How to choose a sleeping bag
Updated: Sep 23, 2019
A good sleeping bag will ensure a good night's rest.
However, it can be difficult to find one that fulfills all your needs during the whole year.
I have 2 sleeping bags, of which one is perfect for spring and summer and the other one is designed for extreme winter conditions. This enables me to keep cool, but still comfortable in the summer and it keeps me cosy and warm when I'm out in the winter with temperatures bellow -15°c.
So the first important item on the list is....
Sleeping bag temperatures
On the label you always see 3 temperature indications: Comfort, limit and extreme. The temperatures specified on the sleeping bag can be a bit confusing. Why are there 3 different temperatures indicated?
Comfort indication is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average woman warm.
Limit indication is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average man warm.
Extreme indication describes the worst-case scenario. It's actually a survival rating for the average adult woman. You won't be comfortable with this temperature, but it will be enough to keep you alive.
Sleeping bags are typically categorized as following:
Summer season: +10°c and higher
3-season: +10°c to -5°C
Winter season: -5°c to -15°c
These indications assume that the sleeper is wearing a layer of long underwear and that a sleeping pad is placed under the bag.
Why is there a difference between a woman and a man? Well, on average a woman looses more body heat over sleep compared to a male body. Your average temperature is also linked to your own metabolism, which varies a lot from person to person. There are also some differences between brands as all manufacturers have different heat verification test procedures.
Use the above ratings as a guide, but keep in mind that this is not a guarantee. Try to select a sleeping bag with a temperature that is slightly lower than the temperature that you are expecting. And keep in mind that even in Summer the temperatures can drop drastically at night. If the temperature is getting too high, you can always unzip the sleeping bag partially in order to get some air circulation.
Sleeping bag shape
The less air space between you and the sleeping bag, the faster you will warm up and stay warm.
Camping bags have more room and some can be zipped together in order to make it cozy for camping couples. These are less efficient in terms of warming compared to the so called mummy sleeping bags. Mummy shaped models will fit tightly around the body, but this also varies between brands and models. These models have a hood, which can be tightened to avoid heath loss in the head and neck area.
Here you can also see a difference between a sleeping bag for women and men. Mummy sleeping bags that are specially designed for women tend to be shorter, have narrower shoulders, wider hips and extra insulation at the upper body and feet.
Be sure to test a few different sleeping bags inside the store in order to find a model that fits you perfectly.
Which insulation type to choose
There are 2 insulation types: Goose-down and synthetic fabrics.
Goose-down is a more durable and slightly warmer than synthetic fabrics. Unfortunately it has a high price tag compared to synthetic bags. Down insulation is useless, however, when it gets wet, and they take a long time to dry as well. Some brands offer watter resistant down sleeping bags, which seem to work perfectly but are slightly more expensive.
Be sure that you look for brands who offer sleeping bags that are made from sustainable goose-down. The manufacturing process is more animal friendly, and ensures a safer working place for personnel, while providing them with a fair monthly pay.
Synthetic insulation are typically made from polyster. It has many advantages: It's quick drying, it's durable, it's non-allergic and it's cheaper than down.
However, the insulation doesn't pack down as small as down.
Sleeping bag features
The outer shell of most bags is made of a more durable ripstop nylon or polyster material. Some of the have a durable water repellent coating. (DWR)
Inside materials are made to wick moister away from the body. DWR is not used here.
Sleeping bag hood
If you set up camp in a colder period of the year, than you need a hooded mummy sleeping bag with a drawcord. The hood prevents the heat from floating away.
Some hoods offer a small pillow compartment that you can stuff with an inflatable pillow or a piece of clothing.
Not for your secret stash of candy. But to keep some valuable like a watch or smartphone close by in order to prevent theft.
In colder environments you can also place here a chemical heating pack. in this way you keep this heat source close to your upper body.
Many bags are packed in a stuff sack. They are also sold separately.
I would suggest to buy one that is water proof (heavy rain or an open water bottle, I experienced it all) and has compression straps to pack the bag as small as possible.
Not the same as the one above. More expensive bags are packed in a storage sack. These are quite large and will allow your sleeping bag fabric to breath. Compressing the bag for a long period will reduce the insulation properties.
Sleeping bag liner
These are used to keep your sleeping bag clean and they will keep you slightly warmer in cold conditions.
If you sleep in warm conditions you can even skip the bag and sleep in the liner.
Hopefully this guide will help you to find the perfect fitting sleeping bag. But keep in mind that an all round model doesn't exist. In order to have a good night rest throughout the whole year you will need a winter and summer model.