that fits your needs.

Pros

  • Comfort

  • Packability

  • Tons of options

If you are switching to an inflatable sleeping pad for the first time, one of the first things you will notice is the comfort. Simply, sleeping on 3 inches of air cushioning is just more comfortable than 1/2 an inch of foam. Inflatable pads also contour around objects underneath the tent better than foam. If you set up your tent over an unavoidable tree root, you will feel that more with a foam sleeping pad versus an inflatable pad.

Often overlooked, the packability of an inflatable pad compared to a foam one is night and day. The packed size of an inflatable pad is about the size of a standard Nalgene water bottle, easily stored inside your backpack. Whereas, a foam pad has to be stored on the outside of your pack, potentially throwing off your balance along the trail.

tensor vs nalgene

Unlike foam pads, inflatable sleeping pads come in a large variety of sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. There are long models, wide models, tapered/mummy-shaped models, and more! If you need a thick, warm, and wide sleeping pad, you can find plenty of options. Likewise if saving weight is your only goal. A foam pad can be cut down or trimmed to a different shape, but that takes extra work and cannot be undone.

Cons

  • Take time to inflate

  • Pricier than foam pads

  • Chance of popping

When you frame inflatable pads as the newer, superior type of sleeping pad it can be easy to think that there are no drawbacks. But this is not true.

With a foam sleeping pad, all you have to do is unroll/unfold it and you are good to go. Inflatable pads require time to inflate, either by mouth or pump sack. Either way, a few minutes at the end of a day of tough hiking can feel like an eternity when all you want to do is lie down and sleep.

Inflatable sleeping pads simply cost more than a basic foam sleeping pad. Sometimes as much as 3,4, or even 5+ times the price. If you are trying backpacking for the first time, it makes a lot of sense to start with a foam pad before investing in something more expensive.

One thing you only have to worry about with inflatable pads is the risk of them popping or ripping. The sound of air leaving your pad is always a sad sound. Usually, it is when you start deflating it in the morning and it is time to get out of the warm, cozy confines of your sleeping bag and tent. But, worse is when you hear that sound in the middle of the night, without you touching the valve.

Dual sleeping pad system

Is it crazy to use two sleeping pads?

Not at all. There are actually times when it is the best thing to do.

When using two pads makes sense

Using two pads, one foam and one inflatable, makes sense when cold weather camping.

You place a foam sleeping pad on the floor of your tent and then place an inflatable one on top of the foam. There is one clear benefit to doing this and that is WARMTH.

Since R-Values add up cumulatively, you will get the combined R-Value of the two pads. So during those trips into the high mountains or in the winter, you can actually stay warm at night.

FAQ

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types of pads. Inflatable pads provide more comfort and take up less space in your pack. While foam pads are quicker to set up and cost less than inflatable ones.

Yes. Using both types of sleeping pads is common during cold weather or winter camping.

Yes, inflatable sleeping pads are more comfortable than closed-cell foam pads. Imagine sleeping on an air mattress versus a yoga mat.

Conclusion

Both closed-cell foam sleeping pads and inflatable pads provide an upgrade from sleeping on the ground while you camp.

As for which is better? The answer is a bit subjective and depends on what you prioritize.

Are you the type of can sleep on any surface at any time and prioritize quick setup or affordability? A foam pad may make more sense for you.

Rather, if you cannot imagine compromising any comfort, no matter the cost. Or if you need to maximize all of the space in your pack. An inflatable sleeping pad is likely the option for you.

No two hikers are the same, nor are any two hikes. Whichever sleeping pad you prefer, get out there and put it to good use!

mountain camp
Sleeping Pad R-Value

Sleeping pad R-value: Know how to stay warm

Sleeping Pad R-Value

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When I first got into backpacking and the outdoors, I first obsessed over tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags. I would spend hours researching and combing through the technical details and specs of different products.

So for my first backpacking trip, I had an awesome tent, a lightweight backpack, and a sleeping bag that was rated below the temperatures I was expecting at night.

Lo and behold, I remember waking up in the middle of the night cold and uncomfortable, having a hard time getting back to sleep. I tried putting my jacket on, and then every layer I had with me. Nothing seemed to take away that chill I was feeling, though.

Maybe this whole backpacking thing isn’t as fun as it looked on paper, I thought. In hindsight, I later realized that getting the cheapest sleeping pad I could find wasn’t the way to go.

Learning about R-values and how sleeping pads work with the rest of your sleep system allowed me to fully experience the joy of backpacking and being outside.

Zion National Park

What is R-value?

