No matter if you are hiking or prepping, you will still need a sleeping bag, especially if you will be spending some nights below the stars. Sleeping bags do come with some limitations, like limiting your movement while you sleep and some even with not insulating you well enough trough the night.
The alternatives to sleeping bags are zip bags, bivy bags, quilts, hammocks, insulated hammocks, travel liners, backcountry beds, zenbivy beds, sleeping bag liners, tarps, under quilts, air mattresses, inflatable beds, backpacking quilts, camping beds, indoor tents, sleeping pads, car, and the pillow and blanket.
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We all know how important a good night’s rest is, without it, we often wake up feeling cranky and even more tiered then when we went to sleep. Although for some people this is just a mild nuisance but for some, it could be a matter of life and death in an SHTF situation. No matter if you are hiking, planning for an SHTF, or even if you just want a sleeping bag as a backup, you will need to find either a good well-insulated sleeping bag or an alternative to it.
Not everybody is a big fan of sleeping bags, as these tend to limit your movement a lot while you are sleeping, and if you are used to moving freely while you sleep this will probably become an issue for you. If you are a prepper, I highly recommend you get a sleeping bag and an alternative to it as a backup, just in case.
If you are planning to spend a couple of nights sleeping while camping then you should either use a sleeping bed or an alternative to it. For what kind of sleeping bag you will need depends if you will spend the night outdoors or indoors in a cabin. If you will be spending a night or more sleeping outside, make sure to get something warm to sleep on as even during the summertime temperatures will drop suddenly during the night. If you also need a bug out bag then check my recent article Best premade bug out bag ( Top 21 ).
A lot of people love zip bags mostly because they are fairly compact and lightweight. Although this lightweight comes at a price which is that zip bags are not well insulated. You could get away with using a zip bag during summertime, but during winter you will find that it will not be able to keep you warm. Zip bags are made in such a way that they will let air circulate in and around them, and this is how they cool you down during a hot summer night.
The great thing about zip bags is that they are extremely versatile, you can use them like a blanket and even as a tarp as most of these are waterproof. In addition to this, if you fold it up correctly, a zip bag could even fit in your pocket. If you are planning to go camping without a sleeping bag, then at least bring a zip bag with you. You can also heat your cabin with a generator, for more information check out my recent article 3000 watt generator what will it run ( Top 25 Items ).
Bivy bags are usually used as an alternative to tents, most of them have a rigid structure which you put down just like a tent. The problem with bivy bags is that they do not offer a lot of insulation and you will need to either use a sleeping bag or an alternative to them. Bivy bags are lightweight and most of them are water-resistant, they are great for use during the summertime but I do not recommend them during the wintertime.
There are some bivy bags that will insulate you during the winter but these are fairly expensive and they weigh a lot more than a normal bivy bag. One of the great benefits of using a bivy bag is how easy it is to use, simply prop it down on the ground with its poles and it is ready to be used. Just keep in mind that although most of them waterproof, but if you put them on the wet ground they will lose a lot of their already limited insulation properties.
If you want the comfort and insulation of a sleeping bag but you do not want to feel restricted with your movement then your best alternative is to use a quilt. Generally speaking, most quilts are well insulated and they can be used both during the summer and during the wintertime. The problem with quilts is actually their main selling point of letting you move freely while you sleep. This freedom of movement can be good during the summertime, but if you are constantly spinning and turning while you are sleeping you might find yourself uncovered and this is probably the last thing you want during wintertime.
As quilts are well insulated, they tend to weigh a lot more than a generic sleeping bag. Oftentimes the problem with a sleeping quilt is packing as these quilts are fairly large and heavy.
Compact, lightweight and waterproof, hammocks are great for summertime although on some cooler summer nights you might want to get at least a wool blanket. What I love about hammocks is that you are not in contact with the ground while you are sleeping as you will be suspended preferably between two trees. While we sleep on the ground we will lose most of our body heat to the ground, and this will not happen with something like a hammock
Hammocks are extremely cheap, and honestly, you could make a hammock from a blanket or even a tarp in no time. If you know that you often get cold during the night but you still want to use a hammock for sleeping then my personal recommendation is to use a sleeping bag in addition to the hammock, the sleeping bag for insulation and the hammock for the comfort.
I honestly never understood the appeal of insulated hammocks, don’t get me wrong they do what they supposed to dow which is to insulate you and let you sleep comfortably. The problem is that this insulation comes with a hefty price, and you could easily get similar insulation for a fraction of the price by putting a sleeping bag in a normal hammock. In addition to this, one of the great benefits of using a hammock is that they occupy very little space, but insulated hammocks can become fairly large due to their insulation.
Travel liners are mostly used in addition to a sleeping bag, although you can use them without a sleeping bag during the summertime. These are fairly lightweight and occupy very little space, but the problem is that they do not offer a lot of insulation and most of them are not even waterproof. If you are planning to sleep outside during the summertime you might find that a travel liner offers very little insulation and it will not trap your body heat as efficiently as a sleeping bag.
If you value comfort and insulation above anything else then a backcountry bed will be your best option. These are fairly similar to sleeping bags, except they do not have the zip lock, and you can freely move while you sleeping. The main issue which I have with these backcountry beds is that they are fairly large and heavy, it is almost like you are moving furniture when you are setting it up. In addition to this, backcountry beds can be extremely expensive and they will occupy a lot of space.
