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Uncovering the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bags for Backpacking and Thru-Hiking

We tested 10 ultralight sleeping bags from May to October in the Rocky Mountains this year while peakbagging  backpacking  and even during 100 mile mountain ultras.
By Brandon Lampley ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday
Going ultralight? We can help you find the right sleeping bag for that. After evaluating 50 popular models, we tested the best 10 side-by-side over several months and many nights under the stars. Our expert testers hauled and put these products to the test throughout the Rocky Mountains on backpacking, peak bagging, and bike touring trips. From valley campsites to summit bivies, we designed tests to find which bags are true to their temp rating claims, which can handle the largest range of temperatures, and which ones pack up small and light. For our weight-conscious adventuring friends, this review will find the perfect featherlight bag to fit your needs.

Updated April 2017
Backpacking season is upon us, and so we refreshed this review to include several product updates. Many models we feature here recently received minor updates to their design and fill. For example, both Feathered Friends bags increased their down fill-power to 950, and Katabatic Gear made an eco-friendly move by ensuring all their goose down is traceable and ethically sourced. The Enlightened Equipment model increased its fill power and down treatment, too. We detail each product update in the individual review, highlighting the differences between the newer and older models. We also added tables and charts to the performance metrics below for quick and easy comparison in key areas.

The Best Overall Ultralight Sleeping Bag


Katabatic Gear Palisade 30


Editors' Choice Award

Exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio
Very comfortable
Great for back, tummy, or side sleepers
Large temperature range
Expensive
Doesn't open into a flat quilt
New Fabric and Down Updates from Katabatic
Katabatic recently informed us that this bag is now constructed with a new fabric in hopes of greater longevity and water repellency. Plus, the down they use is now 100% traceable and ethically sourced. More details in the individual review!
From thru-hiking long trails to lightweight weekend backpacking trips to fast and light climbing, the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 offers tremendous versatility, comfort, and an exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. This ultralight sleeping bag weighs 18.8 ounces and kept our testers warm in the mid 30's, and into the low 20's with warm clothing. The Palisade has the best pad attachment system of any quilt tested and is available in 900-fill down or 850-fill hydrophobic down. Every part of the Katabatic quilt system is well designed and offers exceptional performance and comfort. Every single one of our testers would love to have this bag as their own. It's also available in 0, 15, 20, and 40-degree versions!

Read full review: Katabatic Gear Palisade 30

Best Bang for Your Buck


Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20


Enlightened Equipment Revelation DT850
Best Buy Award

Inexpensive
Versatile
Opens into flat blanket
Warm and stable baffle system
Many custom options
Pad attachment method isn't as comfortable or warm as the Palisade
Relatively heavy
Latest Product Updates to the Revelation
Enlightened Equipment just informed us that they increased the fill power to 850. The down employed in this bag is now treated with DownTek, intended to improve its loft when wet. Read more in the individual review!
Want a high-quality, fully-opening quilt with excellent features for almost half the price of other ultralight sleeping bags? The Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 easily wins our Best Buy Award again this year. It has been completely redesigned and is better than ever. The pad attachment system works well, and was only out-performed by the Katabatic Gear Palisade. A combination of vertical and horizontal baffles keeps the down right where you need it, especially for side sleepers. Many options for temperature rating, and an option to use lighter fabrics, easily make this model our favorite quilt that opens fully into a blanket.

Read full review: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20

Top Pick for Summer Use


Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45


Top Pick Award

Roomy and comfortable
Designed for summer temperatures
Awesome pillow pocket
Poor warmth-to-weight ratio
Requires a liner or LOTS of clothing for three-season use
While many folks, thru-hikers especially, need an ultralight sleeping bag that can span three seasons of temperatures, from near freezing to warmer summer conditions, some folks are seeking a bag suited to warmer conditions only. If you do not expect nights below 40 F, we highly recommend the Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45. For most summer nights, it is great on its own with minimal clothing. Plus, if you enjoy "cowboy camping" without a shelter, the Pitchpine provides more protection from creepy crawlies (thanks to its completely enclosed design) compared to an open quilt. Paired up with warm clothing, our testers found it comfortable into the mid 30's. An optional synthetic liner from Big Agnes will extend the Pitchpine's warmth down to just below freezing. Unfortunately, Big Agnes recently discontinued this product. If you can find it at a discount, it could be a steal!

