When buying a new sleeping bag, the amount of options can be overwhelming. Picking the right material, shape and thickness are crucial. Too heavy and you’ll want to throw your sleeping bag off a cliff halfway through your hike. Too light and you won’t get any shut eye or even worse endanger your health and safety.
The Roamer Post Guide To: How to choose a sleeping bag is here to hopefully make the decision a bit easier.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG FOR YOUR GENDER
It may seem insignificant, but there is indeed a difference between a women’s and a men’s sleeping bag. Women’s sleeping bags are shorter in length, narrower at the shoulders and wider at the bottom to fit the female body like a glove. This way it keeps heat in better at the top and gives your bum a bit of space to move around.
TIP! It’s a simple known fact that women get cold easier than men. Ladies, it’s always a good idea to get bag rated for a temperature 5ºC below the temperature you’re expecting.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG WITH THE RIGHT COMFORT TEMPERATURE
Every bag should have a temperature rating displayed on it (or its case). This will either be an EN rating or one chosen by the company themselves. An EN rating (which measures a comfort, limit and risk temp) is a standardized way of measuring the temperature your bag is suited for. Each bag is tested according to the same set guidelines, so all bags of the same rating should keep you equally warm. On bags without an EN rating (generally only displaying one temp), companies can basically make something up. Even though you won’t freeze to death at the temperature stated, chances are you won’t be comfortable either. So when expecting a night temperature of 5ºC don’t get a non EN-rated bag for 5ºC, but a bag with a much lower temperature. Just in case (you can always unzip a bit if you get to hot).
No matter what bag you’re eying and what temperature rating system it uses, use both systems as a guideline and listen to your gut. If a bag feels to thin to keep you warm, it probably is.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG SHAPE
How to choose a sleeping bag shape is probably the easiest matter to settle on quickly, since each shape is designed for a specific purpose. Although there’s many (many many many) designs of sleeping bags, most can roughly be divided into 3 types:
Square/rectangular bags are probably the most comfortable type of sleeping bag you can get. Since it’s essentially a doona (duvet, comforter, whatever you want to call it) sandwich, these sleeping bags are going to get you the closest to feeling like you’re sleeping in your own bed. Although extremely comfortable (and usually very affordable), they’re often bulky, heavy and leak out a lot of heat.
Best used when sleeping in a Caravan, Camper Van, RV or anything else where you have good insulation from the elements and if you don’t have to carry your sleeping gear very far.
Some examples are the REI Siesta, the North Face Dolomite Down (to keep it light and bit more warm), the Coleman Dexter Point (cheap and warm!).
Semi-rectangular bags are made for those who seek a little bit of comfort during cold nights in a tent, but still need to carry all their gear for larger periods of time. They provide enough legroom to move around a bit in your sleep and come with a hooded top so you can really strap yourself in and keep your body heat inside your bag.
Best used when hiking, trekking by any means (think kayaking, canoeing, etc.) and when camping in a tent.
Some examples are the Kathmandu Columbus (tested and loved by us), the NEMO Nocturne (unique “spoon” shape design), the Fjallraven Move In (the name pretty much says it all).
Mummy bags are tightly fitted to save as much size and weight as they can. Expect to have very little room to move around inside your sleeping bag and instead perfect the art of rolling over inside your snug cocoon or to sleep on your back permanently
Best used when undertaking demanding means of travel where minimum weight is crucial, such as mountaineering, thru hiking, etc.
Some examples are the North Face Kazoo, the MacPac Mountain Sanctuary (possibly the most extreme sleeping bag available in Australia), the Fjallraven Abisko (synthetic filling for wet climates and tight budgets).
So now that you have figured out the basics on how to choose a sleeping bag type that’s right for you, it’s time to think about some more technical stuff.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG FILLING TYPE
Wandering how to choose a sleeping bag filling type? Even though most companies have heaps of different techniques of making sleeping bag fills these days, you can still basically split your filling option up into two categories: Down and Synthetics.
Down is the fluffy stuff underneath the feathers of a duck or goose. It is incredibly insulating, breathable, very light, easy to compress and keeps it’s original shape and puffiness for much longer than synthetic stuffing. This does come with a much heftier price tag, but you can enjoy your sleeping bag possibly more and definitely for longer.
All down is measured in fill power. This number indicates how many cubic inches 1 ounce of down can fill. The higher the number, the lighter the bag will be for the same temperature rating. High grade down is taken from older birds. Their feather are larger and more insulating than chick feathers, so you can fill more space with the same amount of feathers. You may find two down filled sleeping bags with the same comfort temperature but one will have a 600 fill power and the other 700. The bag with 700 fill power has these better, older feathers and will be lighter than the 600 fill power bag, but more expensive.
The main difference between duck and goose down is that duck down gets up to 750 or 800 fill power, where goose power can get up to 900 or even higher (we’re starting to talk about some very expensive sleeping bags here). Also goose down tends to last you a bid longer than duck down, when properly cared for.
The biggest down side of down filling, is that when your sleeping bag gets wet, it will start matting and flattening. Also it requires a bit more upkeep than synthetic sleeping bags. If you’re a lazy bum who probably won’t properly store and care for their sleeping bag, you’re better off saving yourself some money and go for a synthetic bag.
If you find your bag lacking warmth and volume after years of good use (you can mostly prevent this by never storing your bag inside it’s stuff sack, but still, it happens) you can get it refilled with some new feathers. Check with your brand of choice if they provide this service themselves or with you local camping store if they have someone on file.
Synthetic insulation is usually made from polyester. They dry quick and will keep you warm even when they’re wet making them a good option in wet climates, seasons or when traveling across water (say during a kayaking or canoeing trip). You can even get non- allergenic ones for the sensitive few and modern technologies keep making them lighter.
Synthetic Sleeping Bags are usually a lot cheaper than down sleeping bags, which is for many of us something to consider, especially when buying your first. They can also take a bit more of beating than down and are much easier to wash, making them great for clumsy people or families.
They are however quite heavy for their insulating powers. Also, you can’t really refill them like down bags when they loose loft (and therefor warmth) after a while.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
Now that you know the most important parts on how to choose a sleeping bag, you should be ready to choose the right one for you. Keep in mind that you can always make a sleeping bag warmer with a liner (we love the ones from Sea to Summit), overbag (like these ones for example) or by double bagging (if you want to have it all, consider a thin synthetic sleeping bag, ideal for summer kayaking and camping with a medium down sleeping bag on it’s own for fall and the two layered in winter for extra insulation). Be sure to always have proper insulation (like a foam mat or self-inflatable mattress) between your bag and the floor, otherwise no bag will keep you warm.
If you have any questions on how to choose a sleeping bag or any tips yourself, be sure to leave them in the comments below.