After testing seven sleeping bags on two weekend camping trips with a total of 15 kids between 9 months and 9 years old, we found that the best sleeping bag for most kids is the Kindercone. It’s inexpensive and warm, comes in cool colors, and should last all the way from toddler to tween.
You can get a cheap cotton sleeping bag for as little as $20 at a big-box store. Such bags are fine for sleepovers and the occasional movie night in a school gym. But if you’re planning camping trips, Scouting adventures, or even nights out under the stars in your own backyard, it’s worth investing in a warmer, more versatile first bag.
The Kindercone is warm enough for most three-season camping trips; plush enough for the hard floor of the school gym; and tough enough that parents need not fret if it occasionally morphs into the wall of a fort or the vehicle for sliding down stairs. Our testers liked the bag’s built-in stuff sack, and the fact that it comes in more colors than any similar bag we found.
Kelty’s Big Dipper is more expensive than the Kindercone and lacks the convenient attached stuff sack we love. But it is equally warm, uses softer fabrics, and has a slightly roomier cut at the shoulders that might make it a more comfortable fit for a wider kid. The Big Dipper also has an innovative zip-open foot that allows the bag to grow with your child. When the zip is closed, the bag is a few inches shorter than the Kindercone. Zipped open, the Big Dipper is slightly longer than the Kindercone, though both bags are rated for kids up to about 5 feet tall.
Kelty’s little-kid bag, the Woobie, is made of the same materials as the Big Dipper but is sized for preschoolers up to 4 feet tall. Dual zippers make snuggling in a little easier.
If nighttime lows in the 30s or below sound like normal camping weather to you, the Big Red is the best bet for your kid. The bag is warmer than our other picks and, like most bags made by Big Agnes, it has a built-in sleeping-pad sleeve, guaranteeing that your little camper will stay put—and warm—throughout the night. The Big Red also packs up smaller than any of the others we tested, though it’s more expensive, and that’s without the required sleeping pad.
Why you should trust us
Kalee Thompson has evaluated gear for multiple magazines, including Popular Science, Wired, and National Geographic Adventure, where she was a senior editor. She is a longtime camper and the mom of two little boys, each of whom has now slept in more sleeping bags than most people go through in a lifetime. She lives in Southern California, where weekend car camping is a year-round activity. Originally from New Hampshire, Kalee now futilely attempts to convince other SoCal parents—including her own husband—that 35˚F nights are “not that cold.”
In additional to drawing on personal experience and the expert advice we collected for The Wirecutter’s review of adult sleeping bags, we scoured online reviews and collected informal opinions from an assortment of camping parents from Alaska to Maine. Most important, we recruited nine other California families—with kids age 9 months to 9 years—to test bags on weekend camping trips to the high desert of Joshua Tree National Park and the sycamore groves of Point Mugu State Park on the Pacific Coast. We also reached out to Helen Olsson, whose guidebook The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids provides a fun and practical intro for parents looking to make a smooth transition into family car camping.
How we picked and tested
Two members of our expert review team, in the REI Kindercone (left) and Big Agnes Little Red (right)
Is a kid-size sleeping bag even necessary? Many people have an extra adult bag or two in the attic or garage; is one of those just as good? “In a perfect world, people who have small kids should have small sleeping bags,” Helen Olsson said. “That air pocket around your body inside the sleeping bag is what keeps you warm. Put a little kid in a big, adult-size bag and they’re going to get cold.”
That said, kids can grow out of small bags quickly, and many kids sleep warm, shedding the bag in seemingly any weather. Olsson says her own kids started using hand-me-down adult bags when they were about 6 and 7, but that they tend to sleep hot. If you have older adult sleeping bags that are in good shape, sure, try them out before buying something new. You could even shrink that air pocket yourself by cinching the bottom of the bag using the drawstring on a stuff sack or a jumbo-size elastic band.
But if you are going to buy a tyke-specific bag—which may help get your kids excited about family camping and outdoor adventures—you should get a bag that will ward off cold and damp and be a camping and sleepover staple for years to come.
We wanted a bag that would be warm enough for three-season camping, whether in a national park or in a neighbor’s backyard. That meant a rating of 30 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Sleeping bag ratings generally state the lowest temperature at which the average person can expect to sleep comfortably using a sleeping pad and wearing long johns. Of course, your kid might not be average. If they tend to be cold you may want to choose a warmer bag. (Note that while most high-quality adult bags now use a standardized “EN” rating, which is validated by an independent scientific group, kid bags don’t use this standard. We didn’t find any reason to think the companies’ stated ratings weren’t basically accurate, but keep in mind that they’re self-reported).
