How to Choose a Sleeping Bag
To make the most out of your camping weekend, it's important that you bring the right supplies. A good sleeping bag can keep you warm and dry, and give you the best night's rest possible.
Whether you're planning a summer getaway, or enjoy winter camping, choosing the right sleeping bag can make so much difference. There's a lot to consider, including temperature rating, weight, and extra features. The good news is that there are many different shapes and sizes on the market, so you're sure to find something that fits your needs.
If you want to enjoy your hiking trip to its fullest, getting a great night's sleep is a good place to start. Selecting the right temperature rating doesn't have to be confusing, and picking handy accessories can make camping much more fun. A well insulated and good sized sleeping bag won't be uncomfortable, and will leave you refreshed and ready to enjoy your time outdoors.
This guide will provide all the details you need to choose the right type of sleeping bag for your camping trip. If you'd like any further information, scroll to the bottom for the answers to some commonly asked questions.
Considerations for Choosing Sleeping Bags
When you're choosing a sleeping bag, there are a few key features you should consider. Whether you're unsure about accessories, temperature ratings, or using a sleeping pad, here's everything you need to make your tent feel like a 5 star hotel!
Before you even start considering different shapes and sizes, it’s important to consider what environment you need a sleeping bag for.
If you're mostly going to be camping casually, bags that are bigger and offer more room will be perfect. They aren't the best for portability, but will definitely deliver on comfort. They're also in a lower price range, making them perfect for family trips!
If you're going backpacking, choosing a more light-weight sleeping bag (for a good example, read our review of the Feathered Friends YF 20)that can be compressed well is always a good plan. It should easily fit into your bag, and won't weigh you down as you hike. Make sure you get a bag with a good balance between heat retention and portability!
Finally, if you're planning a mountaineering or extreme camping trip, keep an eye out for bags that are tailored to these environments. They may be more expensive, but they'll be perfect for keeping you warm and dry in all terrain.
Finding the right shape is really important for having a comfortable night in a tent, as different shapes work better for different sleepers. Some shops even let you try them out in-store, which is a great way to work out what's best for you.
If you move around a lot in your sleep, or want as much space as possible, a standard rectangular sleeping bag is a great idea. They aren't as effective at trapping heat as other sleeping bag shapes, but many models can be unzipped and used as a blanket, so they're very versatile. If you're a more casual camper, or mostly camp in the summer months, then rectangular sleeping bags are a great choice.
Mummy bags are much more fitted, making them great for retaining heat. They taper to fit your body, and often include a hood to keep you as warm as possible. They may have less room than other shapes, but they're ideal for keeping you snug in all weather. They're excellent for winter camping in particular!
If you're looking for the space of a rectangular bag, but don’t want to compromise on heat retention, semi-rectangular bags are a great idea! They're still slightly tapered and often have hoods, but they won't restrict you at all. If you're a cold climate camping enthusiast but hate feeling confined, a semi-rectangular bag has all the features you need!
Sleeping bags really do come in all shapes and sizes, and you can even find specialized varieties to meet your specific requirements. If you want to camp as a couple, double sleeping bags are on offer, and you can find handy child-size bags for family trips, too. Some brands even offer options tailored to men and women's bodies, so you can be sure of the most snug fit possible.
Selecting the right temperature rating is essential to keeping comfortable and getting the most use out of your sleeping bag.
You'll need to keep in mind that all ratings are based on the assumption that you’ll be using a sleeping pad, so don't forget to pack one! It will add an extra layer of padding and insulation between you and the ground, and will guarantee more comfort. A rating also represents the lowest temperature that the bag can possibly keep you comfortable, so always choose one with a lower temperature rating than the temperature of your camping spot.
Ratings are often classified as Season 1-4, with Season 1 perfect for warm summer evenings, and Season 4 more suited to snowy winter nights. If you're going to be climbing, focus more on the expected temperature in your destination than the general season, as it's usually much colder on a mountain. As always, it's important to keep in mind how and when you'll be using your sleeping bag.
For exclusively summer camping, a bag with a 35°+ rating will keep you cozy without making you overheat. If you love festivals, these bags will be perfect. On the other end of the scale, winter sleeping bags should always have a rating of 10° maximum. If you have a snowy destination in mind, choosing ratings below 10° will ensure you stay snug all night.
It's also possible to find 3-season bags, which sit in the 15-30° range. This way, you can really tailor the bag to your destination. Generally, if you're a more casual camper, a 20° bag will be ideal for most of the year. It may not be suitable for evenings that are extremely hot or cold, but you'll get great use out of it nonetheless.
