Q&A: Backpacking with Kids [Sleeping Bags]

I love it when our readers contacts us for more information! That is what we are about here! Sharing information, having conversation, making adventures possible simply by creating more ideas for HOW to make it happen! Recently my friend Amelia from Tales of a Mountain Mama and I got to field some questions regarding backpacking with kids.

We started the conversation talking about how to find packs small enough for young and petite children that still want to carry a decent amount of gear (somewhere between 5-10 lbs.). Now we are moving on to questions regarding lightweight and compressible sleeping bags for kids as well as my take on back country quilts versus mummy bags:

Question:

“Switching to the subject of sleeping bags, I am interested in a bag that compresses to a very small packed size. If my bag can easily weigh 1-1.5 lbs and compress to near the size of a water bottle (exaggerating a little) why can’t I find a child’s bag with similar, if not way better specs (rhetorical). After all it’s a smaller bag!

Unless I missed it, your child’s bag review on your website mentions synthetics’ inadequate “pack-down” ratio but doesn’t list any down bags, perhaps due to cost. Understandable, but do you know of any? 

Your email, presumably more up to date, does mention Enlightened Equipment. I will look hard at this. One complication is that I am uncomfortable with the quilt concept. I grew up with mummies (with integral hood) and it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks! I learned to sleep flat and still on my back in a mummy and breathing through a small hole in a cinched down hood. I rarely used a tent. (apparently that’s normal now – I am speaking of 20 years ago). Although I realize that now with the kids a tent or tent-like shelter will be part of the fun.

Seriously, it would also be helpful if you shared your opinions of the quilt concept versus a hooded mummy.

In the meantime this is my bag choice and I am researching how to buy it from Europe: http://www.sirjoseph.cz/en/products/sleeping-bags/i25-kiki-down-773.htm

Note it comes in three small sizes: 85cm, 125cm, 145cm. Bravo! Seems to weigh just over a pound and pack fairly small, 15x30cm. Granted I haven’t seen the product but they are the smallest, lightest specs I have found.

Of course, I know my next problem will be the reality of small children (whirling dervishes) staying in a bag and on a pad. I was hoping practice in the backyard might help. If not, duct tape! 

Thanks again for your input and making me feel not as crazy and alone about this subject!

Fred

kid sleeping bags full res

Answer:

Fred, 

Below are my bullet-point thoughts on sleeping bags for kids! First, we used the Enlighten Equipment Prodigy Jr. and Protege. We’ve also used the Deuter Starlight EXP (the only other sleeping bag I thought small enough) for backpacking. The Big Agnes Little Red and Haybro, though awesome and warm, are BIG!

I agree with you, I am pro down and by far prefer it. We work with different brands for most of our reviews and everyone has been adamant about going synthetic with kids (ie. not letting us test down versions). Few reasons: Kids tend to have more accidents, potty or spilling drinks, or falling in creeks (my son would do this) and then the down is useless, where synthetic can still provide warmth.

All this aside, I’d still choose down. My kids don’t have many accidents, trash bags or water proof bags can ensure the down stays dry, and we don’t allow food or drink in our tents anyways… But we’ve also had to defer to the brands we’ve worked with thus far. Looking forward we will purchase down for our kids.

Now a note on backcountry quilts versus the hooded mummy bags. I too was very skeptical when we gave the EE quilts a test… part of the risk of gear testing. I grew up in mummy bags, and I tend to be a cold sleeper.

Quickly, here is our review of Enlightened Equipment’s quilts complete with video:  http://kidproject.org/2014/06/13/gear-review-enlightened-equiptments-backcoutry-quilts-kids/

But here is the truth: we’ve been won over entirely! They are so crazy light and warm! But if we were headed out in the winter, I’d probably opt for my mummy.

Protege Quilt in Yosemite camping

Protege Quilt in Yosemite camping in the Housekeeping Camp.

Since we are usually sleeping in 40-50 degrees, we all wear hats to bed, sometimes a balaclava, only because they actually stay on my kids heads while they wiggle. They also just pull the quilts up over their heads and dive under. I thought we’d have air coming in on the sides, but haven’t as long as we have the straps positioned well.

I love that the kids can’t really “fall” off the pad as the straps keep them and the quilt in place… The straps seem intimidating at first and confusing but are quick and easy and worth the weight savings. My husband and I have the Revelation and Enigma down quilts. The kids have the Protege and Prodigy Jr. When our youngest grows out of her Protege, we’ll just buy her a petite women’s down quilt so she is good to go for years…

On the other side of the argument, it can be hard to entrust your kids to one of these if you’ve not used one yourself. And they might want “what dad” has. Our kids are certainly like that. So in the end it is good to go with what you are comfortable with if you can’t try one ahead of time.

Lastly, regarding size/type of bag, here is my two cents regarding quilt or bag: These things are designed to last for a lot of years, why not just buy them a petite woman’s down bag? I know it will be a tad heavier or bigger than a kid sized down bag, but then it will last (probably) well into high school or beyond. Just tie off the bottom with yarn to conserve heat until they grow into it.

For more information on sleeping bags from a variety of mainstream brands check out and oldie but a goodie: The right bag for YOUR kids.

Alyssa

Enlighten Equipment Quilts full res

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