Read full review: Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45

Top Pick for Alpine Climbing


Feathered Friends Vireo


Top Pick Award

$309.00
at Feathered Friends

900-fill down
Variable fill
Compresses very small
Weighs only 14-16 ounces
Must be paired with warm jacket
Feet can get hot in warmer weather
Not as versatile
More (Down) Power!
Feathered Friends increased the fill power of this bag to 950, RDS certified down.

Climbing big technical routes in the mountains often means sleeping in really rough locations, often in a seated position. For these bivouacs, our testers have found that half bags those that come partway up your body offer the best performance for fast and light ascents. When paired with a down parka, the 14-ounce Feathered Friends Vireo bag provides a toasty set-up for most of the year; we've been comfortable down to a little below 0 F while wearing the Feathered Friends Volant parka along with the Vireo. The Vireo has tapered insulation designed to work with a big parka — high loft from the hips down, and less loft in the torso to layer well with your parka.

Read full review: Feathered Friends Vireo

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Style Nominal Rating Weight (bag only)
84
Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 $460
Editors' Choice Award
Quilt - Closed Foot 30F 18.8 oz
81
ZPacks 20 Degree $390
Hoodless Mummy 20F 17.2 oz
75
Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 $250
Best Buy Award
Quilt - Fully Opening 20F 21.9 oz
74
Feathered Friends Vireo $309
Top Pick Award
Mummy - 3/4 Length 45F/25F 13.9 oz
71
Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45 $350
Top Pick Award
Quilt - Closed Foot 45F 20.5 oz
70
Hammock Gear Burrow 40 $219
Quilt - Fully Opening 40F 14.8 oz
70
Western Mountaineering Summerlite $390
Hooded Mummy 32F 18.3 oz
70
Feathered Friends Flicker 40 UL $339
Quilt - Fully Opening 40F 18.7 oz
65
Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32 $480
Hooded Mummy 32F 16 oz
64
Nemo Equipment Tango Solo $300
Quilt - Closed Foot 30F 28.5 oz

Analysis and Test Results


Below we describe our rating metrics and discuss the top scorers in each. We rated our ultralight sleeping bags based on five criteria: warmth, weight and packed size, versatility, comfort, and features. Read on to find out more about these categories in detail. The table above shows how each bag ranked in Overall Performance, which is tallied by the cumulative scores of the five weighted criteria.

In each model's individual review, we compare and contrast to similar products, explain our rating in each metric, and detail the features of each bag, as well as the size and other options when purchasing. Many of the bags tested here are available in several temperature ratings to best meet your needs for warmth.

When you sleep in your warm layers  you're dressed and ready when you wake up. We often pack away our ultralight sleeping bag last when breaking camp at the crack of dawn. Brandon starts off the day with strong coffee  river music  and warm feet and legs thanks to the Palisade. Indian Peaks  Colorado.
When you sleep in your warm layers, you're dressed and ready when you wake up. We often pack away our ultralight sleeping bag last when breaking camp at the crack of dawn. Brandon starts off the day with strong coffee, river music, and warm feet and legs thanks to the Palisade. Indian Peaks, Colorado.

Warmth


Getting a good night's sleep is key to enjoying your overnight outdoor adventures, and warmth plays a critical role in making that happen. More importantly, though, warmth is critical for your safety. In the quest to lighten your load for comfort and speed, compromising on warmth is just not an option. If your ultralight sleeping bag, paired with your warm clothing, does not keep you warm enough to sleep well and recuperate from your big hiking or climbing day, well, it doesn't matter how little it weighs. Fortunately, the innovative bags we test here deliver excellent warmth-to-weight ratios. We strongly believe that you should choose your warmth based on the weather you will encounter, and our warmth ratings contribute 35% to each product's overall score.


The amount of loft, measured as the number of inches of insulation between you and the external environment, has the most influence on sleeping bag warmth. The amount of down, its fill power, and how it is distributed in the sleeping bag's baffles is detailed in individual reviews.

We spent a number of nights "cowboy camping" in each of these bags to compare their lower limits for a warm nights sleep. Wearing warm layers while sleeping in the Nemo Tango Solo  and having hot drinks close at hand for dawn's minimum temperatures  demonstrate minimalist systems working together for warmth and comfort.
We spent a number of nights "cowboy camping" in each of these bags to compare their lower limits for a warm nights sleep. Wearing warm layers while sleeping in the Nemo Tango Solo, and having hot drinks close at hand for dawn's minimum temperatures, demonstrate minimalist systems working together for warmth and comfort.

