12 Sleeping Bag Alternatives for Every Type of Camper

By Emma
sleeping bag alternatives

When you’re camping, you’re probably out exploring, trekking, and having tons of fun. Expending all that energy makes the rejuvenation of a proper night’s sleep doubly important.

Some campers tell horror stories of sleeping bags feeling restricting, sweaty, and downright awful. 

To fix this, our team spent 10+ hours examining sleeping bag alternatives. Combining this research with our personal experience, we hope to find a solution so you can get the best sleep possible.

We concluded that one of the best sleeping bag alternatives is the camping quilt. These have essentially removed the inconveniences of a sleeping bag while retaining their better assets. 

Additionally, a hammock is a great sleeping bag alternative for those who simply hate sleeping on the ground or people with existing back conditions. 

Finally, for those minimalists or long-distance hikers, a bivy sack is an extremely appealing choice to cut down on as much weight as possible.

12 Sleeping Bag Alternatives – A Quick Comparison

Sleeping StyleWeight/PortabilityOverall ComfortPrice
Camping QuiltSuitable for allVery High Very High $$-$$$
Camping BlanketSuitable for allHighVery High  $$
Regular BlanketSuitable for allMediumHigh $
Bivy SackBack sleeperVery High Medium$$-$$$
HammockBack sleeperHighHigh $$
TarpSuitable for allMediumLow$
Emergency BlanketSuitable for allVery HighLow$
Heavy ClothesSuitable for allMediumMedium$
WoobieSuitable for allMediumMedium$
Sleeping Bag LinerBack sleeperVery HighLow $$
Leaf MattressSuitable for allVery HighLow$

Why You May Consider Sleeping Bag Alternatives

There are a few areas where sleeping bags can fall short:

Condensation

It can get really muggy and hot inside of a sleeping bag. This is thanks to our bodies constantly emitting water vapor when we breathe. And of course, we generate heat. 

Add in the fact that we’re encased in a heavy fabric tube, and this becomes a prime recipe for sweaty, humid, sleepless conditions.

Sometimes, sleeping bags are equipped with full-length zippers. If you leave this unzipped, condensation has less of a chance of building up. 

But you also let in the draft if it’s a colder night. Even worse, a lot of bags don’t have full-length zippers.

Portability

Sleeping bags tend to be on the heavier side. 

This likely won’t matter to those of you who car camp. But for those long-distance hikers and ultra-lighters out there, every pound counts.

Not only that, but sleeping bags don’t always “pack down” very small. This means that a sleeping bag in its sack will still be a physically larger object, taking up precious space in a backpack.

Restricted Movement

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night tangled up in your sleeping bag? If so, then you know what I mean when I mention how sleeping bags can restrict movement. 

The lighter weight sleeping bags that are better for backpacking achieve their weight by cutting material. What you end up with are the famous “mummy-shaped” bags. 

These bags are basically cocoons which are great at keeping you warm and reducing excess material. But they can feel pretty tight and uncomfortable. 

And for those who naturally sprawl when they sleep, sleeping bags can feel downright constricting.

What to Look For in a Sleeping Bag Alternative 

So you’re thinking of making the switch from a sleeping bag into…well, what exactly? And how do you even begin figuring out which alternative is best for you specifically? 

Let’s take a look at some criteria before making the leap.

Personal Sleep Preferences and Style

How do you like to sleep? Do you tend to lay still and flat on your back for much of the night? Or do you find yourself tossing and turning, or prone to spreading out?

The answers to all of these questions will help you eliminate certain options immediately.

For instance, maybe you fidget around a lot before settling down. In that case, something like a minimalist bivy bag – which can be claustrophobic – wouldn’t be the best choice.

Insulation and Comfort

Aside from your preferences and sleep style, insulation and comfort are critically important factors when choosing a sleeping bag alternative. 

A quick way to find the bag’s insulation is to check its temperature rating. 

