If you are on a camping trip and forgot your sleeping bag or just want alternatives to the body-restricting confines of a zipped pocket – there are plenty of options. As an outdoors lover, you know it’s best to live by the mantra of ‘always be prepared,’ but a sleeping bag is not required for a successful camping trip.
12 Perfect Alternatives to Sleeping Bags
- Tact Bivvy Bag Emergency Survival Gear
- Insulated Hammocks
- Quilts & Clothes
- Backcountry Bed
- Air Mattress
- Travel Liner
- Zenbivy Bed
- Sleeping Pad
- An Indoor Tent
- In Emergencies: Burrowing
Many passionate campers don’t have room in their backpack for a sleeping bag, find them restrictive, and flat-out prefer not to use a sleeping bag over these alternatives.
If you’ve seen Bear Grylls’s survival show, you’ve seen him sleep inside of an animal carcass for warmth in the thick of winter with no thermal protection at all, not even clothes. We won’t take it that far – but using the twelve options above can help save space in your bags, be considerably more warmth-effective than traditional sleeping bags, while also giving you the indescribable freedom to hang a leg out if you so desire! Check out these camper’s dozen, and I have a feeling that one of them may be your dreamy replacement for that ratty old sleeping bag.
12 Perfect Alternatives to Sleeping Bags
Shelter aside, the proper sleeping bag (or alternative) will be one of the most essential items in your camping set. If you don’t get a good night’s rest, how can you fully enjoy the rest of your camping trip?
Think of it this way – You’ve driven out here, possibly hundreds of miles, packed everything you need to survive in your life (which now that you see it all laid out – is actually a lot!) and after all of this you want to risk not getting your beauty sleep? Don’t risk being grumpy and foggy-headed anytime you leave the comforts of home.
Lack of rest may ruin your trip.
This is why it’s so important to plan properly and know your sleeping situation before arriving.
Qualities to look for and questions to ask while shopping for your sleeping-bag-alternatives are:
- How easy is it to carry/ portability?
- How far do I need to hike with it/ will it weigh me down?
- Is it practical for my frequented camping environments?
- Does it meet my budget?
- Is it insulated enough/practical for the climate?
- Does this alternative meet my overall standards of value?
If the options we give don’t work for you, maybe you need another kind of sleeping bag. We’ll get to that later.
But first, here are these 12 alternatives–I have a feeling at least one will work perfectly for you and help you to slip briskly into dreamland!
#1 Tact Bivvy Bag Emergency Survival Gear
This is for the true outdoorsmen and women that will be in the thick of a harsh winter or perilous climate. This has saved lives, and you should absolutely pack a Tact Bivvy, whether you leave the sleeping bag at home or bring it with you.
The Bivvy is its own design, but if you had to summarize it, you could call it the lovechild of the blanket and tarp. Very lightweight and compact for snug packing situations, this is ideal if you’re not so much looking for comfort but rather a portable and effective insulator.
You can use these along with your sleeping bag as well for extra warmth and are absolutely worth the price tag. Sleeping bags are huge to lug around if you’re walking miles to your campsite. This will be light as a feather to hike with and is intended for long journeys.
The Pros of The Tact Bivvy Emergency Bag
- Weighs 4.7 ounces
- Very affordable at all variations and distributers coming in under $30
- Made of reflective polyester film for the intention of being lightweight
- Very durable and weather-proof
- Easy to clip to the outside of your backpack with external carabiner/more packing space
- When folded it is about the size of your hand but unfolded expands to 7 ft by 3 ft
- Also includes a whistle for emergency situations where you need to alert rescuers
- Let’s less than 10% of your body heat escape the Bivvy
The Cons of The Tact Bivvy Emergency Bag
- Some need more comfort than a polyester/tarp
- May need blankets in addition to the Bivvy for comfort
- Can cause condensation
This last one can cause aggravation. You can avoid this by putting the Bivvy inside your sleeping back, not around it. Since the Bivvy traps the most heat, the temperature differential between it and the sleeping bag will cause moisture to form on the outside of the sleeping bag. Not the ideal way to wake up at 2 in the morning.
If it’s not too cold, you can wear the Bivvy without other blanket and just a layer of clothes should suffice. If it’s closer to freezing, it is best to use the Bivvy in tandem with other protective insulators.