Most cheap department-store bags are rated for between 40 and 55 degrees, meaning they well may leave your kid shivering on a spring or fall camping trip. Many of them are also made of cotton, which doesn’t do much to repel moisture, be it early-morning dew or a leaky water bottle. Unlike the synthetic materials used in our picks, cotton no longer insulates when wet. We wanted a warm bag that wouldn’t get soggy in a spill.
We knew the ideal bag would be lightweight and portable enough that even toddlers could lug it around by themselves. All the bags we seriously considered weigh less than 3.5 pounds and come with their own carrying sack.
Kids grow fast. We wanted a single bag that would last a kid a good way through the elementary school years. The bags we looked at are generally intended for kids age 3 or 4 up to 10 or 11, though we also found good options designed for toddlers and teens.
Finally, we knew that our top sleep sack should be affordable. When we asked parents how much they’d spend on a kid’s sleeping bag, we heard answers ranging from $40 to $70. We focused on bags within that price range.
Adult sleeping bags are filled with either down or synthetic materials, and the down-filled bags can cost twice as much as synthetic. Our review of adult bags concludes that down is the best choice for most adult campers. However, we found that companies simply don’t make down bags for kids. Conversations with reps from Kelty and Big Agnes confirmed that the reason is twofold. One, very few parents are willing to pay the extra money for a down-filled kid bag. Two: pee. Kids wet the sack a lot more than adults do and synthetic fill holds up to pee, puke, and other messes a lot better than delicate duck feathers do. So synthetic it is.
All the bags we seriously considered are mummy-style bags. That form-fitting shape provides more warmth with less mass than a rectangular bag does. We found that most kids prefer a mummy-style bag, though probably more because it says “I’m a serious camper” than because they’ve calculated the weight and warmth benefits. The most frigid nights we experienced on our weekend camping trips were in Joshua Tree National Park, where temps dipped to 36˚F. All the kid bags we were testing kept their inhabitants warm enough at that temperature.
We spent six hours examining online reviews of kid-size sleeping bags on Amazon as well as on the sites of outdoor stores like REI, EMS, backcountry.com, campsaver.com, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, and Cabela’s. We visited company sites to look at the specs on different bags, comparing materials, shapes, features and price. We polled parents we know about the bags their kids have conked out in over the years.
We identified the bags that met our criteria, garnered high praise from online reviewers, and cost less than $100. Then we got them in and brought them on two weekend-camping trips with a total of 15 kids, age 9 months through 9 years. The bags we tested included the Little Red from Big Agnes; Eureka’s affordable Lady Bug (which has a green Grasshopper version); Kelty’s Big Dipper and the smaller Kelty Woobie; L.L.Bean’s Kids’ Adventure Sleeping Bag; and REI’s popular kid bag, the Kindercone. (We also tested one non-mummy-style bag, the rectangular L.L.Bean Camp Sleeping Bag, for comparison’s sake.)
REI’s Kindercone is a do-almost-everything bag that comes in more colors than this bright orange
The right balance of features and price makes Kindercone our top pick for both sleepovers and casual weekend camping trips. REI has been making this bag since at least 2008, and the product has consistently good reviews. It is rated to 30˚F, fits everyone from toddlers to small teens, is rugged, and comes in plenty of cool colors. Its list price is around $60, but it’s often on sale for $45 in some colors, and can even drop as low as $35. The bag’s best feature, one unique to the Kindercone, is an attached stuff sack that can be used to cinch the foot of the bag, creating a smaller sleeping space for littler kids.
It’s a cinch: The REI bag has a handy—and smart—drawstring that allows you to adjust the bag’s length, making it warmer and able to fit a wider age range of kids.
The size of the air bubble around your body inside your sleeping bag is one of the main factors that determines how warm you are. This is why a mummy bag is generally warmer than a rectangular bag: smaller is better. Using the cinch, we put kids as young as 13 months in this bag. Without the cinch, a 9-year-old could still fit comfortably inside, and even small adults can squeeze in if they have to—one 5-foot-5 mom on our Pacific Coast camping trip did just that when her 2-year-old son insisted on sleeping with his dad in the middle of the night. REI says the bag will fit kids up to 5 feet tall, though we think most kids will start to feel cramped a few inches earlier than that. Still, it’s a bag you could buy for a 1-year-old and expect them to still be using in the 3rd or 4th grade.
