Our Top Pick for 2018: TETON Sports Tracker Ultralight
Read our full review.
Most backpackers agree that lighter is better. So, when it comes to a sleeping bag, do you simply choose by weight? If it were only that simple. Each hiker has to decide how many ounces they are willing to shed without sacrificing comfort or safety. Of course, your bag choice ultimately depends on the location and season of your trip as well as your internal thermostat. The bags reviewed here are not intended for a mid-winter hike through Alaska. For most three-season travel, however, these sleeping bags should serve you well—whether you are off for a summer on the AT or a week of fall foliage in The Whites.
#1. TETON Sports Tracker Ultralight
For over fifteen years, Teton Sports has been know for producing outstanding camping gear. Their users are a satisfied bunch that keep coming back for more. The loyalty is due, in part, because of a generous limited lifetime warranty on all products. With such a commitment to quality, it is no wonder the Sports Tracker Ultralight tops the list of backpacking sleeping bags.
At first glance, the Tracker looks a little ordinary. Its gray body with red or green racing stripe does not jump out from the crowd. A closer inspection, however, reveals a bag that is well-constructed, roomy, compact, and not too heavy to carry—all reasons the Tracker is the top pick.
First, the stats. The bag is made with a water-resistant 75D diamond ripstop shell covering an interwoven PolarLite insulation. All that adds up to a 5 Degree F rating without excess bulk. While 5 Degrees may be pushing it for comfort, there are many features that enable this bag to sleep warmer than most. One such feature is the hood. Most mummy hoods draw into an oval shape that either leaves ears exposed or gaps at the cheeks. The three-piece hood on the Tracker is especially nice on chilly nights as it covers the ears and adjusts for a very snug fit around the face. Because the shell is water-resistant, the bag does not soak up condensation and feel wet come morning. An extra layer of fill in the vaulted foot-box keeps toes high, dry and toasty as temperatures plummet. Lastly, the full-length zipper baffle guards against the nasty drafts that often blow through zipper teeth.
The Tracker is not a huge bag, but at 87” x 34” x 22” it is more than ample for most adults. Unlike most mummy bags which simply taper from head to toe, the Tracker nips in at the head and flairs a bit at the shoulders. This design puts the widest part of the bag at actual shoulder level and makes the bag feel much bigger. Plus, the extra head and foot features mean that even a smaller person can heat the extra space and feel warm.
At a pack weight of 4.1 pounds, the Tracker Ultralight arguably pushes the definition of “ultralight.” Even though it tops the scale, it still only takes a reasonable footprint in the pack. With the included compression sack, the size squeezes to a 15” x 9” x 9.” Although the factory sack is adequate, a better compression sack may push the size down by another inch or two.
While the Tracker is all about performance, the little details really drive it to the top of the list. The double brushed lining is soft and breathable for cozy comfort. The feel is so soft you will not mind going without socks or sleeping in shorts when the weather allows. The zippers are made from an acetal resin that is lightweight yet durable under extreme temperature and pressure. Although there is a Velcro tab over the zipper head for protection, this zipper barely needs it. The zippers glide easily from inside or outside the bag—even when the hood is fully cinched. Of course, if your feet get too hot, the zipper also comes up from the bottom to maintain the perfect sleeping temperature.
If there is one drawback to the Tracker bag, it is that it only comes with a left-handed zipper. While most right-handed people find it easier to reach across their chest and pull a zipper on the left, what about lefties?
#2. Outdoor Vitals OV-Light
Outdoor Vitals is a sleeping bag specialist. The company was founded by a college student eager to provide quality gear at affordable prices in order to “open the outdoors” to everyone. With a direct-to-consumer distribution model, the bags are available directly from Outdoor Vitals without the standard middle-man markup. There is even a one-year guarantee on craftsmanship which helped propel the OV-Light bag to the number two pick.
OV-Light is one of the few backpacking bags with a color and a zipper choice. The royal blue/black bag has a right-handed zipper, while the orange/black model is left-handed. Having a choice of zipper side is nice, but the really cool thing is that the two zip together to form a double bag. So, each partner can carry their own bag during the day and join up at night.
