Dear Michael,

I’m hoping you can help me out with a backpacking question I have. I’m looking for a sleeping bag for my daughter for summer backpacking trips in the Northwest. She will be four this summer. We’ve backpacked with her before, but this is the first year she’ll be too big to sleep in our bags. Backpacking with a kid means so much stuff, plus for at least part of the time, I’ll be carrying her, meaning my husband is stuck with a lot of gear. The biggest problem is the sleeping bag. All of the bags I can find out there are big enough for much older kids. I really only need a small bag that will last her a couple years and keep her warm. Any ideas on something that could work for her?

Alternately, I’d considered trying to find something smaller and lighter weight for my husband and me. We currently have two bags that zip together and a sleeping pad each. Works great, but it takes up a ton of space in our packs. If we could somehow save space and weight with our sleeping setup, we’d have more room to accommodate my daughter’s bag.

Thanks for your blog. It’s a pleasure to read.

Best,
Jessi
Everett, WA
P.S. I’m @explorenw on Twitter. I really enjoy your tweets.

Hi Jessi,

Thanks for writing and following me. I enjoy your tweets as well. Sorry it’s taken a little time to respond, I get a significant volume of questions and try to get to all of them.

My experience with kids under age six is that they don’t really stay in a sleeping bag, to be honest. I’ve tried many times, and the nylon shell and interior of bags are so slick, and little kids flop around so much, that they quickly wind up outside the bag. And it’s very hard to stuff a sleeping kid back inside a sleeping bag… especially for the fourth or fifth time that night!

I always found it much more useful to just bring a warm, kid-sized blanket. They’re used to sleeping with a blanket and covering up with it. I would wake up during the night and quickly cover my son or daughter if the blanket slipped off. If you’re backpacking in relatively mild temps in summer, with your daughter sleeping on a pad and wearing clothes to bed (even just a top and bottom layer of long underwear), she’ll be fine.

By the way, I suggest a foam pad for a child, because they won’t slide off of it as easily as they will an air mattress with a slick nylon shell fabric. My kids are now 13 and 11 and are still plenty comfortable enough on their Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol foam pads, which are durable enough to throw on the ground and sit or lie down on at the campsite, too. If you happen to be looking for air mats, though, see all of my reviews of air mattresses.

If you want to get a sleeping bag for your daughter at this age, for backpacking, you obviously want one that’s relatively lightweight and not too bulky—which rules out many low-end, inexpensive bags that are made with very heavy and bulky, synthetic insulation. (There are synthetic insulations in bags that are low in weight and bulk, like Primaloft, but you’ll pay more for that.) My 11-year-old daughter used the REI Lumen, a good bag at a reasonable price, from when she was around six or seven years old until last summer. She logged a lot of nights in it, and I’ll be passing it down to the daughter of a friend very soon because my daughter’s now using an adult bag. If you’re going to buy a kid’s bag for backpacking now (instead of using a blanket), you might as well get one that will last her several years.

My wife and I never used a couples sleeping bag—we each just prefer our own space. But there are some good ones out there, and I’d recommend looking at the Big Agnes King Solomon, which is a reasonable weight and bulk for its temperature rating (for a two-person bag). If you’re looking for separate bags that are lightweight and low-bulk, check out my sleeping bag reviews, especially the Marmot Plasma 30, and this Ask Me post recommending lightweight bags.

I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have other questions.

Best,
Michael

Thanks so much, Michael.

That’s great advice. I think I’ll simply go with the blanket. Simple, affordable, and I won’t be shoving her back into her bag at 3 a.m. I’m pretty sure nothing sounds worse than accidentally waking up my child at 3 a.m. because she’s slipped out of her bag—again. I will also get her a pad. I’m considering trying that style for my husband and myself. I always feel like I’m chasing our sleeping pads around the tent.

Thanks again!

Jessi

Jessi,

You’re welcome. You’ll know when it’s time to get your daughter a bag—basically, she’ll be too big to use just a blanket.

BTW, I’ve slept on foam pads in the past, but not for many years: My kids can sleep on them, but I need a little more cushion. I guess I’m getting soft. Actually, if there’s soft ground, like sand, under the foam pad, that’s fine. Firm ground, not so much. But you and your husband may be tougher than me!

Michael

Thank you, Michael. This is all super helpful. I think I’ll go try out a few pads in the store to see what I think. I’ll bring my husband along, too, because he’s all tall and lanky and finding something comfy for him may be hard.

Jessi

In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

—Michael Lanza