Best Sleeping Bags for Survival: Essential Guide to Building Your Sleep System

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In survivalist and prepper forums, one of the most common discussions is the best sleeping bag for survival.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no one “best” sleeping bag.

There are a lot of variables to consider when choosing a survival sleeping bag.  And these variables go way beyond just temperature rating and weight/size.

Here, I want to give you a clear overview of your options so you get the right sleep setup for survival.

Short Recap

Instead of just a survival sleeping bag, you will need a “sleeping kit.” That means a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and a shelter.

If you are a novice, you’ll need these as 3 separate pieces of gear.  If you learn bushcraft survival skills though – like  how to make a camp bed – you may be able to skip some of the gear.

Survival Sleep Systems

Moderately-Cold Sleeping Setup

Bag: Kelty Tuck 22F sleeping bag. Check on Amazon

Mattress: Therm-a-Rest Prolite Ultralight Check on Amazon (or bed of dry leaves/pine needles/other debris)

Shelter: Tent or tarp shelter

Extremely-Cold Sleeping Setup

Bag: Teton Sports Altos Ultralight sleeping bag. Check on Amazon

Mattress: Therm-a-Rest Prolite Ultralight. Check on Amazon

Extra Mattress: ANDthe Z Lite SOL Ultralight for a combined R-value of 6+ Check on Amazon

Shelter: 3 or 4-season tent

Ultralight Sleeping Setup

Bag: Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 Check on Amazon

Mattress: Z Lite SOL Ultralight Check on Amazon

Shelter: Tarp or Mylar blanket shelter

For Bushcraft Experts

Bag: Teton Sports Altos -10 . Check on Amazon

Mattress: DIY bushcraft bed.

Shelter: Mylar blanket or tarp for making shelter.

Extra: Fire reflector.

How to Choose a Survival Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag technology has come a long way over the past few decades.  There are now dozens of different types and configurations.  You could spend weeks reading about all of the features before making your purchase.

While you should learn about sleeping bags, I wouldn’t obsess too much about it.  Why?

You’re better off thinking about scenarios where you’d realistically use the sleeping bag.

For example, a person living in Arizona would have very different needs than someone in New Hampshire.

It almost never gets below freezing in Arizona, nor do you have to worry about rain as much.  So an Arizonian could get by with a sleeping bag rated for lower temperatures.  The person in New Hampshire would need a more robust setup which could withstand thunderstorms and frigid temperatures.

Before you start looking, think about your Bug Out Plan.

Where will you be going?

How will you get there?

What conditions will you be sleeping in?

Once you know this information, you can choose the right sleep setup.  For more on this, read:

Once you’ve thought out your Bug Out plan, you can start thinking about the following features.

1. Temperature Rating

Good sleeping bags are tested using the EN13537 standard.  It gives a range that the bag is suitable for.

Note that the lower limit temperature is usually given.  For example, if a sleeping bag is rated for 30F, it means that the bag will keep you alive at this temperature.  But you will NOT be comfortable.

Instead, you want to pay attention to the comfort rating.

You might say that “comfort isn’t important” during survival.  But let’s see you function after spending a night freezing your butt off at the lower limits of your sleeping bag!

Suggested Sleeping Bag Ratings:

  • -40 to +4 F: If you will be in any snow or ice. Also recommended for mountaineering expeditions.
  • +5 to +29 F: This is a good range for a variety of climates.
  • +30 to +55 F: Choose for summertime or warm-weather activities at low elevations.

2. Filling

You have two main choices: down or synthetic.

For very cold weather, down is usually recommended.  However, down sleeping bags can be very pricey, need to be fluffed, and aren’t as good as synthetic in wet situations.

For winter backpacking trips, down might be the best choice.  But, for emergency bags and kits (like your BOB and car emergency kit), synthetic is probably the better choice.

