Sleeping bags have become such a ubiquitous piece of camping kit, nobody even questions whether you need one anymore when it comes time to sleep outdoors. You just pack it in its stuff sack and load it up without thinking about. But you may have noticed that it’s one of the priciest pieces of camping kit you own, it’s bound to be the bulkiest item in your backpack and you don’t always get the best night’s sleep in it. So can you ditch your best sleeping bag and take a simple camping blanket instead? In this article, we measure the pros and cons of the classic sleeping bag vs blanket to help you find a more comfortable, budget-friendly and lightweight approach to sleeping wild.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: warmth
It probably goes without saying that a sleeping bag designed for 20°F/ -6°C temperatures will provide more insulation than probably any blanket, so for cold nights it’s the smart choice, but for milder temperatures and summer camping, a good sleeping pad beneath you and a blanket on top will provide all the warmth you need. Of course, with a blanket there will always be a bit of a draft whereas sleeping bags do a great job of sealing all the heat in, but it all comes down to what kind of overnight lows you’re expecting.
Another consideration here is moisture – most really good sleeping bags are made using down which doesn’t insulate when wet, so if you’re going into challenging, damp conditions, a wool blanket is the top contender.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: comfort
Comfort is probably the most subjective criteria in this list, but it’s also one of the most important considerations you’re likely to make when building a sleep system for camping. If a sleeping bag keeps you warm on a cold night, that definitely goes a long way towards your personal comfort, however most of us don’t find being zipped up in a bag especially comfortable, particularly if you’re a side sleeper. A blanket allows you to position yourself just as you would in your bed at home, which might sound like music to your ears.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: packability
Though sleeping bags can be increasingly packable and lightweight, especially if they’re intended for backpacking, blankets contain less material and no zip, so they’re often lighter and pack down smaller. That said, a sleeping bag always comes with a stuff sack which might even have handy straps for attaching it to your backpack, whereas a blanket often won’t, but you can still wrap it in plastic and pack it or attach it to your pack using bungee cords.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: versatility
A sleeping bag really only has one function, and that is to sleep in. A blanket, meanwhile, can go under or on top of you, be used in a hammock and fold up and act as a camping pillow. Beyond sleeping, you can use it for picnics and temporary shelter too.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: durability
Durability always depends on materials and construction, but generally speaking, your sleeping bag will be one of the most fragile items in your camping kit. The fabric tears easily and of course, zips can break or become stuck, especially if you’re not careful. A blanket is generally much sturdier with no zip to break on you and as long as it's made with a non-flammable material you can wrap it around yourself when you're gathered around the campfire and don't have to worry about stray sparks.
Sleeping bag vs blanket: cost
Finally, a good sleeping bag can cost you well up into the hundreds of dollars, whereas you can pick up a good blanket for under $50, so if you are on a budget, a blanket is the clear winner.
|Sleeping bag||Camping blanket|
|Warmth||Better for cold nights||Ample for mild weather and summer camping|
|Comfort||Less comfortable for side or front sleepers||You can position yourself just as you would in bed|
|Packability||Can be bulky, but do sometimes have straps to attach to your backpack||Don't usually have straps to attach to your backpack, but less material than a sleeping bag and pack down small|
|Versatility||Only one use||Can be used as a blanket, pillow, seat, picnic blanket or shelter|
|Durability||Not very durable||Very durable|
|Cost||Can run into the hundreds of dollars||Can be well under $50|
Sleeping bag vs blanket: the verdict
If you’re seeking an alternative to a sleeping bag, no matter your reasons, it certainly looks like you could do a lot worse than a camping blanket. Though you’ll probably want to stick with your sleeping bag for cold nights, a blanket can help you get a better night’s sleep in the warmer months at a fraction of the cost, and since it has so many other uses (even when you’re not camping) we can’t see any reason not get yourself a camping blanket. If you’re still not convinced, however, check out our comparison of camping quilts vs sleeping bags to see if there’s a better option for you.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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