The right insulation can really take your sleeper bag to the next level. Beyond comfort, it can impact the portability, durability, and even the weather resistance of your chosen bag, so it really does make a difference.
Don't Miss Our Reviews of the Best Winter Sleeping Bags
Down vs. Synthetic Insulation
There are two main insulation types to decide on. Synthetic insulation and down insulation do have their individual benefits, and keeping your intended activities in mind will help you make the best choice.
Down fill is undeniably better for portability and warmth, so keep it in mind if you're a keen backpacker. It has a superior warmth to weight ratio when compared to synthetic fill, as it creates little air pockets to trap your body heat without needing much filling. It's also much easier to compress and has a longer life span when cared for correctly. Unfortunately, it does tend to be more expensive, and may not be suitable if you have allergies.
Synthetic sleeping bags do require more fill to match the heating effects of down. However, they're able to insulate you even when wet, which many down bags are unable to do, even after specialized treatments. They're also much cheaper to buy, and easy to care for. Synthetic bags are ideal if you live in a wet climate, or just want a sleeping bag for casual weekends away.
Down Fill Power
If you do decide on down sleeping bags, don't forget to consider the fill power. This rating indicates how "lofty" a sleeping bag's filling is. A bag with a higher fill power rating will be able to trap more air in its stuffing, meaning that it will keep you warmer with less filling. This way, you'll have a lighter, but warmer bag.
600 fill power models are the most affordable sleeping bags, and are ideal for casual use. Anything between 800 and 1000 fill power is on the higher end of the range, but will guarantee warmth and a lighter pack weight.
Finally, while down does have many advantages, it is sourced from animals. Synthetic fill does not have this issue, and may be better for campers with allergies. You may want to keep an eye out for sleeping bags that guarantee the humane treatment of the ducks and geese that provide their down. Many bags come with certifications, so you can be assured that your down is as ethical as possible.
When choosing a sleeping bag, a few additional accessories can help you customize the bag to your needs and make your whole camping trip more enjoyable! A few things to consider are:
- Storage Sacks: A large, soft storage sack will allow you to pack your bag away between trips without damaging the insulation. They won't shrink your bag down too much, but are perfect for keeping your sleeping bags safe when they aren't in use.
- Stuff Sacks: These are ideal for compacting your bag into a portable size. If you're backpacking or travelling between campsites, they'll make sure your bag doesn't take up too much space in your pack or car.
- Travel Pillows: If you prefer to have more padding beneath your head, a travel pillow is a great item to have. It's much more light-weight than a standard pillow, and can often be compressed down in your stuff sack, too.
- A Sleeping Pad or Air Bed: A sleeping pad is essential for staying warm at night, as all temperature ratings are based on the assumption you'll use one. They also provide excellent extra padding! If you're looking for a little more luxury, an air bed will cushion you as you sleep, and provide an extra thick layer between you and the ground. They can be difficult to inflate, so a mat may be better for backpackers.
If you're looking to travel light, or don't want lots of accessories, sleeping bags with built in extra features will be your best bet. Many bags come with a range of extras to suit any camping requirement. A few key features are as follows.
Waterproof and Breathable Membranes:
Most bags have a water resistant shell, but these are an excellent way to help you stay dry in any weather. They're mostly used by mountaineers to combat icy condensation, but you might find one useful if you're camping in a wet climate. They're especially useful in protecting down bags from water, which will stop them from insulating you properly.
Getting your sleeping bag caught in a zipper can badly damage or even tear the outer fabric. If you want to get the most use out of your bag, choose one with a zip that has larger teeth, as smaller ones will increase the likelihood of bad snags.
A Draft Tube:
These are excellent if you're going to be camping in a cool climate. The zip area of your bag is a weak point where heat can escape and drafts can come in. A draft tube is an extra piece of insulation that covers the length of the zip, to help maintain your bag temperature and keep you cosy.
It's really easy to lose heat through your head, so a hood is essential for camping in cold weather. It's really important to choose a bag with a hood that fits. This way, you'll retain more heat, stay comfortable, and won't accidentally breathe into the hood, causing it to get damp. If you only camp in summer, a hood isn't really needed, and can help you save weight.
If you want to keep valuables safe while you sleep, a built in stash pocket can put your mind at ease. You won't be able to keep too many things in there, but it's a handy way to keep your important things together!
Sleeping Bag FAQS
What should I look for when buying a sleeping bag?