The first thing you notice when you handle the OV-Light bag is that it is light. Yet, thermal stats are impressive—35 Degree F rating. A tough nylon shell reduces soiling and prevents water and condensation from soaking through the pad. The light fill is is listed as a “new hollow filament synthetic with heat retentive properties.” The bag has a drawstring hood, but it does not shape well enough to really protect the face and ears. As a result, this is probably not the best bag to push the seasons, but is more than adequate for most of the year—especially when you can enjoy it with a partner.
The bag is incredibly light, but also on the small side. Compared to others, it may even feel “mummy-ish” at 83” x 29,” including the hood. If you sleep on your back, the narrow sides and reduced shoulder space will not cause much of a problem. If you like to change positions, however, you will need to learn to roll with the bag instead of in the bag.
Where pack weight is the biggest consideration, you cannot beat the OV-Light’s 2 pounds. The bag comes with its own compression sack that easily reduces the bag down to 9” x 7.” With so much pack space left, you may want to consider adding a liner for extra warmth and a cozier inner surface.
That is not to say that the OV-Light is devoid of creature comforts. The double zippers are reinforced and a clever zipper guard does a great job of keeping nearby fabric and foreign materials from getting caught. A Velcro cover over the zipper head and a protected valuables compartment are also nice touches.
The biggest drawback to the bag is a lack of reinforcement stitching in seams and critical areas. There is nothing to hold the bag layers together, so they tend to bunch and slide like a duvet gone bad. If not swiftly corrected, the bag can turn into a nightmare of twisted fiber. To be fair, OV does provide videos to address the care of sleeping bags, and they are worth watching.
#3. Rovor Buhl Compact Lightweight
Named after mountaineer Hermann Buhl, arguably one of the best climbers of all time, you would expect the Rovor Buhl Compact Lightweight bag to be made for serious outdoor work. Rated at 14-45 F, it clearly is not intended for the Alp and Himalayan climbing Buhl endured. However, it has everything you would expect in a spring or summer bag intended for rugged use.
At first impression, this bag is big and striking. Easily one of the larger mummy-style bags, it comes in a bright 3-tone color scheme that screams “happy.” The outer shell is a reserved navy and light blue combo, but the florescent yellow liner is hard to miss and makes the whole thing really pop.
Of course, the Rovor Buhl is more than just good-looking. Made with a reinforced mini-diamond ripstop poly shell, the bag is rugged and resistant to tearing and ripping. In fact, even if the bag does get a small hole, it will not continue to rip like many fabrics. The lightweight 3D loft microfiber 200-gram fill is fluffy, lightweight and surprisingly warm. The survival rating of 14 Degrees F is just that—survival. At temperatures around freezing, the bag is very comfortable assuming some shelter and pad are also used. The hood cinches nicely and a chest baffle also prevents excess heat loss–a big help as temperatures drop. Perhaps the best part of this bag is the super-soft inner lining. Many bags are the same inside and out, so the addition of a soft lining is a luxurious plus that feels great–even on bare skin.
Even if you are a larger build, this bag will accommodate. Built for someone up to 7.2 feet tall and measuring a whopping 90” x 32” x 22,” it is almost too big for a smaller person to achieve maximum warmth. The added space does give plenty of room to shift positions without feeling claustrophobic, however. Also, there is plenty of room at the bottom to stash valuables or additional clothing. On moderate nights, the extra fabric also makes a nice pillow.
Rovor really paid attention to details in this bag—right down to the YKK zipper. For those who do not know, YKK stand for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. YKK is practically a zipper monopoly. The Japanese firm makes over half of all the zippers on earth. So why do so many manufacturers turn to YKK zippers? The answer is simple. YKK makes quality, dependable zippers. The YKK zipper in the Buhl bag is heavy-duty and designed for reliable, no-snag performance. What more could you want?
Even though the Buhl is big, it is still super compact. The bag comes with a nice quality, rip-stop compression sack, so there is no need to spend additional money. Using the included sack, the bag easily shrinks to a respectable 10” x 7” with ease. With a pack weight of only 2.5 pounds, this bag lives up to its lightweight name as well.
The Buhl appears to be available only with a right-handed zipper. This means that as you are laying in the bag, the zipper is on your right side. The zipper is large and relatively easy to maneuver with either hand, so getting in and out is not much of a problem. However, the right-handed opening is not convenient for tents that only open on the left.
Overall, the Rovor Buhl is a great bag choice. It has plenty of room and comfort in a compact, light package. It may not be the ideal bag to stretch into the colder shoulder seasons, but it is plenty tough for everything else.
