Photo credit: Brady Miller
The sleeping pad and bag you select for your hunts can be the difference between a good night's sleep in the backcountry or trying to motivate yourself to get up after a night spent tossing and turning. In my opinion, a quiet and lightweight sleeping bag is one of the best investments you can make and a pad that allows you to be warm and comfortable is a must for any sleep system.
The r-value of a sleeping pad is often listed among the specs, but what is the r-value and why does it matter? If you were to lay directly on the ground, you would get cold relatively quickly as your body heat is lost to the ground below. Sleeping pads serve as the layer between you and the ground and the r-value denotes the level of insulation the pad provides. The higher the r-value, the better the pad will insulate — aka resist the loss of body heat. When selecting a pad for your hunt, make sure you consider the r-value as well as the weight, size and thickness. For summer scouting and early season hunts, an r-value of one to three is sufficient, three to five for three-season camping, and over five for late season hunts.
Sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes, sapes, weights and materials. Down is commonly used as insulation in sleeping bags as it cuts the overall weight and is highly compressible. Typically, the higher the “fill power” the lighter the bag will be. In essence, the fill power is the loftiness of the down insulation. Loftier down creates more dead air space, so less down can be used to achieve the same temperature rating. The only real potential downfall of a down bag is when down gets wet, it clusters and will not insulate as intended. Conversely, synthetic insulated bags will still insulate when wet. Synthetic insulation does not compress as well, is typically heavier and, in my opinion, does not insulate quite as well as down. A down bag is a great option as long as you keep it dry while a synthetic bag is perhaps a better option for wet and humid environments. Overall, when picking a bag, consider the weight, fill power, size, material and make sure the temperature rating aligns with your intended use.
Below, our staff gear junkies outline their sleeping pad and bag picks and why they handpicked each option for their hunts each year.
Seven years ago I purchased a pair of Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite sleeping pads — one for my hunts and one for a backup. Additionally, my kids have regularly gone with me on overnight scouting trips or hunts and it’s great to have a spare for them to use. I still have both of those pads and plan on using them again this year. To date, I have only had one small hole in one of them, which was easily repaired and still working flawlessly with just a tiny amount of silicone seam seal for repair. I chose the large size, which comes in at 1 lb flat and offers me good width at 25” and length of 6’5”. I prefer the wider pad so my shoulders and arms don’t hang off either side and the length is great since I am 6’2”. The r-value is 4.2, which is fantastic for summer scouting and August through October hunting when the temperatures dip. The XLite is 2.5” thick and utilizes horizontal baffles. The horizontal baffles are great for me as a side sleeper because that configuration keeps the pad from rolling around me and keeps my hips up off the ground and comfortable. For me, the XLite has been very durable, provides adequate comfort and insulation and is lightweight when compared to other options on the market of a similar size and r-value. The only real cons are that they are not cheap, but I have had several years of use in the field with almost no issue and it does require a few minutes and a lot of breath to fully inflate.
A quality goose down sleeping bag will last for decades if you care for it and Western Mountaineering sleeping bags utilize some of the highest quality down on the market. I’ve used a lot of bags and quilts over the years and, currently, for the bulk of my hunts, I’ve found that I much prefer a traditional mummy style bag. The mummy style bags shave some weight, but sleep warmer than a quilt made from the same quality materials. The shape of the Versalite is not exceptionally roomy, but it’s sufficient for my taller, more slender build. The Veralite weighs in at just over 2 lbs, which is a great warmth to weight ratio. I sleep a little cold so the 10° rating provides me some added comfort for an archery elk hunt where high country temperatures rarely get quite that cold. I’ve tried several sleeping bags, but the warmth, weight and packability of the Versalite keeps me stuffing it in my pack year after year. You do have to keep it dry, I highly recommend a good three-season tent or a bivy/tarp to ensure that my bag provides the warmth I need.