Imagine trying to compare the softness of bedsheets without thread counts. Every brand claiming that their sheets are the softest, but with no standard measure to compare that claim against. It would be impossible to objectively know how soft a set of sheets was before purchasing it.

R-value serves as the way to measure sleeping pads’ insulating abilities. (technically it is a measure of heat resistance and is used for other items like house insulation) If you were to lie down with nothing between you and the ground, your body heat would transfer to the cold ground. Sleeping pads (or anything with an R-value) help you retain some of your body heat.

heat lost without sleeping pad

This measurement has been standardized across the industry, and it makes it easy to compare across brands. Sleeping pads with higher R-values provide more insulation than those with lower.

Why is R-value important?

Without a sleeping pad, your body heat would be lost to the ground, making for a very cold (and uncomfortable) night. A sleeping pad provides a layer of protective cushioning and a thermal resistance barrier between you and the ground.

That layer of thermal resistance is crucial to staying warm throughout the night. Sleeping bags alone cannot keep you warm. In fact, they need an additional insulating layer to be comfortable at their temperature rating. (which is likely why you feel most sleeping bags are not as warm as the manufacturer says)

cold at night

Having a standard measurement system allows campers to confidently compare products across multiple brands.

Prior to 2020, there was no consistent R-value test across the outdoor industry. Some brands did in-house testing, while others simply provided temperature ratings. Nowadays, the guesswork is out of it because all major brands follow ASTM F3340-18. This standardized testing procedures across the industry and gave customers an easy way to compare products across different brands.

What R-value is right for me?

The answer depends on the conditions that you are using it in and if you have anything else you are using for insulation.

To start, taking a sleeping pad with an R-value of 1.5 for winter camping makes no sense. Even with a warm sleeping bag, you will still be cold.

adding r-values

My general rule of thumb is to have a 3.0-5.0 R-value for a three-season sleeping pad. With a properly rated sleeping bag, a pad in this range should be comfortable down to around 40 degrees. Depending on how many layers you wear and how low your sleeping bag is rated to, you may be good down to about freezing.

Below freezing (32 degrees) you will want a sleeping pad with an R-value above 5.0. That is in addition to some warm clothing layers and a quality sleeping bag. Another technique is to have a foam sleeping pad to place beneath your air pad.

Since the R-values of items add up cumulatively, you can generate a lot of insulation by using multiple sleep pads.

How is R-value measured?

It sounds complicated, but the way the R-value is measured is rather simple.

measuring r-value
  • The sleeping pad is placed between two metal plates with constant pressure. (one hot and one cold)

  • The hot plate is heated to simulate body heat, while the cold plate simulates the cold ground. (95 degrees Fahrenheit and 41 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively)

  • The pad’s R-value is determined by the amount of energy needed to maintain the temperature of the hot plate.

The more energy needed to maintain the warm temperature, the lower the R-value and vice versa.

R-values of common sleeping pads

Sleeping Pad Name

Weight

R-Value

Usage

14 oz.

2.0

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 1 oz.

4.5

Three-season backpacking

8.8 oz.

2.3

Ultralight backpacking

4 lb.

6.0

Cold weath camping

1 lb. 6 oz.

3.8

Three-season backpacking

1 lb. 14 oz. 

7.1

Cold weather backpacking

2 lb. 11 oz.

7.8

Cold weather camping

2 lb. 4 oz.

4.8

Three-season camping

1 lb. 5 oz.

2.9

Lightweight backpacking

12 oz.

2.2

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 1 oz.

2.5

Lightweight backpacking

1 lb. 7 oz.

1.8

Warm weather backpacking

1 lb. 9 oz.

1.5

Warm weather backpacking

1 lb. 3 oz.

8.5

Cold weather backpacking

10 oz.

1.9

Warm weather backpacking

OR

as supplemental pad in cold weather

1 lb. 6 oz.

3.2

Three-season backpacking

2 lb. 2 oz.

4.1

Three-season camping

1 lb. 10 oz.

3.7

Three- season backpacking

1 lb. 3 oz.

4.2

Lightweight backpacking

1 lb. 14 oz.

4.5

Three-season backpacking

FAQ

A sleeping pad R-value between 3.0 and 5.0 will satisfy most three-season camping trips. If you plan to do some cold-weather camping, look for something greater than 5.0.

Yes, there are a couple of easy ways to do this.

  • Layer up your clothing

  • Utilize two sleeping pads (I.e., one closed-cell foam pad and one inflatable pad)

R-values add up, so using a foam pad with an R-value of 2.0 with an inflatable pad with a rating of 3.0 equals a total of 5.0.