This is often printed on the side of the bag’s packaging. It will say things like 50 degrees for a lightweight, summer bag. Or 20 degrees for a bag to keep you warm through cold winter camping.

Portability

As we mentioned before, a lack of portability can be a strong reason to ditch a sleeping bag. So it makes sense to consider how heavy and portable of a sleeping option you’re willing to carry.

Some of the options we’ll list here can weigh as little as 6 oz or less!

Consider how small you want your sleeping bag alternative to pack down to. This dimension will be clearly noted likely in inches on the spec sheet of the product. 

If you’re car camping or going on an overnight hike, the packed size won’t matter as much. But if you’re setting out on a thru-hike, the space in your pack becomes a precious commodity for other things like food.

Also remember that the lower you go in weight, the higher you might go in price. This would be true in the instance of an ultralight camping quilt such as Therm-A-Rest’s Vesper Quilt.

That’s not always the case though. You can certainly get an ultralight and inexpensive solution, like MSR’s E-Bivy at a reasonable price.

But keep in mind that even though it checks the “price” and “weight” boxes, you are going to lose out on comfort, as this will be a minimalist, stripped-down sleeping option.

All that said, let’s get into the sleeping bag alternatives.

Camping Quilt 

Camping quilts have earned quite a solid reputation among the camping community. 

They offer much of the same benefits of a traditional sleeping bag, such as insulation, plush comfort, and warmth. 

Yet they do this at a significantly lesser weight – most quilts weigh around 1lb. They pack down smaller than a sleeping bag too.

Camping quilts accomplish the weight and size savings by removing two things: the hood and the back.

The back!?

Yep! There are no backs to camping quilts, which as you can imagine, is a significant amount of unneeded fabric and stuffing.

As scary (and as cold!) as that sounds, it really isn’t. You see, camping quilts are designed to be used with a sleeping pad. 

As such, the sleeping pad is what keeps your back insulated from the colder ground temperatures. 

In this way, camping quilts have effectively eliminated a quarter of a sleeping bag while still maintaining all the good things about sleeping bags. Awesome!

If you’re still a little skeptical, that’s okay. I was too until I actually started reading about these things. 

While it’s true that you could feasibly let in a draft while you toss and turn at night, all you’d need to do is tuck the quilt back under. Or you could wear slightly warmer clothes.

Because a camping quilt has no back, you can toss and turn or dangle a leg out of the side. 

But what about people who can’t stand any confinement whatsoever, even the minimal sides of a camping quilt?

Well, some campers have also pointed out that you can simply unzip the foot box area to make the camping quilt into…well, just a regular, oversized blanket. So having this option feels rather liberating.

Camping quilts are very well insulated; users have reported getting a well-rested, warm night. But not overly warm, since they can simply air out the interior by sticking an arm or leg out to allow some fresh airflow.

Overall, camping quilts are an astoundingly solid choice for anyone who wants to keep all the good aspects of a sleeping bag while doing away with all the negative aspects.

Pros:

  • Not restrictive
  • Flexible: can convert into a regular blanket 
  • Weighs less/smaller than sleeping bag
  • No annoying zippers or velcro!

Cons:

  • Mid-high level price range
  • No hood means you could be cold if cold-weather camping, so bring a hat

Camping Blanket

Although they sound similar, camping quilts and camping blankets are not the same thing.

The biggest difference is that camping quilts wrap three-quarters of the way around you. They encase you fully, except for a back.

Camping blankets, meanwhile, are just that: a rectangular shaped blanket. Unless you get an oversized one, you can’t really wrap yourself up in it properly. Thus, your sides could be cold if it’s a chillier night.

Some camping blankets are insulated, made of synthetic outer coverings and inner filling. These types of blankets are also packable, stuffing down into small-ish sacks around a foot tall.

However, when searching for a camping blanket, keep in mind that a lot of manufacturers can stick the label of “camping blanket” onto anything. This goes for blankets made of wool, cotton, or other similarly unsuitable fabrics. So just be aware of what you’re actually looking for.

