View Full Version : Sleeping Bag and Pad Selection Help Needed

10-26-2009, 13:38
Ok, I read through lots of posts and I've done a lot of website review searching, but I need to be able to narrow it down... I'm going crazy! Here is what I'm looking for in a bag and pad:
weight: around 2 lbs for bag and 1 lb or less for pad
degree rating: not sure what I need (1st or 2nd week of Sept in WV/MD/PA)
price: $200 or less for bag and pad
I'm a 30 year old woman, 5'4", 160 lbs. and I tend to sleep cold. My mom and I will be doing a 5-7 day on the AT, in an ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr3 Tent.

So, I guess I need to know what temperatures to plan for in northern VA/WV/MD/southernPA in the first 2 weeks of September. I would also LOVE to hear some suggestions for inexpensive bags/pads for a woman my size in those conditions.

I don't plan on doing a ton of backpacking, so I don't want to invest in a really expensive setup. We'll probably do a couple of practice overnights between now and Sept 2010, so I don't want to rent equipment either.

Thanks in advance for your comments and suggestions!

10-26-2009, 13:51
For the bag, check out the Campmor down bag. (http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/Product___40065) $120 for a 2# 4oz down bag. It is not the best bag, but it is a good budget bag. A former girlfriend bought this bag and she is a thin, petite (5'3" or so) woman who gets cold easily. She likes the bag. (For her to admit I'm right on something is a story in itself. ;)).

If you find you are doing more and more backpacking, you can always upgrade to a better (and lighter) bag..but for more money. The Campmor bag will still be good for a loaner to sucker, er introduce, your friends into backpacking! :)

For a pad...there are many pads out there. The basic types (with many different variations found among the basic types) are as follow:

1) Basic Foam Pad: Light and inexpensive. Very durable. Can be found in Wallyworld or the equivalent. aka "The Blue Foam Pad". Cut down to size, mine weighs under 6 oz. If I wanted to really minimalist I could cut it down further to make it even lighter. It is not the most comfortable, however

2) Thermarest types: A bit expensive, considered very comfortable by most. somewhat heavy for the most part. They do make ultralite and 3/4 length under 1 lb. I personally don't trust anything they sell repair kits for. :)

3) Ridge Rest or a Z-Lite A foam pad, but thicker than the blue foamer. About $20. The 3/4 lengths are about 10oz. Considered more comfortable than the blue foamer and more durable than the Thermarest types. A good happy medium for many people.

As mentioned, there are more models and manufacturers (Big Agnes, NeoAir, etc.etc.etc.), but the above describes the basic types.

If it was me, and I was on a budget, I'd go for a Ridge Rest or similar. The blue foamers are great..but probably best for a minimalist. The Thermarest are a bit expensive and heavy IMO.

Good luck!

ps. If you are new to backpacking, I wrote this up for a beginners trip I used to lead every year. Written for Colorado, but should apply for any 3-season mountain environment:

10-26-2009, 18:33
Thanks Mags! In doing some reading on here, I was hoping I'd get one of you really helpful people to respond, and of course you did. Thanks so much. I have been looking at that Campmor for a while... I should just bite the bullet and get one. I'm off to read your beginner's primer!

10-26-2009, 18:45
(this is just my take) If you sleep cold and as a lady, I wouldn't get anything more than a 20 degree. I take 15 to play it safe. Esp if it's the only bag you plan to get. And you're young. I'm sure you'll do more backpacking in the future :) . Might consider investing in a good bag so you sleep good. I love my Montbell UL down hugger. Great bag. Worth the money, IMO. And get a thermarest pad. (I happen to use a Big Agnes myself). Again if you dont sleep well, the trip will not go well. The only time I saw girls with ridgerest or z rest pads were 20 yr olds. Those kinds of pads have zilch padding on the gorund (unless you're in leaves or pine needles) and you'll be on your back all night. And us ladies have hips and hip bones that can hurt.

10-26-2009, 19:15
Keep in mind the pad is as important as your bag as far as keeping warm.

I would agree with above. The campmor 20dF bag is a good one, just take an insul jacket with a hood as an extender in case you hit a cold snap. Also the normal hiking clothes and layers etc, merino or synthetic blend johns etc.

No cotton anything.