No. If anything, your sleeping pad will have an impact on the effectiveness of your sleeping bag. The temperature rating of your sleeping bag requires an adequate sleeping pad R-value to reach its full potential.

Yes. Most brands now follow a standard testing procedure. This allows you to easily compare ratings across multiple brands.

Conclusion

It is easy to fall into the thinking that all sleeping pads are basically the same, they make sleeping more comfortable, right?

Yes, they do indeed make sleeping more comfortable when you are camping. But having a poor sleep pad can have even the most eager backpacker looking for the quickest way off of the trail. (I can attest to that)

My first backpacking trip was derailed because I thought I knew more than I did and thought I was fully prepared. (I was not fully prepared)

Don’t let that be you, and make sure that you are getting the most out of and actually enjoying your outdoor adventures!

sequoia trees
do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

Do you need a sleeping pad for camping?

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You’ve just finished telling some hilarious stories around the campfire or along the water’s edge, and it is time to hit the sack.

Crawling into your tent after dark is difficult enough, but imagine once you get settled in you feel nothing but rocks and cold ground beneath your sleeping bag.

Every camper’s dream, right?

(If you agree, consider therapy because those conditions are downright terrible)

But that is the reality of camping without a sleeping pad. No comfort. No insulation from the cold air emanating from the earth on a dark night.

Sleeping pads help make sure you stay comfortable and warm during your camping trip by allowing your sleeping bag to work to its fullest temperature rating potential.

tent camping at night

Is a sleeping pad needed for camping?

Yes, having a sleeping pad is crucial to sleeping well while camping. Not only does it provide a comfortable surface to sleep on, but sleeping pads also serve as an insulating barrier between your body and the cold ground.

Without one, the cold, hard ground will suck the heat away from your body. This heat loss will keep you uncomfortably shivering throughout the night. A sleeping pad also prevents you from feeling every rock and root in the ground while you try to sleep.

The one instance where you could get away without a sleeping pad is if you are car camping and using a cot. Assuming it isn’t below freezing, you could do well without a sleeping pad.

Types of sleeping pads

Inflatable pads

The most common type of sleeping pad you will see is an inflatable pad. These sleeping pads are manually inflated and deflated through a valve. This is either done by blowing into the valve or using a pump bag/inflation sack.

inflatable sleeping pad

One great thing about inflatable pads is that you can customize the softness to your liking. If you blow more air into it, the firmer it gets and vice versa. Having the ability to tailor the amount of air in the pad is a huge plus when backpacking and staying on different terrain each night.

Another plus with inflatable sleep pads is their packability. Most pack down to roughly the size of a standard Nalgene water bottle, meaning it can easily fit into your backpack.

Closed-cell foam pads

If simple is your style, a closed-cell foam pad is right up your alley.

Think old-school backpacking with canvas bags and leather boots. The technology has advanced but the simple, yet effective foam pad remains. Many modern models have a shiny, reflective side designed specifically to maximize insulation.

closed-cell foam sleeping pad

Along with the simple design and easy setup, foam pads deliver a durable product at a cost-effective price.

You do not need to worry about punctures ruining a good night’s sleep like with an inflatable version. There are few sounds worse than waking up to your inflatable sleep pad deflating because you forgot to clear out all of the sticks underneath your tent.

You can also become the proud owner of a closed-cell foam pad for 2-3 times lower cost than another type of sleeping pad.

Self-inflating pads

Self-inflating pads use open-cell foam that fills with air and expands when the valve is opened. You may need to add a couple lung fulls of air to it, depending on your firmness preference, but most of the work is done for you.

self-inflating pad

Self-inflating sleeping pads are for the camper who prioritizes convenience above all else. You can finish setting up camp or change into some comfortable camp clothes while your sleep pad inflates. (though it only takes seconds for it to inflate)

Not all is glitter and gold with this style of sleeping pad. They are a bit bulky and weigh more than any of the other options, making them inconvenient to take backpacking.

Different sizes of sleeping pads

Length (avg)

Width (avg)

Short

48"

20"

Regular

72"

20"

Regular Wide

72"

25"

Long

77"

25"

Short

Short sleeping pads (sometimes seen as small or three-quarter pads) are most commonly used by ultralight backpackers as a way to save a few ounces. Generally, you have your torso and core on the pad, with your feet on the ground or propped up on your pack or a cloths-filled stuff sack.

On average, short sleeping pads run 48″-50″ long and 20″ wide.

A bit awkward at first, but you do not lose body heat as much through your legs, making it a viable technique if you are backpacking in warm conditions.

