Best Sleeping Bag Alternatives for Survival: Top 10 Picks

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By Bryan Lynch •  9 min read

A sleeping bag usually recalls fun-filled sleepovers at a friend’s house when you were a kid or times that you spent camping and experiencing outdoor adventures. 

Not every occasion requires a sleeping bag to be used but remember that does not mean you should not be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. 

But a proper survival sleeping bag can be expensive and is not a necessity for every outdoor excursion. It all depends on the environment you find yourself in. 

Let us start with a few questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to sleeping in the outdoors. 

What to Look for in a Sleeping Bag Alternative 

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when considering sleeping bag alternatives.

Use the above questions to help determine what kind of gear you need when sleeping in the outdoors.

Top 10 Alternatives to Sleeping Bags

Emergency Bivvy 

These are quite similar to emergency blankets, but there are a few differences that make them better. 


Older style emergency mylar blankets were quite flimsy, tore easily and did not do the best job of keeping body heat in. 

Modern bivvies are constructed of very thin material but they are much more durable than their counterparts. Additionally, a bivvy looks like a sleeping bag in that the side and bottom seams are sealed, which only leaves one opening at the top. This makes wrapping it around the body to retain body heat incredibly more efficient. 




Simply, hammocks are a piece of material where two ends are strung up and attached to two anchor points, usually a set of tree trunks. 

This bed design can be made up of a solid piece of material or “open” in the sense that it looks more like a large net. They can be traditional in material or insulated. 

The real advantage of the hammock is that it gets a person off the ground that could be wet or cold, and by being elevated it provides a bit more protection against creepy crawlers or wildlife. 




Usually, when one thinks of a cot, they think of the somewhat large beds that fold up and are used in hotels or possibly military-style ones.

Camp style beds or cots are like the above examples but are usually much smaller. They also may be designed to fit the curvature of the body or head more and will set up closer to the ground.



Air Mattress 

I do not know if you have ever slept on one of these, but an air mattress is pretty darn comfortable. 

With the help of an air pump, these mattresses can be inflated and set up almost anywhere. 

A manual air pump can be used although the process is easier and quicker when using a separate battery-powered pump. Higher-end models may have a built-in pump for convenience. Different sizes are available that sleeps one or more individuals.



Wool blanket 

Having one or two wool blankets in a pack has been a great outdoor sleeping option for a long time. 

This has to do with the fact that wool is an incredible insulator even when it becomes wet. 

Even though this is just a blanket it can be used in a variety of ways such as a pillow, blanket, sleeping pad, blanket, impromptu poncho, or tarp covering. This is why having two of them can increase the number of ways in which they can be used. 



Sleeping Pad

No matter what type of outdoor sleeping arrangement is chosen, a good sleeping pad seems to be a common theme among many outdoorsmen. This is because, during good weather conditions a good sleeping pad may be all one needs.  

Providing comfort and insulation against a rocky, uneven cold ground is something that a good sleeping pad will do. 

If you are looking into a sleeping pad do not skimp on the material. The thin, spongy foam may provide some insulation, but it will tear easily and will not do much in terms of comfort. Get something that is thick and durable. 



Sleeping Bag Liner

This is one item some people might not be familiar with unless they use a sleeping bag frequently. A sleeping bag liner is a piece of material shaped like a sleeping bag that is inserted into the bag before a person gets in. 

This liner primarily helps to keep the interior of a sleeping bag clean, but it can also help in repelling insects, providing warmth, and wicking away moisture. 

Liners can be made from synthetics, silk, microfiber fleece, or cotton.  If the weather is decent, one of these liners might be all you need in providing a little comfort against the environment.  




This may not be for everyone but on several occasions, I have spent the night in the outdoors with nothing more than the clothes on my back. 

However, this does require proper planning. Knowing the weather forecast, the right base layers, and the right outer layers needs to be known. With the correct preparation a person can survive the night with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. 



Leaf Bed

A leaf bed uses a lot of dry vegetation, like leaves, as an insulating pad between a person and the ground. If several large trash bags are available, pack the vegetation into the bags, place them on the ground and use it as an impromptu sleeping pad.  



Natural Structures

Of course, there could be that situation where you might find yourself without any of the above materials, though that would require a measure of unpreparedness that one should avoid.

However, accidents and emergencies do happen so what should you do if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and lacking supplies?

Always use nature to the best of your ability!

Caves have been used as shelter by humans for a long time and will help to protect from the elements. Caution should be used because caves are often used by other critters and animals as well. Some small and some not so small. 

Large, downed trees may provide an all-encompassing shelter or at least in part one that can give a little protection from the elements. 

The last suggestion is to start digging. Animals do this all the time to create homes underground or to simply escape bad conditions. This may not be the best option in wet and rainy conditions, but you may be surprised at how much comfort a hole in the ground covered with some vegetation will give.




It is the responsibility of every person who ventures out into nature to be as prepared as possible to avoid unnecessary situations that could put themselves as well as others in harm’s way. 

The above article is meant to give ideas for sleeping accommodations that do not use a traditional sleeping bag in the outdoors. However, please use common sense when choosing a sleeping bag alternative and the environment in which you will be in. 

The most simple and effective setup for sleeping in the outdoors would be a sleeping pad and some type of covering, both of which should keep a person warm and dry.

Thanks for reading and stay warm!

Are there any alternatives to sleeping bags that you use that did not make the list? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.