#2 Insulated Hammocks
Who doesn’t like a hammock? Not to mention the incredible benefits to swapping your bed for a hammock, including:
- You are sleeping on your back, which Is ideal. The hammock won’t allow you to roll over onto your stomach and side which can cause spinal shifting and back pain while your head is elevated at a higher level. This is optimal for ideal sleep.
- It can help you fall asleep faster.
- Swaying is peaceful for babies and proven to be peaceful for us too!
- Zero-pressure points while you sleep
- Proven to help cure insomnia in patients
This heaven-sent can also be purchased with zipping covers so you can actually cocoon yourself overnight to protect from the elements, as well as being available with insulation.
If you have a bittersweet relationship with sleep or chronic back pain, you should consider interweaving the hammock into your sleeping routine at home too.
A great option that comes insulated or not is the Klymit Hammock V.
If you’re a true professional and want the highest quality, that would be the Gear Hackers Evolution Insulated Hammock with Top Quilt. It will set you back a pretty penny, but if camping in below-freezing temperatures, there is no price tag you can put on your life.
The Pros of An Insulated Hammock
- Better sleep
- Set-up is simple
- Great for your back
- Staying off the ground can keep you away from snow or wet mud
The Cons of An Insulated Hammock
- Much more expensive for an insulated hammock compared to standard hammocks
- Requires trees
#3 Quilts & Clothes
This may seem obvious, but sometimes the only alternative you need is a quilt. Having a complex setup of ropes and bungees and tarps may be too much for a simple-things-lover like yourself. You just need a sheet in the Summer and a quilt in the Winter for optimal rest.
In an emergency with cold weather where you’ve forgotten all other forms of warmth, many campers say they’ve just doubled up on layers and worn extra clothes to keep warm.
Either of these are great alternatives to sleeping bags, and you don’t have to pack any extras.
The Pros of Using Quilts & Clothes
- Easy to pack for
- You probably already own these things, so no investment required upfront.
- Can be the coziest option compared to tarps or hammocks
- Especially in warm months – a thin blanket may be all you need!
The Cons of Using Quilts & Clothes
- Won’t get you off the dirt, may need a tarp or protective layer if the earth is wet from rain or snow. Because of this, you may need supplemental sleeping gear.
Bottom Line–If you don’t add supplemental gear, you’re just sleeping on the ground with a blanket. It may not be the comfiest, but this will be a matter of preference and what you find feasible.
#4 Backcountry Bed
If you’ve never heard of a Backcountry Bed, it is arguably a sleeping bag. But it makes our list because it’s not technically a sleeping bag and it has a different name!
These unique designs are a crossbreed of sleeping bags and cocoons, essentially tucking you into a padded pod where only your face can stick out. There are no zippers, and the entire bed is a quilt.
These are wonderful to have in colder environments but not practical for certain situations due to the amount of space they take up.
The Pros of a Backcountry Bed
- Very comfortable, like sleeping on a cloud
- No zippers
- Temperature control
- Not restrictive so you can sleep like a cat on your belly
- Some say that it is the ideal option if you have to sleep in your car
The Cons of a Backcountry Bed
- They can be heavy
- Less feasible for large distances/ not very portable
- Can take up a lot of room in your packing
- Despite no zippers, it can be confining in another way. It’s spacious on the inside, but you can’t pop a leg out for air. Some may still feel that sleeping-bag-restriction that they were hoping to avoid.
A great option for an affordable starter is the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed in Mummy Shape
If you’re the kid of person who prefers ramen over alfredo, baking soda over toothpaste, or beer over a cocktail – you may be the kind of person that would be happy with a simple tarp. Needing the finer comforts can be overrated or self-indulgent to some, or you may just find yourself in a dire situation where the tarp is all that’s available.
I recommend you use a tarp in combination with a blanket or quilt. It’s a literal alternative to a sleeping bag but will not offer the comfort or insulation of many other options on this list. It will also be smaller to pack when folded up than a sleeping bag.
The Pros of a Tarp
- Bringing a tarp is always a good idea–To cover you if it rains, to keep you off the ground, to sleep on, or to wrap up in
- Lightweight and easy to carry around once folded up
The Cons of a Tarp
- Not very comfortable
- Not cushioned/minimal insulation
- Not a fabric that breaths so can lead to condensation
Basically, if you value comfort about all else – a tarp is not the option for you. A tarp will work for you if you are a minimalist that has camped before and is hardened by the wild.