Down

  • Lightweight
  • Compresses well
  • Very warm
  • Durable

  • Expensive
  • Not good for damp weather
  • Does not insulate at all when wet
  • Need to be fluffed
  • Water can ruin completely

 

Synthetic

  • Dries quickly
  • Affordable
  • Insulates when wet
  • Don’t need to be fluffed as much

  • Poor warmth-to-weight ratio
  • Making sense of synthetic technologies can be confusing

Down Fill Power, Weight and Stitching

With down, you’ll need to pay attention to “fill power” – which is how much space (loft) the down can fill when fluffed.  In general, the higher the fill power, the warmer the bag will be.

There is also down weight, which signals the amount of down used.  More fill power or weight doesn’t always mean a warmer bag. For example, a sleeping bag with 500 fill power and 32oz. of down will be warmer than a bag with 800 fill power and 16oz. of down.

You can read a good guide to the difference between down fill and down weight here.

You’ll also need to pay attention to how the fill is stitched into the bag.  The stitch makes a big difference to how well the bag “lofts” and whether the fill will get bunched in one area of the bag.

3. Shape

Sleeping Bag Shape Graphic
I know some people will disagree with me, but only choose a mummy sleeping bag for survival. This shape helps trap body heat best.

DO NOT GET:

  • Double-wide sleeping bags: Sharing a sleeping bag might sound cozy, but it never works out well in real life. The only exception is if you are going to be co-sleeping with a baby or young child.
  • Rectangular or semi-rectangular sleeping bags: They aren’t as warm because you lose body heat to the areas which don’t fit your body shape.

Some professional-level sleeping bags for survival have made smart design choices for their bags.  For example, you can get features like built-in footboxes for your feet, or “stretch baffling” so the bag stays around your body as you move around.

4. Size

I’m a 5’1” slim female.  So, I need a smaller sleeping bag than a 6’ tall husky man.

Why is size so important?

Because sleeping bags trap heat best when they fit your body.  Too much empty space in the sleeping bag will cause you to lose heat.

Likewise, you don’t want a sleeping bag which is too tight.  You’ll end up crushing the insulation, and then it won’t have air pockets needed to trap heat.

Sleeping bag for plus-sized people?

Most sleeping bags are not made for husky people.  So, if you are a bigger person, you’ll find your options limited.  Do NOT get a double-wide sleeping bag.  It will be too wide to trap heat adequately. Instead, consider these good options:

  • Use a blanket instead of a sleeping bag (like one of these top survival blankets)
  • Choose a sleeping bag with an extra-wide option

Sleeping Pads Are Just As Important!

Good, lightweight sleeping pads can be very expensive. But (I can’t emphasize this enough), they are integral to staying warm while sleeping outdoors.

When sleeping bags are tested, it is with the assumption that you are using them with a sleeping pad underneath. Even a bag rated to -30F will NOT keep you warm if you are sleeping on cold ground!

For this reason, it is really important to consider your sleeping pad along with your survival sleeping bag.

Another plus of having a sleeping pad is that you can use it to sit on.  If the ground is wet, you’ll love that you can sit on your sleeping pad while preparing dinner or just taking a rest.

Cheap foam sleeping pads can be purchased for as little as $10 – especially in Army surplus stores. They usually only offer an R-Value of about 0.5-1 though.  Self-inflating pads offer more comfort and a higher R-Value, but are a bit annoying to inflate when on-the-go.

Which Sleeping Pad for Winter Survival?

You will probably need TWO sleeping pads.  Why? Because it is usually cheaper to buy two sleeping pads than one pad with a very high R-value.

Winter backpackers generally use this pad system:

  • A self-inflating sleeping pad
  • A closed-cell foam (CCF) pad on top of this.

The CCF pad goes above the inflatable sleeping pad because you want the pad with the highest R-value to be closed to your body. However, for comfort reasons, some backpackers do put the CCF pad on the bottom.

Sleeping Pad R-Value

Like other forms of insulation, sleeping pad warmth is rated with R-value.  The chart below gives you an idea of how much R-value you need to stay warm – i.e. prevent the ground from sucking the heat out of you.

