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Trying to cut weight on your next backpacking adventure? The sleep system is one of the heaviest parts of your load–is there anyway to cut a pound without freezing?
The most viable alternative to an ultralight sleeping bag is a camping quilt. Other ultralight alternatives for warmer weather (over 55 degrees Fahrenheit) include multiple types of blankets, sleeping bag liners, and even simply a bivy with warm clothes.
Whether you’re camping in cold weather or hot, there are sleeping bag alternatives that can keep you comfortable without the extra bulk. Continue on and you’ll learn all about why ultralight sleeping bags are worthwhile, and what alternatives are available.
What’s The Difference Between An Ultralight Sleeping Bag And A Regular Sleeping Bag?
Sleeping bags come in a HUGE range of styles due to the gigantic range of weather situations you might find yourself in.
Besides the different weather patterns you’ll see all over the world, people have different camping preferences! While one kind of sleeping bag may work perfectly well for a drive-up campsite, that same bag might be too far too heavy to hike 10 miles with.
That’s why you see the marketing label “ultralight”. There isn’t a technical cut-off of what makes a sleeping bag “ultralight” or “regular”, but the hope is that the ultralight bag weighs a lot less than a typical sleeping bag.
To clarify, sleeping bags can easily weigh 4lbs or more, depending on several variables. Meanwhile, ultralight sleeping bags generally weigh 2.5lbs at the most, with some even weighing in at under 2lbs.
2lbs difference doesn’t sound like a lot, but for an ultralight backpacker, every pound counts.
These ultralight sleeping bags are easier to pack and carry. However, they can still be a bit on the bulky side. That’s why some backpackers look into using alternatives to ultralight sleeping bags.
Why Should I Try An Ultralight Sleeping Bag Alternative?
Sleeping bags tend to be the obvious choice when it comes to camping, but they may not always be the ideal one. Sometimes they’re too bulky, too expensive, or just uncomfortable.
Sleeping bags in general don’t cost a whole lot, but when it comes to ultralight sleeping bags, you are potentially looking at premium materials and a more intense manufacturing process–therefore, a much higher cost
These are just a few reasons you might want to consider trying something different for your hike.
It Might Be Too Warm For A Sleeping Bag Anyway
If you know you’re going to be out camping where even the nights are warm, then you might start to think that carrying around the added bulk of a sleeping bag won’t be worth it anyway. After all, why bring swimming trunks to the desert? (I suppose you could get some tanning done)
In these situations, you might want something that is lighter and more breathable. Most campers don’t usually want to sleep without some kind of covering (I know I don’t), but in some cases, a lighter, breezier covering may be the better choice.
A Sleeping Bag Might Be Too Bulky
Even an ultralight sleeping bag can be a bit on the bulky side. Because of that, it can sometimes become difficult to pack other items that you may need on your trip. Otherwise, you might have to use bungee cords or other ties to get it attached to your pack, resulting in an oversized load.
Instead, an ultralight sleeping bag alternative can take up less space. As a result, you might even get a way with a smaller pack which helps cut down some of that weight.
Maybe You Find Sleeping Bags Too Constricting
Another reason you might be here is that you want something that’s light and efficient at keeping your warm without the smothering nature of a mummy sleeping bag.
Although sleeping bags tend to be the go-to option for camping, it isn’t exactly comfortable. Sure, they may be warm and easier to pack than a full set of bedding, but they can also be restrictive. There’s really no stretching out in a sleeping bag, especially if you’re also trying to stay warm.
There’s a trade-off on compactness, comfort, weight and warmth.
Sleeping Bags Can Be Very Expensive
If you want a quality sleeping bag that will offer the ability to stay warm in 20-degree temperatures as well as a lightweight design, you’re gonna have to be prepared to spend some serious money. For some, this may not be a problem. However, others might find that the lifespan of the sleeping bag just isn’t enough to rationalize spending hundreds of dollars.
We actually go more into detail on this topic. You’ll learn about how to take care of a sleeping bag and what you can do to extend the life of a sleeping bag if you don’t mind putting some work in! Check it out here.
On the other hand, things like camping comforters and blankets can save quite a bit of money. If you’re camping where you know even the nights will be hot, it’s not absurd to wonder why you should dish out a couple hundred on a sleeping bag when a light blanket or sleeping bag liner could do the trick and keep more money in your pockets.
Ultralight Sleeping Bag Alternatives
So, those are some reasons why you might not want a sleeping bag. Let’s look at some alternatives.
When it comes to creating the highest possible level of warmth, most people tend to think of sleeping bags as their only option. However, camping quilts can prove to be even more effective in many cases. This is especially true if you’re camping in very cold temperatures.