A cot is a small, portable camping bed. Picture the little foldout beds that the military would sleep in or the ones in emergency shelters.
The real perk of carrying a cot with you (which can be foldable and lightweight) is that it gets you off the ground.
A tarp or sleeping bag may separate you from the ground, but the cot will actually get you off the dirt! And unlike the hammock, you won’t require trees to be close together to guarantee you have a place to sleep that night.
The Pros of a Cot
- Affordable and a wide variety of prices/options
- More comfortable than sleeping on the ground
- Will fold up to be more compact
- Usually comes with a convenient carrying case
- You can buy a two-person cot with an air mattress attached
- You can buy a tent that is a cot which gets you off the flat earth
The Cons of a Cot
- No insulation or blanket, just the foldable base of your bed
- Can be heavy if traveling large distances by foot
- Can be more expensive than other options
You can find a cot for $20-30 but can also easily spend $300-500 for a luxury set-up.
#7 Air Mattress
You didn’t think we would make a list of sleeping bag alternatives and leave out the classic air mattress, did you!?
I dare say, the air mattress is a level of camping genius that may not be beatable. It’s easily folded up to a hand-held size, easy to blow up with many recent models only requiring the click of a button, and not to mention – comfy!
Air mattresses are about taking a piece of home with you. If you plan to be camping for more than a day or two, don’t try to rough it on the dirt. This will cause you back problems and may add a damper to your trip. Bringing the closest thing to a bed from home is a way to guarantee that won’t happen.
The Pros of an Air Mattress
- Probably the comfiest option on this list besides a hammock
- A piece of home
- Can sleep 2 people easily by purchasing a queen-sized air mattress
- Also fits inside of a tent easily
- Easy to blow up with many 1-click buttons to inflate or internal/electrical pumps
- Adjustable so you can blow up to your own comfort/customize
- Usually comes with its own carrying case
- Sometimes include the pillows which are a nice bonus as home pillows always seem to get dirty somehow
- Can pop a leg out and not be restricted as with sleeping bags!
The Cons of an Air Mattress
- Requires blowing up, some aren’t automatic, so you’ll have to pump or blow
- Potential for a hole in the mattress to flatten or the built-in pump to break
Pack duct tape in case you will need to patch your air mattress. You can also purchase a more reliable ‘patch kit’ if you want to do it the right way. Check out this guide on patching an air mattress leak if this isn’t something you’ve done before.
It’s hard to discuss prices because of the range. Spend however much you’re comfortable with. You can spend $30-90 for basic versions or around $100 for a quality air-mattress.
#8 Travel Liner
A travel liner is something you can include in your camping routine with or without the sleeping bag.
It is essentially a soft sheet that you can tuck your body into, which usually has zippers. It is great for warmer temperatures but probably won’t be enough if you’re going somewhere truly cold.
Options range in price, but a recommended inexpensive option is the Vumos Sleeping Liner Camping Sheet. It is silky soft, has incredible ratings, and not to mention a money-back guarantee!
The Pros of a Travel Liner
- Will warm you and is very soft/comforting
- Small and lightweight
- Easy to transport
- An easy addition to your usual camping set-up
- Comes with full zipper
- Durable and will last a long time
- Machine washable
- Highly rated and the people love ‘em!
The Cons of a Travel Liner
- Won’t block the wind
- Won’t keep you warm (at least not on its own) in temperatures under 50-degrees Fahrenheit
- Not best for snow or frozen climates
- Some say it doesn’t ‘breathe’ well
- Some reviews say comfy but better for indoor use than out
I would recommend adding one of these to your packing list, but don’t rely on it alone. If it’s summer, the travel liner will protect you, but it won’t keep any wind out. If this is something you’re interested in, check it out here.
#9 Zenbivy Bed
This is another hybrid they created to blow your traditional sleeping bag out of the water.
The Zenbivy describes it for themselves as a sleeping bag that combines a mattress, sheet, quilt, and pillow. When you’re finished, you look like a cross between a mummy and a little baby, but you’re not sleeping in a sleeping bag as much as a bed without legs.