#4. Best Choice Products Mummy Sleeping Bag
The top three picks are not overly pricey, but this bag is about as budget-friendly as possible while still having merit as backpacking gear. For a company that started in business to sell pool tables, Best Choice Products now has a surprising array of quality products for outdoor recreation and this Mummy Sleeping Bag is a good example. While clearly not a premium bag, it checks most boxes nicely.
Made of with a 210T waterproof nylon shell and 2 x 200g/M2 hollow fiber fill, it carries a 5 Degree F rating. Like most bags, the rating is more a “survival” number than a “comfort” number. This is supported by other reviewers who found the bag less than stellar in below freezing temps. The waterproof shell does keep condensation from soaking the bag overnight—a big help with sleeping warmth and comfort. However, the top drawstring does not cinch tightly enough around the head and ears. Since most heat is lost through the head, a cap is a must to remain comfortable in this bag when temps drop.
Nonetheless, the bag is large enough for most at 84” x 24” x 3.” If there is any complaint, it is the width more than the length. Although there is a draw string at the shoulders, the bag is so narrow it is not needed. The narrow width may not bother some, but it is not ideal for anyone who changes sleeping positions often.
The zipper is clunky and sub-par, but still has the a Velcro closure to keep the scratchy parts away from your face. The double zipper opens at the bottom for ventilation—a key feature for comfort on warmer nights. There is even a cell phone or valuables pouch with Velcro closure inside the bag.
The bag weighs a mere 3 pounds. This sounds like an ideal weight for a backpack bag, but here is the catch. This bag just does not compress well. Even with the included stuff sack, the bag is too large and bulky to fit well in most packs. This is a huge drawback—especially for longer treks where the space is needed for other important supplies. Yes, the bag could be attached outside the pack, but that is taking a real chance with the weather on any trek longer than one night. So, for lack of compression, this bag ends up in fourth place.
All other things being equal, lighter is better. Nothing kills a long hike faster than excess pack weight. Luckily, new technology allows sleeping bags to be light as a feather without compromising snuggly warmth and comfort. In fact, one of the best ways to prevent miserable, cold nights is to find a bag that fits well without being too big. Your body radiates heat as you sleep. The bag traps air warmed by your body. So, the more dead space in the bag, the harder your body has to work to stay warm. A mummy-shaped bag is usually the best for backpacking because the shape cuts weight and also improves thermal efficiency.
Just as weight matters, size matters too. Even if a bag is uncommonly comfy, it will not be practical if it hogs half the space in your pack. A good bag should compress easily into a compact size. Starting every day fighting to force an unyielding bag into its stuff sack is no fun. Pay attention to the compression sack, too. Most bags come with a sack or stuff sleeve, but it may be worth upgrading to something with additional stitching or structure to handle the rigors of trail life.
Your bag may have a mummy shape, but you should not feel like a mummy in it. The bigger you are and the more you toss and turn, the more you will appreciate a little extra “wiggle” room. The size of bags varies dramatically. It is not safe to assume that a bigger bag is heavier, nor is it correct that a smaller bag will compress to a tighter size.
Zipper construction may not be sexy, but it is important. There is nothing worse than the panic that fills your brain the minute you realize you are held hostage by a mummy-bag zipper that just will not budge. Most bags today have inner and outer zippers—a real must for a tight fit on a cold night. Nice extras also include double zippers that allow extra ventilation at the feet, zipper guards to keep foreign items out of the zipper track or generous zipper baffles that arrest cold air flow through the zipper teeth. Some bags only come with a left or right-handed zipper —a real bummer if your habit is to sleep on the opposite side.
Just because a bag keeps you alive in extreme temps does not mean it is comfortable. If you are bleary from lack of sleep, you need to look for something more comfortable. Granted, comfort is a personal thing. Some bags have great insulation that keeps you toasty, but the liner fabric just feels “icky” next to the skin. When you are testing a bag, jump in. How would it feel against bare legs on a warm night?
Like it or not, budget plays a role in most decisions. Yes, you can spend $800 on a premium bag. The good news is, you do not have to break the bank for a comfortable night on the trail. All of the bags reviewed are widely available for under $100.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
In the end, selecting a sleeping bag is an individual decision. There is always a trade-off between weight, size and temperature rating. Hopefully these reviews will help you determine which features are necessary for you to enjoy your backpacking experience to its fullest.