My Go-To Backcountry Sleep System

March 7, 2023

Your sleep system can make or break your experience in the outdoors, especially when you’re backpacking and don’t have the same comforts of normal camping. It’s vital to have something that will keep you comfortable, warm enough, and most importanly allow you to sleep well, which can sometimes be hard when you’re sleeping outside. I’ve adjusted my sleep system quite a bit over the years with different gear and specifically different weights of gear, to achieve the goal of keeping me comfortable and warm, but not going overboard as it relates to the weight of my sleep system, since I have to carry it. I also try to finding items that will last me years of adventures, without breaking the bank. 


The Sleep System 

Your sleep system consists of three components: a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and a pillow if you use one. Things you want to consider when choosing the gear for your sleep system are weight & size, comfort, warmth, set up, and materials. In each of the following sections, I will discuss these components in more detail and recommend some gear that I personally use and recommend 😊


The sleeping pad is a critical component of your sleep system. It provides cushioning and insulation between you and the ground. I actually use two sleeping pads a lot of the time that I backpack, and many folks will do this to add extra insulation and comfort. The main reason I do it is because I love my sleeping pad, and I really don’t want to risk popping it in the rocky terrain I camp in.

The sleeping pad I use is the NEMO Tensor Ultralight Insulated sleeping pad, specifcally in the regular wide version so I can spread out comfortably. This sleeping pad is lightweight and compact, making it easy to pack in my backpack. It’s also incredibly warm with an R-value of 4.2. In addition, it’s 3 inches thick, (hear that side sleepers?!😍). It comes with a bag and pump sack that makes it really quick and easy to inflate.

I pair this sleeping pad with the NEMO Switchback foam sleeping pad. This fits perfectly right underneath the Tensor, and it adds almost an extra inch of padding (.09 inches), and only adds 10.5 ounces, making my sleeping pad total weight equal 30.5 ounces or 1.9 lbs. This combo is extremely comfortable, so even if that weight sounds a little high for some ultralight backpackers, it’s worth it in my opinion. Keep in mind here my goal with this sleep set up was not ultralight, just lightweight in general.


When it comes to backpacking gear, a sleeping bag is a crucial item for a comfortable and safe outdoor experience. Depending on the temperature, I prefer to use either a 25 degree or a 15 degree sleeping bag most of the time. However, since I tend to sleep cold, I mostly use my 15 degree sleeping bag, which is the Mountain Hardware Bishops Pass bag.

This sleeping bag is specifically designed for women and is made of lightweight and compressible 650-fill-power down insulation, providing great warmth without weighing me down. It also features a mummy-style shape with a draft collar and hood, which helps to trap in heat and keep me cozy throughout the night. The bag’s shell is made of a durable nylon material, while the lining is soft and comfortable to sleep in at night. 

The Mountain Hardware Bishops Pass bag is also packed with several additional features, including a two-way zipper that allows me to easily adjust the temperature inside the bag, as well as a stash pocket for storing small items like my phone or a headlamp. The bag’s footbox is still wide enough to move your feet around in, a huge plus for me since I personally am not the biggest fan of mummy bags. I appreciate having the extra room to move around with it still keeping me warm. This bag weighs in at 40.2 oz, or 2 lbs 8.2 oz. 

For warmer nights, I use the Sea to Summit Women’s Altitude 25 degree sleeping bag. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to sleep cold, so this is just the system that works best for me. Both of these bags carry cooler options for warmer sleepers that would be just as great, too. 

If you want to cut some additional ounces and you sleep warm enough to handle it, a sleeping quilt is a fantastic option. My partner is a warm sleeper and he loves his Enlightened Equipment Revelation sleeping quilt. These quilts are each handmade and extremely lightweight. Sean ended up needing to custom order one to fit him best but he says it was worth it! (of course he does, it was a bday gift from me 🤪).


The last component of your sleep system is a camp pillow. Some campers may skip this itemand opt to stuff for clothes into a stuff sack to make a DIY pillow. While this is a fine option, I highly recommend investing in a proper camping pillow. It’s specifically designed for outdoor use and will give you a much better night’s sleep.

I personally use the Sea to Summit Aeros Down Pillow. This pillow weighs only 2.5 ounces and packs down to a small size, making it easy to pack and carry along on my backpacking trips. It’s also inflatable, allowing me to adjust the firmness to my personal preference. It’s made with 20D polyester and filled with RDS certified down that feels soft and comfortable against my skin while also keeping my head warm. I am a really big fan of Sea to Summit’s system for inflating and deflating your pillow, too – it’s easy to use and deflates in a second.


That completes my backcountry sleep setup! The total weight of this sleep system comes out to 73.2 ounces, or 4.58lbs using the 15 degree bag. With the NEMO Switchback & Tensor sleeping pads, the Mountain Hardware Bishops Pass sleeping bag, and the Sea to Summit Aeros Down pillow, you’ll have a comfortable and warm sleep system to give you a great night’s sleep on any backpacking adventure


Wishing you safe and happy trails! 🙂 

*Please note that some links above are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission on any purchase you make – at no additional cost to you. If you use any of these links, thank you for your support in advance!


Read next: 10 Things the Wilderness Has Taught Me

Hi there! I’m Shelby, a
Colorado hiking guide!

I’m here to inspire you to climb your mountain from the ground UP.
I’m an avid hiker and backpacker, and also love camping, fishing, and anything else I can do outdoors, even if it means going alone! I believe nature is the best teacher of all, and I find joy sharing this knowledge so you can feel empowered on your own adventures! 

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