This is an area of my gear list that once I find what works, I simply just stick to it. I feel that my sleeping system, I have the best of both worlds. I have a sleeping pad that is comfortable, durable and provides a decent r-value with the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Uberlite. I don’t need a sleeping pad with a ton of extra r-value during these later season hunts as 99% of the time I’ll have a shelter with a stove in it. And while this sleeping pad is light, I definitely put durable in there for a reason. I've heard people mention that this pad is scary thin and could puncture easily, but I have never found that to be an issue.
One thing I’ll note; to save a bit of weight, I elected for the regular size sleeping pad rather than a long. Even though I’m 6’5” I feel that a regular-length sleeping pad is totally workable for me. I’m not looking for five star sleeping conditions. I’m a hunter first and foremost, and most know that I’ll do what it takes with gear to shave a few ounces so I can pack the real items that make a difference in the outcome of my hunt.
My sleeping bag of choice is the Stone Glacier Chilkoot 15-degree sleeping bag. This sleeping bag in my opinion is perfect for the style of hunting I do. The weight is kept to a minimum and this bag is flat out roomy. At my height, I’m at the maximum recommended size, but this sleeping bag still works great for me. This sleeping bag has been with me on so many hunts, and I don't see myself changing it anytime soon as I haven't seen anything new that actually strikes my interest. And remember, if I ever get cold, I will always just add a few more layers of my clothes to sleep in. I carried them on the hunt, so I might as well use them.
Having a good sleep system is something that I think is crucial and every hunter should invest in a good sleep system! One thing I think that isn't talked about enough is how important it is to be well rested on a hunt and how those benefits lead to having more success. If you get better sleep at night, you will feel better the next day, your body will recover quicker and, mentally, you'll be sharper and more motivated to hunt harder. These factors will lead to having a much more enjoyable hunt.
I have tried and used multiple sleeping pads and sleeping bags over the years. My goal with my sleeping setup is to try and find the most comfortable setup possible, that is fairly lightweight and something that is versatile enough that I can use year-round.
Now let’s dive into the details behind why I think this is the best sleep system. For my sleeping bag, I have found that the 15 to 20 degree range for sleeping bags is great for versatility as it can be used from August all the way through November. For those earlier seasons, you can keep it unzipped and sleep comfortably and, for those later seasons, you can wear your down clothes to bed to add extra warmth and sleep comfortably. One other thing to note about the Stone Glacier Chilkoot sleeping bag is that it's very roomy from the waist up, allowing you to sleep in a lot of different positions, which I absolutely love! Now to my sleeping pad. I have punctured my fair share, mostly due to going ultralight weight and the materials being not as durable. The Therm-A-rest NeoAir Xlite has a 4.2 r-value, which lends to being made of thicker materials, giving it more durability and it's good to use any time of the year — no matter the temperature. Last but not least, the Klymit Xl Pillow is a must-have. In reality, any camp pillow will work as long as you have a dedicated pillow. It will significantly improve your sleep and weighs next to nothing! Stop using your down clothes and get a camp pillow. You will thank me later.
I highly recommend that everyone should look into upgrading their sleep system if you already haven't and hopefully get better sleep on the mountain this fall leading to a more successful hunt!
Generally speaking, I am a minimalist when it comes to backpack hunting. With archery elk, I love to stay mobile and to maintain the ability to cover ground quickly and ounces are a big deal for this type of hunting. However, one thing I learned long ago is that I am just an extremely light sleeper. I have trouble falling and staying asleep and any minor discomfort will exemplify this issue greatly. So, with that, my sleep system is one area where I’m OK sacrificing a little bit of weight for a big gain in comfort!For my sleeping pad, I really like the Big Agnes Rapide SL insulated from Big Agnes. The 3.5” thick pad provides exceptional insulation and comfort while the 4.25” outer chambers keep me on the pad when I’m restless.I tend to sleep really cold so I generally opt for a 15 degree bag for all of my hunts. The Marmot Helium 15 degree is my go-to and has been for the past several years. With this bag, I still have plenty of room to move around. I’m a side sleeper and I don’t feel like I’m getting twisted into a mess.
