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How to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack

A backpackers gear sitting next to a tree
We explain how to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack, and help you figure out why you might not be able to fit it inside your pack (Image credit: inside-studio)

If you’re heading out on a long backpacking trip and carrying several days worth of food and supplies, you may be wondering how to attach your best sleeping bag to a backpack to free up some space in your bag. After all, your sleeping bag is no doubt the bulkiest item you’ll be carrying, and when you still need room for your sleeping pad, tent and camping stove, all of a sudden that 65-nliter pack doesn’t seem so big. In this article, we explain how to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack so that it doesn’t bounce around, get soaked or slow you down, and also help you troubleshoot why it might not be fitting in your backpack.

First off, it’s worth mentioning that the best place for your sleeping bag is typically inside your backpack if possible. This protects it from weather and snags and also keeps the weight closer to your body, making it easier to carry – check out our guide to packing a backpack for more info. If your sleeping bag doesn’t fit in your pack, there are a few factors to consider. First, is your backpack big enough for your adventure? Take a look at our article on backpack sizes to make sure you have the appropriate sized bag.  

A backpack loaded up for an overnight adventure sits on a rock

Some backpacking sleeping bags and camping quilts nowadays pack down to the size of a Nalgene and still keep you toasty at night, so it may be worth investing in a lightweight option (Image credit: Sawitree Pamee / EyeEm)

Next up, how packable is your sleeping bag? As gear gets ever more technical, there’s more and more ultralight gear out there. While your old sleeping bag might provide lots of good insulation, it may not pack down very small and end up taking up 3/4 of the space inside your backpack. Some backpacking sleeping bags and camping quilts nowadays pack down to the size of a Nalgene and still keep you toasty at night, so it may be worth investing in a lightweight option, especially if you plan on doing lots of backpacking.

If you’ve got the right size of backpack and a packable sleeping bag and you’re still having trouble making it all fit, it’s also possible that your packing might be the problem. Read our article on how to pack a backpack to learn how to load up and capitalize on the space within your bag without having to forego any essential items. 

How to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack 

A backpack and a sleeping bag wrapped in plastic

There are several methods for attaching your sleeping bag to your backpack, but for all of them, you’ll want to wrap your sleeping bag in something waterproof like a trash bag or rain cover to protect it (Image credit: Kypros)

If you’ve tried all of the above and you still can’t make things work with your sleeping bag inside your backpack, you can easily attach it to your backpack. There are several methods for attaching your sleeping bag to your backpack, but for all of them, you’ll want to wrap your sleeping bag in something waterproof like a trash bag. rain cover or dry bag to protect it.

It’s also important to have your sleeping bag tightly secured so you don't lose it, centered and snug against your pack to make it easier to carry. Once you’ve loaded your backpack up, make sure you know how to adjust it properly so it doesn’t hurt your back or slow you down.

Here are five methods for attaching a sleeping bag to your backpack:

1. Use the lid

Even though your backpack may come with various straps meant for attaching gear, the best place is to use the lid, which is the flap at the top (see: our guide to the parts of a backpack). After you’ve packed your bag and zipped it up, simply open the top flap, place your sleeping bag on top then fasten the flap over it. This keeps your sleeping bag really secure and keeps the weight up high and centered, which makes it easier to carry. If your backpack is already packed to the gills or you have items in the flap pocket, however, this option may not be possible. 

A man and woman sit on a cliff in Yosemite wearing backpacks and looking at the view

Your sleeping bag is no doubt the bulkiest item you’ll be carrying, and when you still need room for your sleeping pad, tent and camping stove, all of a sudden that 65 liter pack doesn’t seem so big (Image credit: Jordan Siemens)

2. Use the compression straps 

Any good hiking backpack will have compression straps – those straps that you can tighten when your backpack is really full to reduce the volume. If your backpack has these, you can loosen the buckles, slide your sleeping bag in and tighten them to secure your bag in place. One downside of this approach is that compression straps are often at the sides of your pack, which means that your backpack may feel uneven on your back. If your backpack has compression straps at the top or bottom, use these ones. 

3. Use the gear loops 

Many hiking backpacks will have gear loops meant for attaching gear like sleeping bags. If you have any at the top of your pack, favor these ones. If your sleeping bag stuff sack has adjustable straps, you can attach the straps to the gear loops on your backpack. For this method, you’ll want to pull the straps tight so the sleeping bag isn’t swinging around behind you. 

Hiker wearing a large backpack

The best place for your sleeping bag is typically inside your backpack if possible (Image credit: Sara Monika (Getty))

4. Use bungee cords 

If your sleeping bag stuff sack doesn’t have any straps, you can use a bungee cord to attach it to the loops on your backpack. Hook the cord into one of the loops on one side of your pack, wind it tightly around your pack several times then book the other end into the other side of your back. 

5. Use the tie points at the bottom 

Particularly if your backpack has an external frame, it may have tie points at the bottom that are meant for sliding your sleeping bag into. Make sure to tighten these well to avoid your bag swinging around or falling out, and take care any time you set your backpack down since the sleeping bag will be at the bottom. 

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.