For ultralight bike touring, the three key components of your bikepacking sleep system (bag, tent, and sleeping pad) are the most critical to get right. Get these three nailed and you’ll wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for another awesome day of cycling. Get them wrong? Well, you’ll toss and turn all night, probably get wet and cold, and definitely not be in the mood for a day in the saddle.
Today we’re going to look at the first of these – the best bikepacking sleeping bags for cycle touring.
As with all decisions about bike touring gear, there’s a sliding scale from budget sleeping bags (which may only be good for 1-2 seasons) up to ultra-compact sleeping bags which are lightweight on the bike if not necessarily on the wallet. I’ve included a variety of options here to suit a range of sleeping conditions and prices. I’ve also added a rundown of the important criteria to consider when choosing your bag.
My recommended sleeping bags for bikepacking are:
- Big Agnes Torchlight 30 (TOP RECOMMENDATION)
- Big Agnes Sarvis SL 20
- NEMO Riff 15
- Helio Sack 50
- NEMO Tango Solo 30
How to choose a sleeping bag
It can be difficult to choose the right bag for your bikepacking adventures. Apart from (what appear to be) fairly minor differences such as color, shape, etc they can have wildly different packed sizes, weights, and prices. It’s not a decision that you want to make without thinking but equally, you can spend too long researching the multitude of bag options so that you end up never actually buying one or setting off on the bike! So, here’s a quick sleeping bag guide to cover the basics that you need in order to make an informed choice.
Types of sleeping bags
The many sleeping bags can be divided up into three broad categories: Summer (or 1-2 Season), 3-season, or Winter. At the Summer end of the scale you will find bags that are only suitable for warmer temperatures. On the flip side though, these bags tend to pack up smaller, be lighter to carry and cost less to buy. So if you plan to do your bikepacking during the warmer months only, particularly if you’re the type to always get too warm at night, then these can be a great option.
3-season bags can be ideal for a much wider range of temperatures and are generally my favorite bag type. If I’m bikepacking on a hot night, then I can unzip the bag and let some cool breeze in. Similarly, if I’m out in cooler weather conditions, then I can team the bag up with an extra fleece layer and possibly my (very stylish) longjohns.
Sleeping bag weight
Bag weight and pack-up size are two of the most critical considerations for the bikepacker. Too heavy and it’ll add too much to your luggage weight. Too bulky and it will take up too much space in your panniers and give too much wind resistance as you pedal.
Weight and packed size are determined by a range of factors. Summer/1-2 season bags are generally light and small but can be less effective at keeping out the nighttime chill. For ultralight lightweight touring then it’s worth spending some extra bucks to get a bag with the right level of insulation, whilst at the same time keeping the size and weight to a minimum. As a general rule I like to go with a bag that is sub-3 lbs weight.
Sleeping bag temperature rating
Up until recently there was no universally agreed method of determining the temperature rating for a bag. Consequently, some manufacturers would be guilty of playing a little hard and fast with the rules – keeping weight down whilst keeping the claimed temperature rating up. Thankfully, there’s some degree of order been brought to bear on this (at least in Europe) with two Standards: the EN 13537, which has then been superseded by ISO EN 23537. These are European standards although they’ve since been adopted by some US manufacturers also.
Here’s the thing though, if you’re wondering “What temperature sleeping bag should I buy?” don’t just rely on the temperature rating. Whilst these Standards give you the ability to compare between sleeping bags, you should always keep in mind your own personal sleeping preferences. What I mean is, if you’ve got the bedroom windows open throughout the winter and still wake up feeling sweaty… then you can probably get away with a lightweight bag. If (like me) you’ve got the windows fully closed throughout the summer and complain every time your Significant Other rolls over in the night and yanks the duvet off you… then it’s worth going for the most cozy bag you can lay your hands on.
Sleeping bag Insulation types
When it comes to bag filling there are two types available: down and synthetic.