Remember that R-values are accumulative.  You can put two sleeping pads on top of each other to combine their R-value.  For example, a sleeping pad with R-value 2 on top of a pad with an R-value of 3 equals R-value of 5.
[su_spoiler title=”R Values Table – Click to expand” class=”bottom-spoiler”]

R-ValueTemperature in Fahrenheit
1.248
1.646
2.136
2.928
3.223
412
4.65
4.91
5.3-4
5.9-11
7-26
8-36

Recommended Sleeping Pads

Self Inflating PadsR-ValueWeight

Thermarest UltraLight
2.418oz

Klymit Static V
4.425oz

Exped Megamat 10
9.589.6oz

Closed-Cell Foam MatsR-ValueWeight

Therm-a-Rest Z
2.614oz

Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest
3.519oz

Knowledge Replaces Gear!

When you get more knowledge and experience, you will be able to get rid of some gear. For example, instead of buying a sleeping pad, you could learn how to make a “bushcraft bed.”  The bed elevates you so the ground won’t act as a heat sink.

Raised-platform bushcraft beds can actually be very comfortable, so long as you add a layer of debris over the logs. The video below shows you how to make one.

Of course, this takes time – something you might not have in a survival/Bug Out situation.  So, even if you do have knowledge, it might still make sense to bring a sleeping pad.

What Shelter Will You Use?

It’s impossible to choose a survival sleeping bag without taking your shelter into consideration.

If you are using your sleeping bag with a tent, then you can get one with a lower temperature rating (since the tent will trap some body heat).

But if you are going to use your sleeping bag under a tarp, then you’ll need a much warmer sleeping bag or know survival skills like how to make a fire reflector.

I’d also avoid getting a down sleeping bag if you are going to sleep under a tarp or debris shelter.  Down doesn’t do well in wet situations, and even a well-constructed shelter is likely to let some moisture/rain through.

Read:

Best Survival Sleeping Bags

Because there are so many types of sleeping bags which could be used for survival, I’ve broken them into categories:

  • Sleeping bags for extremely cold weather
  • Sleeping bags for moderate-to-cold weather
  • Lightweight survival sleeping bags

Extreme Cold (0°F and Below)

These sleeping bags are what you need for cold-weather bugging out (though you might want to consider bugging in in winter if you are in a very cold climate).

As talked about before, remember that it isn’t only the sleeping bag which matters.  For surviving outdoors in freezing cold temperatures, you will need a good sleeping pad to prevent heat loss from the ground.

Winter backpackers use a closed-cell foam pad with an inflatable pad on top of it.

For sleeping pads, we recommend using a combo of the Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus (R-value 3.4) AND the Z Lite SOL Ultralight (R-value 2.6) for a combined R-value of 6.

When used with a good sleeping bag, these should keep you alive and semi-comfy at temperatures down to -11F.


Klymit KSB 0

Klymit makes really good backpacking gear, and their products don’t cost as much as other gear of the same quality (though don’t expect a 4-season sleeping bag to ever be cheap!).
Check Prices On Amazon
klymit 0F down sleeping bag
This survival sleeping bag has some nice features, like adjustable length locks so it can be used with people of different heights.  The “stretch baffle” stitching keeps the down in place and also near your body.  Even if you move around a lot while sleeping you will still have the same amount of insulation around you. Another cool feature is that there are little pockets inside the sleeping bag for items like your flashlight.

Features:

  • 0°F lower limit rating
  • 82”
  • 3.7lbs
  • 650 down filling
  • Stretch baffle stitching on lower half
  • Adjustable length
  • Insulated hood
  • Compresses to 15×8.5”

Check On Amazon


US Military 4-Piece Modular Sleep System with Gore-Tex Cover

A lot of people swear by this survival sleep system.  It is the setup used by the military, so has been field-tested more than any other system.