True to the ultralight approach, which seeks backpacking systems that complement each other, we evaluated these products' lower warmth limits while sleeping in most of our warm clothing. Base layers, a warm hat and/or an insulated jacket with a hood are the key pieces of warm clothing that complement these minimalist bags.


Fit is the next most important factor in determining sleeping bag warmth: bags that are too tight or too short won't allow the insulation to loft properly. Fortunately, many of the bags tested here are available in many different lengths and widths, unlike the majority of the traditional style bags found in our Backpacking Sleeping Bag Review. In addition, many are also available in multiple temperature ratings, from 0 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit; select the temperature that meets your needs best. Be sure to visit our individual reviews where we explain the warmth score for each of the models we tested and the options for sizing and amount of down insulation (temperature rating).

Our two-person test teams often traded bags on multi-night trips to compare warmth and comfort. Here we test the Feather Friends Flicker and an Enlightened Equipment Revelation (with optional moisture-resistant fabric at foot and neck) side-by-side.
Our two-person test teams often traded bags on multi-night trips to compare warmth and comfort. Here we test the Feather Friends Flicker and an Enlightened Equipment Revelation (with optional moisture-resistant fabric at foot and neck) side-by-side.

One bag of this bunch stood out for warmth: the Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 earned the highest warmth rating, a 9 out of 10. This closed foot box quilt is not only very lofty relative to its 30-degree temperature rating, but also has a superior pad attachment and adjustment system. In short, the Palisade 30's design is the best at sealing in warmth, and this bag continues its run as our Editors' Choice winner. We found it as warm as, or warmer than, the two bags we tested with a nominal rating of 20 degrees. Our tests found these two bags, the ZPacks 20 Degree and the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20, to be the second and third warmest of the 10 products we tested this year. The ZPacks bag is the warmest hoodless mummy we tested and is an excellent and very light bag with a partial zipper that opens for warmer weather. The Revelation 20 is especially notable; it delivers the most warmth relative to price and earned our Best Buy Award for value. The lowest scoring models for warmth were not surprising, as they are the products with the least loft and highest temperature ratings. Both are excellent options for summer backpacking. The Big Agnes Pitchpine UL 45 is one of the most comfortable products we tested and won a Top Pick for Summer Use. We also tested the 40-degree version of the Hammock Gear Burrow 40, which is available in several warmer versions.

Weight & Packed Size


After warmth, weight is the most important criteria for selecting an ultralight sleeping bag. If you are putting together a lightweight backpacking kit, all of these bags are a good choice for building a system with a base weight in the mid-teens. If you are paring your base weight down to ultralight levels (eight or nine pounds) then the ounces really matter. Most of the models we tested weighed in just an ounce or two above or below one pound. This about-one-pound weight is a perfect goal weight for your ultralight sleeping bag when you're building a base weight of less than ten pounds for 3-season backpacking. Our measured weight for each model accounts for 30% of total scores.


Ultralight sleeping bag weight is a function of the amount and type of insulation, its shell fabric, and its features. All of the bags tested here use a high fill-power down, and most use very high-quality lightweight fabrics. The primary factor that makes one bag lighter than another is its cut and its features, or lack thereof. The warmest bags for their weight find creative ways to eliminate features without reducing comfort. Zippers, draft tubes to back them, and hoods are traditional features of mummy bags that are often eliminated in these products to shave weight.

The average weight of the ultralight sleeping bags tested here is 19 ounces. In contrast, the average weight of the hooded three-season bags we tested is 31 ounces.


The lightest ultralight sleeping bag we tested in this review is the Feathered Friends Vireo at 13.9 ounces. This "half bag" eliminates all heavy features and is designed to be paired with a warm down parka for light and fast alpine trips. The Hammock Gear Burrow 40 and Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed are the next two lightest models we tested. Although we have concerns about its durability, the 16-ounce Mountain Speed is the lightest hooded mummy bag we evaluated. The two bags that earned the highest overall scores in the review, the Katabatic Gear Palisade and Zpack's 20 Degree bag, deliver the most warmth relative to weight. At 19 and 17 ounces respectively, they are impressive ultralight bags.

The ZPacks 20 Degree bag comes with a waterproof  roll-top style dry bag  but the other competitors simply include inexpensive sacks. Most of these bags can be compressed to as little as half the volume seen here in their included sacks. The exception is the Palisade 30  which is a tight fit in the included bag.
The ZPacks 20 Degree bag comes with a waterproof, roll-top style dry bag, but the other competitors simply include inexpensive sacks. Most of these bags can be compressed to as little as half the volume seen here in their included sacks. The exception is the Palisade 30, which is a tight fit in the included bag.

