How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag

How Do I Know What Sleeping Bag to Get?

When you’re camping or backpacking, the only thing between you and the cold ground is the right sleeping bag. Your sleeping bag is what keeps you warm and gives you some amount of cushioning. So, it’s important you pick the right one for your camping trip. This is especially true if you’re going camping abroad, as depending on your location, you may not simply be able to shop for new sleeping bags on Amazon if you make the wrong choice.

If you’re new to the world of sleeping outdoors, there’s a lot more to picking a sleeping bag than you might think. For instance, the best sleeping bag for backpacking might not fit your budget, and the budget sleeping bag you pick might be too heavy to carry all day, or not be suitable for cold weather.

When shopping for a sleeping bag, there are different shapes, various temperature ratings, and several bedding materials you can choose from.

So, if you’re looking for a sleeping bag for camping, read on to know how to shop smart.

Choosing the Best Sleeping Bag for Cold Weather

The main purpose of your sleeping bag is to keep you warm. To choose a sleeping bag with the right temperature rating, check the climate of the camping places you intend to visit. What is the hottest temperature and what is the coldest?

Choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that will protect you against the coldest conditions you will likely encounter. You can open the bag and get some ventilation if it’s too hot, but if it’s too cold, you’re going to have some rough nights.

If you’ll be camping in 25°F weather, then get a 15°-30°F sleeping bag. This is also classified as a 3-season sleeping bag.

Remember that your body’s metabolism should be considered when selecting a sleeping bag. Some people sleep hot and others sleep cold.

What Sleeping Bag Insulation Material is Best?

The insulation in sleeping bags is what keeps you warm. You can choose from two popular types of insulation materials- synthetic and down. Less common sleeping bag insulation materials include cotton and wool.

Synthetic Sleeping Bags

One of the greatest advantages of synthetic sleeping bags is that they don’t absorb water easily. Synthetic sleeping bag fill also dries faster than other types of fills. You could accidentally drop your bag in icy water during the day backpacking, and there’s a good chance it will have dried off by the time you set up camp.  

Synthetic material is firm, so oftentimes you won’t even require a sleeping pad for extra insulation. It will still protect you from the cold ground. However, the extra comfort and insulation of a sleeping pad is still preferred by most campers.

On the other hand, synthetic fill is heavier than down, so these don’t always make for ideal backpacking sleeping bags. If weight is less of a concern, synthetic sleeping bags do tend to be cheaper, and are also vegan-friendly.

Down Sleeping Bags

Down is a material made from goose or duck plumage. It is also known as nature’s best insulator. Down sleeping bags are lightweight and are the best at retaining heat. But, they are also water absorbent and do not dry as fast as synthetic sleeping bags.

The material is very soft and compresses easily, so when carrying a down sleeping bag, you must take care not to put pressure on a single area, such as cinching a strap too tight on a backpack.

If you do, that area will compress and reduce the sleeping bag’s insulating properties. Because of that, it is recommended to keeping shifting positions when you’re carrying a down sleeping bag. You may also need to use a sleeping pad along with a down sleeping bag.

Down sleeping bags are costly and require more care than synthetic bags. But, a down sleeping bag is a worthy investment for ultralight backpacking, and for camping in extremely cold temperatures.

If you are concerned about the ethics of down sleeping bags, look for ethical standard tags. You will find either an RDS (Responsible Down Standard) or TDS (global Traceable Down Standard) on ethically produced sleeping bags.

Cotton Sleeping Bags

If you plan on only camping in warm climates or a place with centralized heating, then you can choose a cotton sleeping bag.

This material is water absorbent and isn’t the best for keeping you warm, though. So, we don’t recommend serious campers get a cotton sleeping bag.

On the other hand, cotton sleeping bags are very affordable, and many options are available to fit small campers. If you’re looking for an inexpensive sleeping bag for your growing children, and you only plan to camp when it’s warm, a cotton sleeping bag could be an economical option.

Wool Sleeping Bags

Wool is a very good insulator that is water-resistant. It is also compression-resistant. The only downside is that it is pretty heavy, so it isn’t the best sleeping bag option for backpackers.

A wool sleeping bag is an ideal option for car camping, where weight is less of a factor.