For this year’s early season deer hunts, I plan to have a base camp that I will return to daily so weight for my total sleep system isn’t a concern. I have used the Big Agnes Spike Lake 15 sleeping bag for four years now and it’s been great. I like it because it breathes well, is warm enough and is lightweight when I need to backpack in. I have used it on multiple backcountry hunts because it’s lightweight and packs down small and even though it has a low temperature rating at 15 degrees, I’ve slept comfortably on warm deer hunts because it breathes so well. It also helps that it has a decent shoulder girth at 60” for the regular, giving me plenty of room especially when it’s warm at night. Every time I take my kids camping they fight over who gets the Spike Lake sleeping bag since it’s their favorite as well!
When possible, I like to use the Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe SL sleeping pad. This pad is wider than most, has a high r-value and is comfortable to sleep on. If I’m backpacking, I tend to use the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite, but when weight isn’t a concern I always have this pad at my base camp. This is a great pad for both early and late season hunts, giving you room to stretch out and sleep comfortably.
This year, for two different hunts, Colorado third season deer and Utah spike elk, base camps are planned and I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’m also a “wider” person and I also toss and turn a lot. Sleep is becoming a bigger factor in hunts as I get older so I opt for comfort over convenience when I can and that’s why I am going with a long wide air pad and a sleeping bag that has plenty of room to move around inside while still keeping me warm and preventing drafts! Even though I’m planning on using both the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pad and Stone Glacier Chilkoot 0-degree sleeping bag for base camps, if needed, I wouldn’t have a second thought about throwing them in my pack and spiking out in the late season.
The Big Agnes Insulated Air Core is my choice because it’s well insulated and the number one for me in any air pad. It’s thick (3.25” in the center and 3.5” on the edges) to keep me comfortable and centered on the pad for the best night sleep possible, and I really like the inflation sack to make blowing it up easy!
The Chilkoot is my choice because I think it’s one of the best bags when really put to the test in cold weather. The high quality 850+ fill goose down is really hard to beat when you need warm and packable. The large shoulder box lets me move around but still keeps me warm no matter what.
I'm a big fan of do-it-all gear and this is the combo that I have found to be perfect for me. I love the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pad for a few reasons: one, it's one of the thicker ones on the market, which helps me sleep more soundly because of the extra comfort it provides; two, it's lightweight enough to take on all my back-country adventures; three, it's got an r-value perfectly suited for a three-season pad that I look for.
I went with the Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0 degree as my sleeping bag because it's so versatile. As a larger guy and a side sleeper, I have to have enough room to move around and this bag provides that. It's warm enough for the later season hunts, but not too warm for mid season, extremely comfortable featuring over 7” of loft and a microlite XP shell that is more breathable and water-resistant.
Weight: 2 lb 2oz
Temperature Rating: 10 degrees
Size: Long (shoulder 63”, hip 54”, foot 39”)
Weight: 8.8 oz
Size: 20” x 72”
Weight: 1lb 3oz (regular)
Thickness: 3.5" with 4.25" outer chamber
Model: Marmot Helium 15 Degree
Weight: 2lb 1 oz (regular)
Temperature Rating: 15 degrees
Size: Regular - 60” Shoulder, 54” Hip, 60” Long
Weight: 1 lb 15 oz
Size: 78" x 27"
Model: Big Agnes Spike Lake 15
Weight: 2 lbs 6 oz
Temperature Rating: 15 degrees
Size: 60” Shoulder, 54” Hip, 36” Foot
Weight: 1 lb 15 oz
Size: Wide long (25" x 78")
Thickness: 3.25" with 3.5" outer chambers
Weight: 2 lbs 10 oz
Temperature Rating: 0 degrees
Size: 64” shoulder, 48” hip, 36” foot box
Weight: 1 lb 6 oz (Regular)
Size: 20" x 72" (Regular)
Thickness: 3.25" with 3.5" outer chambers