When you’re buying a sleeping bag, it can be difficult to know what you really need. Whether you're just starting out, or are a keen backpacker, here are a few key things that will narrow down your search.
Firstly, you should always make sure that your sleeping bag temperature rating is lower than the expected temperature at your campsite. A temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature in which a bag can keep you warm, so choose bags with a lower rating so you don't get caught out. Remember that ratings are based on the assumption you'll use a sleeping pad, so always make sure you bring one!
You should also look out for your bag's packed weight. A light-weight bag is always a good idea, no matter if you're car camping or mountaineering. Bulky bags can way you down, and be hard to fit into your vehicle or pack. If portability is important to you, pick a down sleeping bag with a fill power between 800 and 1000. They may be more expensive, but you'll get a model that provides better insulation for less bulk, resulting in a light-weight but effective bag.
Additionally, look for sleeping bags with handy extra features, as this will make them more durable in your chosen climate. Draft tubes and hoods are excellent for keeping you warm, and an extra membrane is ideal for wet and icy climates. If functionality is important to you, a storage pouch will keep your valuables safe, and a stuff sack will make your bag easier to pack. Some models can even be fully unzipped and used as a quilt, so you get great use out of your investment.
How do you know what size sleeping bag to get?
Choosing a sleeping bag that's the right size isn't just important for staying comfortable. An incorrectly sized bag can really affect your temperature rating, too. If it's too short, the insulation will become compressed around your head and feet, making it less effective. A bag that's too large will take longer to heat up, and you'll feel much less snug.
You bag size will generally be based on your height, which is a good way to ensure you'll have the room you need. If you need to store items in your bag, choosing one that's slightly too long will allow everything to fit comfortably inside.
Most bags are standardized into "regular" and "long" sizes. Men over 6ft and women over 5'6" will likely need to purchase longer versions. It's also possible to find custom shapes and sizes to fit your particular needs.
You may also need to consider the packed size and weight of a sleeping bag before you make a decision. This is especially important if you'll be carrying your bag for long periods of time. Keep in mind that camping sleeping bags tend to be bulkier and focused on comfort, whereas backpacking bags tend to balance warmth with portability.
Which type of sleeping bag is best?
When you're looking for the right sleeping bag, you'll need to consider a few key things to ensure you find the best gear for you.
Initially, think about which sorts of activities you need a sleeping bag for. If you're casual or car camping, a slightly bulkier bag with more comfort features will work well. If you're a keen mountaineer or backpacker, you'll need a bag that's light-weight but still delivers good insulation.
You should also look out for different shapes and sizes. Making sure a bag is suited to your height will mean you're comfortable all night, and will actually help insulate your body better. The right bag shape can also enhance your experience, and improve your quality of sleep. If you move around a lot at night, rectangular bags are less insulating but offer more space, whereas mummy-style models are snug and easily maintain the sleeping bag temperature.
Furthermore, consider the benefits of different fill types. You can find more detailed information in our handy guide, but the general rule is that down is more insulating, whereas synthetic insulation is more water-proof. You'll require more synthetic fill to match the temperature ratings of down, so synthetic bags can come with greater weight. However, down is not suitable for campers with allergies, and won't offer any insulation when wet. Ultimately, both types of fill have great benefits, so it's important to consider whether down or synthetic meets your needs more.
Overall, the best sleeping bag for you is one that will keep you warm at night, and fits the requirements of your camping activities. Once you're found the most suitable sleeping bag, sleep won't be an issue in any climate.
How do I clean my sleeping bag?
Cleaning your sleeping bag is fairly quick and easy when you know how. It's always a good idea to spot clean your sleeping bag every now and then so it doesn't get too dirty. When it's time for a wash, there are a few different methods you can choose.
Firstly, you can use a bag laundering service to have your sleeping bag professionally cleaned. This can really put your mind at ease, especially if you invested in a high quality model.
Alternatively, you can wash your bag at home. Always check the manufacturer's instructions to ensure you don't damage your bag. You can use a laundry machine with gentle detergent and lukewarm water, as long as it doesn't have an agitator. This can severely damage any seams.
If you'd prefer to do it by hand, using your bathtub is always a great idea. Use cool or lukewarm water, and avoid using too much soap, because it can be hard to rinse out. Fill the tub with clean water to rinse - you may have to repeat this a few times. Squeeze out as much water as you can before drying.
Keep in mind that your bag may take several hours to dry, and you should always ensure it's fully dried out before use. Do not use bleach or fabric softener with your sleeping bag, and never attempt to dry clean it, either.
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