What are the Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Sleeping Bags

mens and womens sleeping bags - what's the difference

Women’s sleeping bags differ from those designed for men because women sleep colder then men, they’re not generally as tall or heavy, and they’re shaped differently with curves and body mass in different places. While the key design elements such as the hood, zipper, and fabrics used are the same across men’s and women’s sleeping bags, the distribution of insulation, shape, and dimensions can vary quite substantially. If you’ve slept cold in a unisex or men’s sleeping bag in the past, we recommend that you buy an anatomically correct women’s sleeping bag to sleep warmer and more comfortably.

Here are the main differences between women’s-specific sleeping bags and those designed for men (often called unisex).

Different Body Shapes

Women and men are shaped differently, and women’s sleeping bags reflects this. The build of a women’s-specific bag is often wider in the hips and narrower through the shoulders. This allows more freedom of movement around the hips and less breadth across the shoulders. In addition to better comfort, it takes less energy in terms of body heat for a woman to warm up the inside of a properly dimensioned bag without a lot of unused space, resulting in a warmer night’s sleep.

Different Lengths

Women’s sleeping bags are usually available in shorter lengths because women aren’t as tall as men. For example, many women’s sleeping bags are available in 5′ 6″ lengths (66″) while men’s (unisex) bags are available in 6′ and 6′ 6″ lengths. A shorter female sleeping bag has less interior space to keep warm with your body heat resulting in greater thermal efficiency.

Amount of Insulation

Despite the length difference, women’s sleeping bags may still weigh more than men’s sleeping bag, because women’s require more insulation to stay warm.

For example,  a regular-sized (72″) men’s REI Magma 15 (weight 1 lb, 12.2 oz) has 15.9 oz of 850 fill power goose down insulation, while a regular-sized (66″) women’s REI Magma 15 (weight 2 lbs, 4 oz) has 23.45 oz of 850 fill power goose down. In other words, it takes 3.55 oz of extra goose down to keep a woman as warm as a man even though the women’s version of the Magma 15 is shorter in length.

If you plan on buying a sleeping bag from a manufacturer that doesn’t make women’s sleeping bags, we recommend that you buy a men’s (unisex) sleeping bag that’s rated for 15-20 degrees warmer than you’d originally planned. Thankfully, there are many more women-specific sleeping bags available today from most major brands, including REI, NEMO, Mountain Hardwear, Feathered Friends, Sea-to-Summit, and others so you don’t have to resort to this tactic. It is something you should consider however if buying a unisex quilt.

Women’s sleeping bags are usually shorter and better insulated than men's
Women’s sleeping bags are usually shorter and better insulated than men’s

Insulation Location

The distribution of insulation may also be different in a women’s-specific bag compared to a men’s (unisex) bag. Oftentimes a women’s-specific bag will have a higher concentration of down around the torso and in the footbox. This is based on studies that show where women lose heat at a higher rate, and the extra insulation helps with heat retention. For example, the Feathered Friends Egret 20 women’s sleeping bag has extra insulation in the footbox for women who have cold feet.

Temperature Ratings

Most sleeping bag manufacturers use an industry-standard temperature rating system you’ll see referred to as EN13537 or ISO 23537. They indicate that the sleeping bag has been independently tested in a lab using a standard testing methodology that keeps manufacturers honest when they assign temperature ratings to their sleeping bags.  They also make it possible to compare sleeping bag models across brands, since everyone is playing from the same sheet of music.

The standardized temperature ratings assume you’re wearing a hat and long underwear tops and bottoms in your sleeping bag and you’re using a sleeping pad with an R-value of 4, at a minimum (see our comprehensive list of R-value sleeping pad ratings.)

While the widespread adoption of these temperature rating standards is a huge win for consumers, they’re not a perfect predictor of comfort for everyone. If you know you sleep cold, we’d advise you to use a bags Comfort rating, which is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average “cold sleeper” comfortable. If you sleep hot, you should use the Lower Limit rating, which is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average “warm sleeper” comfortable.

