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:
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 20
Weight: 2lbs 11oz (Regular); 3lbs (Long)
Compressed Volume: 6.2 liters (Regular); 7.0 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 20 is filled with DownTek so it delivers a temperature rating of 20 deg F (-6 deg C), packs down to only 6.2 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 20 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…Read more+
NEMO Disco 15 Women’s
Weight: 3lbs 1oz (Regular); 3lbs 3oz (Long)
Compressed volume: 9 liters (Regular); 9.8 liters (Long)
A high-quality bag manufacturer, NEMO, have created another hit with the Disco 15. This is the Women’s edition and NEMO have also created a Men’s Disco 15.
The Disco 15 is a 3-season bag with a comfort rating of 17 deg F, which is about as cold as I’m willing to accept on most bikepack excursions.
The water-resistant ripstop nylon outer and 650-fill power down insulated inner give the kind of peace-of-mind that’s essential on a camping trip.
It’s the ingenious design of the bag though that really set it apart from other bags – if you sleep on your back, or face down, then most bag shapes will work for you, but side sleepers have a far harder time getting comfortable. However the ‘Classic Spoon’ shape of the Disco give a much roomier space at the shoulders/elbows and down at the knees. That allows you to roll over (and over and over…) during the night, ensuring the perfect night’s sleep for you….if not for anyone who has the misfortune to be trying to sleep next to you…Read more+
Weight: 3lbs 7oz (Regular); 3lbs 11oz (Long)
Compressed volume: 12.0 liters (Regular); 12.9 liters (Long)
Surprisingly great features for an incredibly appealing price make this an easy choice for bikepacking.
Sure the weight and packed volume aren’t as low as super-expensive bags but then many of those bags are hard to justify if you’re just dipping a tootsie in the water of bikepacking or you only have the opportunity for one or two trips a year.
The water-resistant outer and synthetic filling make this a useful choice when there’s a chance that your bag might get wet (remember that down loses its insulating properties when it gets soggy, whilst synthetic will continue to keep you warm).
Add in the cozy contoured hood, multiple drawcords, and offset quilted construction and the comfort rating of 20 deg F and this bag is an excellent budget pick…Read more+
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…Read more+
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 Kelty.
The Cosmic 20 is a fantastic option for budget bikepacking that comes with many features that you’d generally only find on high-end bags. Designed for 3-season use with a temperature rating of 21 deg F (-6 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 down filling, DWR coated outer fabric, draft collar and cozy hood, make this a real advantage when the nights are chilly.
The bag is a classic mummy shape and has a right zipper for easy access on those evenings when you need to get warmed up quickly…Read more+
REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag
Weight: 1lb 12oz (Regular); 1lb 14oz (Long)
Compressed volume: 5.2 liters (Regular); 5.7 liters (Long)
I’m a big fan of the Magma and, if you take a look at the reviews over at REI, you’ll see that I’m not alone in this. Sure, it’s not a budget bag, so you’ll need to be bikepacking regularly (or have a big trip in mind) to justify the outlay. I fully believe that the Magma is worth it though. Why? Let’s take a look.
I’ve always liked a mummy shaped bag when I’m camping on cold solo bike trips. Sure, when I’m camping with my wife we’ll zip a couple bags together for combined body heat. But, when you’re camping by yourself you’ve only got the one heat source (you) and that means you’ve got to hang on to as much of that warmth as possible. A mummy bag makes this easier as it’s contoured to your body and there are no air gaps for chilly breezes to get in. The drawstring hood keeps a lid on the bag too, which also helps keep you warm.
The bag is filled with super cozy 850 fill goose down (which is waterproof) and tucked inside the (also water-resistant) Pertex ripstop nylon shell, making this a great bag that should keep you warm right down to 16 deg F.
With a compressed volume of 5.2 liters, weight of 1lb 12oz, and a down filling delivering a temperature rating of 16 deg F (-9 deg C) this is a fantastic option from REI…Read more+