On the other hand, you can use them both during the summertime and during the wintertime. If you are a larger person then you might find them a lot more comfortable as they are fairly big.
The Zenbivy bed is a fairly new alternative to a sleeping bed, but winter camping without a sleeping bag should be fairly comfortable with a zenbivy bed. They can be used both during the summer and during the wintertime, they are fairly large and they do not restrict you with zip locks like sleeping beds tend to do. In addition to this most of them do have quilts in them which you can use on the colder nights. The problem with the zenbivy bed is that it is fairly large and heavy, so if you have a long walk towards your camping site you might want to rethink your sleeping options.
Sleeping Bag Liners
Sleeping bag liners are used in addition to a sleeping bed, they offer more insulation this way. Although you could use sleeping bed liners as an actual sleeping bag during hot summer days, but then if you do not like the movement constrictions which a sleeping bag gives you then you probably will not like sleeping in a sleeping bag liner.
If you want something lightweight, cheap and easy to use then your best option will be to use something like a trap. Although this cheap price and lightweight comes at the cost of your comfort and insulation. Tarps are not made as an alternative to a sleeping bag, they are meant to be used in addition to a sleeping bag. But if you do not mind sleeping in your clothes and using a blanket than it could work during the summertime, but only during the summertime. If you are using a tarp as a sleeping bag, then at least use a sleeping bag liner.
Under quilts are mainly used as a quilt for a hammock, these offer fairly good insulation and are fairly lightweight. The problem with them is that they are fairly expensive for some reason and you probably be better off using a wool blanket with your hammock which will most likely offer more insulation and will cost a lot less money than an under quilt.
Although air mattresses are meant to be used on the water, but you can also use them as an alternative to a sleeping bag. You can use the air mattress like a normal bed, just put on a wool blanket and you will sleep extremely comfortably. What is great about using an air mattress as a sleeping bag is that it offers a lot more comfort and freedom of movement as the sleeping bed. In addition to this as the air mattress is filled with air it will keep you far from the cold ground.
If you value comfort above anything else then you can use an inflatable bed, just keep in mind that these are not made for outdoors and you should be very careful where you place them as the material of which it is made is fairly thin and could be easily punctured by sharp rocks and even branches. One great advantage of using an inflatable bed is that two persons can fit easily on it, or even three if you are feeling adventurous.
Most inflatable beds will come with an air pump which you will not be able to use if you are somewhere in the wilderness. Either try to find one which has a manually operated air pump or try to get a manual air pump with which you can inflate it. If you think that you can inflate it with your mouth than make sure to try it out before you are in the wilderness, as most inflated beds will need a good set of lungs to inflate.
The backpacking quilt is a simple blanket that is mostly waterproof, I say mostly because not all of them are actually waterproof. The backpacking quilt will offer you good insulation, but you should always put something between you and the ground like a sleeping bag in order not to lose the heat which your body generates.
Camping beds are also known as cots, generally speaking, these have a metal frame with some kind of fabric stretched across the frame. These camping beds will elevate your sleeping position a couple of inches above the ground which means that you will not be losing heat through the ground. You will have to use a quilt or wool blanket with camping beds as most of them only come with the frame.
The main problem with camping beds is their weight and fairly large size. Although you can collapse most of them into a smaller size, but if you have a long hike ahead of you then you will probably suffer a lot. In addition to its heavyweight and its fairly large size, you have to remember that you also need to pack a couple of blankets in order to insulate you. You can use camping beds both indoors and outdoors, in fact, if you want to live off the grid then they will be a good substitute for a bed, for more information check out my recent article ( Top 60 ) Off grid cabin essentials.
The best alternative to a sleeping bag for a baby is an indoor tent, generally speaking, these are fairly lightweight and do offer some insulation. Just keep in mind that these tents are not made for outdoor use and most of them have fairly limited insulation and no waterproof properties. Although if you have children and you want to spend a weekend at a cabin than this is way better for the children then a sleeping bed as it doesn’t restrict their movement while they are sleeping.
Sleeping beds use insulation with either foam or air, their comfort rating will wary from person to person, some do like the ones with air while others like the ones with foam. The problem with air sleeping pads is that these pads are made out of fairly cheap material and they can easily be punctured by small rocks, although most of them have several insulated air compartments in order to not make one small puncture deflate the whole thing but even with one punctured chamber you will find it difficult to sleep in.
If you do not have any sleeping bed or any other alternative to it, then your best option will be to sleep in your car. Although it might be fairly uncomfortable sleeping in your car, but with some modifications, you might even find it pleasant to sleep in, on the other hand, you don’t really have other options.
Pillow and blanket
I have seen a couple of people camping and sleeping with a pillow and blanket, although they can mostly be used either indoors or in a tent. The problem with everyday pillows and blankets is that they tend to be fairly large and will occupy a lot of space on your backpack and in your car.
As you can see you have plenty of alternatives for sleeping bags if you still don’t know which one you should try then ask around people who have already been to that location. If you are going to spend a couple of nights at a cabin, you should still get some well insulating sleeping bag as most of these cabins are fairly low and the insulation is terrible in most of them.