When it comes to camping with your kids — backyard or otherwise — all it takes is one faulty piece of gear to transform a majestic outdoor experience into a miserable night. Kids’ sleeping bags are a prime example. A common mistake is bringing a cheap, blanket-style bag designed for indoor slumber parties. Sure, it features your kid’s favorite cartoon character, but it simply wasn’t designed for warmth.
But the thickest, plushest sleeping bag won’t necessarily do the job, either. Instead, pay attention to temperature ratings. If you plan on using it in the summer, get one with a temperature rating of 30 degrees or higher. For winter, choose one rated 15 degrees or lower. And for those middle months, a sleeping bag ranging from 15 to 30 degrees should do the trick.
Sleeping bags also come in a variety of shapes — that’s no accident. A rectangular sleeping bag lets kids move around freely. A mummy-shaped bag is snug, and when kids roll around, they’ll roll over with the bag, as opposed to inside of it; these bags retain more warmth since they’re closer to the body. And then there’s the hybrid, the semi-rectangular bag, which gives you the best of both worlds.
As for size, yes, it does matter. “If there’s too much extra space, it won’t insulate,” says Tavis Malcolm, founder of the sleeping bag company Morrison Outdoors. One, your kid won’t be able to reach the footbox, leaving a chasm of cold air in the bottom third of the bag. Two, precious warm air can escape through the draft collar (the part that seals in heat), since it’s likely designed for larger necks.
The real solution is a high-quality, camping-specific sleeping bag designed specifically for your diminutive human. Have a look at our picks below, and for God’s sake, don’t forget to bring ample supplies for s’mores.
Down bags tend to be warmer, pricier, and highly compressible, while their synthetic counterparts are more economical and offer better moisture resistance. This shrunken-down sleep sack (for anyone under 5 feet) features SpiraFil high-loft synthetic insulation rated at 30 degrees. Inside, kids will enjoy a comforter-like feel and anatomically shaped footbox.
This versatile 30-degree bag has a zippered extension that adds an additional 12 inches to the footbox, so you can size it accordingly. With quilted, double-layered construction and Kelty’s patented CloudLoft insulation (which blends hollow and soft core fibers to trap heat), the Big Dipper is a great option for viewing its namesake on clear summer nights.
Stuffed with lightweight Coletherm polyester (with hollow fibers to reduce weight) and outfitted with a generous contoured hood to keep kids warm around the ears, this is a budget-friendly bag for cool weather camping. Assuming your child is under 5 feet tall, it will keep them plenty warm down to about 30 degrees.
This Explorer uses a tough polyester shell, a soft poly liner and ample synthetic insulation to keep your little camper toasty. Cinch down the ergonomic hood to seal in precious heat, then secure it with a neatly positioned Velcro strap so it doesn’t release in the middle of the night. Assuming no spooky noises (and temps in the 30s), your kid will be out cold — or rather, out warm.
At home, if your kid gets scared, they can sleep in your bed. That’s tricky while sleeping outside — unless you own a “family” bag like this monster from Teton Sports. At 14 pounds, it isn’t something you’ll want to carry into the backcountry, but the Mammoth is perfect for car camping (where you park and camp nearby). Teton makes a 20-degree model and a (slightly more expensive) 0-degree model.
With a shortened side zipper for easy access and a footbox that pancakes flat on the ground for stability, the Youth Aleutian is designed to feel more like a bed than a sleeping bag. It comes generously stuffed with Heatseeker Eco insulation (made from 30% recycled materials), and the warmth rating is a frosty 20 degrees.
This is a 'wearable' sleeping bag with Gingerbread Man-style arms to give children a bit more movement as they drift off. Featuring heavy-duty white duck down for maximum warmth and weighing just 6.5 ounces, this bag can handle the backcountry, your back yard, and everywhere in between.
It’s a big price tag, but you get what you pay for with a proven outdoor brand like Big Agnes. The Duster keeps things warm all the way down to 15 degrees, thanks to an adjustable system that eliminates extra space (where cold spots form). On the back, there’s a half-sleeve that wraps around your child’s sleeping pad, preventing them from rolling into a wayward corner of the tent.
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