Down is my personal favorite. It tends to have superior weight to warmth ratio and packs up smaller than synthetic. That being said, you have to be more careful with it. If it gets wet, it will lose much of its insulating effect and can take longer to dry. I normally keep my bag in a dry bag on the bike and sleep in a good quality tent, so this isn’t an issue for me.
Synthetic filled bags tend to be cheaper than down and perform better when wet. However they will often be bulkier when packed and heavier to carry.
Sleeping bag shape
You’ll normally see three variations of bag shape, although some manufacturers (such as Big Agnes) are pushing this by creating bags with an expandable design. A very exciting development.
In terms of bag shape, the three common ones are:
The mummy style is my bag of choice. Mummy bags have a closer fitting shape than either semi- or rectangular, and for me that helps give better insulation. Another feature that helps in this regard is the drawstring hood that most mummy bags have. This is great for keeping my head warm at night and means that there’s no need to pack a woolly hat. One big advantage for bikepacking is that the slimmer design of mummy bags means that they use less filling/shell material and so will tend to pack up smaller and be lighter than the more-traditional rectangular shaped bags.
Size of sleeping bag
Bags will tend to come with a user height recommendation. Using this as a start point, you can then choose your bag according to a few extra factors including your build, whether you move about much when you’re sleeping, and whether you like a little extra wiggle room. I’m average build and hate chilly drafts when I sleep, so a mummy style works well.
Best bags for bikepacking
So, which are my recommended bags for your bikepacking adventures? Here are some options which are great value and will enable you to have a great night’s sleep. Let’s take a look.
Big Agnes Torchlight 30
Weight: 2lbs 3oz (Regular); 2lbs 6oz (Long)
Compressed Volume: 4.4 liters (Regular); 5.4 liters (Long)
In a world of average things made for average people, the Torchlight range of bags from Big Agnes really stands out.
We know that down fill is our friend because it delivers superior warmth for its weight and also packs up smaller than synthetic. Trouble with down is that, if it gets wet, then it loses most of that insulating power. Enter DownTek. This is down with super-human powers. All that great insulation and compression but stays drier for longer. It’s like having your cake AND eating it twice over.
The Torchlight 30 is filled with DownTek so it delivers a temperature rating of 30 deg F (-1 deg C), packs down to only 4.4 liters for the Regular sized bag and, with the DownTek filling and water-repellent finish to the shell fabric, is a very practical option for bikepacking.
Take a look at the photo though and you’ll see where the Torchlight 30 really excels. Look along the sides of the bag and you’ll see dual zippers. These take the bag to a whole new level. Unzip each all the way down and you’ll add 10” of extra width to the bag (5” per side). This is great if you like a little (actually, quite a lot!) of extra wiggle room, or you’re a side sleeper, or you spend the night rolling over from your back to your front to your belly). The zippers are also great if you’re built more generously at the shoulders or hips – get some extra space at those points without sacrificing the snugness you get at other areas with a mummy-style bag. For me, what I really like is the ability to create some extra room for my feet without opening up the bag down the full length and letting in chilly air.
The Torchlight has plenty of thoughtful features included, such as the exterior loops to hang it up for drying and the no-draft collar and zipper to keep you nice and cozy. So cozy, in fact, that you may be guilty of the odd late start time when you’re out on your next adventure…
Big Agnes Sarvis SL 20
Weight: 2lbs 12oz
Compressed volume: 5 liters
Another excellent bag from Big Agnes, the Sarvis SL 20 also uses the DownTek filling to give a fantastic temperature rating of 20 deg F (-7 deg C) with great compressed volume of only 5 liters and weight of 2lbs 12oz.
This SL 20 is the Women’s specific bag and has more room around the hip area than a similar men’s bag. Bear in mind that the SL 20 is also available in a Women’s Petite and Men’s style.
One standout feature of this bag is the Half-length REM Flex Pad Sleeve. For those of you who go to sleep on your pad, only to wake up in the middle of the night, cold and lying next to the pad…this is an absolute winner. How does it work? Well the sleeve at the top underside of the bag is designed to slot over any 20” or 25” wide pad. This keeps the bag firmly held onto the pad, whilst still allowing your legs to move about. The sleeve also doubles up as storage sack.
