How To Choose A Bug Out Sleeping Bag: 4 Factors to Consider

Choose a bug-out sleeping bag (sleeping system) that will likely maintain core body temperature in the coldest temperatures when bugging out. You can always get cooler by unzipping or laying on top of a bag, but you can’t necessarily add to the insulation factor, so get a bag that is rated a little colder than what you need.

As I write this post, I assume you are bugging out on foot, the worst-case scenario. Get a lightweight bag so your pack stays below 20% of your body weight because you may end up on foot.

When I first moved to Arizona I thought the whole state was pretty warm in early spring. I went camping in the mountains thinking it would be good weather. It was not good weather. I slept in a light-weight sleeping bag with jeans and a light jacket. It was the coldest night of my life. It snowed the first night and my wife and son had to sleep in the truck with the windows cracked and the car running. That night I learned, the hard way, how critical a good sleep system is for survival.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Bug Out Sleeping Bag: 4 Factors When Choosing

When choosing a bag for the apocalypse, there are four primary considerations: the temperature rating, weight, type of insulation, and the overall sleep system. Let’s look at the factors so we can get you on the road to choosing a bag.

#1 Temperature Rating

Sleeping bags are rated based on the minimum temperature the bag will keep you warm. (A 0℉/-18℃ bag will keep you moderately warm down to 0℉/-18℃.)

Important: Sleeping bag temperature ratings are based on the average person wearing long underwear and socks and sleeping on an insulated pad with an R-value of approximately 5.5. REI (Pad R-factors are discussed in table #3 below)

Choose a sack that has a temperature rating lower than you need. If you sleep in an over insulated bag and you get hot you can sleep on top of it or unzip it. Sleep in an underinsulated bag, get cold, you’re SOL.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Table #1 Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating

Weather ConditionsWarmCoolColdExtreme
Nighttime Low50℉/10℃32℉/0℃20℉/-7℃0℉/-18℃
Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating30/℉/-1℃ or less20℉/-7℃ or less15℉/-10℃ or less0℉/-18℃ or less
Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating

#2 Weight

Synthetic bags are heavier than bags insulated with duck or goose down. When choosing a sleeping bag, go as lightweight as possible if the environment allows it.

Getting the lightest sack may not be an option. A bag’s other characteristics may come to play. For example, a down bag is a poor insulator when wet. If you are bugging out in a maritime or damp environment like a jungle, you probably want a synthetic bag even though it weighs more.

When choosing a bag consider the gear carried by long-distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail, they carry packs as light as 10 pounds. The reason, weight slows you down, causes overconsumption of calories and water and leads to more injuries on the trail. If you are running from danger a lightweight pack gives you the advantage.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

#3 Type of Insulation

You have two choices when it comes to insulation type in a bag. Down excels in cold weather and is highly crushable for storage, but it doesn’t insulate well if it gets wet. On the other hand, synthetic fibers insulate when damp, but they are heavier and bulkier to pack. Check out the table below to examine both insulators’ pros and cons.

Table #2 Insulation Types Pros & Cons

Insulation TypePros & Cons
#1 Synthetic (Polyester Fiber)Pros
Quick-drying
Insulates when wet
Cons
Do not compress well
Heavier and stiffer than down
Not durable
#2 Down (Duck or Goose Underfeathers)Pros
Lightweight
Compressible to fit in a pack
Durable
Superior Insulation
Cons
It doesn’t insulate when wet
It takes a long time to dry out
Costs more than synthetic

Synthetic vs. down
Basic Sleep System

#4 Sleep System (bag, pad, clothing, shelter)

A sleep system comprises 4 items: a sleeping bag, a ground pad, clothing, and shelter. Let’s take a look at how you can create a sleep system that fits bug-fits your bug out plan.

#1 Sleeping bag

The first component of the sleep system is the Sleeping bag. They come in all shapes, sizes, temperature ratings, materials, and insulation types. Consider the other components of a sleeping system when choosing the best bag for your situation.

#2 Sleeping Pad or ground cover

Sleeping on a ground pad helps maintain core body temperature by reducing heat loss via conduction. Imagine sleeping naked on a stainless-steel table in a walk-in freezer. That cold table under you is sucking heat out of your body by conduction.

A good sleeping pad with a high enough R-factor for the climate will help prevent this heat loss.

The main issue you will have packing a sleeping pad is that the higher the insulation factor of the mat, the heavier and bulkier it will be to carry in a pack.

Table #3 Sleeping Pad R-factor (Insulation)

Weather ConditionsWarmCoolColdExtreme
Nighttime Low50℉/10℃32℉/0℃20℉/-7℃0℉/-18℃
Pad R-ValueUnder 22 to 3.94 to 5.45.5+
Sleeping Pad R Values
#3 Clothing

A sleeping bag’s test rating is based on a person wearing long underwear and socks and sleeping on an insulated pad. So if you plan on sleeping in underwear or the buff, your sleeping bag isn’t going to give the insulating factor as advertised.

The U.S. Army Survival manual considers clothing to be your first line of shelter. It’s important to focus on clothing that is quick drying and offers the insulation you need. Check out the Ready Squirrel article Survival clothing guide: Layering for survival to learn more about choosing the best clothing for your bug out bag.

Scott, Ready Squirrel
#4 Shelter Type

The shelter you choose affects how insulated you are from the environment. It isn’t part of your sleep system, but it affects how snug your sleep system keeps you and what kind of sleeping bag, pad, and clothing you choose for survival.

For example, If you are sleeping in a warm cabin with a log fire, you’ll need a lighter-weight bag than sleeping under a tarp in the snow.

One-man Tent Bivy

5 Sleeping Bag Alternatives

Sleeping bags aren’t the only option for a bug-out sleep system though they are considered the best choice for cold weather.

Let’s take a look at some of the options.

#1 Quilt

A sleeping quilt for camping is filled with down and is the preferred sleep system of ultra-light hikers on the Appalachian trail because they are lighter than most sleeping bags.

If you are trying to keep your bug-out bag less than 20% of your body weight and you are in a relatively warm environment, the quilt is an excellent alternative to a bag.

Different types of Quilts have other characteristics, which include: sewn foot boxes, drawstrings, zippers, and snaps.

Tip: It’s essential to have a sleeping pad with a sleeping bag but doubly crucial with a quilt since you will have no insulation between you and the ground.

#2 Camping Blanket

A camping blanket isn’t much different than a quilt, but it is built in the shape of a blanket and is filled with down or synthetic insulation.

If you go with a camping blanket, carry a good sleeping pad with a high R rating.

#3 Ranger Taco

Many people feel uncomfortable sleeping under a tarp or poncho shelter. You work up to it as you camp more often and get comfortable with your gear.

A ranger taco combines a military poncho and a poncho liner.

A poncho and liner combo is a good option if you want to limit the amount of gear you carry and keep the option open to use the poncho as a tarp shelter which builds redundancy into your go-bag.

#4 Bivy Bag

Think of a bivy bag like a plastic bag you slip your bag or quilt into. The true bivy bags retain body heat and don’t let moisture out.

There is a place for bivies but under the wrong climate conditions sleeping in a Bivy bag is like taking a sauna. Any sweat or moisture inside the bag will hang like a wet blanket.

Another option is the Bivy tent, a small one-person tent shaped like a coffin.

#5 Wool Blanket

A wool blanket is warm and insulates when it’s wet. The downside is that wool is heavy and unsuitable for bugging out on foot.