Sleeping Bag Jail & How to Avoid It

sleeping bag jail. avoid it with warm camp clothes

What is Sleeping Bag Jail?

If you’ve ever been in camp and as the daylight fades and temperatures drop, you’ve gotten so cold that you had to retreat to your sleeping bag to get comfortable then you’ve experienced Sleeping Bag Jail. This happens when you simply aren’t wearing warm enough clothing to keep you comfortable outside your shelter past daylight. Backpacking and camping between fall and spring mean longer, colder nights. You can avoid having to jump into your sleeping bag by adding an insulating jacket and pants to your sleep getup. This means more relaxing evenings in camp telling stories with friends, gazing at the stars, or enjoying a campfire.

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A Sleep System is just that — A System!

Your sleeping bag, pad, & clothes combined keep you warm!

Your sleep clothing, sleeping bag or quilt, and sleeping pad is a combined system designed to work together to keep you snoozing comfortably. You can get by down to mid-20s F with a +30 F comfort bag combined with a good clothing system and a warm sleeping pad. Sleeping bags are expensive – combining your clothing with your sleeping bag and pad makes a warmer, more flexible, and lower-cost system. A sleeping pad that’s rated for colder temperatures makes a huge difference too. For only a few ounces an upgrade from a NeoAir XLite (or our preferred Women’s R 5.4) to the R 6.9 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad will make a huge difference in sleep warmth. This will likely make a more cost and weight effective increase in your sleep system than “over buying” a warmer down bag. This leaves you with more dough to buy some warm camp clothes.

Quick Picks to Avoid Sleeping Bag Jail

With any of the following you’ll be able hang out in camp hours after dark to stargaze and chat with friends without getting cold:

Related Materials

Full Video | How to Avoid Sleeping Bag Jail

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words what is a comprehensive video on how to avoid sleeping bag jail worth? There’s stuff in here that we can’t begin to cover in words.

Sleep Jail is Totally Avoidable with Warm Camp Clothes.

The bottom line is: If you want to stay comfortable and cozy outside your tent past dark in the fall, winter or spring, don’t skimp on camp clothes. Sleeping is a system: bag, pad, clothing. A warm jacket, pants and booties can all be worn together to get through a cold night. This has two advantages:

  1. Save money and weight on a sleeping bag. You can buy a lighter and less expensive +30 sleeping bag and sleep in your insulated jacket and pants to get you down to much lower temperatures (when needed).
  2. You get out of Sleep Jail. Not only do you have these layers to sleep in, but they’re equally useful to wear in camp. They give you the ability to remain outside comfortably while you cook dinner, chat with friends, or stargaze once the sun goes down and temperatures drop.

Without proper sleep layers, many hikers will find themselves crawling into their sleeping bags by 6pm when camping during colder temperatures found at higher elevations or winter (and shoulder) seasons.

sleeping bag jail full length camp clothes including pants

It’s Not Just About the Jacket

Nearly every thru-hiker and backpacker will invest in a down or synthetic puffy jacket at some point. It’s a staple.

What isn’t? Down pants. A pair of lofted, insulated pants can provide a ton of warmth and comfort in camp and while you sleep. Don’t forget about booties either. There’s nothing quite like taking off damp socks and hiking shoes at the end of a long day on the trail and slipping your feet into clean, dry socks and plush booties. Your feet will thank you later for treating them like royalty.

Down vs Synthetic Options

Choosing the right cold-weather sleep or camp clothes is really a matter of deciding what type of insulation is right for your camping conditions, climate and budget. With the exception of backpacking in particularly wet, humid environments, we will almost always recommend down insulation.

Duck or goose down outperforms synthetic (typically polyester) insulation in warmth-to-weight ratio and overall packability because it’s very compressible. When well-cared for and cleaned properly, down clothing or gear will last a long time even when compressed into stuff sacks often. The biggest issue with down is it’s the inability to repel moisture. When wet, down loses its insulating power. Though it’s tough to totally saturate a jacket these days with improvements in water-resistant down and shell fabrics.

There’s typically a more affordable price tag on synthetic options. This might come at a cost of a couple of extra ounces and overall warmth and durability with extended use. Synthetic can be the favorable choice in wet weather because of its ability to retain heat, though it’s no joy to have a drenched jacket at all. An appropriate layering system and the shell is crucial for keeping any jacket dry in the first place. That being said, we love how the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket and Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Pants are closing the gap on weight and warmth using synthetic.

  • Higher Warmth-to-weight
  • Breathable
  • Lightweight
  • Compressibility & Packability
  • Durability
  • Expensive
  • Less moisture resistant
  • Can clump up in spots
  • Requires special cleaning care
  • Retains more warmth when wet
  • Dries quickly
  • More affordable
  • Naturally hypoallergenic
  • Can be heavier
  • Lower Warmth-to-weight
  • Less Compressibility
  • Significantly Lower Durability

Our Synthetic Pick: The Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket & Pants

This jacket & pants combination does it all. While we are down lovers here, we are thrilled to have finally found a light synthetic puffy jacket and pants that comes close to down for both warmth and compressibility. It is absolutely comparable to our favorite down options, and adds a margin of wet weather protection not offered by down. The jacket is reasonably priced at $170 which is less than or equal to most comparable down jackets on the market. Beyond picking your size, the Torrid Apex are customizable in fabric, color and collar. Lead times vary 4-8 weeks.

Don’t want to wait for custom lead times? EE usually has some in stock: Men’s Torrid Apex Jacket, Women’s Torrid Apex Jacket, Men’s Torrid Apex Pants and Women’s Torrid Apex Pants. Just checkout Enlightened Equipment’s non-custom options.