For traditional car camping, there is no worry about saving a few ounces, so if you are using a short pad then, you may want to reconsider some life choices…

Standard

Good old-fashioned standard length. You’ll never go wrong with the ole’ reliable.

Running 72″ long and 20″ wide, this length pad accommodates the majority of campers and backpackers.

This is my go-to for backpacking because weight can be shaved elsewhere if 4-5 ounces extra is a dealbreaker. (I enjoy the comfort of being able to fit my entire body on the sleeping pad)

picture of sleeping pad in mountains

Long

For the taller, larger campers. A little bit longer and a bit wider than the standard length.

Coming in (on average) at 77″ long and 25″ wide, you get a bit more space to sleep comfortably (hopefully not toss and turn) on.

I like this size for car camping trips where weight and size are not big deals. I would recommend only using it for backpacking if you really need the extra length/width. Many backpacking tents are not much longer than 76″, meaning the sleeping pad would be crammed inside.

Wide

Some sleeping pad models will come in regular length, but a wider width.

These come in around 72″ long and 25″ wide.

This is a size that would work for backpacking if you want a little bit more room to sprawl out without needing to worry about running out of room lengthwise. Being able to curl up in your sleeping bag and spread out a bit is super nice on cool nights.

R-Value

What in the heck is an R-value?

The R-value is the measure of the thermal resistance of a material. The higher the number, the better at insulating it is. As it pertains to sleeping pads, this means a higher number is better at keeping you warm at night.

R-value range

For three-season camping, the range you are looking for is between 3.0-5.0. Sleeping pads in this range help you retain enough heat to stay warm in your sleeping bag without being too warm.

Winter camping requires an R-value above 5.0, ideally closer to 7.0-8+. This usually requires having a thicker air pad.

Anything less than a 3.0 R-value is really only adequate for warm-weather camping. (unless you want to haul around multiple sleeping bags and clothing layers)

FAQ

Yes, assuming you want to be able to sleep comfortably. A sleeping pad provides comfort and insulation from the cold ground.

The R-value tells you how well the sleeping pad insulates you from the cool ground you are sleeping on. A higher R-value indicates that the pad will insulate you better from the cold.

Any type of air pad just needs to be inflated, while a foam pad just has to be folded out. Simply place your sleeping bag on top of the sleeping pad and fall asleep peacefully.

Conclusion

A sleeping pad is part of the “Big Four” of backpacking gear. (tent, pack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad)

It is the most overlooked of the four. (likely because sleeping bags and tents take all the glamor) Inflatable air pads just are not “sexy” when compared to something like an ultralight tent.

Make no mistake though, sleeping pads are just as important as the rest of your gear. You can have a sleeping bag rated for 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but without an adequate sleeping pad, kiss your chances of a restful night goodbye.

Don’t let the cold, hard ground stand in the way of you and a great outdoor adventure!

boardwalk hike

Types of tent stakes: Best time to use each

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Types of tent stakes? Seriously? There are different types of tent stakes?

Yes, tent stakes come in a bunch of different shapes, sizes, and materials.

You do not necessarily need a different type for each type of camping trip, but having the wrong tent stake can make a bad situation worse.

Imagine relying on plastic to hold up to 40 mph wind gusts. Or hauling around over 1 pound of tent stakes on a week long backpacking trip through the mountains.

tent stakes/tent pegs

Different styles of tent stakes

Tent stakes (or tent pegs) are often overlooked when it comes to camping. I mean you just hammer them down into the ground at each corner of the tent, right?

Technically, that is true. That is what you do with tent stakes.

The part that is missing from that (and is the more important part) is that there are range of tent stakes. And each is best suited for certain conditions. Some are more heavy duty tent stakes while others are made for ultralight backpacking trips.

Shepherd’s hook stake

hook stakes

One of the most common tent stake types that you will see. Sometimes the hook makes nearly a full loop, while other times it is more of a 90-degree angle.

Using this style of tent stake is super simple. You hammer it down into the ground and place the tent corner or guy line around the hook, securing it to the stake.

The pointed tip (the part that goes into the ground) is usually straight and thinner, making it easy to hammer into most ground types. Additionally, since hook stakes are common, you can find them in most places that sell outdoor gear. (and at a reasonable price)

Hook tent stakes have two main drawbacks. The first is that they do not hold securely in all conditions. If the ground is softer and you are dealing with inclement weather, there are better options than this type of tent stake.

The other drawback of hook stakes is that they can bend easily when you hammer them into the ground. Since you are generally hammering the looped “hook” portion of the stake, it can bend easier than other types.

