Arguably the one piece of camping equipment you can’t hit the trail without is your sleeping bag.
You can have the best tent, outdoor wear and camping gear, but it’s all going to seem pointless without the right sleeping bag.
We’re here to tell you about the different types, sleeping styles and comfort levels, and how to effectively pack them in your backpack to maximize storage space. As the most important element of your camping loadout, how you pack it is equally as important.
Let’s go over each style and method, one by one.
Single Sleeping Bag
What Is It: The most basic sleeping bag model you’ll ever come into contact with. It’s your basic tube-like bag with a wide opening at the top, and minimal insulation (either synthetic or down), and packs up in the most normal way possible.
Thanks to the evenly displaced fluffiness and generally waterproof shells, it folds up well.
How to Pack It: The most simple way you can pack this is with a single roll in one direction.
You won’t even need to have a nylon drawstring bag, because after rolling this up, it will be the perfect size to hang underneath an external frame backpack, or strap-in on top of your regular backpack on the leather straps that keep the top flap down. Single sleeping bags are generally simple to pack.
Double Sleeping Bag
What Is It: It’s built for two, which means it’s twice the hassle to pack. Double sleeping bags generally detach via a zipper in the center, and come with a fairly heavy weight.
They can be a literal pain to carry on your backpack, but when you pack them up right, the weight distribution can be done in a proper way to alleviate back stress. You’ll find detachable pillows and oversized singular hoods on these.
How to Pack It: Start by laying it out flat and smoothing the surface out. You’re going to fold it horizontally so that it essentially looks like a single sleeping bag. Tuck in the oversized hood area so that it’s nice and tight (you really don’t want this puffing out while you’re trying to store it in your bag).
Start with a very tight roll from the bottom. It’s important to keep the roll tight the entire way, since this is twice as thick as a normal sleeping bag.
Once it’s rolled up completely, place it back in the nylon drawstring bag it came with, or secure it beneath the frame on your camping backpack.
Triple Sleeping Bag
What Is It: It’s a monster to pack, that’s what it is. Triple sleeping bags are usually used in close-knit family camping, and as you might have guessed it, are much heavier than double sleeping bags.
These usually don’t come with a detachable zipper access point, so folding these up may require two sets of hands.
How to Pack It: Start by laying it flat and evening it out on a level surface. You have to trifold this horizontally, like a letter.
Fold in the left 1/3 of the way, then the right, and you should have an elongated, single sleeping bag-looking ploof of fabric. Now you can go one of two ways: you can either do a tight roll from the bottom, with you taking one side and your other set of hands taking the other, or fold it vertically in half two times and place it in your backpack.
Keep in mind, this is a monster of a sleeping bag, and will require 55L capacity backpacks or more in order to not take up all available space.
What Is It: Some campers use these as a buffer between their sleeping bags and the ground below, but minimalist campers will sometimes use this in place of a sleeping bag.
Sleeping pads are thin, lightweight comfort pads that act as a layer between you and the ground, and are excellent for stargazing.
How to Pack It: It’s about to be super easy, do you think you can handle it? If it’s inflatable, simply do the valve, use your hands to press out any additional air that’s still trapped inside, then close the valve.
Roll the pad up and it’ll fit into your backpack. If it’s not inflatable, it’s going to be a little more rigid, but should still roll up well. Alternatively, you can fold it in half twice and put it against the back wall of your backpack’s main interior compartment.
What Is It: It’s a very self-explanatory piece of camping equipment, but basically it’s a more flattened version of a sleeping pad. These are ultra thin, and excellent for minimalist camping.
How to Pack It: Fold it over two to three times, and then slide it in between other belongings in your backpack. You should have little to no resistance when folding this up.
Mummy Sleeping Bag
What Is It: Picture an Egyptian mummy: these sleeping bags are the most visibly known, mostly because they cover your entire body except for your face. A drawstring allows you to tighten it so you’re as covered as can possibly be.
How to Pack It: Mummy sleeping bags aren’t much different from single sleeping bags, you just have to keep the hood in check while rolling it. Start by doing a tight roll from the bottom and follow it upward along the length of the sleeping bag.
When you have about three or four rolls left, stop: lean on the folded section so it doesn’t unfurl, then fold the mummy hood inward towards you. Continue your roll and slip it into its nylon drawstring pouch.
Down Sleeping Bag
What Is It: This simply applies to any sleeping bag style that uses down insulation instead of synthetic insulation.
Down is typically more expensive than synthetic, but once you feel the comfort of down insulation, it’s difficult to go back to synthetic. Packing down insulated sleeping bags can be a hassle.
How to Pack It: This may seem a bit simple, but it works wonders.
