Sleeping Bag Guide
Getting all the gear you need for your next trip can seem incredibly daunting once you realise how many choices there are out there and sleeping bags can be exceptionally difficult. Do you want/need a mummy bag, a classic rectangular bag, or something in between? How about insulation? What if you want to take it backpacking? Well, we’re here to answer all of those questions and more. Whether you’re getting ready to tackle the PCT or just headed to the beach for a weekend camp trip with the family, there’s a sleeping bag that’s perfect for your needs.
The first thing that you want to think about is shape. There’s the classic rectangle bag that everyone is familiar with, then there’s the more technical mummy bag option, the semi-rectangular bag, and the spoon bag, all of these have hooded and non-hooded versions.
Rectangle bags are the ones that everyone is the most familiar with. They’re comfortable, roomy and are a great option for car camping expeditions or simple sleepovers. Because rectangular bags are mostly associated with car camping, weight usually isn’t a factor, so rectangular bags tend to be a bit bulkier than mummy bags. If you want something in between these two bags, the semi-rectangular shape might be exactly what you’re looking for. A semi-rectangular sleeping bag has the roomier design of the rectangle shape but also weighs less for easier carrying on the trail.
For mountaineering, alpine climbing, or backpacking, the mummy shaped sleeping bags are the more popular option. The classic mummy shape traps in the heat to keep you warmer longer, and the loss of that excess fabric drastically reduces the bags weight for easier carrying. The only downside to mummy style sleeping bags is that the shape can seem a bit claustrophobic for some people, making it harder to get comfortable. But if you don’t mind a tighter bag, mummy sleeping bags are both warmer and lighter weight, making it a much more versatile addition to your outdoor collection.
WEIGHT & LENGTH
If weight is an issue that you need to consider, a mummy bag is probably your best choice. Mummy style bag is usually the warmest and lightest weight option.
Sleeping bags also come in different lengths. Most of the sizes that you’ll see are regular and long, but there are also sleeping bags that come in short and x-large lengths. It’s easier to get warm and stay warm in a snug sleeping bag than one that’s to roomy.
Summer, winter, or all year round, the temperature rating on your sleeping bag is incredibly important. If a bag is rated for 30° that means that the average person will stay comfortable in temperatures as low as 30°. But keep in mind that everyone is a little bit different, so if you run hot or cold you might want to look at a lower or higher temperature bag that fits your specific needs. For example, if you run cold you might want a winter bag all year round. Summer bags are usually rated at 32° F or higher, 3-Season bags are 10° - 32° F and winter bags are 10° or lower. When picking out your sleeping bag be sure to go with one that’s rated for temperatures around 10° or 15° degrees cooler than you’re expecting. There’s nothing worse than being cold all night and it’s incredibly easy to just unzip your sleeping bag for extra ventilation if the weather ends up being hotter than expected.
Down is a warm layer of fine feathers that grow underneath the tougher feathers on duck and geese. These soft feathers are nature’s way of making sure that the duck stays warm by trapping air in, and reducing heat loss to create a barrier against the cold. This same process is what happens in your down sleeping bag.
Down is by far the warmest insulator on the market and comes in a wide variety of qualities and prices. It’s also a favourite of mountaineers and backpackers because of its lightweight construction and awesome compression. When looking at sleeping bag options you’ve probably noticed that each one has its own fill rating ranging from 450 – 900 fill. These fill numbers measure how many cubic inches one ounce of down can fill. The higher the fill number, the better the quality of the down in your bag.
WATER RESISTANT DOWN
Despite the fact that down is warmer, lighter and easier to compress than other types of sleeping bags, you do need to be careful around water. Down doesn’t work well when it gets wet. The feathers lose their loft and warmth capabilities once they get wet which makes your sleeping bag way less effective. The only way around this problem is by going with a synthetic insulation or looking into Hydrophobic down. Hydrophobic down is down that’s been treated with a water resistant coating to keep your insulation working in a wider variety of conditions. Many sleeping bags have some sort of water resistant application applied to them now, and while it still doesn’t help if you get trapped in a down pour, some tests have shown that hydrophobic down might dry faster than untreated down.