V-shaped stake

v-shaped stakes

Another commonly seen type of tent stake is the V-shaped stake.

This type of tent stake is commonly made from lightweight metal and sometimes has holes down the length of the stake. The holes increase holding strength by allowing the ground to sit on top of the stake, not just around it.

The design has an increased surface area compared to a standard tent peg ; giving you a better hold in a wide range of surfaces.

While not the strongest holding tent stake type, nor the most flexible, V-shaped stakes will hold down your tent in most conditions. This makes them one of the best tent stakes for backpacking.

Unlike hook stakes, V-shaped tent pegs are flat across the top, meaning you do not have to worry about bending them while you are hammering them into the ground.

Y-shaped stake

y-shaped stakes

Perhaps the best all-around tent stakes are Y-shaped stakes. You will see these referred to as Y-beam or tri-beam stakes as well.

With more surface area than V-shaped stakes, Y-shaped ones will give you an even more secure hold. The shape makes them harder to twist once in the ground, making them a great choice for windy conditions.

This style of tent peg also does well in any type of ground conditions, firm or soft ground. Additionally, like the V-shaped stake, these typically have a flat top, making it hard for you to permanently bend them while hammering them in.

One drawback of this style of stake is that they are not too maneuverable while being staked. By this, I mean that if there is a rock buried in the ground, you will have to move your stake a couple of inches. (or dig the rock up out of the ground)

Pin stake

pin stake

Probably the simplest stake on this list, think of a large, long needle. That is essentially how pin stakes function.

They consist of a sharp, pointy end that is driven into the ground. While the other end tends to be flat and has a notch near the end for the guyline to sit in.

If you are in the market for an ultralight tent stake, pin stakes are as light and simple as it gets. You can easily hammer them into the ground with a flat rock, or even your shoe if the ground is soft enough.

One downside of pin stakes is their lack of holding strength. Unlike V and Y-shaped stakes, pin stakes do not have multi-directional grip while in the ground. Think about pulling a large needle out of the ground versus something like a rake.

I would only recommend using pin stakes if you are expecting perfect weather. (and ideally in soft soil)

Screw stake

screw stake

If you need heavy-duty tent pegs, you have found them in screw stakes. Providing the best hold of all tent stakes, these will keep your tent held down securely whether you are experiencing rain or high winds.

Typically, you need a special tool to insert a screw peg into the ground. This makes them great for long-term camping, and pretty lousy for backpacking.

As you can imagine, screw stakes work well in pretty much any ground type. From hard ground to sandy, loose soil screw stakes handle the job. If you are using them in loose soil, get a longer set of stakes; having extra depth helps a bunch in loose ground.

The major drawback of screw stakes is needing a special tool to place them into the ground. Most sets come with a tool that turns the top of the stake into a T-bar that is twisted to “screw” the stake into the ground.

Different materials used for tent stakes

Aluminum

aluminum stake

A lot of tents come with aluminum tent stakes. They serve as a great balance of durability, weight, and price. Not going to blow your socks off in any one category, but a very sensible choice for its all-around versatility.

If you were looking for a do-it-all tent stake that worked in a wide range of conditions, aluminum would be a good place to start.

While they are sturdy enough to hold up in a lot of conditions, they are not ideal for all situations. If you anticipate setting up on rocky ground (or even frozen ground) you will want something more durable.

Titanium

titanium stake

If aluminum stakes aren’t going to cut it for you, titanium stakes are the next logical material to explore. More durable and lighter than aluminum, titanium can hold up in high winds while being light enough for a lightweight backpacking load. They also hold up better in rocky soil and hard ground conditions.

Lightweight? Super durable and stable in bad weather? Sounds perfect!

Titanium pegs are the proverbial bee’s knees, but they also will cost a pretty penny. To cover all of your tent’s guy lines, you could be looking upwards of $30.

Plastic

plastic stake

Definitely the “budget” option for tent stake materials. Plastic tent pegs offer the least durability and stability of any material on the list.

If you are camping in ideal conditions (think beautiful fields of grass with sunny skies and no breeze) then plastic tent pegs can work out. But, if windy conditions are possible or you’re setting up on firm ground, reach for a different tent stake.

While it sounds like I enjoy bashing plastic tent stakes, there are some benefits to them.

Plastic tent stakes are cheaper than metal alternatives. You could gift your entire family a set for the same price as a single set of titanium ones. They also come in a variety of colors, making them highly visible around your tent, reducing the chance of leaving one or tripping over it.