As far as pads. I would either get an insulated full length inflatable pad or a shorty or full inflatable with a full blue pad, then if your infaltable deflates you will still have something. The blue pad also helps if you are a side sleeper and helps protect the inflatable from sharp objects.

A blue pad cost $7-10.

I have a full length neoair (expensive) that I use on a blue pad and its the most comfortable setup I have used.

The thermarest prolite 3 short is a good setup on a blue pad and very light.

Pacific outdoors inflatables are supposed to be good, but I have never tried one.
The price is right.


The knig of the warm and cozy pads are the exped pads. I caught an Exped synmat (synthetic fill) on sale though spadout for about $70 and yikes is that thing warm. It is actually so warm it has to be cold outside for it to be comfortable.

Unfortunately it weighs 2#.

10-27-2009, 11:02
Sleeping bags are one of those things that I find hard to recommend anything cheap. In my opinion it is one of the few things in backpacking that there is no great cheap alternative, so $200 for a bag and pad is a tall order. You can not get a decent bag and pad for 20* weather for $200. There are plenty of great 20* bags around the 2lb mark, but they are all $300-$400, but all is not lost, if you can’t increase your budget, you can still get a bag that will satisfy your needs, but at a bit more weight.

What you need to look for in a sleeping bag is the “EN Rating”. The US has no guidelines or regulations on sleeping bag ratings, so manufactures can and do rate bags to whatever temperature they want to, but in Europe they have a standardized rating system, the EN 13537 Standard. While there is no guarantee that you fit into their “average” woman category, it is much more conservative and realistic than most “USA” ratings. When you see EN ratings you will often see 3 sets of numbers, the first set is “EN Comfort”. EN Comfort is the lowest temp that an “average” woman can sleep comfortably. While this is probably the number that concerns you, just for your information, the EN Limit is the lowest temperature that a average man can sleep comfortably, and the EN Extreme is the lowest temperature that the average woman can stay in the bag without frostbite. Most bags sold in Europe are EN rated, so most major manufactures that sell in the US that also sell in Europe have EN ratings, but sometimes they can be hard to find. Marmot and Mountain Hardwear post them on their US website, but others like TNF only post them on their European site.

Even more confusing is with Women’s bags, many manufactures’ often list the “rating” as the Men’s rating, even though it is a women’s bag and women tend to sleep colder than men, so be careful when looking at bags.

Going on the assumption that you need something good to around 20*, here is what I recommend:

I hardly ever recommend synthetic bags as they are heavier, bulkier, and don’t last as long as down bags, but at this price, it is hard to find a decent down bag so I am going with:

Mountain Hardwear Women’s Lamina 20 which is EN Comfort (women) rated to 23*F MSRP -$160

Don’t overlook sleeping pads as they are not just for cushioning, they protect you from the cold ground; If your pad isn’t insulating enough you WILL be cold. When you are laying on your sleeping bag, it provides, little to no insulation, so your pad selection is important.

There are 4 major types of sleeping pads, Closed Cell Foam, Self Inflating, Air Mats, and Insulated Air Mats. CC Foam mats are inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and provide a lot of insulation for the weight, but they are bulky, thin, and uncomfortable. Unless you can sleep on anything, I would recommend not solely relying on a CC Foam pad. They are however great for layering with another pad. Self Inflating Pads have open cell foam inside an air tight shell. They are generally more comfortable than CC Foam Pads, but are expensive. The cushiest types of pads are the Air Mats. They come in both insulated and un insulated types. These are kind of like a pool float, the un insulated ones are useless in all but the warmest weather, and even many of the insulated ones can seem cold. If you need a really cushy mat, this is the one for you. Big Agnes, Pacific Outdoor Equipment, and Exped make Air Mats.

Again, I am limited by budget here, what I have recommended is a mid range self inflating pad. It is pretty heavy and bulky, but should be warm and adequately cushy.

Thermarest Trail Lite Womens Sleeping Pad MSRP -$60

Another option you have is to buy used. The for sale forum here and at backpackinglight.com is a great source for buying gear used, and down bags, if stored properly, last a long time. Bags to look for might be:

Women’s Marmot Helium
Women’s Marmot Pinnacle
Women’s Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15
Western Mountaineering
Feathered Friends

10-27-2009, 11:44
We have about 10 of the campmor 20 degree bags in our bs troop. They are good value bags, with continuous baffles, so they can be good cold or warm weather bags. Very $ effective.

