Whether you’re camping out, traveling or sleeping in a tent in your backyard. Choosing the right sleeping bag can make the difference between a great and comfortable nights sleep or a miserable night of tossing and turning.
To help you find and choose the correct sleeping bag there are seven questions you need to ask yourself.
6. Insulation type
Choosing the correct temperature rating for your sleeping bag is an absolute must. Depending on where in the world you live. If you are going camping during the fall or winter months then not choosing the correct temperature rating can be dangerous or even fatal. The temperature rating or “EN” rating. Is a European Standard designed to standardize the temperature ratings on sleeping bags manufactured and/or sold in Europe. As of January 1, 2005 this new procedure came into effect covering the testing and publication of temperature ratings for sleeping bags. This new procedure differs from the standards that existed previously. The EN rating is internationally accepted as the most objective and dependable standard available, though not all bags use EN testing.
In EN testing, a bag is assigned two temperature ratings:
• Comfort rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average woman or “cold sleeper” comfortable.
• Lower-limit rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep a man or “warm sleeper” comfortable.
Everyone’s body and sleep comfort is different, so ratings are merely a guideline to help you compare products.
These ratings are based on a sleeper wearing one long underwear layer, a hat and sleeping on a single one-inch thick insulating pad.
For instance I sleep very warm. Meaning I get hot easily through the night when covered. However, I normally rely on a 15° Fahrenheit bag for my goto three season bag. I can always unzip it and leave the top open or just completely lay on top of the sleeping bag. In the winter I normally choose a -15°F bag. The lowest our temperatures get here in Northeast Indiana are normally -15°F. Once in a while we get -20 or -25°F. But even at that temperature I can keep warm in my -15° bag.
A lot of sleeping bags are rectangular shaped for maximum comfort and roominess. If you choose 2 bags with compatible zippers, it’s easy to mate them and create a double bed. You can mate bags if one bag has a “right-hand” zipper and the other a “left-hand” zipper. The zippers also need to be the same size, style and roughly the same length. You can lay 2 bags on an air mattress for a very comfortable nights sleep.
These can be used for both camping and backpacking. Their tapered design offers greater warmth and efficiency than rectangular bags, but you still have plenty of room for a comfortable night’s sleep. If you are a larger bill person or you do not like to sleep confined to a body size shape this might be the bag for you.
For backpacking or car camping, you may want to choose a mummy bag. Mummy shaped bags have narrow shoulder and hip widths in order to maximize warmth and reduce weight. However, some people have trouble getting comfortable in these more restrictive bags.
Double sleeping bags
These bags are designed to sleep 2 people comfortably . Most models can separate to create 2 individual bags. If you’re taking your significant other camping with you. This might be the bag for you.
Separate from shape “fit” can’t be a critical issue when choosing a sleeping bag. My suggestion is to choose the shape of bag you prefer. Then try it right there in the store. It might sound crazy to lay in the middle of the store in a sleeping bag. But if you’re that uncomfortable doing this. Check the return policy’s and take it home and try it. Make sure it is A comfortable fit for your body type and you’re sleeping style. A bag too tight may feel constrictive and a bag too large might not keep you warm enough and colder temperatures.
If you are car camping. The weight of your sleeping bag is not as important as when you are backpacking. But when you are backpacking the weight is a big issue. Remember everything that you have for food, shelter, water, clothing etc. is in your pack and on your back. For instance my 15°F bag weighs 2 lbs. 6 oz. and my -15°F bag weighs about 13lbs. A huge difference. Keep in mind that the size, shape and what kind of insulation the bag is filled with will change its weight significantly.
Out of all 7 questions I ask myself this is the least important for the most part. Unless you are an ultralight backpacker like me. How small your sleeping bag can be stuffed down to means relatively nothing. I use a ultralight pack and therefore have less room in my pack for a sleeping bag. I could of course attach a bigger sleeping bag on the outside of my pack. But I like to have everything VERY secure as to limit items shifting on or in my backpack. Combine that with a smaller ultralight pack and you naturally have less room. My 15°F sleeping bag can pack down to a size of a head of lettuce. My -15°F sleeping bag will stuff down to about the size of a 5 gallon bucket. So the differences are rather large.