Carbon fiber

carbon fiber stake

Ultralight and not easy to find. If those describe you, you may have a match with carbon fiber tent stakes.

Generally, you only find it used for pin stakes. And not many manufacturers make them.

They are super light, have good holding strength, and cost the most of any other material. They are primarily for ultralight backpackers or campers who emphasize having premium products.

The drawback is quite obviously the price. You could easily spend $40-$50+ on a set of carbon fiber stakes.

Stainless steel

stainless steel stake

Stainless steel tent stakes are known for being heavy-duty and bringing a lot of stability to your tent. If you end up using steel stakes, you will not have to worry about them being too flimsy in tough weather.

The trade-off of their durable nature is that they are heavier. This makes them ideal for a car camping trip, but less than perfect for backpacking.

FAQ

Yes, tent stakes and tent pegs are just different names for the same thing.

Usually, tents will come with stakes, but they do not come with high-quality stakes. Unless you are always camping on the ideal surface in perfect weather, you will want to upgrade your tent stakes.

You want longer stakes in loose sand conditions, screw stakes and snow stakes work the best!

Conclusion

There are more types of tent stakes than you would ever imagine. Different shapes and materials; some better in softer ground, others better suited for hard terrian.

Most campers can suffice with something common like an aluminum hook stake. If you do more backpacking, something like a titanium V-shaped tent stake would work great.

Plastic stakes can work well with budget tents on perfect, idyllic grass fields. While stainless steel stakes can hold your tent down well in high winds.

No matter your style of adventure, don’t let something as simple as your tent stakes ruin your next big trip!

snowy, forest hill

types of tents

Types of camping tents: which one is right for you?

Table of Contents

There are countless different types of camping tents available, all in different shapes and sizes.

If you are buying a tent for the first time, the amount of options is overwhelming. You’re just looking for a solid tent to do some summer camping trips in. Do you need a dome tent? A cabin tent? What even are geodesic tents?

Gone are the days of just a simple a-frame tent being the extent of your choices. Technology has brought us many new tent shapes that thrive in certain conditions and are worthless in others.

Knowing what’s available, some of the benefits, and the scenarios it thrives and the ones it does not is all you need to know to make a good decision.

styles of tents

Overview

As technology has advanced, there are more and more tent options available. From different materials, sizes, and shapes, it can be difficult to narrow down exactly which tent is right for you.

The tent shape is a confusing one because there are just so many options: for camping and backpacking tents.

Gone are the days of a couple of different shapes and styles of tents. Depending on how specific you want to get, there can be over 20 shapes of tents out there. Talk about an unneeded headache.

There is plenty of overlap between all of those, though, and I break down tents into 8 different styles.

  • Dome

  • Pyramid

  • Geodesic

  • Cabin

  • Tunnel

  • A-frame/ridge

  • Bivy

  • Pop up

Some of these are more common than others. Also, some are exclusive to backpacking, while others are better suited for camping.

field of different tents

Common types of camping tents

Dome tents

Dome tents are the most common style of tent out there. Odds are you thought of a dome tent when you first read “types of camping tents.”

Dome tents have characteristically sloped outer walls leading to an apex. This gives this style of tent a few distinct pros and cons compared to other tents.

dome tent

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Weather resistant

  • Simple to set up

Since dome tents are so common, (they can be found pretty much anywhere that sells any outdoor/camping gear) they are pretty cost-effective. You can find plenty for under $100 that will suffice for a lot of camping situations.

Even if the conditions turn bad, the dome tent can hold up to wind and rain pretty well. The angled shape of the walls helps deflect water and wind. Budget options may not hold up well in super harsh conditions, but in most average/mild conditions they should be fine.

Also, dome tents are almost always double-wall tents. Meaning they have a separate rainfly and inner tent. This allows for better airflow and ventilation, which helps reduce condensation inside the tent.

Lastly, setting up a dome tent is quite simple. If you have a larger capacity tent, you may need two people to set one up, though. The tent gets its shape from crossing tent poles that provide its shape and structure.

Cons

  • Less roomy interior space

  • Limitied vestibule space

  • Larger capacity models can be unstable in wind

The other side of the coin with the angled walls is that they create a smaller space on the inside of the tent. There becomes limited headroom the further from the center you get. So even if the tent floor is large, the functional space seems small.

Another downside of dome tents is that they do not afford you much vestibule space. The covered area outside of the doors is not too big, meaning you cannot store much there. I like having the ability to store things close to the tent without having them inside. (I.e., shoes or backpacks)

While smaller models can hold up okay in the wind, larger ones do become unstable in windy conditions. If you are getting a 5+ person camping tent, this is about the size range this becomes an issue.

