This is not an overly technical discussion (if that’s what you are interested in, leave a comment below.) Rather, a more practical “Help! My scout needs a sleeping bag” discussion.
Here is the basic trade-off: price vs. usefulness. Many say the trade-off is price vs. quality, but I don’t think that’s the entire story. For example, the low-cost bag recommended our our basic gear page is a $35 Coleman bag that is rated for Zero degrees! Very inexpeinsive, but is it low quality?
(See the recommended choices on our Basic Camping Gear page.)
I’m sure that Coleman bag could last for many years and keep you warm in cold weather, but it’s a huge bag to carry with you on a backpack trip. That’s what I mean by usefulness.
When you choose a sleeping bag, ask yourself “What do I intend to do with this bag? Use it at home for sleepovers? Car camping? Backpacking?”
For home and car camping, the Coleman bag will serve you well, but if you expect to carry this bag in your pack while hiking to your destination, you should get something smaller and lighter. This inexpensive, but warm Coleman bag is 6+ pounds and 17 inches long and very big when packed; that’s absolutely huge to consider hiking any more than 100 feet from the car.
Of course more money will get you better quality, but again it’s all about balancing your needs. I purchased the value choice (a previously unknown brand called Hyke and Byke) and got a down-filled bag which comes with a compression sack, which gets the sleeping bag down to under 3 pounds and less than 12 inches long to about 8 inches diameter and it easily fits inside my pack along with my other gear (sleeping bag should be inside the pack, but that’s another topic.)
I’ve used this particular bag when night time temperatures were under 40 degrees and I was plenty warm (as long as I fluffed it up when I took it out of the compression sack.)
So is that bag the only choice for backpacking? Well, in general a down sleeping bag is fabulous as it compresses and keeps you warm, but this particular bag is not filled with the highest quality down (it’s not as dense,) but at $130 it turned out to be a great buy. If I were going on many sub-freezing camp outs, I would want to get a better (and or course, more expensive) bag. But this bag is very useful for what I need it to do.
So, when buying a sleeping bag, ask what it will be used for and how soon will you need more for the money (and those specific bags listed on our gear page are just some suggestions, there are many other bags to pick from as well.) Good shopping!