As I’ve mentioned before, car camping ends up as the first introduction for many people to the outdoors.
During COVID, a decades-long trend of declining camping became reversed (for a little bit?), and many people flocked to the outdoors as a perceived way of isolating, enjoying an activity previously passed over, and immersing themselves a bit into the natural world.
And for experienced outdoors people, car camping often makes a helpful adjunct to a backpacking trip or while traveling in-between other points.
Retailers and online publications, not ones to ignore an opportunity to sell items, took advantage of this uptick in this interest and pivoted towards selling wares to the now-burgeoning car-camping market. And the credit limits of consumers willing to purchase an array of backpacks, stoves, pots, and sleeping bags.
A quick look at various publications would think you need a sleeping bag that’s expensive and good for cold-weather conditions akin to Shackleton’s journey in the Antarctic.
While I certainly believe in getting a high-quality quilt for backpacking, I think a person, unless they plan for dedicated cold weather camping, can safely eschew higher-end car camping bags for various reasons:
- When camping, you tend to abuse the gear more than backpacking. A higher-end item tends to mean higher-end damage.
- The higher-end bags tend to work less well for different temperatures. We’ve car camped in 70F+ nights in Nevada, low 30s, in Colorado, and somewhere in the middle when escaping the heat in the La Sal Mountains. Sure, high-end down quilts tend to work well in various temperatures, but they are too delicate for my non-backpacking needs.
- Finally, yes, you do get what you pay for. But I take truism in a different way than most. You should pay for something that works well in an outdoor gear system. And the more expensive gear is not always the best for that system.
With that in mind, may I suggest an effective, inexpensive, and versatile sub-$30 rectangular sleeping bag for your car camping needs?
We’ve owned and used the REVALCAMP sleeping bags since early 2020. These sleeping bags, frankly, are nothing special. You’ll find these standard, polyester-filled, fuzzy-lined sleeping bags just about anywhere with similar or identical specs and designs online or in big box stores like Walmart and Dick’s under different brands.
These sleeping bags can zip together if you want couples sleeping system, takes a lot of abuse, are easily cleaned in a front loading washer (Source – We did lt last weekend!), and dry quickly. Two of these sleeping bags easily fit in a large laundry duffle bag loosely packed, too. The rectangular bags also unzip so you can use them more as a quilt for increased versatility. Naturally, rectangular bags make for a more comfortable, if not as thermally efficient, sleep, too.
By themselves, the bags go to about 45F. About suitable for summer conditions in the mountains when you make a quick camp or hang out for the weekend.
But here’s the beauty of these sleeping bags, combine them with a twin-size synthetic comforter for about $25  and a sub-$15 fleece blanket. And for about $70 total, you can find yourself comfortable in warm conditions and push into the cool of autumn by mixing and matching the layers appropriately.
We’ve used this system for, well, I don’t know how many nights over the past two years. And I’d like to think we camp often enough where we know what works for us.
Perhaps the more expensive sleeping bags would make our trip to Big Bend more memorable. Or the many nights in Cedar Mesa a bit more special.
But, somehow, I doubt it.
If you are looking into getting into car camping more, consider purchasing one of these generic polyester sleeping bags and pairing it with the two additional items above. It’s a simple, inexpensive, versatile, and effective system that has served Joan and me well many times over the past two years.
 While I’ve long advocated poncho liners for versatility, I’ve noticed anything “tacticool” is getting more expensive. Plus, a comforther might prove a better addition at this point for most people and their needs.
I love sleeping in a Coleman bag with similar features, when car camping. In addition to all of the qualities you describe, it reminds me of the green stamp flannel bag I backpacked with in my teens, in the 1960’s.
Sometimes the basics work best! These newer bags have a fuzzy poly vs. cotton lining (an improvement IMO) but otherwise seem similar.
As I write this update, I see a new REI car camping advert in my email box. Ha!
You are right. Poncho liners are going way up. And I am noticing actually how heavy they are also.
Never used a poncho liner for backpacking but we love them for our car camping.