Pyramid tents

Pyramid tents are not as popular as dome tents, but you do see them in lightweight backpacking most prominently.

These tents have a center pole that creates the apex and then tapers down to four corners. (it is much like a teepee with a square base instead of a circular one)

pyramid tent

Pros

  • Weather resistant

  • Easy to set up

  • Lightweight

The steep walls of the pyramid shape make these tents excellent in bad weather. Rain bounces and rolls easily off the outer wall. Wind easily passes along the angled walls/sides of the tent. If you find yourself camping in bad weather or even during the winter, a pyramid tent is a great option.

Pyramid tents are created by staking out the four corners, and then propping the tent up with a center pole. (sometimes just a trekking pole) This easy setup makes this style of tent one of the easier setups you will find.

Since the setup is so simple, it shouldn’t surprise you that there is a fairly minimal amount of gear needed. This makes pyramid tents one of the top choices for hikers looking for a lightweight tent.

Cons

  • Interior space limited

  • Usually do not come with a floor or inner tent

  • Can be pricey

Because of the steep walls that make this style of tent great in the weather, it is also not as roomy on the inside. The steep walls limit the amount of headroom toward the outside of the tent. Also, the single central pole that holds up the tent in the center limits your ability to move around easily.

One of the hardest things to get used to is that most pyramid tents do not come with an inner tent or floor. If you want a mesh netting on the inside or a floor, you usually have to buy those separately. If you spend a lot of time winter camping or enjoy tarp camping, this will not be as big of a deal for you. If you are not used to this way of camping, bringing along a tent footprint can be a happy medium.

Most pyramid tents nowadays fall into the ultralight category, utilizing high-tech lightweight materials. While this makes your pack noticeably lighter, you will pay a price for it. Many of the options you will see are at least a couple of hundreds of dollars.

Geodesic tents

Geodesic domes were/are the rage in certain Airbnb circles because of their unique, somewhat futuristic look. Those are similar to the camping tent version, but not quite the same.

A geodesic tent has multiple sets of poles crisscrossing over the top. They share similarities with a dome tent, but have more poles.

geodesic tent

Pros

  • Very stable

  • Great in all weather conditions

  • Easy to set up

Because of the extra poles that cross over the top, geodesic tents are incredibly stable. The poles provide rigidity and structure to your tent, ensuring it will hold up even in tough weather.

If you have spent much time in high mountain areas or are out during the winter, odds are you have seen a geodesic tent or two. They are popular choices among mountaineers and winter campers because of their ability to hold up in all conditions.

The set up is similar to the dome tent. (you will have just a few extra poles to deal with) This means that you should not have much difficulty in getting it set up, even on your first attempt.

Cons

  • Heavy

  • Pricey

  • Not a huge selection

As you may have guessed, the extra stability and weather resistance comes at a cost. (well, two costs actually) First is the weight cost. Extra poles and stake-out points mean that you will be carrying more equipment. Unfortunately, there is no way around it.

The other cost is the price cost. This style of tent is not made of cheap, weak materials. (it does need to hold up in rough weather after all) So, it is safe to say you will not be able to roll into your local superstore and big one up on the cheap.

Lastly, there are not a ton of manufacturers producing this style of tent. It is a bit more of a niche style (focused on mountaineering and winter campers) so you will not have as many options as you would with something like a dome tent.

Cabin tents

If you are looking for a tent for a chill weekend car camping trip, a cabin tent is an excellent option. They provide a lot of interior room, and the vertical walls provide a lot of head space throughout the entire tent.

cabin tent

Pros

  • Affordable

  • Roomy interior

  • Great for large groups/family camping

At first glance, you may not think a cabin tent is super affordable (usually a couple of hundred), but these tents are usually 4-8 person tents. If you were to compare spending $200 on a one-person tent versus a four-person tent, one definitely feels like a better value and more affordable option.

Since cabin tents have more vertical walls than other styles, the inside feels much roomier. Many of them are tall enough for you to stand up throughout most of the interior. The roomy feel of cabin tents makes them truer to size in capacity than other styles.

You will still be a bit cramped on the floor if you have 4 people sleeping in a 4 person tent. But, you will be far more comfortable using the tent throughout the day. You can actually use the space without having to lie down or awkwardly hunch down if you want to escape the rain or sun during the day.

Cons

  • Takes up a lot of room

  • Not too stable

  • Not versatile

The flip side of the roomy interior is that it takes up a lot of space. If you are in a campground that has more confined campsites or low-hanging trees, cabin tents may not be your best option.

