When outfitting someone for the first time, I have this steady piece of wisdom that I always impart on my newest clients: don’t buy all this stuff today. I don’t care if you can afford it. Before I get you to the register, my goal is to make you confident in your purchases, and I can only do that if you trust me when I say that outfitting is a life-long pursuit. I own enough gear for three hikers (okay, five hikers, but who’s counting) and I’m still always on the lookout for the newest advances in outdoor equipment.

That being said, I always approach outfitting from a personal place. There are three areas I focus on, before all others:

  • My pack
  • My footwear
  • My sleep system (sleeping bag & sleeping pad)

My process is simple. If I can’t carry my gear, step comfortably, and sleep well, then I will be a grumpy hiker. I can deal with bad food. I can handle adverse weather conditions. But if I can’t carry my weight load, walk without pain, or get a full night’s rest, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to run into me on the trail.

I will also be talking to my fellow Heavy Hikers, who might have trouble slipping into a thermal efficient mummy-style sleeping bag. I’m a big guy and I sleep on my side or on my stomach, which means I’m a tornado in the tent. I am also a warm-natured sleeper, so I tend to need to vent my bag throughout the night. With these factors in mind, I give you the NEMO Salsa sleeping bag:

NEMO Salsa 30

This is a 30-degree bag (which means you’ll be comfortable at that ambient temperature) with a “spoon” design that allows for more hip and elbow room. It’s also packable and lightweight for backpacking. It’s got a killer yoke (the little bit of fabric around the neck area to tuck you in) and is easily vent-able for those late night bouts of heat. The biggest feature about this bag is that it doesn’t feel too tight. I tend to get claustrophobic in mummy-style bags and I’ve never had that problem in my NEMO. Plus, this bag has a 650 down fill, which makes it a steal at this price point. I own a similar bag from NEMO that’s a bit older than this one and it’s my go-to bag for most of my outings.

Next up is the Marmot NanoWave 45:

Marmot NanoWave 45

I also own this bag for my summer backpacking trips, or if I’m going fast and light. It’s absurdly packable, shrinking down to about the size of a Nerf football (see the featured image of this article) in its included stuff sack. But beware, it lacks the comfort of the NEMO and the fill is synthetic, which also explains the low price. It’s also a bit tighter fit, but still roomy enough to not be considered a mummy bag.

Finally, I’ve included the North Face Dolomite for my big and tall hikers who still love the old school square bags.

The North Face Dolomite 30

It’s heavy (4.4 lbs) and it isn’t as packable, but if you’re just looking for a solid bag with a bunch of room for some fun weekend car camping, this bag gets the job done.

I want to end with a word of caution. Choosing a sleeping bag is a fiercely personal process. There has yet to be a bag invented that fits every body type, or that addresses every personal sleeping style, or that serves everyone’s individual uses. This will be a process of trial and error.

Also, try not to skim dollars in this area. I promise, that first restless, sleepless night on the trail, you won’t be thinking about that $60 you saved. Worse yet, you might not want to get back out there. Take time to try these bags on at your local outfitter and if you’re buying online, be immediately prepared to ship it right on back BEFORE you take it out on the trail. I want you to have the same wonderful experiences that I’ve had outdoors, so make sure you take absolute care in this particular area of your pack. And, food for thought, never store your bags in their stuff sacks long term. Stuff sacks are for temporary storage while hiking. Either hang your sleeping bag up or store them in a larger bag so you don’t compress the fill permanently. Happy heavy hiking.