Kids aren’t just miniature adults, so purchasing a child’s sleeping bag or quilt isn’t just a matter of purchasing a miniature version of an adult sleeping bag. A kid’s attitude is also far more dependent on getting a good night’s sleep than an adult’s. Making sure that kids get a good night’s sleep is a worthy priority that keeps a camping trip fun instead of a grouch-fest. Every parent out there knows that a grumpy, tired kid makes for an unpleasant time for adults too.
If you don’t have any prior experience buying a sleeping bag, see our Sleeping Bag Primer for Parents, below. If you are already familiar with sleeping bags and quilts, be sure to read our section on Critical Considerations for Children, to understand the differences between adult outdoor sleep insulation and the needs of children.
Here are our 10 recommended sleeping bags for kids.
1. REI Down Time 25
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2. Big Agnes Wolverine 15
3. Enlightened Equipment Revelation Jr. 20
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4. Kelty Mistral 30
5. REI Kindercone 25
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6. Teton Sports Celsius Jr. 20
7. Coleman Plum Fun 45
8. Coleman Youth Mummy 30
9. Kelty Cosmic 20
10. REI Trailbreak 20
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A Sleeping Bag Primer for Parents
Sleep is an important part of a camping or backpacking trip. A night of tossing and turning makes for a much tougher day on the trail afterward. The biggest contributor to a good night’s sleep is your sleeping bag. It’s even more important with younger campers, making a sleeping bag for your little one a very tough choice.
If you’re not familiar with sleeping bags and you’re buying one for the first time for your child, here’s an explanation of how they work and the key differences between different options.
What should you know about sleeping bags in general?
The sleeping bag works by holding in your body heat in an insulating material whose “loft” creates small air spaces. The shell of the bag holds the loft distributed around your body and keeps it dry. The more loft in a bag, the warmer it is and the higher the weight. The three most important factors to investigate when choosing a sleeping bag are temperature rating, weight, and style.
The temperature rating for a sleeping bag is an approximate temperature at which the “average” sleeper is comfortable. Manufacturers of sleeping bags often use a standardized temperature rating to measure the comfort range of a sleeping bag, either the EN (“European Norm”) or the new ISO standard (referred to as “ISO 23537-1:2016”) adopted in 2016. While the temperature rating may not exactly match your comfort point if you are a “warm” or “cool” sleeper, they are good for comparison between bags; you should expect that two bags with a 25-degree rating are going to be very similar in their warmth.
The weight of a sleeping bag is important because you don’t want to carry more than necessary. Weight is chiefly governed by the amount of insulation and what material it is. Broadly speaking, down is lighter for the warmth than synthetic (more on that in a moment).
The style of the sleeping bag is important because narrower “mummy” sleeping bag designs save weight and bulk. but may sacrifice comfort by being more confining than a “rectangular” bag. Mummy bags typically have a hood that goes over the head and a corded drawstring to tighten around the face to prevent heat loss. They are wider through the shoulders and taper down towards the feet, saving weight and retaining heat better. Rectangular bags usually have excess material at the foot, which increases their size and weight while making their heat retention less effective, but they give sleepers who like a bit of room more freedom to toss and turn and less confinement.
Insulation is important
Sleeping bags typically use either down or synthetic insulation. Down (the plumage from geese or ducks that’s underneath their exterior feathers) is lighter for the same temperature rating, lasts longer, “breathes” more easily, is usually a little softer, and compresses better. Down is rated by its “fill power” (600, 700, etc.–a measure of how many cubic inches an ounce of the down can fill in a regulated test). As the fill power number increases, the weight decreases (and the price typically increases). Many down bags now have hydrophobic down that helps maintain warmth even when wet; the down is coated with a molecular water repellant that to helps it insulate when wet. The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is a certification of compliance with best practices for animal welfare and sustainability.
Synthetic insulates better when wet, is non-allergenic, is typically easier to care for, and costs less. Manufacturers typically have their own proprietary synthetic insulation brands (usually with words like “Polar”, “Thermo”, or “Loft” in the name), so evaluating the insulation by weight and EN rating is much more meaningful than knowing the brand name.
Other important sleeping bag features
Look for these important features to distinguish a higher-quality sleeping bag from a lower-quality one:
- Draft tube. Better sleeping bags will have an insulated tube inside the zipper intended to prevent heat loss along the zipper and discomfort when bare skin contacts a very cold metal zipper in the middle of the night.
