Buying Guide for Sleeping Bags

As someone who whole-heartedly believes that everyone has a unique set of needs and wants in this world, it seems funny to me that I am writing a guide about how to find the perfect sleeping bag. The more I think about it, though, the more I feel that no one else has ever been better-suited for the job.

In this article, I intend to help you create a list of the attributes your best sleeping bag should have. Notice that I used the word “your” in that last sentence. This is because I do not feel that there is any one perfect sleeping bag which every camper on this planet should purchase. Your needs are likely to change based upon things like where you plan to camp, when you plan to camp, who you are camping with, your shelter or lack of shelter, and your age. That list could, presumably, go on for days. We are just scratching the surface here. Nevertheless, I encourage you to keep each of those things in mind as you work your way through reading the rest of this article.

To assist you with navigating your way through this article, I have included a few handy headings so that you can skip around however necessary between the various things you should consider when purchasing a sleeping bag.

Temperature Rating

There is one very important personal consideration you should make before even looking at the temperature rating on your prospective sleeping bag. Do you typically experience the temperature as hotter, colder, or the same as those around you? My husband, whom I like to call “the human furnace”, can somehow manage to sweat while everyone around him is shivering. I, the human icebox, can somehow manage to shiver and turn color while everyone around me is content to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Needless to say, heating and cooling our house becomes a very interesting task and we often choose diametrically different sleeping bags for the same camping trip.

In considering your own “heat rating”, think back on your life and ask yourself, “Do I usually need more clothes and blankets than everyone else or am I running around in shorts when other people are wearing winter coats?” If you exist somewhere in the middle, the typical temperature ratings on a sleeping bag should aptly apply to you and your needs. If, however, you are one of those extreme people like my husband and I, you may want to alter your interpretation of these ratings slightly.

Summer Ratings – If you are planning to camp predominantly in summer months or in warm climates, you will want to find a sleeping bag with a summer rating. A three-season bag may be a little too warm for your needs and a winter bag will just be ridiculously hot.

Humidity is a very special environmental consideration to make here. If you are camping somewhere hot and humid, the summer sleeping bag should be best for your needs. However, places without humidity can actually get very cold in the overnight hours. Places like these may require you to bring a three-season sleeping bag.

Typically speaking, a summer sleeping bag is one which has been rated for 35+ degrees Celsius or 95+ degrees Fahrenheit.

Three-Season Ratings – Three-season sleeping bags are best suited for use in late spring, summer, and early autumn. Again, location is very important here. A summer night in the Arctic is very different from a summer night in Arizona and both are very different from a summer night in Brazil.

Typically speaking, a three-season bag is rated for comfort and safety in the range of 10 to 35 degrees Celsius or 50 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are planning to camp in spring, summer, and fall, but will do some of your summer camping in 35+ degrees Celsius you should consider purchasing a secondary, summer-rated bag.

Winter Rating – Though you may be able to use a three-season sleeping bag on a sultry summer night by opening up its zippers to keep you cool, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to safely use a three-season bag for winter camping. If you are camping in the winter, it is very important that you get the right kind of sleeping bag for the temperature you will be experiencing. Safety is actually at stake in these situations, as hypothermia can set in when you are asleep and you may never be aware that it is happening.

A proper winter sleeping bag will be rated as useful for less than 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Shape of Your Sleeping Bag

For me, aside from temperature rating, the shape of my sleeping bag is the most important consideration. The shape of your bag will not only determine your relative comfort level, but also your warmth. Remember that I am someone who is usually very cold, which makes it very important that I am able to preserve my body heat in cool conditions.

Mummy Shape

Conventional Shape

Sleeping bags are, generally, rectangular or mummy-shaped (other options exist but they are outside of the norm so we will not be exploring them here). Rectangular sleeping bags allow you much more room to move around in the night. These are best for people who just cannot sleep in one position. As someone with a bad back, I can appreciate the importance of being able to effortlessly move from my back to my side in the middle of the night.

Mummy-shaped bags are much more difficult to move around in. In essence, they are formed to the general shape of a human body. These are not ideal for people with other-than-average body shapes or those who need to move around a lot in the night. However, they do a much better job of trapping your body heat inside of them, making them perfect for winter camping.

Type of Insulation

These days, most sleeping bags have been manufactured with synthetic insulation. In fact, each and every one of the top selling sleeping bags on this website features synthetic insulation. On the off chance that you may want to look into sleeping bags which have not been featured on this website, allow me to explain some of the major differences between the two types of insulation. Hopefully, this will help you narrow down your choices of possible sleeping bags.

Traditional Down-Filled Sleeping Bags – Down-filled sleeping bags are slightly lighter in weight than many synthetic-filled bags. Of the two dominant types of down, goose down is the lightest and duck is the heaviest. Goose down can be much more expensive than duck down, leading many people toward duck down options. However, it may be worth noting that duck down can begin to smell rather unpleasant if it gets wet. This leads me to down’s biggest downfall – it is not very water-resistant. Once it gets wet, it often stays wet for a rather long period of time.

Synthetic Insulation Sleeping Bags – Sometimes heavier than goose down, this type of sleeping bag can be made in many different ways. It is important to note that some types of insulation are much more solid than others, lending to the bag’s overall weight. The three biggest upsides to this type of insulation are that it is very water-resistant, it dries quickly, and it is hypoallergenic.

Zippers

Though sleeping bags differ in many other ways, I am going to conclude this guide with a little lecture on zippers. I have chosen to end the guide here because, if I am honest, I do not want to give you too much information. There is such as a thing as too much information, and psychologists say that it can actually lead to more confusion and difficulty in making a decision. To save you that trouble, let’s just stick to the most basic and most important elements here.

Zippers may not seem like that big of a consideration, but they are. If you are looking at a summer or a three-season sleeping bag be sure to find one which features a zipper that can open at the top or the bottom. This will allow you to create ventilation pockets which allow air to move through without your having to open your sleeping bag completely.

If you are looking for a winter sleeping bag or plan to use your three-season bag in slightly cool conditions, you should try to find one which features an insulated draft tube on one or both sides of the zipper. This small ribbing of insulated fabric serves to stop air from moving through the zipper and into your sleeping bag.

Finally, left-handed individuals may want to take great care in selecting their sleeping bags. You may be surprised to know that many companies offer the same sleeping bags in two different styles – those with zippers on the right hand side and those with zippers on the left hand side.

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