Our Synthetic Pick: The Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket & Pants

Torrid Apex Jacket

Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket

MSRP: $170
Total Weight:
~7.5oz and up
Sizes: Small – 2XLarge
Fill: Climashield APEX insulation
Outer Fabric: 7D or 10D
Inner Fabric: 7D or 10D
Other features: zippered pockets, elastic waist
Add ons: Hood

orange Torrid Apex pants

Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Pants

MSRP: $130
Total Weight: ~5oz and up
Sizes: Small – 2XLarge
Fill: Climashield APEX insulation
Outer Fabric: 7D or 10D
Inner Fabric: 7D or 10D
Inseam: 28” – 24”
Other features: shock cord waist, wide leg openings

Our Down Pick: GooseFeet Gear Down Jacket & Pants

With over 60% down by weight, the GooseFeet Down Jacket and Pants are insane warmth for their weight. What makes this our top pick is the complete customization and quality. Each item is carefully made to your size and features so expect a 4-8 weeks wait time. Pictured is a custom 1/2 zip jacket weighing in at 9 oz with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down.

*Please note: These items are entirely custom, so certain specifications, where noted, will be given for Alan’s items (5’8″ 160 lbs, 40.5 chest). The Down Jacket isn’t even listed on their website – you’ll need to contact them directly with your measurements. Also, assume the hip measurement includes the butt. Prices will vary.

Our Down Pick: GooseFeet Gear Down Jacket & Pants

goosefeet gear down jacket custom

GooseFeet Custom Down Jacket

Total Weight: *9oz
Down Fill: 2.5 – 8.5oz of 950 fill power of Downtek down (*5.5oz)
Style: Pullover ½ zip
Outer Fabric: 7D or 20D
Inner Fabric: 7D or 20D
Color Options: Many
Add ons: zippers, baffles, kangaroo pocket, drawstring hood, elastic hem
Waist: 26” – 46” (*33.5”)
Hips: 28” – 48” (*37.5”)
Chest: 28” – 48” (*48.5”)
Sleeve Length: (back of the neck -> desired cuff): 26” – 40” (*33”)
Desired Length: (between collarbone -> desired hem): Any (25” ~medium)

Note: The GooseFeet Gear Down Jacket is a custom option and not listed on the site. You’ll need to contact them directly via their custom page to have one made for you.

Goosefeet Custom Down pants

GooseFeet Custom Down Pants

Total Weight: *7.5 oz
Down Fill: 2.5 – 8.5oz of 850 fill power of Downtek down (*5.5oz)
Outer Fabric: 8D or 20D
Inner Fabric: 8D or 20D
Color Options: Many
Add ons: zippers, baffles, butt and knee patches
Waist: 26”- 46” (*33.5”)
Hips: 28” – 48”(*37.5”)
Inseam: 20” – 38”(*30”)
Thigh: 16” – 28”(*22.5”)
Calf: 12” – 18”(*15.5”)

What’s the difference between 8D and 20D fabrics? The 8D material is an ultra weight-saver and has a soft next-to-skin feel. The 20D nylon is slightly heavier, but more durable. Both have a DWR treatment applied for water resistance. GooseFeet offers many color options for both.

Our Budget Pick: REI Co-op Magma 850 Hoodie Jacket & REI Teton Fleece Pants

Buy off the shelf with no lead times and save some money as well.

The REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0 is a warm, ultralight down jacket option that offers a stellar overall value. This is one of our favorite picks because at $219, it’s a great deal when compared to competitors’ jackets that run $300 or higher. But it goes on sale a few times a year for around $100 making it an insane deal in a top-notch down jacket.

The Magma 850 Hoodie has all the bells and whistles you’d look for in a down jacket for backpacking or hiking — the lightest fill power water-resistant down, insulating hood, ripstop shell, and variable baffles for increased weight and reduced bulk. An added bonus is that the pockets aren’t blocked by a hip belt, which is the Achilles heel of some other jackets we’ve tried hiking. You’ll have to pay a significant chunk of change to find something lighter than this jacket. When it’s on sale it’s a serious steal. The Teton Fleece Pants will be heavier when compared to down but offers a great price-to-warmth ratio and unbelievable comfort.

Note: The Magma Jacket is seasonal but the $100 REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket available year-round and $70’ish on sale — also a great deal on low cost but warm camp clothing.

budget option for warm camp clothes

REI Co-op Magma 850 Hoodie Down Jacket

REI Co-op Magma 850 Down Hoodie 2.0

MSRP: $219
Weight: 11.5oz (medium)
Sizes: XSmall – XLarge
Down Fill: 850 fill power goose down
Fabric: Pertex ripstop nylon
Other features: hood, zip hand and chest pockets

When the Magma is out of stock, we would reach for the REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket, which is always in stock and has a great price tag of $99 but it is sometimes on sale for even less.

Co-op Teton Fleece Pants

REI Co-op Teton Fleece Pants

MSRP: $60
Fabric: Polyester
Fleece Weight: Medium
Men’s Style Options: 30”, 32”, 24” inseam
Women’s Size options: petite, regular, tall, plus
Other features: zippered pockets,

Related Materials: See our Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets and Pants for Backpacking for more down clothing options and Hiking Clothes for 2020 | Complete Guide for information about proper layering.

Conclusion | Avoiding Sleeping Bag Jail

It’s more common than not to pay little attention to your camp clothing. During summer trips, it’s easy to throw just about any pair of tights or polyester shirt in your pack and get away with it. In the colder seasons, this is hardly the case. Camp clothes deserve a category of their own and whether you splurge or save, it’s important to think it through like you would a sleeping bag or tent. And after all, who doesn’t love changing into dry, cozy clothes after hiking all day?