Choosing a Sleeping Bag
|A good sleeping bag makes all the difference in your camping comfort level. If you have ever woken up shivering in the middle of the night or so hot that you feel like you pitched your tent in a bed of molten lava you know what I mean. Sleeping bags should be cozy like the best snuggle-buddy you've ever had, but breathable so it doesn't feel like that person who keeps spooning long after it's time to roll over and fall asleep. |
Since you don't want to get stuck with a bed buddy that's all wrong for you here are some things to consider:
Down vs. Synthetic Sleeping Bags
|You want to be kept warm but nobody likes to feel smothered in their sleep. Sleeping bags work by trapping a layer of air. Your body then heats this air and the bag protects it from the colder outside air and ground. The less of this trapped air there is to heat, the warmer you will be. But a roomier bag is going to be more comfortable. Some people prefer synthetic insulation to goose down insulation because it dries quicker, insulates even if it's wet, it's less expensive, and non-allergenic. Goose down is more durable and compressible but it does come with a higher price tag. |
Down insulation, in addition to being the opposite of up insulation, is the fluffy undercoating of a bird's plumage. Bet you thought it was goose feathers. Silly goose.
Goose down traps an insane amount of body heat within its tiny clusters, is extremely breathable and allows unwanted moisture to escape. Kind of like when I put too much water in my Easy Mac and have to pour it out. If you get a down sleeping bag, you (probably) won't be able to fly like a bird, but you will stay warm and dry like one. Down-usually makes for a warmer and lighter sleeping bag than its synthetic counterpart, and it is the only fiber that has such a sky high warmth-to-weight ratio. Down also holds up amazingly after years of use. But don't leave your wet down sleeping bag to dry while you take a day hike. Or do, just don't expect it to be dry enough to sleep in that night. Also be prepared for some labor intensive cleaning, and keep in mind that down is not entirely hypo-allergenic.
Synthetic insulation is comprised of long single threads or short staples of polyester threading, woven together to mimic clusters of down. Voids are filled with threads to effectively trap warm air and sustain durability. Synthetic sleeping bags are water resistant, and some synthetics even go as far as shedding water. How cool is that! Actually, it's still pretty warm, because synthetic sleeping bags still provide insulation when wet. They dry quickly, too, because the moisture gets stuck in the air pockets between the fibers rather than in the fibers themselves. They usually dry within minutes of direct sunlight. Just like wet vampires. Wait, that's not right.
Synthetic sleeping bags are less expensive than down ones and most are machine washable. They are also completely hypo allergenic. Some tend to be much bulkier and less compact than down sleeping bags, and require more weight to get the same level of warmth. You may also have to replace your synthetic sleeping bag quicker than you would a down one.
shop by temperature rating:
30 to 55 degree bags
5 to 25 degree bags
-40 to 0 degree bags
|For people who aren't backpacking, minimizing weight is less of an issue. A sleeping bag's temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature at which will keep you warm; unless you're the kind of person that is borderline cold blooded. Then you will probably have problems no matter what. Keep in mind that these ratings assume the user is wearing a layer of long underwear and using a sleeping pad under the bag. Forget your birthday suit this isn't that kind of sleepover. |
Other factors that have an impact on how warm you will be are sleeping pads, your tent, metabolism, gender, clothing, whether your bag has a hood or not, and how hydrated you are. A good tip is to select a bag with a temperature rating a bit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.
Sleeping Bag Shape
|The shape and fit of a bag is important. Rectangular bags are fine for the casual camper, and maximize comfort and roominess. For the casual camper a bag like the The North Face Dolomite Bx 20 Degree Sleeping Bag is great. Barrel shaped bags are semi-rectangular. These bags taper at one end so they offer greater warmth, but are still roomy. Barrel shaped sleeping bags are good for people with a larger build. A bag like the Big Agnes Yampa 45 Degree Sleeping Bag is versatile enough for backpacking or casual camping. All true backpacking bags are mummy shaped like the Marmot Never Winter 30 Degree Sleeping Bag. Mummy bags have the closest fit of all but can be hard to fall asleep in. They do make bags specifically for women. These sleeping bags tend to be shorter and more narrow at the shoulders. They usually are wider at the hips and have extra insulation in the foot box and upper body. Bags like the The North Face Women's Cat's Meow 20 Degree Sleeping Bag really accommodate outdoorswomen. |
Sleeping bags can also offer other elements that enhance warmth or comfort. Hooded sleeping bags, like the Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina 15 Degree Sleeping Bag, are among the most popular. You can lose a lot of heat from your head so a cinched hood can increase your warmth significantly. Some hoods even have built in pillows. Draft tubes and draft collars are insulated tubes that run along the zipper and above the shoulders to prevent heat from escaping. Pad loops or sleeves help keep your pad underneath you no matter how much thrashing you do when you sleep.