Pros: 

  • Best for summer camping, 50-60 degree nights
  • Less fabric means less weight

Cons:

  • Too cold for most other styles of camping
  • Can’t wrap up in it

Regular Blankets 

Unlike camping blankets, which we mentioned, regular blankets aren’t designed specifically for camping. This means they may not be as good at heat retention, condensation control. Even more notable: they’ll be heavier.

Using this method is really more for car camping. Specifically, it’s good for use with a cot or a sleeping pad. Perhaps even an airbed if you have one.

Regular blankets are bulky. In fact, they’ll likely weigh similarly to regular sleeping bags. So if weight is your prime reason for switching, think again.

On the other hand, if budget and convenience are your prime reasons, blankets may do the trick.

Pros:

  • Convenient – use what you have at home
  • Great for car camping on a comfy air mattress where you’re off the ground

Cons:

  • Unless you bring several, they might not be as insulated as a sleeping bag or other options on our list
  • Could get heavy quickly

Bivy Sacks 

You may have encountered bivy sacks by other names. Their full name is “bivouac” which literally means “a temporary camp without tents or cover.” They’re also known as bivy bags or just bivys. 

Bivy sacks are one of the ultimate and minimalist solutions for ultralight hikers. In fact, they can weigh as little as 6 oz.

Clearly, bivys are far more lightweight than sleeping bags and pack down much smaller, some not much bigger than a burrito (yes, the kind you eat!).

They can help shed so much weight, in fact, that bivy users can forgo not just a sleeping bag, but a tent as well.

So bivy sacks get you closer to nature than you’d ever get in a tent. 

Dedicated bivy users wax eloquently about how the starry views – unobstructed by tent walls – are extra magical. Or how they have an enhanced sense of the vastness of the mountains they camp beside. 

Anyway, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

To use a bivy sack, simply lay down your sleeping pad, then lay the bivy on top and crawl inside. 

Ta-da! Nothing but you, your face peeking out of the breathing hole, and the great outdoors.

Oh, and as a life pro-tip, some campers advise placing your sleeping pad inside the bag. This prevents sliding or accidentally rolling off the pad in the night. Ouch!

If all of this sounds too minimal for you, there are also bivy shelters. These are essentially bivy bags but with an arched frame at the head to provide a little headroom and minimize claustrophobia.

The extra space of course comes with a bit more weight. It’s only 1-2 extra pounds, but this may or may not matter depending on how dedicated you are to ultralight.

Although bivy bags can maintain warmth, they are obviously not the top performer in this regard. 

Can you be surprised? It’s basically a plastic bag. Thus, these are mostly for summer camping.

Pros:

  • Super lightweight 
  • You can cut out both a sleeping bag and a tent
  • Provides ultimate “under the stars experience”

Cons:

  • Can feel too constrictive
  • Hyper minimalist

Hammock

A hammock is a nice option for those seeking a middle ground between hyper minimal bivy and the perhaps over-excessive space of a tent.

You’re still in a relatively narrow space, but you can move around and spread out more than you could in a bivy. 

Plus, most hammocks come with a zippered mesh top to keep out the bugs. It becomes your own private cocoon!

They’re also perfect for anyone who has back issues because they get you completely off the ground. I even hurt sleeping on the ground sometimes, and I don’t have back problems. The ground is just really darn hard, even with sleeping bags/pads!

As a final plus, they’re really lightweight and packable. ENO’s JungleNest hammock, for instance, weighs only 1lb.

And similar to bivys, hammocks can substitute not just your sleeping bag but your entire tent.

So that’s a lot of positives, but here are some caveats.

Just because you’re off the cold ground doesn’t mean you can just forget about insulation

I’ve slept in these things before, and I can confirm I made the mistake of not bothering with any sort of padding. Boy, was I a cold puppy come 3am.

