The best sleeping bags for hikers are simultaneously lightweight, insulated but breathable, comfortable (with plenty of down or synthetic cushioning) and easily foldable to a small and manageable size. Hikers shopping for the perfect sleeping bag should keep in mind that there are three different styles of sleeping bags: "mummy" style, meant for cold weather and sporting an attached hood at the open end; "barrel" style, which is a roomy, oval-shaped bag; and the classic "rectangle," meant for warmer weather. Also, when comparing sleeping bags, know that while some hikers and campers swear by the comfort of down over synthetic filling, those with allergies will need to stick with the synthetic fill bags, which are often more comfortable than they are given credit for. Neither the barrel nor the rectangular sleeping bags are particularly good for folding into a conveniently size. Consequently, all of the best sleeping bags for hikers listed here are mummy-style.
All sleeping bag prices quoted in this article are accurate as of December 2011.
Winner of the Backpacker Magazine 2009 Editors' Choice Award, the MontBell UL Spiral Down Hugger #1 Sleeping Bag fits the description of the "perfect" sleeping bag for hikers: lightweight, comfortable, thermally insulated and easy to pack down. The UL Spiral Down Hugger #1 Sleeping Bag weighs in at a super-light two pounds, and is a classic mummy-style sleeping bag with a closable hood which fits snugly around heads of all sizes. This 800-fill down sleeping bag keeps hikers warm and comfortable in temperatures as low as 15°F, yet manages to remain flexible for occupants, despite all of that filling, by utilizing a spiral baffle and a diagonal-cut fabric. The treated microfiber covering of the UL Spiral Down Hugger #1 is waterproof enough to repel moisture in the soggiest of conditions, and yet remains breathable enough to prevent overheating and sweating in warmer and more humid conditions. This sleeping bag comes in three sizes (short, regular and long) and folds down to a final size which is conveniently smaller than a football. The MontBell UL Spiral Down Hugger #1 Sleeping Bag retails for between $315 and $450, depending on the size of the sleeping bag.
Another great choice for hikers is the Feathered Friends Hummingbird 20, a lightweight sleeping bag weighing in at a mere one pound and eight ounces. Designed to be comfortable at temperatures as low as 20°F, the Hummingbird 20 has an impressive 850-fill down, and can be purchased with a super-light, durable or waterproof shell material. The down can be easily reshaped and manipulated, thanks to the open baffles, and the hood of the sleeping bag is also well-insulated for extra thermal protection from the neck up. Further customization options are provided by way of the 11 color choices and a choice of zipper lengths. Shoppers should be aware that the slimmer design of the Hummingbird 20 may not make it the best choice for larger, stockier body types. The Hummingbird 20 is available in a regular and long size, and retails for between $300 and $325.
Of all the choices in this article, the North Face Cat's Meow is the most affordable sleeping bag for hikers. The Cat's Meow is available in a men's and women's version, and weighs in at two pounds and 12 ounces for the regular size, and two pounds and 15 ounces for the longer size. This sleeping bag is designed to keep occupants comfortable even at degrees as low as 20°F, and the brushed tricot-lined footbox of the bag is roomy and flexible enough to prevent users from feeling constricted if they tend to toss and turn during sleep. Insulation for this bag is synthetic, rather than down. Additional features of the wind- and water-resistant Cat's Meow sleeping bag include a glow-in-the-dark, snag-free zipper for ease of location at night; internal draft tube pockets; and a chest-level heat trap baffle for extra thermal comfort. A small, shoulder-level zip pocket is provided for holding a watch, glasses or medication, and a taffeta bottom shell helps keep sleepers from feeling any potential discomfort caused by rough, abrasive ground. The North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag comes with a carrying sack, and is very reasonably priced, usually retailing for somewhere between $135 and $175.