Struggling to fall asleep during a chilly night isn’t the right time to realize that your sleeping bag isn’t up to par. But with so many styles, materials, and features to choose from, it can be hard to know what sleeping bag will work best for your personal needs. So, to help you with the challenge of finding the perfect sleeping bag, we’ve broken down some key elements to focus on before making your purchase to ensure a cozy and comfortable night’s rest.
Most sleeping bags will boast a temperature rating which is intended to identify the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the sleeper warm. There are a couple of problems with temperature ratings however. To begin, the bags are tested in a lab setting, not a real world setting, so use them as a guide, not a guarantee. Also, everybody adjusts to temperatures differently, so what is comfortable to one person might be freezing to another. Ultimately, the only way to test the validity of the temperature rating is to sleep in it yourself, so approach them with caution and don’t put too much focus on the number.
Rectangular: This is the most typical shape for a sleeping bag because it offers roominess and comfort. The issue with rectangular bags is that the more space they have, the longer it will take for your body heat to warm it up. If you are just casually camping in mild temperatures, a rectangular bag will provide spacious and warm sleeping accommodations. But if you’re concerned about colder temperatures, consider a more snug fit.
Mummy: This bag is contoured to your body to maximize warmth and reduce weight. This bag shape is ideal for backpackers who are looking for a cozy sleep space that doesn’t weigh them down when it’s not in use. Avoid mummy bags if you’re worried about sleeping in a restrictive space as they are much narrower than the traditional rectangular shape.
Semi-Rectangular: If the rectangle shape seems to roomy, but the mummy shape seems to snug, consider a semi-rectangular sleeping bag. This shape essentially acts as a hybrid of the rectangular and mummy styles by balancing the warmth of the mummy with the spaciousness of the rectangular. This bag is ideal for larger campers.
Double-Wide: These two-person sleeping bags are extra roomy to comfortably accommodate multiple people. A double-wide bag is ideal for couples who want to combine the power of their body heat to create a toasty little nest for two. The downside to this shape is that it’s not at all conducive to the times when you may be sleeping solo.
Synthetic Insulation: Sleeping bags that are filled with synthetic insulation are often less expensive than their down-filled counterparts. This isn’t their only advantage either; synthetic insulation is nonallergenic and it insulates even when wet. Because of its quick-drying nature and water resiliency, synthetic insulation is ideal for extended trips where you might encounter wet conditions. The downside to synthetic insulation is that it is heavier, less compressible, and less comfortable than its alternative. The insulating fibers in synthetically insulated bags also begin to break down after only a few years.
Down Insulation: Sleeping bags that are filed with down insulation pack more warmth into a smaller volume for a lightweight bag that still keeps you toasty. Down insulation is also a lot more durable than synthetic insulation, and with proper care they can last decades. Down insulation consists of tiny particles acquired from under the feathers of a bird’s plumage, and goose down is boasted as the highest quality available. If you have an ethical issue with down and how it is collected, consider looking into different brands such as Patagonia or Western Mountaineering, as they claim to acquire their down without any harm to the animals. The downside to down is that it’s pretty much useless when wet, so if you’re looking to take your bag into wet conditions, consider a synthetic or look into hydrophobic down.
The way your sleeping bag is constructed can have a huge impact on its performance. Take a look at how the baffles are positioned and sewn as this is a good indication of quality. Baffles are the separations that divide up the insulation and keep it from shifting around dramatically. Look for bags that have a box baffle construction, meaning that there is height separation at the stitches that can store warm air. Lower quality bags use a quilt baffle construction, meaning it is sewn all the way through along the seams. Sewn-through baffles reduce the insulating power of the bag drastically. Also, select horizontal baffles over vertical ones because they provide the highest warmth-to-weight ratio.
Hood Cinch: You lose a lot of heat from your head, and many sleeping bags leave your head completely exposed, wasting the valuable warmth it’s giving off. If you’re planning on using your bag in chilly conditions, consider one that comes with a hood cinch to keep every part of you toasty and warm.
Stash Pocket: This practical feature gives you a convenient place to store the small items that you keep on hand, like your glasses, phone, or alarm devices. While this feature won’t necessarily impact the quality of your sleep, it could make your sleeping bag a bit more practical, depending on how you use it.
Pillow Pocket: What’s almost worse than freezing throughout the night is waking up with a stiff and sore neck. Most people sleep with a pillow, but most sleeping bags don’t come with one. Luckily, some do come with a handy pillow pocket that you can stuff and plump to recreate the cloud-like comfort of your pillows at home.
Zippers: The longer the zipper, the easier it will be for you to get in and out of your sleeping bag. Zipper pulls can help too, by letting you zip up easily from the inside. Examine the integrity of the zipper and the seams, making sure it runs smoothly up and down without snagging. You’re going to be tugging on the zipper quite a bit throughout its use, so you want to make sure it’s durable and well-constructed.
Different people are going to want different things out of their sleeping bag, depending on how they intend to use it. Contemplate what types of conditions you’ll be using your sleeping bag in to determine the right choice for your individual needs. And hopefully now that you know what to look for when finding the perfect sleeping bag, your next night in the great outdoors will be comfortably spent in a cozy cocoon of warmth!