Versatility


If you want to carry the same ultralight sleeping bag for a six-month thru-hike, spanning spring, summer, and fall, versatility is very important. A model that lets you adjust the warmth to accommodate the changing seasons and temperatures is highly valued. For shorter trips spread out over the year, one bag that lets you get out there in the near freezing early season temps, as well as warmer late summer conditions, is awesome. With traditional mummy bags, your versatility options are limited to not using the hood and unzipping partially for warmer temps. Quilts that fully open into a flat blanket like the Enlightened Equipment Revelation are the most versatile type of ultralight sleeping bag, and fixed girth mummies without zippers like the Feathered Friends Vireo are the least versatile. The majority of the bags tested here are much more versatile than the traditional bags found in our backpacking sleeping bag review. This is a huge boon for people that camp and travel in a wide range of temperatures and want one bag to handle them all. Versatility ratings contribute 15% to overall scores.


The Revelation 20 and the Feather Friends Flicker earned the highest versatility scores. The Revelation's pad attachment system works really well, allowing some girth adjustment for fine tuning to cooler temps and variable amounts of insulating clothing. Unlike the closed footbox Palisade, it opens completely into a flat blanket for warmer weather, and is just big enough to cover two folks for summer use. While the Flicker also opens into a flat blanket, it is altogether different in design. A full-length zipper and drawstring at the foot allow use as a fully closed hoodless mummy for cold temperatures. Partially opening the zipper creates a closed footbox quilt for cool weather. The bag's size and shape, and the attachments for DIY pad straps also make this the best two-person quilt as well.

Fully-opening quilts (like our Best Buy winner here) are the most versatile bags we tested. There are lots of options not only for sleeping  but wrapping yourself up for warmth at camp while cooking dinner or packing up at dawn.
Fully-opening quilts (like our Best Buy winner here) are the most versatile bags we tested. There are lots of options not only for sleeping, but wrapping yourself up for warmth at camp while cooking dinner or packing up at dawn.

Two notable bags received the next highest versatility scores. The Palisade's pad attachment system offers the most flexibility. Even though the Palisade has a closed footbox, we consider this bag to be very versatile; snug it up with the pad attachment system to stay cozy in cold temps, unfasten the upper bag from your pad for summer temps, or attach it to the pad with adjustable venting for temps in between. The Big Agnes Pitchpine UL also received a relatively high versatility score, which demands some explanation. When its half-length zipper is closed, this is a fixed girth bag; however, we feel that its roomy interior and summer temperature rating offers a great option to use a warm liner or lots of warm clothing to increase warmth for spring and fall temperatures. Our lead tester used a previous version of this bag for his PCT and AT hikes in 2010 and 2011, adding a fleece liner and insulated jacket for colder temps at the beginning and end of the hikes, and enjoying the roomy comfort during the warm summer months.

There's plenty of room inside the Pitchpine to add extra layers and even a fleece liner.
There's plenty of room inside the Pitchpine to add extra layers and even a fleece liner.

Comfort


Our comfort ratings primarily focus on features that made our testers sleep better or worse. With hoodless bags, the single most important driver of comfort is the drawcord around your neck. Bags that add an extra baffle here, like Katabatic Gear quilts, are the most comfortable. With quilts, the sleeping pad attachment mechanism has the most influence on comfort. Ideally, we want to be able to completely adjust the girth of the bag, drawing it in relatively tight to achieve maximum warmth when necessary, and loosening it up for more room when temperatures are warmer. In the warmest conditions, a quilt that opens completely into a blanket is the most comfortable. All models with adjustable girth received a bonus in our comfort ratings, as this allows fine tuning of fit whether you wear all of your warm clothing on cold nights, or little of it when temps are warm.


It's also important to consider net comfort throughout the course of a day, not just when you're inside of your ultralight sleeping bag. A heavier bag that's slightly more comfortable to sleep in may be less comfortable overall when you consider you have to carry it all day. We find one of the side benefits of covering a ton of miles in a day is being tired enough to sleep like a rock through the night as long as you're warm enough. Hence, we feel warmth and weight are far more important evaluation metrics for an ultralight bag, and comfort accounts for only 10% of our overall scores.

The attached pillow pocket on the Pitchpine is one of our favorite features on this model. When nights are warm  all our extra clothing gets stuffed into this pocket to create a nice pillow.
The attached pillow pocket on the Pitchpine is one of our favorite features on this model. When nights are warm, all our extra clothing gets stuffed into this pocket to create a nice pillow.

