Carrying your sleeping bag in your backpack is usually the best option. It provides better weight distribution and protects the sleeping bag from the elements.
But if you don’t have enough space in your backpack, you can also carry the sleeping bag outside your backpack. Here’s a guide on how to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack.
Should You Attach A Sleeping Bag Inside Or Outside A Backpack?
Ideally, your sleeping bag should go inside the backpack. There are three reasons for this.
- It protects the sleeping bag from rain, sun and other elements. You don’t have to worry about encasing the sleeping bag in a waterproof bag or cover.
- It protects the sleeping bag from dirt as well as possible damage from brushing up against branches and rocks as you hike.
- It improves weight distribution in your backpack. The weight shifts closer to your body and the backpack feels more stable. You’ll be more agile and can walk on difficult terrain more easily.
When you pack your sleeping bag inside the backpack, it should be one of the first things you put inside and then lay the rest of your gear on top.
Some backpacks have internal straps at the bottom of the backpack that you can use to compress the sleeping bag into a smaller size.
In some cases, it’s not possible to pack your sleeping bag inside the backpack. Maybe your backpack is too small or you need the space to pack other stuff. In that case, you have to find a way to attach it on the exterior of the pack.
Sometimes it comes down to preferences. Some backpackers like the easy and quick access of attaching a sleeping bag outside a backpack.
You can quickly remove your sleeping bag without having to unpack the entire backpack.
The main downside of attaching the sleeping bag outside the backpack is that you have to figure out how to protect it from the elements. The backpack may also feel a bit unbalanced especially if you attach the backpack at the bottom.
Where Does The Sleeping Bag Go On A Backpack?
If you plan to attach your sleeping bag on the outside, you have three placement options: the top, the bottom or the rear of the backpack.
The best position depends on the design of your backpack (that is, location of loops and straps) and its weight distribution.
For most backpacking setups, the best place to attach a sleeping bag on a backpack is the top. It provides the best weight centering, ensuring there’s not too much strain on your lower back.
The second best position is at the bottom.
Attaching a sleeping bag at the rear of the backpack is not ideal unless you have a very lightweight sleeping bag. That’s because this position shifts weights further from your body, causing imbalance and extra strain on your shoulders.
The worst position is on either side of the backpack as that creates an even bigger imbalance in weight. The only time this can work is if you have another weight on the other side (e.g. a sleeping pad or air mattress) to balance the weight of the sleeping bag.
How To Attach A Sleeping Bag To The Outside Of A Backpack
Depending on your backpack’s design and where you decide to position the sleeping bag, there are several ways to attach your sleeping bag to the backpack.
Check If Your Backpack Has A Sleeping Bag Compartment
Some backpacking bags have a zipped compartments at the bottom of the bag specifically for carrying a sleeping bag.
A dedicated compartment is handy because you don’t have to use straps or cord and the backpack provides protection from the weather (as long as you are using a waterproof backpack).
Tip: The sleeping bag compartment on the backpack may not be very spacious. If you have a bulky sleeping bag, compress it as much as you can using a compression sack to get it to fit in the compartment.
Use The Sleeping Bag Straps At the Bottom Of Your Backpack
If your backpack doesn’t have a sleeping bag compartment at the bottom, it probably has sleeping bag straps.
These straps are found at the bottom of backpacking backpacks and are designed to hold a sleeping bag, air mattress, sleeping pad or bedroll.
To use them, you loosen the straps and pass them around your sleeping bag. Re-attach the straps and tighten them as much as you can to ensure the sleeping bag is secure.
Use The Backpack Compression Straps
Most backpacking bags have compression straps that help to compact the backpack. You can wedge your sleeping bag under these straps.
If your backpack only has compression straps on the sides, this may not work unless you attach something one each side of the bag.
You can have your sleeping bag on one side and your pad or air mattress on the other.
If you have compression straps at the top or bottom of the backpack, that’s even better. Simply loosen these straps, position your sleeping bag underneath and tighten the straps to secure the sleeping bag.
Use The Sleeping Bag Straps
If the sack your sleeping bag came in has straps, you can use those to attach it to the outside of the sleeping bag.
To do this, pass the sleeping bag straps under the straps or gear loops on your backpack. Tighten both the straps on the backpack and sleeping bag to make sure everything is secure.
You can also attach the straps on the sleeping bag to loops or straps on the backpack using webbing buckles.
There are many different buckle designs. Choose the one that allows you to connect the straps on the sleeping bag to straps or loops on the backpack. We also recommend getting metal or heavy duty plastic buckles that can take a lot of weight and abuse.
Our favorite ones are the Molle webbing buckles. You pass the clips through loops or webbing on your backpack then attach your sleeping bag straps to the buckles.
Here’s a video of the buckles in action.
Tip: If your sleeping bag case doesn’t have straps, you can replace it with a compression bag that has straps.
Use Your Own Straps
Don’t worry if your backpack or sleeping bag doesn’t have extra straps you can use to secure your sleeping bag.
You can buy backpack straps and use them to attach the sleeping bag. Look for high quality weatherproof straps that come complete with buckles.
We recommend getting at least two straps to secure each side of the sleeping bag to the backpack. You can also add a longer strap along the length of the sleeping bag for additional security.
Tip: If you have an external frame backpack, attach the straps to the frame itself for added security and stability.
Use Bungee Cord or Netting
Bungee cords are strong, making them perfect for attaching a sleeping bag to a backpack.
Get a pack with several sizes of bungee cords. Look for those cords that come with hooks at the end. Instead of making knots, you can simply attach the hooks onto backpack webbing.
Just make sure the cords are as snug as possible to keep the sleeping bag secure. Also, wind the cord several times around the sleeping bag before hooking it on the other side.
Use at least three bungee cords – two on each end of the sleeping bag and one along the length of the sleeping bag.
Bungee netting offers even more security since it lashes the sleeping bag at several points. Look for a net with hooks so that it’ll be easy to attach to loops on your backpack.
Put The Sleeping Bag Under The Lid
The final option for attaching your sleeping bag is putting it on top of the backpack under the lid. This doesn’t require any extra straps. You’ll use the same straps that you use to close and secure the lid.
Lift the lid of the backpack and put the sleeping bag under it. Place the lid over the sleeping bag and secure the compression straps as tightly as possible.
One concern with this placement is that you might compromise the weather protection of the backpack. Water might get under the lid.
If it’s raining or snowing, we don’t recommend this method.
How To Waterproof A Sleeping Bag When Backpacking
As we mentioned, one of the challenges of attaching a sleeping bag outside a backpack is exposure to the elements.
If you don’t want to sleep in a damp sleeping bag, you have to figure out how to waterproof it.
Here are several options.
- If your backpack has a waterproof sleeping bag compartment at the bottom, then you are sorted. But just for extra protection, store the sleeping bag in a waterproof compression sack or a garbage bag.
- If the sleeping bag is exposed to the elements, pack it in a waterproof compression bag.
- Get a waterproof backpack cover that protects both the backpack as well as any gear (like a sleeping bag) attached to it.