by Diane Spicer
A sleeping bag liner or insert does just what it promises: lines your sleeping bag, keeping the inside from touching you.
But why do you need this piece of hiking gear?
Maybe you don't!
Take a look with me at the variables that go into deciding whether or not to purchase, and deploy, a sleeping bag liner.
Or keep things fast and easy:
Choosing a great sleeping bag is a tough job.
In contrast, choosing a liner is really straightforward.
It's a tug of war between comfort and price!
Maybe you'll have to split the difference to make a decision.
But if you have the luxury of a plump slush fund to spend on backpacking and camping gear, the comfort factor will rise as you pay for a more robust liner.
Let's take a look at comfort first.
As a backpacker (current or aspiring), you realize that sleep is essential to a safe, enjoyable backpacking trip.
Here's the non-negotiable fact as darkness falls and possibly you are facing wind gusts, falling temperatures, pounding rain, hail, sleet, snow or whatever other antics Mother Nature wants to throw at you:
You can't sleep if you're cold.
A sleeping bag liner is built to slide inside your current sleeping bag and do two nice things for you:
A liner is an ideal solution to the problem of weight -vs- comfort which all backpackers face, because for a few extra ounces you can get away with a less expensive, (possibly) heavier sleeping bag without sacrificing your comfort.
More good news:
Bag liners are easy to machine wash and dry time and time again, but sleeping bags are not.
So why not go the easy route and use a liner?
If staying warmer isn't a factor for you, consider this about using a sleeping bag liner:
Comfort is no small thing when you've been out on the trail for a few days.
And here's something you might not have considered:
Hygiene concerns after acts of intimacy involving body fluids with your significant other hiking partner are another reason to consider a liner.
Money is definitely a factor in the term "price", but for a backpacker, comfort also comes at a price: weight.
Let's tackle the monetary cost involved in choosing a bag liner first.
The material you select for your bag liner matters to your bottom line.
A silk bag liner is going to set you back more than a polyester liner.
Wow, that's a big difference!
So that's why you need to ponder whether you really need one of these liners.
Maybe you can get away with using just a bag liner, and skip the whole "what is the best sleeping bag for me" ordeal.
Think of the weight and space you'll save!
What conditions are you likely to face in your backpacking destination?
Climatology can give you a general idea.
Reading the weather forecasts before you leave, also good information.
If you determine after your research that it's likely that you're going to be caught out in wet, windy or unpredictable conditions, packing a liner to augment your sleeping bag makes good sense.
But there's more to consider.
And here's something big for female backpackers to ponder:
Most women are, compared with men.
You might cherish those extra degrees of comfort inside your sleeping bag, because they spell the difference between shivering all night versus falling into a deep restful sleep.
Liners usually come with a stuff sack, and because they're soft and pliable you can squish them into any dead space in your pack - including inside gear that tends to rattle and roll (cooking pots, lookin' at you).
Be sure the sack gets encased in a plastic bag or waterproof sack along with other survival gear.
Here's another great feature of carrying a sleeping bag liner:
I use my liner as a pillow when I don't need to be inside of it.
One last idea to justify the expense:
Now to address the "extra weight" price.
Ultralight hikers would be scandalized by my suggestion to carry a liner AND a sleeping bag, because liners range between 5 and 14 ounces.
To them, I say this:
Sleep is priceless, and I'm willing to sacrifice weight in other areas in order to guarantee a deep sleep cycle.
It makes me stronger, and thus safer, the next day on the trail.
Be sure to select the right liner to match your bag:
Otherwise you'll have too much, or too little, fabric, which creates uneven thermal conditions.
And don't forget to hunt for the fabric choice you determined above first, then look at the dimensions and cut.
Pay attention to how you enter the liner.
Some liners are just big sacks with a top opening, so you might have to squirm and wiggle a bit to get into them.
Other liners are designed to open up wide to give you a lot of space to crawl and thrash around in as you sleep.
If there's a draw cord, you might want to cinch it down to keep your heat in where it matters.
Or use it to vent the liner at appropriate hot flash intervals, if you're a menopausal hiker.
So how do you feel about sleeping bag liners now?
Only you can decide whether the extra ounces make sense for your budget, your back, and your sleeping needs.
But I think you can see that I come down squarely in the "buy the darn liner already!!" camp.
To recap why I'm a fan, here's what a sleeping bag liner gives you:
So it won't surprise you to know that I own one of these little beauties!
Best Sleeping Bag Liner
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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