The one thing that you never want to forget when you’re packing for a camping trip is your sleeping bag. Well, unless you want to spend your night shivering in the corner of your tent, dressed in every piece of clothes that you brought with you. There are plenty of other things you’ll regret not packing (check out this ultimate camping checklist to avoid that) but a sleeping bag is really up there – so don’t forget it!
However, what happens when it’s time to buy a new sleeping bag? It’s a process too many novice campers take lightly so here are a few sleeping bag tips that will help you stay on top of your purchase.
Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating
Every sleeping bag comes with a temperature rating. That number (which can range from 0°F to well over 50°F) is a guide that’s there to let you know what is the lowest temperature that bag is designed to keep you warm in. Note the word guide because that is exactly what it is. Some manufacturers slap on any rating they want so make sure to buy from reputable sleeping bag manufacturers.
Temperature Rating (°F)
|Summer||+35° and higher|
|3-Season||+10° to +35°|
|Winter||+10° and lower|
Always pick a sleeping bag that has a temperature rating that’s lower that the lowest temperature you’re expecting at your campsite. It’s a good idea to check past weather reports so you’re well aware of the highs and the lows. Trust me, you’d rather be sweating than freezing out there.
Down or Synthetic Filling?
To come to a right decision here, you have to be aware of the pros and cons of both types.
So here they are:
|Warmer than synthetic||More expensive|
|Takes up less room||More difficult to take care of|
|Can last for a long time||Not hypoallergenic|
|Lighter and easier to carry||When wet becomes useless|
|Easy to care for||Bulkier and heavier|
|More affordable||Deteriorates over time|
|Hypoallergenic||Offers less warmth|
Synthetic/down combinations exist and combine the good and the bad of both worlds. In the end, it will all come down to how much you want to spend and how often do you plan to replace your sleeping bags. Down sleeping bags with higher feather rating (850+) will offer more warmth and be more comfortable. If you’re planning on camping in wet conditions you’ll be better off with a synthetic filling as it insulates better.
Personally, I no longer buy down-filled sleeping bags.
At the risk of sounding political here, there’s a moral component to these types of bags. I was unaware of this until a few years back but now I just can’t unsee it. Feathers in most down-filled sleeping bags come from ducks. Now, there are programs in place to ensure that these ducks do not suffer needlessly, such as the Responsible Down Standard. However, not all manufacturers use it.
Even those who do may still use feathers from animals that have been plucked while they were still alive (a gruesome practice designed to get the most feathers possible from a single duck).
This PETA footage will tell you more about it if you want to learn – keep in mind, this is graphic and not for you if you have a weak stomach.
It took about five minutes of watching that video for me to swear that I’ll never buy a down-filled sleeping bag again. Although I believe they are (a bit) superior to synthetic bags, the suffering of animals really isn’t worth it, at least not for me.
Shape and Fit
There are three main sleeping bag shapes (rectangular, barrel, and mummy) with dozens of variations and combinations – there’s even a body-shaped sleeping bag on sale now! Personally, I’d skip that one but your choice between the other three is going to depend on a few things.
Rectangular sleeping bags:
These sleeping bags are the cheapest. They are also the roomiest so if you’re claustrophobic you’ll definitely want to go with this one. Keep in mind that these sleeping bags do not retain heat very well – the heat escapes through the large opening for the head. This is why they are best used under warm weather conditions. Rectangular sleeping bags also use a lot more material and are bulkier and heavier to carry.
Barrel sleeping bags:
Barrel sleeping bags taper up the body. They are slightly restrictive but still pretty roomy – shoulders, hips, and feet can be moved although not as much as in a rectangular bag. If you get this type of a bag you can expect to be a bit warmer in it. It’s also easier to fold and carry.
Mummy sleeping bags:
I’ve heard people describe mummy sleeping bags as plush fabric coffins. After spending a night in one, I tend to agree. These sleeping bags are very restrictive – narrow at the feet and barely gaining in width as they go up. However, that’s why they are great at retaining heat and are mostly used by campers roughing it out in very cold areas. They are easy to fold and usually weigh just a half of what their rectangular counterparts do.
That covers the shapes!
When it comes to sleeping bag fit, you have to be careful. Make sure you pick a sleeping bag that can accommodate your size. Some are designed for tall people and others for short people – duh! Keeping in line with that, some sleeping bags are designed for women – wider at hips and chest and narrower at top and bottom. They are also usually better insulated as women are ‘cold sleepers – their core temperature drops more when they sleep.
Written sleeping bag tips will only get you so far. If it’s possible, give a sleeping bag you’re considering a go at the store. Most stores will have a bag on display that you can try out to get a real feel for how it suits you.
A Final Word
When the time comes to get a new sleeping bag, make sure you know what you are doing! It’s always better to spend a bit more on a quality sleeping bag that’s going to be with you for at least a couple of seasons. If you’re going to take that route than your sleeping bag isn’t going to come cheap – making a mistake can end up costing you a lot of money! Luckily for you, these sleeping bag tips should clear all your doubts and help you make the right purchasing decision!