Another downside of the increased (vertical) living space is that cabin tents are not all that good in bad weather. Wind and driving rain are what really does this tent in. If you spend time camping in areas that are prone to high winds or heavy rains, you need to be certain that you will not encounter any during your camping trip.

Also, cabin tents are exclusively for car camping. They are quite heavy and not all that packable. If you are looking for a backpacking tent, you will want to look at another tent style.

Tunnel tents

If car camping is your primary camping trip style, a tunnel tent is another excellent option. Similar to the cabin style, tunnel tents tend to have a lot of headroom. (often enough for you to stand up fully)

The main difference is the shape. Tunnel tents are made from multiple arches of poles versus the crisscrossed pole set up of a cabin tent.

tunnel tent

Pros

  • Plenty of headroom

  • Can have multiple rooms

  • Lots of interior storage space

Like the cabin tent, a tunnel tent offers a lot of headroom. Though, this type of tent does not have headroom throughout the entirety of the tent because of the arched poles.

Other than having ample headroom, tunnel tents can also come with multiple rooms. (sometimes even room dividers) Multi-room tents are an excellent option if you are having multiple groups of people on the same camping trip. In a big enough tunnel tent, each group can have a separate sleeping area and then can share a central storage room.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to setup

  • Need guylines

  • Not ideal for bad weather conditions

As the tent gets bigger, more poles, guylines, and stakes are needed to set up. This can turn into a multi-person operation fairly quickly.

Guylines are needed with tunnel tents because the arch-shaped poles do not create enough rigidity and support. This requires having the guy lines and the additional stakes to properly tie out the guy lines.

Because of the height of this style of tent, it does not perform very well in high wind or rainy conditions. Rain can puddle on the top of the tent, if not pitched taut, and the wind can knock it over due to the higher profile.

Less common types of camping tents

A-frame tents/ridge tents

This can be a wide-ranging type of tent, but I am talking about the lightweight backpacking tents that often use trekking poles to set up.

This style of ridge tent is non-freestanding , single-wall, and is often lightweight or ultralight. Generally, there is not a pole that runs along the length of the “ridge”. Rather, the ridge is created by the tension of the poles and guy lines.

ridge backpacking tent

This type of tent is lightweight, very packable, and holds up surprisingly well in bad weather. This makes them popular as backpacking tents, but their smaller interior space does not lend them to traditional camping trips.

The drawback to their benefits is that they come at a cost. And in this case, the cost you will be paying is fully financial. You can find good options at a more palatable price range, but expect to pay at least a few hundred for one of these.

Bivy tents/bivy sacks

In the conversation for the most simplistic shelter is the bivy tent/bivy sack. Little more than an enclosure for your sleeping bag, bivy tents are common as “emergency shelters”. For example, if I were planning a long day hike, I would strongly consider bringing a bivy tent in case I ended up needing to camp out for the night.

bivy tent

In most instances, this is one step away from just cowboy camping. And it could be a good option in a buggy area for someone who normally sleeps under a tarp.

Bivy sacks are incredibly lightweight and packable. The flipside being you have no storage space, and you would need a tarp if you encountered any bad weather.

Pop up tents

Pop-up tents serve as super convenient options for day use or as beach tents. I would not recommend using one for car camping, especially if there is going to be any chance of bad weather. And definitely do not use a pop-up tent for backpacking.

pop up tent

Pop-up tents are fantastic because they can be set up in 1-2 minutes, and you do not have to worry about separate poles, they come pre-attached. All you have to do is to “pop” it open and stake it out. This makes them great options for day use or even beach camping. (assuming there is no risk of bad weather)

The trade-off for this convenience is that they are not known for durability and lasting a long time. Most of the time the material used to make a pop-up tent is thin and low-quality. This means that using it to sleep in requires near perfect weather conditions.

FAQ

Dome tents are the most common type of tent that you will see for camping. It’s traditional cross-pole structure with separate rain fly can be seen by the dozen at any campground.

For car camping and backpacking tents, I breakdown them down into 8 different types.

Pyramid and geodesic tents stand up to inclement weather the best. They shed rain well and stand up to gusty winds better than other types.

Any tent could technically be a multi-room tent. Cabin and tunnel tents are the most common to find that have multiple rooms.

Conclusion

Whether you are looking for a backpacking tent or just a normal car camping tent, there are more types of tents than you may think.

Knowing the benefits of each and the situations they are best and worst in makes your selection process easier.

Get out there and explore with the best tent for you!

backpacking tent