The Kindercone’s synthetic polyester fill insulates even when damp. The ripstop nylon shell, while not particularly soft to the touch, feels tough. You won’t have to scold your kid to be careful with this bag.
Even if you never actually use the cinch feature, the attached bag is a hit. As five families were packing up after a group car-camping trip to Joshua Tree National Park, there was a fair amount of confusion about which camp chair, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, or tent matched to which carry bag. The Kindercone’s attached stuff sack was a top draw for obvious reasons: one less thing to misplace, and one less excuse for a kid to take care of packing up their own bag.
The Kindercone’s stuff sack is permanently attached to the bag. If you camp with kids, you know that you tend to shed items. It’s nice to know that this bag and its matching container will remain inseparable.
We love that this bag comes in five bold shades. There is a depressing default to blue and pink when it comes to kids’ outdoor gear. REI’s buffet of bags bucks that lame trend.
The bag gets four out of five stars with 36 reviews at REI.com (like the company’s other products, the bag is sold only at REI stores and on rei.com). Half a dozen reviews recount kids sleeping soundly at temperatures in the 30s, and even 20s. Quite a few others complain that the bag is bulky for backpacking and is more appropriate for car camping and sleepovers. We agree.
This guide to kids’ bags from a former employee at Montana’s Glacier National Park—where rangers have no doubt sent many shivering families on a long journey to the closest outdoor store—concludes that the Kindercone “costs 1/3 less than competitive child sleeping bags from big brands and accomplishes much of the same.”
This reviewer says he has washed his daughters’ Kindercone bags 8 to 10 times in a top-loading washer with no ill effects (though REI recommends washing in a front loader). REI’s warranty allows dissatisfied customers to return products for a refund within a year of purchase.
An adjustable-length bag
Our runner-up, the Kelty Big Dipper, is roomier and softer–though more expensive–than our main pick. Also pictured is the Kelty Woobie, our choice for toddlers.
If you can’t find the Kindercone, or prefer a bag with a slightly softer feel, get the Kelty Big Dipper. Our kid testers liked the Big Dipper just as much as the REI bag, though parents missed the attached stuff sack. The Big Dipper does have the advantage of a slightly lighter weight—3 pounds, 1 ounce, versus the Kindercone’s 3 pounds, 4 ounces—and smaller stuffed size. It also has an innovative cinch-up feature: a zip-up foot that allows the bag to expand or contract by 12 inches. Though both companies estimate their bags fit a kid up to 5 feet, when unzipped the Big Dipper is several inches longer than the Kindercone and noticeably wider at the shoulders. Another small difference: The Big Dipper has an elasticized head opening rather than the drawstring that’s typical of mummy bags.
A little bit more expensive, the Kelty Big Dipper is a great sleeping bag; it is a tad bigger than REI’s Kindercone, as well.
The Big Dipper is usually more expensive than the Kindercone, but if the price drops we think it’s an equally good choice. The size, shape, and materials of the two bags are similar and the Big Dipper is rated to 30˚F, just like the Kindercone. The shell material is softer than the Kindercone’s stiffer (yet presumably stronger) ripstop nylon, and the Kelty bags come with that company’s stand-out lifetime warranty.
Having a great sleeping bag doesn’t mean you can’t also bring your blankie.
For pre-k campers
Kelty’s Woobie 30 is a bag for smaller kids—and it features a convenient double-zipper system, for quick nighttime exits.
If you camp a lot and you have the budget to buy a bag that your kid may outgrow by kindergarten, the Kelty Woobie—also rated to 30˚F—is an adorable option. The small bag weighs just 2 pounds, 4 ounces and fits kids up to around 4 feet tall. It was the only bag we tested that has zippers on both sides. One mom, whose 2-year-old daughter spent a couple of chilly February nights in the Woobie on our Joshua Tree National Park camping trip, praised the unusual double-zipper design, which allowed her to more easily reach over from her own bag to zip and unzip when her daughter needed comforting in the middle of the night. Like the bigger Big Dipper, the Woobie’s contoured, elasticised hood dispels with an adjustable cinch cord—one less thing to tangle with in the dark.