The SL 20 is available in one size only (to fit maximum height of 70”). However, it has an exterior clip system at the foot of the bag that allows the length to be reduced by up to 10”. Buying a bag for a teen girl and hoping it will last her into her adult years? Then this is a great feature.
NEMO Riff 15
Best sleeping bag for side sleepers
Weight: 2lbs 6oz (Regular); 2lbs 9oz (Long)
Compressed volume: 7.2 liters (Regular); 7.8 liters (Long)
Bags come in three main shapes as we know (mummy, rectangular and semi-rectangular). Nemo have added a third shape to this that is perfect for side sleeping bikepackers: the Spoon. It’s clever and will find a special place in the hearts of every camper who likes to turn over repeatedly through the night. Generously cut at the elbow and knee areas, this gives plenty of space whether you like to sleep on your back, front or sides.
The Riff 15 has a good packed sized at 7.2 liters volume for the Regular bag and weighs 2lbs 6oz. It also has a temperature rating of 15 deg F (-9 deg C) so will keep you toasty warm.
Take a look over the photos and you’ll see the bag has a pair of Thermo Gills on the top surface. These are a clever idea that give you the ability to let excess body heat out but without letting any cold drafts in.
Helio Sack 50
Best ultralight sleeping bag under 100
Weight: 1lb 9oz (Regular); 1lb 11oz (Long)
Compressed volume: 2.1 liters (Regular); 2.3 liters (Long)
When you’re getting set up for bikepacking you’ll always need to work within certain constraints. Weight will be one of the most critical, volume will go hand-in-hand with that. And, unless you’ve just won the lottery or robbed a bank, then you’ll also have to keep to a budget. That’s where it’s great to find bag like this one from Helio.
The Sack 50 is a fantastic option for budget bikepacking that comes with many features that you’d generally only find on high-end bags. The Sack 50 is designed for summer camping trips with a temperature rating of 50 deg F (10 deg C) so you may need to pack your thermals if the mercury is likely to drop a little lower than this. The compensation though is fantastic portability. The Regular bag packs down to a frankly tiny 2.1 liters compressed volume and, at only 1lb 9oz, you’ll hardly feel the weight in your panniers.
The bag is filled with synthetic fibers, not as insulating as down, but a much better option if your bag will possibly get wet. For example, if you’re going ultralight and sleeping under the stars rather than in a tent.
The bag is described as being semi-rectangular but, I think, is better thought of as being a relaxed mummy. With a shoulder girth of 62” and a hip girth of 56” there’s plenty of room to move about and find that position that’s the absolute comfiest.
Finally, the zippers are worthy of a mention. There’s two. The short lefthand zip allows extra venting at the neck and also doubles up as an armhole. The long righthand zip goes from the neck, down the full length, and round the foot. This allows you to fully unzip the bag into a quilt for super warm nights.
NEMO Tango Solo 30
Ultralight rectangular sleeping bag
Weight: 1lb 12oz
Compressed volume: 2.9 liters
The Tango Solo 30 bag is something a little different to finish up, with a special feature that punches above its weight (literally).
The traditional idea of a sleeping bag is that you take an insulated top layer and sew this to an insulated bottom layer. You put this on top of a pad, crawl inside, and you’ve got your sleep system. The Solo 30 takes this as a starting point and then effectively halves the weight of the bag. It does this by getting rid of the bottom layer entirely and turning the bag into a backcountry quilt. But it’s a quilt with a difference because it attaches to a 25” pad with the fitted slipcover. That means you still get insulation top and bottom, and you also get a super-ultralight sleep system.
With a compressed volume of 2.9 liters, weight of 1lb 12oz, and a down filling delivering a temperature rating of 30 deg F (-1 deg C) this is a fantastic option from Tango.
Enjoy your next adventure!
**Please note that our reviews are based on customer reviews, star ratings, and online complaints. Therefore, Bicycle Volt are in no way liable**