What your sleeping bag is filled with has always been a hot button issue among outdoors enthusiasts. So I went to the pros at REI to get the info and this is what their page says. According to rei.com
Sleeping bag insulation (or “fill”) doesn’t provide any warmth by itself; it works by minimizing the amount of heat your body loses while sleeping.
Two basic insulation types are commonly used: down (which is usually water-resistant) and synthetic. Here’s a brief overview:
Lightweight Easy to compress Excels in cold, dry conditions
Quick-drying Insulates when wet Non-allergenic
Down Insulation (Goose or Duck)
Down is an exceptional insulator, prized for being light, soft, easy to compress, long-lasting and breathable. It excels in cold, dry conditions or whenever saving weight and space are priorities.
Down is more expensive than synthetic fill, but it maintains its loft (which provides its heat-trapping ability) at a near-original state longer than synthetics. That makes down a good value over the long haul.
Fill power is the term used to measure down’s ability to loft, and thus trap heat. It is calculated by how many cubic inches 1 ounce of down can fill in a testing device.
Higher-grade down, taken from more mature birds, requires fewer plumules to fill space and achieve a certain temperature rating. So a 700-fill-power down bag rated +20°F will be lighter than a 600-fill-power down bag rated +20°F.
Goose vs. duck down: While goose down has long been considered the pinnacle of all down, achieving fill-power ratings of 900 and potentially higher, duck down has largely taken over as the fill of choice in most down jackets and sleeping bags. Most down is a by-product of the meat industry, and more ducks are eaten than geese. As a result, duck down is more abundant and less expensive.
Down ethics: Some sleeping bag manufacturers are careful to use (or are moving toward using) only down that’s “traceable,” or ethically sourced. This down is from birds that are inspected throughout their lives from farm to factory. The aim is to ensure the ducks or geese are humanely raised and not force fed or live plucked.
Wet down turns into a soggy lump, losing its ability to retain heat. That’s why most sleeping bags now contain down that’s been treated at a microscopic level with a water-resistant application. It’s often called “hydrophobic” down.
Some testing shows that water-resistant down may dry out faster than non-treated down. However, if dunked in a stream or exposed to heavy rain, even treated down will get wet. Remember, it is water-resistant, not waterproof.
Synthetic insulation (usually a type of polyester) is less expensive than down and dries much faster. Synthetics are nonallergenic and insulate even when wet. They are a good choice in damp climates and for casual or budget-minded backpackers.
The downsides are that a synthetic bag offers a little less warmth for its weight, is a bit bulkier when compressed, and its insulating power gets reduced each time it is stuffed into a stuff sack.
Some synthetic-fill bags feel soft and compressible, much like down. Others feel stiffer but may be more durable. Get a feel for both when you’re in a store and decide which you prefer.
Some bags now combine down and synthetic fill. These hybrids can provide the benefits of both materials and offset the imperfections.
In some cases, the two types of insulations are blended together throughout the bag. In others, the durable synthetic may be on the bottom and lofty down on top.
Ultimately price will be the deciding factor on what kind of sleeping bag you choose. They range from under $50 to over $1000! No joke. The high end of mountaineering sleeping bags are expensive. But when you’re on the side of a frozen mountain top. You need the absolute best to ensure your life and safety. So they are amazing sleeping bags and worth every penny.
For instance my 15°F Marmot 850 fill goose down water resistant sleeping bag cost me around $400. On the other hand my -15°F synthetic filled sleeping bag only cost me $80.
IN A NUTSHELL
Bottom line. When it comes to choosing a sleeping bag. There are many styles, shapes, sizes, fills and prices to choose from. I hope this has helped you to make a decision on what type of bag you want and what to look for. Feel free to check out my “Low Watt Living Podcast” on iTunes. Or check out my Facebook page by the same name.
Thanks for your time and support.