For backpackers, traveling light and packing smart is essential. One of the best ways to manage and pack your gear is to add a compression sack to your backpacking checklist. For example, sleeping bags can be easily crammed into a compression sack, saving a lot of space in your backpack.
Your gear can only be folded so small, so a compression sack does the hard work by allowing you to tighten the straps and compress the gear even further. The best compression sacks make everything very compact, so you can easily pack the backpack the right way.
Our article brings you the top-rated stuff sacks and breaks down every detail you need to know before you make a purchase. With the best stuff sack, you can prepare and plan a backpacking trip that’ll make lasting memories.
Compression sacks are, quite simply, a god-send when it comes to packing your gear for a multi-day trip. You simply won’t believe how much extra compression of your sleeping bag, additional clothing, even your tent is possible using the right size of compression sack. For me a 3 or 4 strap model is preferred because with 2 straps the bag can deform and bulge in one direction making the shape a little more difficult to deal with.
Some compression sacks which claim to be waterproof really shouldn’t. Check that a sack which states “waterproof” rather than “water resistant” has a rolled and clipped opening, rather than a drawstring closure.
Some compression sack materials are designed to allow you to compress air out through the sack, but not allow water in. The Sea-To-Summit eVent compression sacks are brilliant for their use of this feature and are what I use exclusively for my wild camping trips.
How To Choose A Compression Sack — Buying Guide
When choosing the best compression sack, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by so many options. Remember, however, that the most popular choice isn’t necessarily the best compression sack. Carefully considering aspects like type, materials, strap system, and carrying capacity will lead you to the perfect sack for your trip.
Types of Stuff Sacks
The three most common types are high-compression sacks, waterproof dry sacks, and stuff sacks. All three have different features that give them advantages and disadvantages when compared to others.
High compression sacks
These are designed to save as much space as possible. They should have a high-quality compression system to press down your gear into the smallest potential size. They are generally made of durable materials (like ripstop nylon) and can be used to pack clothing and sleeping bags efficiently.
Waterproof Dry Compression Sacks
As the name suggests, these stuff sacks are waterproof, making them ideal for travel. Designed specifically for wet outdoor conditions, these dry bags can protect your gear and keep it dry throughout the trip. They often feature a roll-top closure and sometimes float if dropped in water.
This is the most basic option – the type you usually get by default when buying a sleeping bag. They are great for storage but won’t compress the gear as much as a high-compression bag. They usually have a drawstring closure (meaning they’re not waterproof), so they are best used in warmer climates.
Materials and Construction
When choosing a stuff sack, try getting a model made of rip-stop materials – they will protect the bag from accidental tearing. The most common option is rip-stop nylon, but other material blends exist that add even more strength to the sack.
Also, it’s a big plus if the material is waterproof (like a waterproof bag), so your sleeping bag won’t get soaked if you get caught by unexpected weather. Lastly, the backpacking stuff sacks should be made of lightweight materials, without adding unnecessary bulk.
Stuff sacks for backpacking should always be lightweight. They are meant to help you organize by minimizing bulk, not add to it. As we’ve mentioned previously, the material used is the deciding factor here and needs to be lightweight.
You want your top-rated stuff sack to have weight only when it is full of your gear. A good rule of thumb is to get a bag that weighs only 20% (or less) of the gear inside and its total packing weight.
Depending on the model and manufacturer, stuff sacks for backpacking use different systems for compressing your gear. When discussing this, it’s important to notice how the sack closes on top and which system it uses on the sides to compress the content inside.
Two different closure methods can be found in compression bags – a roll-top and a drawstring closure. Roll-tops are great for getting the air out and work as a dry sack to keep the gear inside dry. We would advise that you get this type if you expect wet conditions.
Drawstring closure uses a simple drawcord and gives you quick access to the gear while on the trail. These tend to be less powerful than pressing down — they will hold your gear in but won’t get rid of the extra air.
Regardless of the closure, high compression stuff sacks have a piece of fabric (a hood) going over the top that connects to the webbing straps or cords on the sides. When buckled, these exterior straps can be pulled on the tabs to force out any extra air and keep the sack compressed (until the straps are released).
Another great option is the air purging system. It uses an air-permeable fabric that allows extra air to escape while you are pressing on the bag and doesn’t allow it back in until you open it. This system often delivers a very compact and reliable compression, but it is also fairly expensive.
Waterproof compression sacks are meant to keep your sleeping bag dry even if they are accidentally submerged. This can be very useful if you need to cross a river on your trail. To be considered waterproof, it needs to have roll-top closure and be made from non-permeable materials with sealed seams (much like a dry sack).
The performance of waterproof sleeping bag compression sacks varies from one product to the other. Of course, products with a higher waterproof rating tend to cost more too. While there are big differences between water-resistant and waterproof, sometimes even a water-resistant model can ensure a dry sleeping bag.
Portability and Convenience
Because of their nature, backpacking compression bags need to be highly portable. You are using them to make packing more convenient, so a bulky design should be avoided. Top-rated stuff sacks are lightweight and collapsible, allowing you to bring them along on any adventure.
Carrying Capacity (Volume)
Most stuff sacks are measured in liters and come in all imaginable sizes. This makes it possible to find the exact size you need — from a model that fits only a cell phone and some valuables to one that’s big enough to line your entire backpack.
For a sleeping bag, it needs to be roughly the same volume (or slightly larger) as the one you got with the bag. This way you’ll be able to get the bag inside and compress it fully. If it’s too small, you’ll have difficulties putting the bag in. If it’s too large, you won’t be able to compress it all the way.
Q: What is a compression sack?
It's a packing and organization bag designed to compress your gear. Backpacking compression bags are very lightweight and have exterior straps that you tighten to push the air out so that they require very little space in your backpack.
Q: Why do I need a compression sack for my sleeping bag?
A sleeping bag compression sack is ideal for minimizing the space a sleeping bag requires. The best sleeping bags are lofty, with plenty of down fill to keep you warm and comfortable. However, this extra air makes them very bulky.
A sleeping bag compression sack eliminates the extra air and forces your sleeping bag into the smallest size possible. And, if you want to keep the bag inside 100% dry, think about getting a waterproof sleeping bag compression sack.
Q: How to pack sleeping bags in a compression sack?
If you follow a few simple steps, this is fairly easy to do. It also significantly reduces the chance of damaging anything along the way. Here’s what you should do:
- Roll up the sleeping bag and try and get most of the air out of it
- While holding it with your hands (so it doesn’t unroll) start pushing it into the bag
- Make sure you’ve pushed it down and, if a piece is sticking out, push on it to get it inside
- Tighten the top (drawcord or roll-top), close it, and put the hood on
- Instead of pulling on the straps right away, we advise that you first press on the top with your bodyweight
- While pressing on the bag, pull on the straps and tighten them equally from every side (doing it like this will fully compress it without ripping the bag in the process)
Globo Surf Overview
A compression sack is a fantastic way to organize and pack your gear. The best compression sack will make your sleeping bag and other lofty items several times smaller.
By making the gear compact and manageable, you will eliminate the frustration of disorganized packing and not having enough space. Doing this is guaranteed to make preparations for your backpacking adventure much easier.
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Do you own one of the compression sacks that made it onto our list? Let us know how it has worked for your outdoor needs in the comments section below.