The Pros of a Zenbivy Bed
- It quilt is separate so you can take that with you as a standalone sleeping bag alternative
- You can, as they say, ‘tuck in’ to the bed itself
- Very warm
- Very comfortable
- Unique design
- Non-restrictive so you can sleep on your belly easily
- Great for those who camp frequently
The Cons of a Zenbivy Bed
- A bit of an investment at around $200-300 a piece
- Not as compact as other options–will take up space like a traditional sleeping bag
If you’re interested in finding out more, check out their website.
#10 Sleeping Pad
Similarly to the air mattress, this is another way to add a layer between you and that hard, flat earth. It will add insulation, but like the tarp – it’s nothing fancy.
Maybe nothing fancy is what you want. If so, here are some things to keep in mind:
The Pros of a Sleeping Pad
- A bit insulated so will add some warmth-value
- Can be purchased as a two-person sleeping pad
- Easy to clip to the outside of your backpack like a yoga mat (won’t take up packing space on hikes)
- Tip – purchase Closed-Cell foam pads that will be more comfortable
The Cons of a Sleeping Pad
- Don’t purchase the Open-Cell Foam pads, or it will be quite thin. You will almost certainly still feel the rocks on the ground, and if there’s any rainwater or mud at all, your pad will absorb it like a dish sponge.
- Not always the comfiest option but better than lying directly on the ground
#11 An Indoor Tent
Indoor Tents may not be suited for the wild, but they are great alternatives to sleeping bags or even your beds while at home. Usually suited to children, these adorable indoor tents are a fun way to bring camping right to the living room!
If you absolutely needed another place to sleep, an indoor tent will do the trick. Throw some blankets and pillows in there, and it may be cozier than your own bed.
The Pros of an Indoor Tent
- Very cozy
- Easy to put together
- Won’t take up much room
- Spacious on the inside
The Cons of an Indoor Tent
- Not suited for outdoors
- Not weatherproof or waterproof
- Usually small and for children
- Not very portable
There is also a huge range on prices so perhaps start with an indoor tent to get your little ones used to the idea of camping!
If you don’t want to purchase an outdoor tent and it’s not raining:
- Find a larger indoor tent for adults
- Put a tarp under it outside to protect from mud
Boom! You have a sleeping bag alternative!
#12 In Emergencies: Burrowing
Now, saving the least luxurious for last – burrowing will be in the case of emergencies when you have no sleeping bag, blanket, or method to keep warm.
In extreme temperatures, most animals use burrowing behavior to keep warm. This will be a process of just digging up a barrier from the wind you can and keeping warm in the dirt.
You can also try to hunt for a cave or completely wind-blocked area to hide in, but it is best to check this with a light or fire of some kind to be sure you’re not walking in on bears, bats, or snakes.
The Pros of Burrowing
The Cons of Burrowing
- Everything else
Here are some tips on how to keep warm, but please, for the love of all things good in the world, remember to pack at least a blanket!
3 Quality Sleeping Bag Options
Now, if none of these alternatives sound as appealing to you like a traditional sleeping bag, I don’t blame you! If that’s your style and you don’t find them restrictive, stick with what works.
Some of the top-rated sleeping bags on the market presently are:
- The North Face one Sleeping Bag – It has two different quilts (one synthetic, one 800-fill down) that keep you warm in around 5-degree Fahrenheit weather. Expect to spend as much as $300 for a high-quality sleeping bag, which is not a bad price if you’ll get real use of it. Read some reviews and see what you think!
- Mountain Hardwear Lamina Eco AF 15°F – Many companies do not utilize recyclable materials, but the Lamina Eco AF is proud to change that by being made of 100% recyclable materials and protecting you in the thickest of winters!
- REVALCAMP Sleeping Bag Indoor & Outdoor Use – Since the other two sleeping bags are high quality, I wanted to add one budget option that can be found on Amazon. This is nothing fancy but will work perfectly for the family in normal weather conditions for an affordable rate. o check it out if you don’t have to burrow!
Final Brilliant Tip
I have a gift for those of you that made it to the end! Yes, I’ve been holding out, but this could be a wonderful resource to utilize in all of your future camping getaways!
Pro Tip: You can rent camping gear through REI if you want the experience without the costly investment upfront.
We would all rather spend our lives in a cozy bed, so don’t take your rest for granted. You’re out in mother nature soaking up all of the peaceful details that nature has to offer.
Happy camping and sweet dreams!
As Leonardo de Vinci said, “A well- spent day brings happy sleep.”