To fix this, you could either bring your existing sleeping pad and throw it in the hammock under you.

Or you could buy a hammock that’s sold with insulation/a sleeping pad built in. Just remember that it will cost more than a standard hammock.

Either way, don’t skip this step!

Another thing which is pretty obvious: you need trees to hang up a hammock. So if you’re camping in the desert, a hammock will be useless.

You’d also better have good knot tying skills. You don’t need to be a sailor, but you should have a basic understanding of which knots hold best – and be able to tie them.

Otherwise, you could end up like my dad, who woke up on the ground because his hammock’s knots were insufficient. 

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Hanging means it’s easier on your back
  • Can replace your sleeping bag and your tent

Cons:

  • Some say they’re a little restrictive still, or they simply don’t like the hanging sensation
  • Needs trees
  • Needs knot tying skills

Backcountry Bed 

Backcountry beds are extremely similar to sleeping bags. Indeed, at first glance they look almost exactly alike.

So what’s the difference, and why is it even on our list? 

Backcountry beds are roomier than sleeping bags. Thanks to that, they won’t feel nearly as restrictive.

They also don’t have zippers, which is a plus. Now you don’t have to deal with jingly – or stuck – zippers.

Another awesome perk is that backcountry beds have a comforter quilt built right into it. 

Now you won’t need to bring an extra blanket. Plus, on warmer nights, the quilt can be flipped inside out and placed under the bed for extra insulation.

Aside from a sleeping pad, backcountry beds are essentially your all-in-one solution

They’re a good fit for someone looking to get away from a sleeping bag’s constraint, but who might not be ready to jump to a completely different system.

Pros:

  • Similar perks to a sleeping bag – warm, fluffy, comfy
  • More roomy
  • Integrated quilt so you don’t have to carry two pieces of kit
  • Often features little pockets for arms/hands; on warm nights, quilt can be turned inside out and used as insulation if you don’t have a good pad

Cons:

  • Heavy/bulky
  • May be too similar to sleeping bags for some
  • Pricey

Tarp 

A tarp is another ultralight option that provides a lot of versatility and sleeping options.

For instance, tarps can be used in conjunction with a bivy or a hammock for a more “tent-like” feel.

Or you can be really hardcore and simply spread the tarp on the ground. As with most of our sleeping bag alternatives, we would again strongly advise a sleeping pad for added padding and insulation.

Actually, to put it bluntly, tarps are terrible at insulation. 

So not only do you need a sleeping pad, but we’d advise that you have one that is rated to handle the temperatures you’ll be camping in.

Pros:

  • Good for ultralight hikers
  • Offers more space/options than a bivy sack
  • Can be used in conjunction with bivy

Cons:

  • Might still be too minimalist for some
  • Poor insulation – make sure you have a good quality sleeping pad

Emergency/Space Blanket 

Emergency blankets, sometimes called space blankets, are a greatly underrated piece of equipment. 

They get tucked away “for emergency use only,” when in actuality, they can serve as a regular addition to a sleeping set.

They’re made of a special foil that feels tissue-paper-thin to the touch, but is extremely thermally insulating. This is why they’re designated for emergencies: they keep you so warm that they can help prevent hypothermia.

Similar to bivy sacks and sleeping bag liners, emergency blankets rank as one of the lightest weight options so far. This makes them an appealing choice for a thru-hiker.

Use an emergency blanket in combination with a sleeping pad. You lay on the pad and then place the blanket over you like a regular blanket.

Just be careful when it comes to crawling inside it or wrapping all the way up. I made the mistake of doing that once and woke up completely sweaty because it insulated me that well.

Pros:

  • Ultralight
  • Very warm; can be used alone or with a bivy or sleeping pad

Cons:

  • It has one job: keep you warm. So it’s not the best for breathability unless you use it in specific ways

Heavy Clothes

For those who are 200% done with any sort of sleep system that encases you, just ditch them and pack some warm clothes!