However, I suspect that the popularity of the setup mostly has to do with the fact that it is military, and thus seems most “rugged” or “manly.”  I personally dislike this setup but decided to include it here because it is so popular.
Check Prices On Amazon

The way that this setup works is by using two mummy-style sleeping bags which go inside of a waterproof bivvy sack.  Using the both sleeping bags at once means you can get down to -30°F.  In warmer weather, you can use just one of the sleeping bags.

While it will keep you alive, there are some issues with using bivvy sacks as part of your survival sleep setup. The big issue is that you will get wet because condensation always builds up in bivvy sacks in cold weather.  You are better off with a vented tent.

Another issue with this system is that it weighs 11lbs.  You won’t want this in your BOB, but it would work for bugging out by vehicle.  It’s also a good choice for your at-home emergency kit, such as staying warm during power outages.

Features:

  • Comes with two sleeping bags (one rated to 30F and the other to -10F), a Gore-Tex bivy sack, and a compression sack
  • Good down to -30F when both sleeping bags are used
  • Multi-piece system means it is versatile
  • Made in the USA
  • 11lbs

Check On Amazon


Teton Sports Altos -10 Sleeping Bag

There are several versions of the Altos sleeping bag available. For survival in very cold weather, you’d want the -10F down bag. This is a great deal for a down sleeping bag, especially one rated to such as low limit.
Check Prices On Amazon

I’m not sure how they manage to keep the costs down, but it isn’t by sacrificing quality (might have to do with having a lower down fill weight, which they don’t list).  Regardless, almost everyone who buys this sleeping bag loves it.

The temperature rating for this bag is: -42°F extreme, -2°F limit, +12°F comfort (not sure why it is listed as a -10 bag).

There are a lot of other nice features about the sleeping bag, like the interior pockets and built-in footbox.  The best is the fact that it’s made from hydrophobic down.  Normally down takes forever to dry and will smell terrible forever if it gets wet.  This type of down supposedly can get wet and dry faster than synthetics – perfect for survival situations.

Features:

  • 84”
  • Lower limit -2°F (extreme -42°F)
  • 550 Hydrophobic down
  • Water resistant exterior
  • Compresses to 16.5”x10”
  • 4.2lbs
  • Hood
  • Draft tubes along zippers
  • Interior pockets

Check On Amazon


Moderate-to-Cold Weather (lower Limit 1-22 F)

These sleeping bags probably won’t keep you alive once the temperatures get into the minuses.  However, this does make them much more affordable.

They are also a lot lighter than 4-season sleeping bags. Choose one of these  for situations like:

  • Bug Out Bags in warmer climates
  • Car emergency kits
  • “Hunker down” kits, for situations like power outages

Marmot Trestles 15 (Men’s)

This is a great introductory sleeping bag that will keep you warm in moderately cold weather.  With survival skills like knowing how to make a fire and shelter, it will keep you alive in extreme cold.
Check Prices On Amazon

There honestly isn’t anything too special about this sleeping bag.  However, it does everything that you’d expect it to do and is much more affordable than the professional-level sleeping bags.

My only real complaint with the bag is that it is very bulky, so you probably won’t want this in a BOB.

Features:

  • Synthetic SpiraFil loft filling
  • Lower limit 15F
  • Available in 75” or 82”
  • 3lbs 6oz (regular) or 3lbs 12oz (long)
  • Compresses to 12.6 liters (regular) or 13 liters (long)
  • Interior pocket
  • Moisture resistant

Check On Amazon


Klymit KSB 20 Down

This is the same exact sleeping bag as the Klymit KSB 0 (reviewed above).  The only difference is the amount of down filling used.
Check Prices On Amazon

You still get the great features like stretch baffling, collar, and interior pocket – but the lower limit is 20F instead of 0F.

The lower temperature rating means that this bag is lighter than the 0F bag.  It is also a lot more affordable to buy.

