Selecting a Sleeping Bag

October 20, 2014 by | 1 Comment

A sleeping bag is an important purchase since it can keep you warm in subzero temperatures and protect you from the elements. Weight, form, heat rating and reliability are all factors to consider when purchasing a bag. Understanding the basic features and getting a feel for how sleeping bag ratings work can help you select the right bag for your needs and keep you warm in the process.

Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating

The temperature rating determines the lowest temperature that a sleeping bag can still perform its function of keeping the average sleeper warm. If you know where you plan on taking your bag, you can save some money and reduce the weight by selecting a bag specific for your climate.

Summer campers will want a bag with a temperature rating of +35 degrees or higher. Campers that plan on using the bag in a variety of conditions should aim for a bag with a temperature rating of +10 degrees to +35 degrees. For those that are camping in cold weather, it’s best to look for a bag with a rating between -10 degrees to 10 degrees. Extreme cold and winter campers should look for a bag with a rating of -10 degrees or lower. Most sleeping bags have ratings between +15 degrees and +50 degrees. Aim to select a bag with a rating slightly lower than the temperature you expect to encounter.

Sleeping Bag Types

There are various types of sleeping bags that are made from different materials. The type of material dictates a sleeping bags weight and can determine how long the bag will last. Additionally, the type determines the level of compression, which can have a great impact on the ability of the bag to fit into a small pack.

Synthetic sleeping bags have strong performance and are often cheaper than other bags. These bags are typically made from polyester and dries quickly. Synthetic materials can insulate well even if it gets wet, have strong durability and are non-allergenic.

Goose-down sleeping bags are more expensive, but it provides a highly durable and compressible option. It’s a more difficult material to find, and it doesn’t always lend itself well to wet climates. However, there are some more expensive options that are water-resistant and protects the feathers from getting wet.

Sleeping Bag Liners

Sleeping bag liners can be made from several different materials. Most bags have a nylon or polyester shell for increased durability. Bags are often also treated with a water-repellent finish known as DWR. Water repellent bags bead the water rather than allowing it to soak through the fabric. However, DWR is only used on the shell and not in the actual lining of the bag.

Sleeping Bag Features

Sleeping bag hoods help to keep your body warm by preventing the loss of heat through the head. Mummy bags with a hood tend to reduce the loss of heat since the bag can be cinched around your head and body. Some hoods also come with a pillow pocket that when stuffed with clothing creates a sort of makeshift pillow. Sleeves appear on the underside of some bags and can be used to fit a sleeping pad. This prevents the sleeping bag from rolling off the pad in the middle of the night.

Sleeping Bag Shape

There are two main types of sleeping bag shapes — mummy and rectangular. The type you choose is largely a personal preference. However, a mummy bag tends to keep more heat it and contour to the body more effectively.

Mummy bags are good for backpacker and car campers. They have a narrow shoulder and hip that maximizes the warmth of the bag. These bags can seem more restrictive and some people don’t like the feeling of being caged into their bag. Rectangular bags are by far the most common type of bag. If comfort is what you’re looking for and you don’t mind a bit of extra weight, this is the bag to go with. Most rectangular bags can also be zipped together to make a larger bag to share with more than one person.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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