Best Sleeping Bag Liner -
Do You Need One?

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

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:


Sleeping bag liner
variables

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.

Snow capped Mt. Rainier and the glacial White River running down her flanksThe right sleeping bag liner can buy you a great night's rest on your next hiking trip!


Sleeping bag liner
comfort

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:

  • Increase the temperature rating of your bag by several degrees, to keep you toasty warm (or at least toastier than life without the liner).
  • Keep the inside of the bag away from your sweaty, clammy, dirty skin, thereby extending the overall lifespan of your pricey sleeping bag as you drift off to sleep.

Weight versus comfort

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?


Not convinced you need a
sleeping bag liner?

If staying warmer isn't a factor for you, consider this about using a sleeping bag liner:

  • It feels nice against your skin as the cotton, silk, or soft polyester wicks away moisture and traps your body heat in your bag.

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.

  • Clean up the odors and residues with a quick trip through the washing machine, but spare your much more expensive sleeping bag from frequent soap, hot water, friction, and harsh drying cycles.

Sleeping bag liner
prices

Money is definitely a factor in the term "price", but for a backpacker, comfort also comes at a price: weight.

  • More muscle power is required for a heavier pack, thus more fuel in the form of food must be carried.
  • That costs more money and effort, thus increasing the "price" of your backpacking plans.

Let's tackle the monetary cost involved in choosing a bag liner first.

The damage a liner can do
to your hiking budget

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.

  • Does all of your backpacking occur in warm climates?
  • Do you schedule all of your backpacking trips for warm summer months, when extra warmth is not required?

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!

But slow down
and consider this

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.

  • What if your gear gets soaked by an unexpected tumble into a stream?
  • A liner might help you get through an uncomfortable night without flirting with hypothermia.

Important comfort note
for female hikers

And here's something big for female backpackers to ponder:

  • Are you a "cold" sleeper? 

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.


More to love about
a sleeping bag liner

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.

  • Great idea if you're doing a lot of stream crossings!

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.

  • The softness and warmth of the liner material is very comforting on my face and neck.
  • I'm a side sleeper, but you could also use the rolled up liner under your neck or knees if you sleep on your back.

One last idea to justify the expense:

  • carry the liner year round on day hikes, as an extra "ten essentials" to buy yourself a small margin of safety if you need to spend an unplanned night out of doors.

Why carry that extra weight?

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.

  • That's creeping dangerously close to one pound, which is sacrilege!

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.


Tips on how to buy
a sleeping bag liner

Be sure to select the right liner to match your bag:

  • mummy or cocoon style
  • rectangular

Otherwise you'll have too much, or too little, fabric, which creates uneven thermal conditions.

  • Not to mention bunching and pulling

And don't forget to hunt for the fabric choice you determined above first, then look at the dimensions and cut.


Get in carefully!

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.

  • But all of that muscle action will create body heat, which you will efficiently trap!

Other liners are designed to open up wide to give you a lot of space to crawl and thrash around in as you sleep.

Tip:

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.


And your answer is?

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:

  • Several extra degrees of warmth that will translate directly into restful sleep
  • A washable way to extend the life of your sleeping bag
  • Softness and moisture wicking and protection from your sweat encrusted trail dirt, so it won't get embedded in your high tech sleeping bag fabric
  • Versatility: use it alone, on top of your sleeping bag, or use it as intended inside your bag
  • Margin of safety: carry it on day hikes as part of your survival kit

So it won't surprise you to know that I own one of these little beauties!


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Best Sleeping Bag Liner



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