We awarded the Katabatic Gear Palisade, Big Agnes Pitchpine, and Nemo Tango Solo top scores for comfort. The Palisade not only has an excellent and comfortable neck baffle but the best and most adjustable sleeping pad attachment system among the quilts we tested. The Pitchpine is very roomy for an enclosed, fixed girth bag, and we love it for a temperature of 40F and above. While the Tango Solo is too heavy to have earned a high overall score in this ultralight review, it is a very roomy and comfortable bag with great features. Unsurprisingly, the two hooded mummy bags we tested here received the lowest comfort scores. Smaller hikers though will find these much more comfortable than our 185 lb lead tester.

Features


Here we assess the quality of each bag's features and attempt to quantify how well they contribute to the overall performance of the bag. This metric encompasses shell fabric, zippers, draft tubes, and neck baffles. Most of these bags utilize a DWR treatment on their shell fabrics, and some incorporate superlight water resistant and breathable fabrics from Pertex for some or all of the shell fabric. In individual reviews, we detail the length, quality, and ease of operation for the zippers on the models that have them. Our rating for quality of features contributes 10% to each model's total score.


In each individual review, we describe such small details as, "Is the neck closure cord lock sewn into the bag or is it free-floating?" and "Are there hang loops at the foot of the bag?"

Some mummy bags, like the ZPacks 20 Degree, prioritize weight savings and have few if any features found on traditional bags — this gives that bag one of the highest warmth-to-weight ratio of any we tested. There's a large difference between the sleeping pad attachment methods found on the quilts tested. Katabatic Gear quilts have by far the easiest to use and most secure attachment mechanism; this greatly increases ease of use, comfort, and warmth. Overall, we award the Palisade, PitchPine UL, and Tango Solo the highest scores for quality of features.

In our individual reviews  we describe zipper size  length  and operation for those bags that have them. Small details such as these can make or break a bag.
In our individual reviews, we describe zipper size, length, and operation for those bags that have them. Small details such as these can make or break a bag.

Dream Backpacking Gear List


An ultralight sleeping bag is just one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out for other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.

Key Accessories


Sleeping Pad:
Pairing your ultralight bag with a great sleeping pad is necessary to get the best performance, warmth, and comfort. In most of our photos, you see these bags tested with a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, perhaps the most popular pad with thru-hikers. See our Best Sleeping Pad review for our favorites, including the award winning XLite. While all of the models we tested can be paired with many different manufacturers' pads with great results, consider purchasing a pad made by your bag's manufacturer - the fit will be perfect.

A waterproof stuff sack is critical for keeping your bag dry. Unfortunately, very few ultralight sleeping bags come with high quality stuff sacks. Thus, we highly recommend purchasing one separately. See our Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack Article for our recommendations.

ZPacks Goose Hood.
Down Hood: A separate down hood can be a useful addition to a hoodless bag if you plan to camp in temperatures around or below freezing. The ZPacks Goose Hood is our favorite hood for three-season applications.

Bivy Sack: Adding a minimalist bivy sack to your sleep system is a popular strategy for tarp campers. The Superlight Cuben Bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs and the ZPacks Splash Bivy are excellent choices. Our Modular Accessories for Floorless Tents article rounds out our discussion of sleeping system components. Enjoy.
Below is a side by side comparison of the two bivy sacks, Suerlight Cuben Bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs on the left and the Zpacks Splash Bivy on the right.

Chad Kellog in the Feathered Friends Vireo sleeping bag in the Picket Range  Washington. Our Top Pick for Alpine Climbing is designed for use with warm upper layers and works well for sleeping sitting up.
Chad Kellog in the Feathered Friends Vireo sleeping bag in the Picket Range, Washington. Our Top Pick for Alpine Climbing is designed for use with warm upper layers and works well for sleeping sitting up.

Conclusion


We tested 10 ultralight sleeping bags from May to October in the Rocky Mountains this year while peakbagging  backpacking  and even during 100 mile mountain ultras.
We tested 10 ultralight sleeping bags from May to October in the Rocky Mountains this year while peakbagging, backpacking, and even during 100 mile mountain ultras.

When going ultralight, performance-per-ounce is crucial. When on the hunt for a new bag, it's key to first assess which areas of performance are most important to you, from either simply needing the most lightweight quilt or wanting the most versatility from your bag. Our intention with this review is to help you find the product that meets your most-perfect combination of characteristics and features for your needs. Now get out there and crush!

Brandon Lampley
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