Down sleeping bags don’t do well when they get wet (unless you get a very high-end sleeping bag), so get two different 30-gallon black trash bags, and line one inside of the other. Fold your down sleeping bag in half twice, then place it in the bottom of the bag.
You want to lean your knees on the bag, so your body weight helps to compress it. Once you have it compressed, tie the first bag. Repeat this when using the second bag, and it will stay compact during transit.
Synthetic Sleeping Bag
What Is It: This simply applies to any sleeping bag style that uses synthetic insulation instead of down insulation. Even though this is more of a type than a style, the insulation is what proves most difficult during packing. Synthetic insulation is generally less expensive than down, and is used in winter sleeping bags often.
How to Pack It: Synthetic insulation is very compressible. You need to get a nylon bag with a drawstring on the top for storage to keep it compressed. Roll the sleeping bag up, and after each roll, press down with your forearm to compress it before storing it in the bag.
Alternatively, standard-sized synthetic sleeping bags can also be rolled and positioned underneath an external frame backpack with straps, while remaining compressed.
Ultralight Sleeping Bag
What Is It: As the title suggests, it’s designed for minimalist campers who don’t want to lug a ton of weight with them. Heavy sleeping bags can damage your back, and ultralight sleeping bags can still provide the same temperature resistance ratings as standard bags. These are generally made with synthetic insulation.
How to Pack It: You’re about to have a good time with this one. They’re usually wafer thin and simple to store, which makes it perfect to slip into the main compartment of your backpack.
Instead of rolling it, two a two-fold: fold it once, then again, and you should have a flat pad that’s about ¼ the size of its rolled-out state. You can simply put this in your backpack up against the back wall, so it provides a cushion between your back and the rest of your backpack contents.
Winter Sleeping Bag
What Is It: These come with a ton more insulation than a standard single sleeping bag, and can also come in the double sleeping bag variety.
These generally come with synthetic insulation to keep them as lightweight as possible (though that can sometimes be difficult), and as efficient as can be.
How to Pack It: If it’s made with synthetic insulation, you’re in luck. Get a nylon bag with a drawstring around the opening.
Dust off your sleeping bag, and find a level surface to begin rolling it up. When you get about halfway through rolling, you’ll notice some resistance based on the size of your sleeping bag.
Lean down with your forearms to compress the synthetic insulation, then perform a half-roll before compressing it again.
Continue this until the entire sleeping bag is rolled, but keep one forearm down on it. Use the nylon case, and once it’s in the bag, pull the drawstring as quickly as possible to keep it compressed.
Tips to Remember When Packing Your Sleeping Bag
While some of these sleeping bag types are fairly simple to pack, they’re not all equal.
These tips and tricks will help you make the most out of packing, whether you’re using an external frame backpack or a simple knapsack. Packing and storage affects far more than you think, so let’s take a look at some of the ways you can optimize your sleeping bag storage.
1. Storage Affects Lumbar Support
Whether you’re packing it under an external frame backpack, or it’s snug on the inside of your pack, you’ve got to ensure that your lumbar is being supported.
It’s the spot on the small of your back that we’re constantly damaging by improperly carrying gear around, so do make sure that your sleeping bag’s storage area isn’t putting additional stress or uneven weight distribution on your lower back.
2. Secure Detachable Hoods and Pillows
We’ve been there, and know plenty of guys who have gotten home from a three-day trip, and they can’t find their detachable sleeping bag hood anywhere.
If you don’t secure them separately, like in a different compartment of your bag, you’re bound to eventually lose them. Any detachable accessory for your sleeping bag needs to be secured in a pocket or compartment that isn’t going to come undone on your way home.
3. Wipe It Down Before Storing
Cleaning your sleeping bag can be a hassle, but if you only spent one night under the stars, a simple wipe-down could be all it needs to stay fresh and evade that funky odor.
Take a travel size pack of wet wipes with you, or a slightly damp cotton face cloth to the interior of your sleeping bag, then the exterior. There’s no need to bring home dirt and odors from your trip.
4. Cover Your Zipper
Did you grab a sweet sleeping bag with highly durable, no-snag YKK zippers? Good for you: all the more reason to protect them. Use a piece of painters tape and cover your zippers to keep them safe during transit.
I don’t care how strong your zippers are, snagging them on something while you walk can easily cause damage, especially if it’s being stored externally on your backpack.
5. Keep a Patch-up Kit Handy
You do the best job you can with research and reading reviews before you buy a new sleeping bag. Even with the best of the best, tears happen after you’ve been using your bag for a while.
Keep a patch-up kit in your backpack, or even better, in an internal sleeve of your sleeping bag if you have one. If you encounter a tear after arriving on day one of a three-day trip, you don’t want to compromise warmth and water protection.
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