Recommended Women’s Sleeping Bags

Make / ModelWeightDown Fill PowerLengthsPrice
REI Magma 152 lb 4 oz8505'6", 6'$369
REI Joule 212 lbs 3 oz7005'6", 6'$299
NEMO Riff 302 lbs 3 oz8005"6", 6'$350
NEMO Disco 152 lbs 15 oz6505'6", 6'$300
Feathered Friends Egret UL 201 lb 9.6 oz9505'3", 5'9"$489
Marmot Phase 201 lb 13 oz8505' 6"$459
Marmot Xenon 152 lb 6 oz8005'6"$459
Marmot Angel Fire 252 lbs 7.5 oz6505'6", 5'10"$239
Kelty Sine 202 lbs 5 oz8006', 6'6"$280
Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 202 lbs 7 oz7005'8"$320

Conclusion

With all of these design and construction factors taken into consideration, you can see that there are some distinct differences between men’s (unisex) and women’s sleeping bags. The good news is that there are a lot more women’s sleeping bags available these days than there used to be at all temperature ranges and price points. If you use a men’s (Unisex) sleeping bag today and sleep cold despite using a high R-value pad and wearing sleeping clothes, you really should consider switching to a women’s bag. It might a profound impact on your days as well as your nights outdoors.

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More Sleeping Bag FAQs

About the author

Maggie Slepian is originally from the northeast and is currently based in Bozeman, Montana. Maggie has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, is *almost* done with the New Hampshire 48 4,000-footers, has developed backpacking routes in the Utah high desert, and spent the past five years testing gear and working professionally in the outdoor industry. Maggie spends as much time outdoors as possible, whether it's backpacking, peak bagging, bikepacking, mountain biking, climbing, skiing, or kayaking. She is currently a full-time freelance writer and editor, and is always busy planning the next backcountry adventure. Get in touch at maggieslepian.com.

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7 comments

  1. “If you plan on buying a sleeping bag from a manufacturer that doesn’t make women’s sleeping bags, we recommend that you buy a men’s (unisex) sleeping bag that’s rated for 15-20 degrees LOWER than you’d originally planned. ”

    Should the word LOWER be HIGHER…..?

  2. Hi there – thank you for addressing women’s needs in sleeping bags. It would be really great if the issue of menopause could be addressed in sleeping bag design more thoroughly. There are a lot of us out on the trail who are going through various stages of menopause, with all the lovely experiences that come with it. Hot flashes and night sweats being the biggest challenges when sleeping anywhere, let alone in a sleeping bag.

    I’ve so often wished there were an easy way to ventilate quickly and easily without undoing my whole bag – the point being is that it is the torso area the is most affected and releasing warmth from around the neck and head, for me at least, isn’t usually necessary. If I don’t ventilate I sweat like crazy then when the heat goes I get nasty chills that have me shivering uncontrollably. And yes, I have messed with changing my bag, started wearing all merino base layers, hat and socks – but that doesn’t change my body’s torturous antics.

    I’ve been in touch with women of my age group at REI and Big Agnes and there are a couple of options that help with this but none that I can find that specifically address it. The population of women in my situation is growing – hopefully there will be more energy put to this issue – SOON!

    Thanks for all your wisdom on this site!

  3. I am looking at getting the Western Mountaineering Lynx for my daughter. It’s a winter bag so it should be warm. Should she try a woman’s designed bag first then the Lynx? She is short and has an endomorphic build.

    • You can get it in a 5′ 6″ size. It might work. I think women should use women’s bags, but it’s really up to you.

  4. What about quilts for women? Are there any specifically for women? Your reviews say nothing of differences for men or women. If I was to buy a quilt (I don’t like mummy bags) should I get one that is rated for a low temp to be warm and maybe with a zipper for the hot flashes or hotter nights. I generally camp in summer or early fall in Northern Minnesota.

    • Quilt manufacturers don’t offer any adjustments for women, even though they would be an obvious home run.. Quilts don’t generally have zippers. Yes, you should get a warmer rated one if you’re of shorter stature or build. Might I suggest getting a sleeping bag that can be opened up like a quilt, but does not have a hood. That’s what I prefer using because it completely eliminates any risk of drafts. Take a look at the Feathered Friends Flicker. It’s available in multiple temperature ratings, it has a drawstring footbox for venting, and a draft collar.

      https://featheredfriends.com/collections/flicker-series

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