Do you NEED a Sleeping Bag while Backpacking?

backpack, travel, backpacking, torres del paine

Me Hiking Torres del Paine

Do you NEED a Sleeping Bag while Backpacking?


I remember the first time I went backpacking.  I was 21 years old and absolutely clueless as to what I was doing.  Before I left packing became my fascination.  I wrote lists of all the things I would need.  However, after I gathered all the things together I realized that I would either need a much bigger bag, or to lose a thing or two.  The first thing to go was my tent.  I would only use it a couple of times, and from what I had heard I would be able to rent a tent on those occasions anyways. Should I pack my sleeping bag, I then thought?  My bag was perfect, and I still have it to this day.  It is warm to -20 degrees celcius and curls up to the size of a rugby ball. On that trip, I packed my bag with me.  However, this time when I left traveling this last time I left my sleeping bag at home.  Do you need to be packing a sleeping bag with you when you go backpacking?  Here’s my appraisal.

Why you should pack a sleeping bag:

Costs: If you are heading to a place where you are planning on spending a good majority of your time camping it will save you a bit of money to buy a bag and bring you with you.  You can buy a very good light weight bag for around 100 dollars.  Renting a bag continuously can add up to much more than that.

Health: Sleeping bags are a lot like bars of soap, it is just nice knowing where yours has been.  Yes, it is true that you can rent a sleeping bag in most places you go, but who knows where that sleeping bag has been, who has been using it, or when it was last cleaned.  If you are a bit germ-weary it might be worth packing your own bag.

Peace of mind: Another important thing comes down to peace of mind.  This, quite simply, means that you know your bag.  You know to what temperature it keeps you warm.  If you rent a bag and the chances are that the conditions could get ugly, knowing that your bag will protect you is very valuable.

Why you don’t need a sleeping bag:



Me at Glacier Grey – Click to Enlarge




Cost: If you are not planning on camping all too often save your bag space for other things.  When I backpacked the first time I used my sleeping bag a total of 4 nights.  Had I rented a bag it would have cost 20 dollars.  In hindsight I would have much rather had that bag space available for other things.  When I hiked the Torres del Paine this year I rented a bag for 5 dollars a day.  Similarly, trekking in Peru I rented a bag for that same 5 dollar a day price.

Health: Yes it is nice having your own sleeping bag for sanitary reasons, but there is a way to get around this.  Instead of packing an entire sleeping bag just bring along a sleeping bag liner.  These will protect you from most of the germs of the rental bag, and can also be used in dirty hostels and guest houses or in a hammock.


There is no simple answer to this question.  Personally, I would much rather have the extra space in my bag to be able to pack a good rain jacket or some extra clothes than to heave around my sleeping bag for months on end.  Even if, in the end, the amount I pay to rent over the years is more than I would have paid for a sleeping bag, that little extra room in my backpack and weight off on my back is invaluable.  That being said, those hardcore trekkers that plan on spending a good percentage of their time in tents, will likely want to pack their own sleeping bags. The truth is that the first time we go off to travel the world we stress a little bit and think that we can’t live without our certain possessions.  In the end, after a little bit of time on the road, we begin to realize just how little we can actually live with.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. I hate having to roll the bag up to the smallest thing possible once you’re finished using it. In the past I’ve decided to put on as many clothes as possible to keep me warm rather than dealing with a bag!

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  2. I still have a hard time imagining “Backpackers” traveling without a sleeping bag. For me, Backpacking has always been about self-supported travel, hiking into remote areas, traveling cheap, and being in nature. A tent and sleeping bag a requirement on every Backpacker trip I’ve ever taken.

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    • Backpackers have definitely changed, at least in South America. There are hostels available at every corner, and living off the land has become a dying art. In my opinion, it’s a good thing, we’re now putting a little bit more into the local economies.

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  3. I don’t camp so it’s a definite no for me. In Latin America they have great bedding and good blankets, I’d rather the extra room in my bag.

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  4. I do not travel with one, but in the last week I have camped out twice and kinda wish I had one. However I keep thinking how many more times am I going to camp & if it would be worth it. I doubt it so for now I will suffer cold & uncomfortable nights while camping. Plus I am too lazy to carry anything more than what I already have… & I don;t have much…lol!

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  5. Depending on the location and length of the trip, we can go either way. On this RTW trip we’re not taking one along since ours are really good sleeping bags and I don’t really want to take anything that we’re not ready to give up/sell on the road 🙂 Besides, if we need to, we assume we can get a cheapie one somewhere on the road.

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  6. True story! Reminds me of when I started traveling a year ago–completely clueless. I still have my sleeping bag (lightweight one) but I’ve only used it a few handfuls of times. Like you said, though…it’s nice knowing where yours has been. Maybe it’s just a peace of mind thing.

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    • Yup… you’ll get over the piece of mind thing though once you realize how nice it is to have extra space for clean clothes and to stow away your favourite rum or wine :=)

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  7. I assume it really depends on where you’re staying…on the beach versus a hostel…and whether or not you want to pay for sheets…I’d like to know what kind of backpack to purchase…internal v external frames.

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    • Both have their advantages, and I might come to this later. It all really comes down to comfort though to be honest. Throw each on your back and see how they feel. I think with a backpack the most important thing is how it feels on your hips, and how easy is it to pack and unpack your things. Preference between External vs. Internal is different with each person.

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  8. I was also obsessive about my packing list before I left for my first backpacking trip through Latin America almost 6 months ago. I found a bag from NorthFace that is very compact and reversible for different temperature conditions. I strap it to the outside of my bag.

    I’m happy I brought it because I’ve slept in a few rooms where I did not want my body to touch the bedding. My most frequent use of the bag is keeping it rolled up and having it as a pillow when sleeping in bus stations or as a ‘body pillow’ to throw my leg over while sleeping. I know that makes me a dork, but I used 4 giant pillows on my bed back home!

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  9. Good to read. I took a sleeping bag liner to Vietnam and was thinking I would need to take an actual sleeping bag on my RTW trip next year, but it sounds like I don’t, so you’ve saved me some money! Thanks 🙂

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