Homemade Sleeping Bag

Reasons for Making:

My reason for making my own sleeping bag stemmed from my desire to enjoy the backpacking experience more, the desire to lighten my load as much as possible and the fact that I was broke. ;)

For a very long time my only sleeping bag was a 20°F down bag from Campmor, which for the price (about $110) it was and still is a great down sleeping bag! Many users of the BackpackingLight Group have praised this bag for its quality and value. It didn't take many hikes before I realized that this bag was overkill for my kind of hiking. Sometimes I would find myself roasting in the bag, sleeping only half in the bag or completely on top of the bag. I needed to find a lighter sleeping bag that would keep me warm down to about 35-40°F. I was rather disgusted with the current prices of sleeping bags on the market, so I eventually decided to make my own synthetic bag.

Anatomy of Design:

As with every one of my projects, I spent the most time just thinking about the design. I almost decided to make a sleeping quilt instead of a sleeping bag, but I decided that the bag would trap hot air better and be lighter when completed. Since I tend to sleep on my side at night, a quilt would need to be considerably larger than a typical bag design to keep out the drafts. A bag would shift and roll with me at night preventing the chance of a "cold wake-up call" from chilling drafts.

I decided to keep it as simple as possible, a simple bag design using one layer of synthetic insulation on the bottom and one layer on top. Some people have made comments that I should not use any insulation on the bottom half. I disagree with them. As I mentioned above, I tend to sleep on my side and would rather roll with the bag than roll inside the bag. 

I was concerned with the radiative heat transfer from my body and bag. To minimize the radiative heat loss I made one side of the bag white. My other concern was to be able to dry the bag quickly, so I made the other side black. Another option would have been to make the outside of the bag white and the inside of the bag black, turning the bag inside out to dry it in the sun.

In most cases I would be using this bag with a small tent or shelter. Tents by themselves help to keep you warm at night. Tents minimize heat loss due to forced convection (wind) was well as radiation. If things do get cold I can always layer up with clothing to keep warm.


All the materials for the sleeping bag were purchased from a local supplier here in Florida.

Quest Outfitters
619 Cattlemen Rd.
Sarasota, FL 34232

Quest Outfitters supplied me with good customer service and good fast delivery. The only negative was that they had to add sales tax because I lived in the same state. I spent much time debating on materials to use. I finally decided to use:

(#1414) Primaloft Insulation (3 oz. per sq. yd.)
(#1015) Ripstop Nylon (1.1 oz. per sq. yd.) - Uncoated/Breathable
(#0359) 2 1/16" Elliptical Toggles
(#2402) 2 yd. of 3/32" Narrow Shockcord - Black

Depending upon the size of the bag needed, you might have to buy different lengths of material. Basically, you'll need two sheets of Primaloft insulation, two sheets of black Ripstop nylon and two sheets of white Ripstop nylon. You'll also need some polyester thread (white and black), some shock cord or drawstring for the top and two elliptical toggles.


The simplest way to make the bag is as follows:

  1. Cut four layers of the 1.1 oz. nylon (2 black and 2 white) to the desired shape of your bag. Make sure to add 1/2" to 1" for stitching the seams. Remember it's better to make the bag too big than too small. Make sure you'll have plenty of room for your feet to move around.
  2. Sew the two pieces of white nylon together to make a sack and the two pieces of black nylon together to make another sack.
  3. Turn the two sacks inside out to hide the existing stitches.
  4. Cut a layer of insulation to the size of each sack. Then slip each layer of insulation into each sack and sew the tops closed.
  5. Hand quilt each layer of insulation into the sacks. Try to leave as much loft as possible. There are other better ways of quilting that you might rather pursue. If you don't have the time, just sew the insulation directly through the sack. Space each horizontal quilt or stitch about 12" apart.
  6. Once you have the two sacks completed with insulation. Sew them together. Try to sew the insulation into this stitch if possible. You will now have one insulated sack. Turn the bag inside out to hide the stitch.
  7. Fold back the top of the bag and sew a tunnel for the drawstring cord. Work the shockcord through the tunnel and add an elliptical toggle at each side.
That's about it for the construction. There are better ways to quilt the insulation than what was mentioned above. There are also many more complicated designs out there.


The resulting weight of the sleeping bag that I made for myself was only 15 oz., but remember that it was made very small! The finished dimensions of the bag are only 68" long and 25" wide at the chest. The bag that I made for myself might be considered a 3/4 bag for another. I haven't been able to fully test/exceed the temperature range of the sleeping bag and I'm not sure that I want to. I did sleep comfortable in the bag at a temperature of 40°F. What the bag is actually capable of is still to be seen.

I'm satisfied with the materials purchased for this sleeping bag. The only downside is that the bag does feel a bit muggy. This is probably due to the 1.1 oz. Ripstop nylon (uncoated) used for the shell. You might consider using a more breathable material for the shell. I am very happy with the Primaloft insulation, it feels very soft and is very compressible. I haven't experienced any loss in insulation loft. All in all, a successful project.

Last Revised: 02/05/2002
Written By: Jeff Walters
E-mail: hiker_jjw(at)yahoo(dot)com