We suggest a pair of insulating/thermal long underwear and thick socks for your first layer. Then don a pair of leggings and a shirt. Over that, wear a hoodie (or two), plus a pair of roomy pants (preferably ones with a shell to help with heat retention) and a hat.

This method is only advisable for the summer months where it won’t get too cold. And still, you want to anticipate temperatures in the low 50’s, depending on where you camp. Trust me: at 4am, it gets pretty chilly.

As a last note, avoid wearing anything made of cotton. It’s terrible for moisture wicking, meaning if you sweat, you’ll lay around in it all night. 

Instead, bring camping clothes. These are made of special synthetic fabrics which are breathable, moisture wicking, and insulating. Cool right?

Pros:

  • Convenient – no extra kit parts or costs
  • Easily customizable – is it warmer than you thought? Then leave that extra hat in your pack

Cons:

  • You could end up carrying a similar weight to a sleeping bag
  • Only suitable for summer camping

Woobie 

Woobies are essentially rain ponchos that are issued to the U.S. military. 

Recently, the outdoor community has discovered them as well. 

Woobies are basically thermally insulated, water-resistant blankets. They are sold almost exclusively in camouflage patterns, making them great for hunters.

As an added plus, most woobies are surprisingly budget friendly. 

That makes them a more reasonable option for someone who maybe wants the benefits of an insulated piece of sleep kit without the premium price.

Pros:

  • Hardy and durable
  • Lightweight and packable
  • Thermal insulation – Can be used in colder and warmer weather
  • Good in the rain

Cons:

  • Not good for extreme conditions; it is still only one blanket after all

Sleeping Bag Liner

Sleeping bag liners are designed to be used with sleeping bags to prevent moisture. 

One of the other key appeals to liners is their ability to add 10-15 degrees of extra warmth to a sleeping bag. Used by themselves, they retain some of that ability to insulate.

Of course, since you are basically wrapping yourself into a Ziploc bag, they aren’t suitable for cold weather camping. Instead, they’re ideal for extremely warm nights.

With a weight of around 5oz, liners are a serious solution for the dedicated minimalist or ultralighter. 

Their weight comes with the obvious trade-off that they may not offer the most comfortable night’s rest. 

Like several other options on our list, we’d strongly urge you to use a liner with a sleeping pad for maximum comfort.

Pros:

  • Ridiculously lightweight, perfect for ultralighters
  • A good choice for camping in extreme heat

Cons:

  • Only suitable for high temperature camping
  • Not super comfortable

Leaf Mattress 

A leaf mattress is really only a sleeping bag alternative for two reasons.

One is for emergencies to provide some insulation from the cold ground. The second reason is that you’re simply an extremist or survivalist!

The premise of a leaf mattress is wildly simple. Collect as many leaves (from the ground, not plucked from living trees…) as you can. Then stuff them all into garbage bags. 

For top coverage, you have your trusty emergency/space blanket with you for warmth. ….Right?

Pros:

  • You don’t have to bring anything with you besides large trash bags
  • Most cost efficient
  • No transportation

Cons:

  • Won’t be very comfortable or warm 
  • Suitable for emergencies; not long term

Conclusion 

As you can see, there are more than enough sleeping bag alternatives for any style of camper on any budget.

Out of all of them, one of the most viable options for almost any style of camper is the camping quilt. This is thanks to its versatility, comfort, and warmth. 

A runner-up is a hammock for those of you who prefer being suspended from the ground instead of laying upon it.

Lastly, an extremely popular choice for minimalists, ultralighters, and long-distance hikers is the bivy sack. They are prized for their no-frills nature, especially considering they offer enough protection to replace a tent as well as a sleeping bag.

Overall, we hope this guide has been helpful and enlightening to you in your search for an alternative to the traditional sleeping bag.

AUTHOR

My name is Emma, and I’m a city dweller who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I’ve gone on a number of car camping and backpacking trips over the past few years. I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.