The main thing that sets camping quilts apart from sleeping bags is the design. As you’re probably well aware, sleeping bags are made to encase your whole body. On the other hand, a camping quilt will only cover one side of your body (like a blanket).
Rather than the entire sleeping bag being enclosed, a camping quilt often has a footbox like this one. This isn’t true for all camping quilts–sometimes it’s just like a blanket.
While it might sound like this difference might mean a camping quilt won’t be as good at keeping you warm, they actually often prove to be just as efficient as a sleeping bag rated for the same temperature range. On top of that, camping quilts like the Therm-a-Rest Vesper (Thermarest website) only weigh slightly over a pound, making them even easier to pack and carry than many ultralight sleeping bags.
The secret to camping quilts lie in the thought that the bottom of the sleeping bag is not as effective at keeping you warm because you are crushing the insulation with your own body weight. The only reason you are able to stay warm is in fact due to your insulative sleeping pad.
Therefore, rather than packing all of the material for the sleeping bag, you only pack what actually keeps you warm.
So, if you’re looking for an ultralight alternative to a sleeping bag that can get you down to cold temperatures, than a camping quilt is a great option. Remember, though, especially for cold temperatures, a camping quilt is designed to be used with a sleeping pad. (let’s be honest, though, you needed one for your sleeping bag, anyway)
So, this is kind of funny, but, camping blankets and camping quilts are two different things.
A camping quilt is designed to be a sleeping bag replacement and therefore can be used to sub 40-degree temperatures. A camping blanket can look like it’s made from the same type of material, and can even be filled with down like a sleeping bag or a camping quilt… but, it’s just a blanket.
So, if you are looking for a rectangular piece of fabric to keep you warm in 55-60 degree temperatures, then a camping blanket is a good option.
There are many options, here. For example, the Rumpl Nanoloft (REI) blanket is made to offer plenty of warmth. This option is also made using a material that is easier to clean. Furthermore, at under 1.5lbs, you can be certain this blanket won’t add much to your backpack.
If you’re trying to pack as light as possible, you might wonder if you even need a pillow for your camping trip at all, much less an actual camping pillow. It’s a fair question! To help you with making that decision for yourself, we’ve compiled some of the pros and cons of camping pillows in our article on the topic. Check it out here.
Sleeping Bag Liners
A sleeping bag liner is typically used as the first line of defense between you and your sleeping bag. Rather than letting your sleeping bag capture all of your funk, the sleeping bag liner captures it instead (which is much easier to wash).
Usually, these liners are extremely lightweight because they are meant to be a barrier only, not an addition that is meant to create more heat. On top of that, they are also very compact. Because they don’t have the weight or thickness of a sleeping bag, sleeping bag liners are extremely easy to pack and carry.
If you’re camping where you know nighttime temperatures aren’t going to get too low, then you can easily opt to sleep in a sleeping bag liner by itself rather than packing the whole sleeping bag. It’ll keep your added weight to a minimum and ensure you stay nice and cool at night.
If I was to pick a temperature, I would say if it’s not going to get below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, you could easily get by with a sleeping bag liner.
Just keep in mind that this is not a suitable option if it’s going to be colder at night. A sleeping bag liner alone won’t capture enough heat.
Unless you’re an extreme camper, it’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of a woobie blanket before. Rumor has it that this term itself came from military poncho liners.
A woobie is versatile and is thought of extremely fondly by many soldiers. Check this one out on Amazon and read the reviews if you want to know what I mean.
You can in fact use a sturdy blanket like this if you’re camping in mild temperatures. I wouldn’t use it by itself below 65 degrees, myself, but if you’re looking for a tough ultralight bag alternative, than this is one potential idea.
A Bivy bag, or Bivy sack, is a tool that is often used in place of a tent. Because Bivy bags are so much smaller and lighter, those who are camping while hiking, or who just don’t plan on spending time in the tent aside from sleeping, can benefit from using a Bivy bag instead.
Although it is often the case that campers replace their tent with a Bivy bag rather than their sleeping bag, there’s no reason you can’t just sleep in the Bivy bag alone if it’s warm enough outside. Another option could be to pair it up with a sleeping bag liner or something similar if you need some kind of blanket to sleep with.
The SOL escape Bivy is adept at this, it’s got heat reflective material on the inside to trap as much heat as possible and is only 5.5 oz. Check it out on REI.
This guy tries this bivy out here if you want to see what it would be like:
With this type of sleep setup, you have a pad and your bivy as well as your warm clothing.
Tarps are often used for bushcraft and are often used as a shelter, but a tarp can also work as a blanket when you’re in a pinch. A tarp on its own may not be the most comfortable option, but it’s one that can keep you dry and protected from the elements.
This is just one of many ways in which a tarp can be useful. To learn about more ways in which you can use a tarp, take a look at our article on the subject here.