However, they are not true twenty degree bags, IMO, from experience. Warm 30 degree bags maybe but twenty is also possible, but you need to bring your warm layers in the bag with you to make that rating.

We are happy with them, but IMO their rating should be 30 to be sleeping in them with no extra insulation.

10-27-2009, 12:59
Looks like I'll probably go with the Campmor 20 degree down mummy bag. It's $119 right now online... that's $20 off the regular price. Does Campmor tend to put it's own brand on any more of a discount than that at some point during the year or offer free shipping or anything? I'll probably be buying one for me and one for my mom.

Thanks to everyone for their detailed responses!

10-27-2009, 13:05
Looks like I'll probably go with the Campmor 20 degree down mummy bag. It's $119 right now online... that's $20 off the regular price. !

The Campmor house brand gear never goes on sale. It has been $120 for about 2 yrs now. Before that? $110. :)

ps. Foam pads tend to be warmer (when comparing similar types. Obvioulsy the 3 pound pad (ouch!) may be warmer. ;) ) Few winter campers take an inflatable pad for their bottom layer.

In the real world of 3 season camping (when one pad is brought), inflatables are bought more for comfort than warmth. Which is why I suggest a Ridgerest or similar. Nice compromise between comfort , price, weight and warmth. And, again, I do not trust anything they sell repair kits for! :)


10-27-2009, 16:36
So, you would consider 1st and 2nd week of September in northern VA, WV, MD, and southern PA cold weather? Looks like the low this year was 44 at night with a high of 85 during the day within the first 2 weeks for Harpers Ferry in September. Can anyone attest to this being average?

10-27-2009, 17:46
So, you would consider 1st and 2nd week of September in northern VA, WV, MD, and southern PA cold weather? Looks like the low this year was 44 at night with a high of 85 during the day within the first 2 weeks for Harpers Ferry in September. Can anyone attest to this being average?

Mid 40s at night sounds like perfect weather for getting into your first backpacking trip!

I am not sure of that being average or not, but it is early September..it is going to be mild weather overall I would think. I grew up in New England and did my formative backpacking there. I found the temps pleasant (if cooler) at night.

I suspect further south the weather will be even better in terms of warmth.

As mentioned, should be great weather for your first backpacking trip overall.

Don't let the overly technical discussions scare as you. As Lone Wolf says "It's just walking". :D

Have fun!

Del Q
10-27-2009, 19:39
Money depending, Mont Bell bags are great, less cold spots, new Neo Air pads is really nice. Warmer and comfortable. I saved for a while for these two, pretty happy.

10-27-2009, 20:20
The bags are good that have been mentioned but if you want to keep costs down I would suggest not buying more bag than you need.

Check out the ALDHA Companion for information on where you will be hiking. The pages are pdf files which you can print out. Most of the elevations in WV, MD, southern PA are between 1,000 to 1,100 feet, including Harper's Ferry.

Here's weather info for Harper's Ferry, VA:


The average low is 52F, the record 26F.

You'd be find with a 40-degree bag like the Slumberjack Tour Lite (at Campmor for $50) or even a $15 fleece bag (also available at Campmor or any discount retailer). Campmor had a mummy from Lafuma, synthetic insulation, for $30. You could pack some long underwear, thermal top, and warm, clean socks, should you get hit by a cold wave and need to bolster the sleeping bag's capability.

As for a pad, at these temperatures there isn't much heat loss unless you are actually sleeping directly on the ground. You'll probably be on a shelter floor or the floor of your Alps tent (nice tent BTW ;) ) .

I'd pick the pad based on comfort and price. Anything from a closed-cell foam pad (around $10, not a lot of padding), to a Thermarest Z-Lite (14 ozs, $35, low-to-moderate amount of padding), to an inexpensive self-inflating pad (more comfortable and heavier, unless you buy one of the models selling for around $100 or more).

Right now I'm using a Big Agnes Clearview which is a totally inflatable pad. I've only slept on it two nights but so far it's been fine. It has a lot of comfort for the price ($50) but doesn't insulate much so below 35F you need another pad with it for insulation.