Sleeping Bag Size Chart and Shapes

Sleeping bags are typically sized by their length, and the right length will correspond with your height. For instance, if you’re 175cm tall, you’ll want a bag that can easily cover the entire length of your body with room to spare. A mummy bag or semi-rectangular sleeping bag measuring 185cm might fit the bill.

However, don’t just buy the biggest sleeping bag you can find. Not only is carrying too big a bag extra weight, but you could actually wind up colder as a result. The more space there is inside the sleeping bag, the less heat it’ll retain. Ideally, you want a bag that covers you completely and gives you room to move a bit, but isn’t oversized.

To accommodate different body types and needs, the following four shapes of sleeping bags are commonly available:

Rectangular Sleeping Bags

This is the most common type of sleeping bag. It won’t zip all the way over your head, but it will give you enough space to move around inside the sleeping bag without letting in too much air. They are a good choice for warmer temperatures.

Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags

This is a cross between rectangular and mummy-style sleeping bags. Semi-rectangular sleeping bags have a curved closure above your head. But, you will still have some room to move around without feeling too cramped inside. These are good all-around options for sleeping in many types of weather, with the exception of extremely cold conditions.

Mummy-Style Sleeping Bags

Mummy bags are the snuggest-fitting sleeping bags you can buy. They fit close to your body and ensure that no air enters the sleeping bag. This will help retain heat in the coldest of temperatures.  

Mummy bags are warm, and they’re light and narrow, making them ideal for backpacking. But before you purchase one, consider how you like to sleep. If you toss and turn in the night, you may find a mummy bag too restrictive to be comfortable.

Double Sleeping Bags

If you have a loved one you want to cuddle with, or you simply want a lot of room when you sleep, a double sleeping bag can be a great choice.

Due to their size and weight, double sleeping bags are not the best choice for backpacking. And if you plan on sleeping alone in a double bag, it’s best to do so in warmer temperatures. The extra space of a double bag can let a lot of air in, which can make you cold. On the other hand, two people sleeping together in a suitable double bag can be quite warm, as you both benefit from each other’s body heat.

Sleeping Bag Zipper Configurations

Are you a person with cold hands and warm feet, or a similarly odd combination of how your body heats up? Having to zip up the sleeping bag because your hands are cold, but then dealing with sweaty feet is probably agonizing for you.

If you have this issue, then buy a sleeping bag that has two-way zips that run across the full length of the sleeping bag. This way, you can open and ventilate specific areas that need it.

Sleeping Bags for Different Activities

No, it’s not prudent to buy a sleeping bag for each activity, but say you will be camping more than you will be backpacking. In this case, you can put less of a premium on light weight, and more on insulation and comfort.

The opposite is true if you’re mainly backpacking with an ultralight setup. A lightweight mummy bag can be a lot easier on your back after a hard day of hiking.

If you need a sleeping bag only for indoor slumber parties, then you can get away with a cheap cotton sleeping bag.

If you’ll take the sleeping bag anywhere near the water, then a down sleeping bag is out of the question unless you plan to carry it in a drybag. Consider the predominant activity before you make the purchase.

How to Buy a Sleeping Bag

Your first instinct when shopping for a sleeping bag might be to head to your favorite online retailer and place an order, but consider this: A sleeping bag is a lot like a coat. In order for it to perform as advertised, it needs to fit you.

You may be better off visiting a local outdoor gear store where you can actually try different sleeping bags on, see how they fit you, and feel how their zippers work and ventilate. Plus, you’ll be able to utilize the knowledge of a salesperson to help you make a more informed purchase.

If you do decide to shop for a sleeping bag online, choose a store with a good return policy. That way, you won’t be stuck with a sleeping bag that doesn’t fit your body, or your needs.

Stay Secure with Travel Medical Insurance

One of the biggest appeals of the great outdoors is the escape from hectic city life. However, being out in nature also means being far away from medical care if something goes wrong.

While a well-stocked first-aid kit can help you attend to minor injuries, what about badly broken bones, serious wounds, or sudden major illnesses? In some situations, emergency medical evacuation may be the only option, and it can cost tens of thousands.

Even if you can get to a hospital, don’t expect your domestic health insurance to cover treatment in another country. You need to have travel medical insurance that can provide coverage for hiking, camping, and any other outdoor activity you plan to take part in during your international trip. It can help save you from massive out-of-pocket medical costs, letting you sleep more soundly at night.

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