There are a lot of seemingly random things that go into the design and construction of your sleeping bag and they all have a specific part to play in keeping you as comfortable as possible. Sleeping Bag Hood – The hood on your sleeping bag is great for keeping the heat where you need it most. No longer will your head, shoulders or neck be cold if you go with a hooded sleeping bag. Most styles and sizes will have a hooded option if you decide to go that route.
Draft Collars and Draft Tubes – Just like with the sleeping bag hood, the whole point of draft collars and tubes is to prevent heat loss. Draft collars are tubes of insulation around the neck and shoulders, while draft tubes are tubes of insulation that run along the inside of your bags zipper.
Chest baffles are tubes of insulation that go across your chest to help prevent heat loss and keep your core toasty warm. Sleeping bags come with either two way or one way zips,
Pockets – Obviously you won’t find a ton of pockets on any sleeping bag, but many come with a stash pocket that’s perfect for smaller items like your cell phone, headlamp or snacks that you might want to grab in the middle of the night. A few sleeping bags also have a pillow pocket that you can stuff full of clothing to make your own on-the-go pillow.
There are multiple options when it comes to the shell fabrics that companies use when constructing a sleeping bag. The most common material that’s used is nylon. Nylon is incredibly lightweight and can easily be coated with a water resistant DWR finish.
Microfiber is another material that’s used. Microfiber features a tight weave for better wind and weather resistance and is quite a bit more durable than nylon. The main downside to microfiber is that it tends to be heavier than nylon fabrics.
Keep your sleeping bag cleaner and stay warmer at the same time with a comfy liner. Sleeping bag liners come in a wide variety of sizes, materials and weights so there’s a perfect option for everyone. These liners can also double as sleeping bags or blankets themselves if it’s a warmer night and you don’t feel like busting out your sleeping bag.
You’ll want to choose a liner based on your needs and activity. If you need something that’s incredibly lightweight and compact with awesome moisture wicking capabilities, silk might be the best option for you. Silk is very breathable and adds some light insulation on colder days. If you’re camping in a humid area, a synthetic liner is a good way to go. Synthetic fabrics are moisture wicking, breathable and surprisingly stretchy.
For colder days there are fleece, microfleece and insulated liner options that are perfect for adding some extra comfort to your cold weather adventures. Fleece is incredibly soft, warm and has awesome moisture wicking and quick drying capabilities, but it’s bulkier and harder to carry than the lighter weight options.
Not only do liners add extra warmth to your sleeping kit, but they also keep your sleeping bag cleaner. It’s much easier to take out a liner and throw it in the wash then it is to wash your entire sleeping bag. Liners also keep your sleeping bag free of dirt and oils which will increase the life of your bag and save you money down the road.
Many sleeping bags come with stuff sacks. Some sleeping bags, particularly down filled ones, should be hung up in your closet so that the down holds on to its loft and doesn’t bunch up.
Storing your sleeping bag properly can increase the life of your sleeping bag substantially. The first thing that you should do when you get back from a trip is air out your sleeping bag and make sure that it’s completely dry, any moisture can create mildew and will cause your bag to deteriorate faster. After your sleeping bag is dry you should loosely store it in a cotton bag (if you don’t have a storage bag you can use a large pillow case). Compressing your sleeping bag down for storage or leaving it in a stuff sack can damage the insulation.
If your sleeping bag didn’t come with a stuff sack or your want to use a different one, there are multiple options out there for you to look at. If you aren’t used to using one, a larger stuff sack is easier to stuff your sleeping bag in and can be compressed down further once it’s in your backpack.
If you want something that saves lots of space, a compression sack is an awesome option. Compression stuff sacks have built in straps that let you compress even more than a regular stuff sack. But if you leave your sleeping bag in one for too long the extreme compression can cause the insulation to lose its loft.
For your more extreme adventures there are even waterproof stuff sacks. Water proof stuff sacks are great for keeping your sleeping bag protected if you end up carrying it on your backpack instead of in it.