Starter sleep systems: cheap, cheaper, cheapest

A sleep system is gear you use for (you guessed it) sleeping. It usually refers to (1) a tent, (2) a sleeping pad, and (3) a sleeping bag.

I recently bought my own gear and studied many reviews. Here, I want to share what I ended up buying and what other options I considered.

Of course there’s an option of buying all three in a bundle (none of the links are affiliated), but I like to take my time choosing the exact products that fit my needs.

I was looking for gear mostly for car camping but allowing for an occasional backpacking trip. That means that weight was a factor but I had some wiggle room. For example, I decided against a heavy flannel-lined sleeping bag even though it looked very comfortable, but I also decided against ultralight sleeping pads as they seems to be less comfortable and break more easily.

As usual, being on a budget was important (I’m a PhD student). Don’t forget to check out my Guide on how to buy camping gear cheaper!

1. Tent

We actually have two tents: a 1-person for backpacking and a 3-person for car camping. I don’t recommend buying two tents (lol), it’s just that my bf and I need a bigger tent which I didn’t want to carry on backpacking trips.

My choice: Lynx Mountaineering 1-person

$139.99 on the official websites (but I bought it for $90 from Amazon).

Specs

A 2-person and 3-person versions exist at $179.99 and $219.99. As a rule of thumb, buy a tent for the number of people you need + 1 person. For example, if you’re a couple camping together, buy a 3-person tent. In a 2-person, you’ll be squished together.

My 1-person tent, however, is spacious enough for me alone (I’m 5’10 or 178 cm). You can see how big it is compared to the 3-person side-by-side, but it’s still surprisingly light!

Our two tents without rain covers

I also bought the footprint, which I consider essential. It protects the floor of the tent.

Runner up (slightly cheaper): Clostnature 1-person tent

$129.99 on Amazon (currently on discount for $80.99)

Weight: 4.1 lbs

I think this one is very similar to my Alps Mountaineering, with only a $10 difference between them. I bought the Alps Mountaineering because I liked the colors better 😛. A 2 person version exists, I’m not sure about the 3-person though.

Got extra $ to spend?

1. Buy the footprint, really. If your tent is in like-new condition, you will be able to re-sell it when you decide to upgrade.

2. Nemo Dragonfly 1 (2- and 3-person versions exist).

Three times the price ($399.99), half the weight (2lbs 13oz). Great reviews and ratings. More expensive tents pay more attention to keeping the tent breathable while waterproof.

2. Sleeping pad

My choice – Klymit static V insulated sleeping pad

$89.99

R-value 4.4

1.4 pounds

You need a pad for two reasons: for comfort and for warmth.

If you’re camping in colder weather, you need an insulated pad. Non-insulated pads are much cheaper, but they are only for comfort. They won’t protect you from the colder ground.

R-value is how well the pad insulates you from the ground. Higher is better; above 4 is considered ok.

This Klymit seems to be optimal in terms of price/value ratio and it is a popular choice for a beginner pad. It comes in a “Lite” version, which is a little more expensive ($99.99) and a little lighter (1 lb), and I think a bit narrower. However, people complain about comfort and durability, so I decided that getting the Lite was not worth it.

There’s also a “Luxe” version at $129.99, thicker and wider. If I wasn’t going backpacking, I would have chosen that one.

Cheaper – a closed cell foam pad

I was mostly looking at inflatable pads because they are more comfortable, warmer, and pack smaller/ lighter.

However, a lot of beginner use closed cell foam pads. They look like thick yoga mats, but they are engineered in a way that trapped air provides insulation. This seems to be a decent option.

Got extra $ to spend?

1. Klymit sells sheets for their pads. Although it’s half the price of the pad itself, I’m planning to buy it.

2. Sea to Summit Ether Extra light XT

$199

This is my dream pad, which I would have purchased in women’s long if I had more money.

It’s thicker than Klymit (4 vs 2 inches), so it’s more comfortable, but it weighs the same (1.4 pounds). The surface is smoother, and I tried it at REI, it just feels so nice.

R-value is 3.5 which is a bit low for my liking.

3. Sleeping bag

My choice: Nemo Forte 20

$199 for regular women’s (but keep an eye on discounts and sales!)

Temperature rating 20F.

Weight 3 lbs. 5 oz.

Compressed volume 11.7 litres.

I love my Nemo. It’s so so soft, so so fluffy, so so light. It is warm, although I’ll probably wear wool socks to sleep when it gets colder. People complain that it’s difficult to fit into the provided 11-litre compression sack, but I tried and I didn’t struggle. Note that compression sacks are only for transporting the bag, you should store it in the much bigger mesh bag (also provided). Otherwise, you are ruining it.

Runner-up (cheaper): Kelty Cosmic 20

$169

Temperature rating 20F.

Weight 2lbs.

It’s lighter than my Nemo, but that’s because it’s mummy-shaped and uses less material. Mummy shape means that the bag wraps around you tightly and when you move in your sleep, you move together with your bag. I didn’t want that, and for that reason I bought the Nemo, which is spoon-shaped and more comfortable for side sleepers.

Cheapest: Teton sports trailhead

$64.99

Temperature rating: 20 F

Weight: 2.9 lbs

Really cheap, and people seem to like it 🤷‍♀️. It wasn’t my runner-up because I could find less detailed reviews on that one (while the Nemo and the Kelty have lots written about them, and it’s all good). However, if I was on a really tight budget, or if I was expecting to go on one camping trip and then likely forget about it, Teton would have been my choice.

I write more about my process of choosing a sleeping bag here.

Got extra $ to spend?

I can’t imagine a better beginner bag than my Nemo. There are more expensive bags under the $300 mark with good reviews, but I am not sure how they are better. Still, here are some ideas for spending that extra $:

1. Get a Bag liner. It’s basically like sheets for your bag, which add extra warmth and protect your bag from all that hiking sweat.

2. Increase the temperature rating.

All bags I considered for myself are rated 20F. This is a standard rating for a 3-season (spring, winter, fall) bag.

20F is a survival rating, which means that you won’t die of hypothermia. Comfort rating is different and is more personal. I’m a warm sleeper, and even in my 20F Nemo I prefer to wear socks in August (it’s not the bag’s fault. I sleep under a 20 lbs weighted blanket in summer without A/C on).

If I had more money, I would have bought a bag with a higher temperature rating, like Nemo Disco 15. That would have made my sleep more comfortable, but this is purely a personal preference.

Also, there are camping pillows, but this is the next step for me. For now, I’m going to take a pillowcase and stuff it with my day clothes.


One response to “Starter sleep systems: cheap, cheaper, cheapest”

  1. […] Here is my advice on beginner’s sleeping systems, with non-affiliated links to products. Here is a more lengthy post on sleeping bags. […]

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