Amazon reviewers love both Kelty bags. GearJunkie likes the grow-worm feature of the Big Dipper. Though we didn’t test it, another bag made by Kelty is intended for kids age 10 to 14 (kids up to 5-foot-4), which is warmer than the little-kid bags with a rating of 20˚F. The materials and design are similar, so if you want a bag fit perfectly for your tween, the Little Tree (or Little Flower) could be a good choice.
Better for backpacking or cold weather
The warmest sleeping bag we tested, the Big Agnes Little Red, also features a built-in pad sleeve that keeps your child in place during the night.
If your family does a lot of backcountry or cold-weather camping, where ground pads are necessary, it might be worth buying a Big Agnes bag for your kid. Big Agnes built its brand on high-quality sleeping bags with built-in sleeping-pad sleeves that—when stuffed with a sleeping pad you buy separately—eliminate the need for insulation in the bottom of the bag. At first, we thought that the system—rated down to 15°F instead of the 30°F of the Kelty and REI bags—seemed a bit much for little kids. But a couple of mid-30-degree February nights in Joshua Tree convinced us of the Little Red’s superiority for cold-weather camping, even if it’s far too expensive for most casual car campers, at around $150 for the bag and pad.
We were used to putting our 5-year-old’s sleeping bag on a 22-year-old Thermarest sleeping pad left over from our backpacking days. He’d typically roll off it in the middle of the night—not such a big deal when it’s not too cold. But on truly chilly nights, it was nice to know that his insulating pad was going to stay securely under his little 37-pound body, significantly reducing the chance he’d wake up wedged between air mattresses, cold, confused, and begging to climb into bed with mom and dad. The Big Agnes system solved a problem it had never occurred to us to try to solve.
The power-red Big Agnes bag also got a “best” rating from our camping kids. In Joshua Tree, our son literally asked to go to bed while everyone else was still roasting marshmallows (yes, he was exhausted from all that rock scrambling, but his cozy sleep system was also a draw). He slept in later the next morning than he does at home.
The built-in air mattress is comfy, easy to inflate, and provides through-the-night warmth and stability.
Big Agnes makes kid bags in three sizes, all rated to 15˚F. The smallest Little Red, the one we tested, is made for kids up to 4-foot-5; the nearly identical bright-red Wolverine is for kids up to 5 feet tall, like the REI Kindercone and Kelty Big Dipper; and the sky-blue Haybro is for bigger kids and teens up to 5-foot-6. If we were buying a Big Agnes bag for a 2- or 3-year-old we’d get the Little Red, assuming the kid would get at least three years of use out of it. Any older than that and we’d likely go straight to the Wolverine—unless there’s a little sibling to pass down to, that is.
All of the Big Agnes bags pack down much smaller than the REI or Kelty kid sacks, making them an ideal option for first backpacking trips. Big Agnes’s inflatable ground pads are also impressively small and light. The cheapest and smallest, the 20- by 48-inch Air Core, is 3.25 inches high, weighs 14 ounces, and rolls up almost as small as a can of Folgers coffee. The Little Red bag weighs just under 2 pounds, with a compressed bag size of 7.5 by 8 inches. That’s tiny compared with the 3-pound, 4-ounce Kindercone’s compressed size of 12 by 16 inches. A Boulder, Colorado, dad we know bought one for his son five years ago, when he was just 1. “In tents, in sub-freezing temps, he’s cozy and never wakes up,” he wrote to us, praising the stay-put pad system.
The only downside of the Big Agnes bags is cost. The Little Red has a list price of $70, and requires a 20-by-48 rectangular pad that runs another $50. That’s for Big Agnes’s un-insulated pad; if you’re camping in the cold it’s worth it to pay $30 more for the insulated version, which is what we used. The Wolverine bag costs $90, the Haybro $100. On the bright side, all the Big Agnes bags integrate with any 20-inch-wide sleeping pad; you don’t have to buy the Big Agnes brand. In fact, we found that that 22-year-old Thermarest Ridgerest fit the Little Red fine. It may not be anywhere near as comfortable as Big Agnes’s inflatable insulated pads, but we’re not sure our 5-year-old would notice.
We know some parents who reserve pricey gear like this for camping only, and buy a cheaper bag for sleepovers, stair-sliding, fort-building, and the like. And there’s no doubt your kid risks looking like a pint-sized gear geek if she packs her two tiny stuff sacks for a birthday sleepover where everyone else is cuddling up with Elsa and Anna sleeping bags. Then again, she may be the only one to get a good night’s rest.