Features:

  • 650 down filling, 21.2oz weight
  • 2.75lbs
  • 10F lower limit, 23F comfort
  • 5”
  • Adjustable length locks
  • Interior pocket
  • Stretch baffle stitching
  • Compresses to 13×8.5”
  • Water resistant

Check On Amazon


Kelty Tuck 22F Mummy Bag

If you want a very affordable sleeping bag for survival purposes, the Kelty Tuck 22 is a good choice. Remember that the lower limit is 22F, so you won’t exactly be comfortable using this bag in very cold weather. However, it will keep you alive (assuming you’ve also got a sleeping pad and fire going).
Check Prices On Amazon

There are some nice professional features to the bag, like draft tubes and interior pockets. These small extras make it stand out from other survival sleeping bags in its price range.

Features:

  • ThermaPro synthetic fill
  • Lower limit 22F
  • Fits 6’ (regular) or 6’6” (long)
  • 3lbs (regular) or 3lbs 3oz (long)
  • Compresses to 9×15” (regular and long)
  • Draft tubes
  • Interior pocket
  • Affordable option

Check On Amazon


Lightweight (Under 2lbs)

If you are planning a Bug Out Bag, then weight really matters.  A 20lb pack might not seem heavy when you test it at home—but try trekking 15+ miles per day while wearing it.

The problem with lightweight survival sleeping bags is that they are either 1) really expensive or 2)not very warm.  You’ll have to make a tradeoff between price, weight, and temperature.

That’s why it is so important to learn survival skills in addition to getting good gear. Also read these tips for reducing weight from your Bug Out Bag.

All of the following bags weigh 2lbs or under, but have varying prices and temperature ratings.


Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20

This is by far the best sleeping bag for Bug Out Bags.  Why?  Because it is incredibly light at only 1lb 12oz yet has a lower limit of 20F.
Check Prices On Amazon

The secret to the bag’s weight/warmth ratio is the very high-quality down that is used.  It also uses a smart design which utilizes space perfectly. The only potential downside is that it is a bit narrow, so might not be the best solution for heavier people or people with wide shoulders.

As you’d expect with a lightweight sleeping bag rated for such low temperatures, the bag isn’t cheap — but it is worth it if you can afford it.

Features:

  • 850 down fill
  • Lower limit 20F
  • 1lb 12oz (short) or 1lb 13oz( long), 1lb 15oz (extra long)
  • Continuous baffle stitching
  • Threes sizes: 5’6”, 6’, and 6’6”
  • Draft tubes
  • Compresses to 7×13”
  • Full down collar

Check On Amazon


Sea to Summit Spark SP III

Sea to Summit is one of my favorite brands of backpacking gear.  Their gear isn’t exactly cheap, but you get really good, professional-level gear.
Check Prices On Amazon

One of the main standout features of the Spark SP III is that it uses Ultra-Dry down.  This means that the down has been treated with water repellent so the down retains its loft, won’t absorb as much water, and will dry out much faster. So, you can actually use this down bag in wet conditions – such as camping in a tarp shelter.

Features:

  • 850 fill down, 14/15oz fill weight (regular/long)
  • Ultra-dry down
  • Lower limit 25F
  • Fits 6’ (regular) or 6’3” (long)
  • 37lbs (regular) or 1.5lbs (long)
  • Sew-through transverse baffle stitching at legs
  • Hood
  • Draft tube
  • Compresses to 3.7 liters

Check On Amazon


Therm-a-rest Space Cowboy 45

Therm-a-rest is best known for their sleeping pads, but they also make some great sleeping bags too. This bag is great for warmer temperatures or car/hunker-down survival kits.  It is only 1.2lbs and compresses very small (to the size of a 1-liter bottle).
Check Prices On Amazon

While it isn’t the warmest bag by a long shot, this bag does stand out from others in its class for durability and great design.

Features:

  • Synthetic Eraloft fill
  • 45F lower limit, 52F comfort
  • Fits up to 6’ (regular)
  • 2lbs (regular)
  • Compresses to 16×9”

Check On Amazon

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