- Shaped foot box. This is a rectangular compartment at the end of the bag to keep the feet in a more natural position.
- Polyester or nylon shell. The shell is the outer material of the sleeping bag. A polyester or nylon shell (instead of cotton) resists sweat, which keeps the sleeping bag warmer, drier, and less prone to body odor.
- Baffles. These are the “pockets” that hold the fill material in place. They prevent insulation from bunching up to create unwanted hot and cold zones.
- Full-length zipper. This gives more temperature control and makes it easier to get in and out of the sleeping bag. Ensure that it operates smoothly.
A sleeping bag is a pretty utilitarian purchase for me: I tend to look at weight, warmth, shape, materials, and loft as primary concerns and consider aesthetics and “fun” to be far down the list. For a kid, a cool design or bright color may be the make or break factor of the bag, or a zipper pocket for headlamps and other treasures makes them excited for a campout, so don’t neglect those factors in your choice.
Critical Considerations for Children
Adjusting for Growth
The purchase of a kid’s sleeping bag needs to accommodate for their expected growth while they use the bag. Since extra space for growth means extra room inside the bag to keep heated, buying a bag with extra room has its downside. Some bags are adjustable; a zipper can close off the footbox for younger children and be undone for older children to allow expansion room. Excess at the bottom can also be managed by folding it under, cinching it closed with a belt or drawstring, or stuffing clothes into the foot of the bag.
Sleeping bags are available in three different size categories: toddler bags up to about 4 years old, youth models that fit campers up to 5′, and adult models. Toddler bags are a very small niche with few available options, but they are the only realistic choice for very young children. To ensure safety, check with your pediatrician for their recommendations on how old a toddler should be prior to using a bag. Youth models are a good choice for elementary and middle school years. A teen will likely graduate to an adult model as they hit their growth spurt; evaluating the durability and ease of maintenance of a bag will get them in the right one. The list below provides recommendations in each category.
Tough on gear
Kids are tougher on gear; they have less patience for “taking care of things” and less control of their fine motor skills. This means that the usual point of failure for a kid’s sleeping bag is the zipper. These failures are plentiful and various: most commonly broken zipper teeth, getting the zipper off track, snagging the shell of the bag (and sometimes ripping a hole), and tearing out the stitching that fastens the zipper to the bag. Make sure the zipper slides smoothly and snag-free for its entire length and that your young camper can easily operate it. Take a good look at the stitching and make sure it’s suited to hard use.
An overlooked aspect of a kid bag is how easy it is to wash, and how well it stands up to being cleaned frequently. Your kid’s bag may come home from an average weekend campout looking like it was dragged through the mud or nestled a muddy kid all night long, so it’s worth a glance at the care instructions to make sure they are easy to follow.
A significant difference between a kid’s sleeping bag and an adult one is that the insulating material in a kid’s bag is typically synthetic, and frequently higher bulk and weight than comparable adult bags. Your kid’s shorter sleeping bag often weighs the same and takes up the same amount of space in the pack as yours. On the plus side, it probably cost half as much, or even less; manufacturers shoot for a much lower price point with kid gear.
Speaking of insulation, kids have less natural insulation than adults and faster metabolisms, so they lose heat more rapidly and sleep a little chillier. Make sure to add a fudge factor to the temperature rating of the bag to ensure that it’s warm and cozy; remember that a good night’s sleep matters for everyone’s happiness the next day.
Sleeping Pad Attachment
Kids twist and turn while they sleep more than adults. A sleeping pad sleeve or attachment loops help keep them insulated from the ground and makes them more comfortable; it’s a great feature to look for in a kid’s bag.
Check Out All of SectionHiker’s Kid’s Gear Guides!
About the author
Carl Nelson developed his interest in the outdoors on childhood family road trips that included many National Parks. He was introduced to backpacking through Boy Scouts in the 1980s. He refined his interest and skills in college as a trip leader for the Vanderbilt University Outdoor Recreation program, culminating in leading a week-long backpack in the Grand Canyon three times. He is an Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster, frequently serving as the adult advisor for his troop’s outdoor activities. His backpacking experience ranges from his home state of Tennessee to the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Cascades, Philmont Scout Ranch, and China. Carl is an avid photographer and reader, a self-proclaimed gear nerd, and an unabashed lover of maps.
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