Care, use, and maintenance
Fighting cold: Though a sleeping bag with a lower temperature rating should keep a kid warmer, what that bag is placed on matters, too. When temperatures are mild, plenty of kids are just fine slapping their bag directly on the ground (did the backyard campouts of a few decades ago happen any other way?). But on cold nights, the more insulation between a little body and the heat-sucking earth, the better. A foam sleeping pad or insulated air mattress made for camping is probably best, though an exercise mat, cheap piece of foam, or cotton futon could work, too. Even a folded blanket placed under a pint-size sleeping bag will make a difference in fighting off chill.
In cold weather, put your kid to bed in warm socks, jammies, and a hat, maybe one that snaps under the chin so it stays put. Bring a hot water bottle from home or make your own at the campsite by—wait for it—filling an actual water bottle with hot water. Stick it inside a thick sock then stuff it in the bag with your chilly child. Just make sure the bottle is protected enough that it doesn’t risk scalding your kid’s skin. Hot cocoa before bed never hurts, either.
Cleaning: Avoid the wear and tear of machine-washing when spot-cleaning will do. We slung bags over the clothesline and simply wiped them down with a wet cloth following our particularly sticky and dusty trip to Joshua Tree (no, our kid did not brush his teeth before bed, and evidence suggests he may have hit the sack with marshmallows still gripped in his grimy fists). Most companies recommend that bags be washed in the bathtub, or in front-loader washers with cold water and gentle soaps (REI recommends these). More care tips from REI are here. Big Agnes’s sleeping bag washing instructions here.
Storage: It’s better to store a sleeping bag out of its stuff sack, though who has the room to do that? Of the bags we looked at, only the Big Agnes ones come with two storage bags: a compression sack for on the trail, and a larger, looser mesh bag for long-term storage. As with any camping gear, avoid mildew by ensuring a sleeping bag is completely dry before returning it to its bag. Big Agnes’s FAQ includes a discussion of optimum storage.
Getting stuffed. Toddler inserted for size.
Though our testers slept well in Eureka’s ultra-affordable, cotton-candy-pink Lady Bug(the green version is the Grasshopper), it didn’t feel quite as lofty or comfortable as the bags we liked best. It’s worth paying $15 or $20 more for a bag that feels a little more durable and is more aesthetically appealing.
L.L.Bean’s Kids’ Adventure Sleeping Bag was more expensive than any of the other bags we tested and had a couple of weird features we didn’t like, namely a tiny pocket that seemed too small for either a phone or headlamp—the most obvious things you might want such a pocket for—and an unusually narrow cut from the waist down. It is rated to 20˚F, warmer than any of the other bags we looked at except the Big Agnes Little Red. A kid with a thin frame camping in cold climes would likely do well with this bag, but it seemed too snug to most of the kids we camped with, none of whom was shaped like a string bean.
A lot of sleeping bags.
We did check out one non-mummy-style sleeping bag, the L.L.Bean’s Camp Sleeping Bag, which seemed like one of the highest-quality traditional bags we could find after an hour or so of internet searching. The Bean Camp Sleeping Bag is a rectangular bag with a checked cotton-flannel lining that a couple of online reviewers actually identified as warmer than the Bean mummy we looked at (we’re doubtful). The kids who slept in it liked it, and the soft flannel lining seemed comfy. The Camp could be a fine choice for weekends at grandpa’s house, the bunk at summer camp, and most summer camping trips, but it was far bulkier and had fewer features than any of the other bags we looked at, making it easy to eliminate as a top pick, especially as the 40˚F bag costs $70. We hope to review rectangular kid bags in the future.
- author of The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids, Interview ,
- Sleeping Bags for Backpacking: How to Choose, REI, March 23, 2015 ,
- Reviews of Youth Sleeping Bags, Glacier National Park Travel Guide ,
- owner review by Peter Spiller: REI Kindercone 30 F (-1 C) Sleeping Bag, BackpackGearTest.org, August 4, 2008 ,
- Sleeping Bag Care, REI, December 3, 2014 ,
- A Sleeping Bag That Grows With Your Child, GearJunkie, November 14, 2014 ,
- Washing Your Sleeping Bag, Big Agnes
- FAQs, Big Agnes