How to Attach a Sleeping Bag to Your Backpack

If you want to save a good amount of space in your backpack, strapping your sleeping bag to the outside of your backpack is a great idea. But what's the right way of doing it?

hiking backpack with sleeping bag attached

Every hiking enthusiast has their own packing ritual. What you put inside your pack largely depends on your goals, whether you’re backpacking, scaling a cliff, hitting a long, hard trail, or camping out for several nights in a row.

How to attach a sleeping bag to a backpack depends on how you want to carry it. You can stuff it in the bottom, strap it to the outside (at the top or the bottom), or strap it to your pack so that it hangs from the backpack.

Much of it depends on what is comfortable to you in particular. However, some methods are certainly better than others. The method that is predominately used in the military is strapping it, along with your ISO mat, to the top of the bag in a rolled-up manner.

Also, this is where extra items, such as paracord, really come into their own and serve a solid and dependable purpose while you’re out on the trail, possibly for multiple nights and/or days.

Stuffing your sleeping back inside your backpack

Photo by Spring Fed Images / Unsplash

This is the simplest method, although it won’t leave much room for anything else, especially if you have an overly thick sleeping bag with plenty of loft. Of course, if you’re only going out for a one-nighter, that may not matter so much.

You also want to make sure that your sleeping bag has been cleaned since your last outing. After all, mold is definitely a thing. Weight distribution and organization are the most important considerations, so your sleeping bag is going to end up on the bottom.

If your sleeping bag has a heavy, wind-resistant outer layer, it will be the most frustrating experience of your entire life trying to stuff it in your pack because the air pockets will fight you every step of the way.

If that’s the case, simply flip your bag inside out (if you own the type for which that is possible), which will alleviate the air pocket issue. Here’s the process:

  • Lay your sleeping bag out flat and fold it in half lengthwise
  • Use your hands to press out all of the air pockets
  • Fold it in half again and repeat the process of pushing the air out
  • Fold it again, if the material will allow you to
  • Once you have folded it as much as possible, clearing out all of the air, place it in the bottom of your bag

If you are carrying food or cold drinks and the insulative properties of your sleeping bag are substantial, you can even use your sleeping bag as an insulating container by working it in and around what you’re carrying in your pack or, you can pack it in on the top, with a sort of umbrella shape.

This is especially nice if your sleeping bag is waterproof, as it will shrug off any condensation build-up on your water bottles or cold items.

If you’re going with this way, I highly recommend reading my other article explaining how to properly roll up a sleeping bag before stuffing it inside your backpack.

Strapping your sleeping bag to the outside

Photo by Andrew Ly / Unsplash

The most common way to pack a sleeping bag is by attaching it to the outside of the pack. It’s advisable to strap it to the top – so long as your pack has the option – because it’s all about weight distribution.

When your sleeping bag, arguably one of the heavier items in your pack, sits high on your back, the weight is more comfortable and gravity has less to say about the matter.

Strapping it to the top

Whether or not you want to go with strapping your sleeping bag to the top or the bottom, you want to acquire some compression straps. Compression straps are designed to tightly secure items, especially items that have no solid shape, like a sleeping bag.

The second thing that you should have if you want to strap your sleeping bag to the outside of your pack, is either a compression sack or an ISO mat. Without either, it can still be done, but there’s a bit of finesse involved:

  • Lay your sleeping bag out flat
  • Start rolling it up from the bottom
  • Be careful to keep your edges completely in alignment, straight up and down, as you go
  • Roll it as tight as possible
  • Press the air out of the air pockets as you go
  • Once you have completely rolled it up, strap it closed in the middle and about 5” from either side

With the sleeping bag rolled up as tightly as possible and strapped just as tightly, you can now strap it onto the top of the backpack. Compression straps are something that you can buy separately and you need to add them to your backpack.

The best way to add compression straps to your backpack is to sew them on. You will want to arrange three straps across the top, with one in the middle and the other two out to either side. The middle one is more essential than you think, as it will keep your sleeping bag centered.

Once you have your straps on, simply center your sleeping bag across the top and cinch it down tightly.

The ISO mat or a compression sack makes everything much easier, especially with an ISO mat because you can roll the sleeping bag up inside of the ISO mat and strap the combo on top of your pack. The ISO mat is an excellent, rigid material that will strap easily to the top or bottom.

Strap it to the bottom

You can go with this option if you prefer but it’s the lesser option of the available choices because of the low center of gravity that it creates, with the majority of the weight hanging at the bottom and creating a sort of pendulum effect as you walk.

If you decide to go this route, you can use the available straps (most packs have far more strap options at the button rather than the top) or you can sew on compression straps just like you would for the top.

Once you have your bag rolled up, in a compression sack, or rolled up with an ISO mat, you want a tight, secure strap in three sections across the bag. When strapping it to the bottom, however, you want to focus on getting the straps as tight as possible to eliminate the swaying motion that the weight of the bag will inevitably create.

Keeping it on the bottom of your pack is best if you own a pack with a frame, such as an ALICE pack. The ALICE pack frame will let you strap it directly to the frame on the bottom, keeping it even more secure and eliminating the sway.

Use paracord to strap down your sleeping bag

If you don’t have the necessary equipment to sew on new straps or you just don’t want to get into sewing, one of the most notable alternatives is paracord. Paracord has become enormously popular amongst those who spend a lot of time outdoors, regardless of the activity.

Your standard 550 Paracord is no wider than a shoestring, yet it can hold 550lbs of weight before it snaps. That makes paracord your go-to option for strapping together just about anything. Not to mention the vast number of weaves and knots that you can use, making it one of the most versatile tools in a hiker’s pack.

Learn some of the more basic knots with paracord and you will have one of the most potent survival tools on the planet. You can use it to completely avoid the necessity of sewing compression straps onto your pack. Also, paracord can be cinched down extremely tight, so you can get the kind of dependable hold you need to secure your sleeping bag.

Paracord is also an incredibly valuable tool for your first aid kit, especially if you know how to tie a constrictor knot, so having several hundred feet of it in your pack is going to ensure that you’re prepared for just about any eventuality.

Design your own strap system

This one goes along with the paracord a bit, but the idea is predicated on your own creativity in terms of what you find useful and what you don’t.

You can use a combination of compression straps and paracord to create a fully customized strapping system. With paracord, you can design a netting structure to support the undercarriage of the sleeping bag.

Along with the compression straps, paracord straps, and paracord netting, you can very nearly assemble a secondary backpack on the top of the original. The sky is the limit if you’re left to your own devices, plenty of paracord, and some additional compression straps.

Final thoughts

No matter how you decide to strap on your sleeping bag, even if you go the lazy route and stuff it wholesale into your backpack, you want to make sure that it is secure and it’s not going to come tumbling half off while you’re hanging off the side of a cliff.

There are enough options out there, with backpack frames, compression straps or sacks, paracord, and bungee cord alternatives, that you can essentially put together a system that is entirely your own.