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Skyblue Guide to Choosing a Sleeping Bag

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Your sleeping bag is crucial for a comfortable camping experience. Choose one that’s easy to pack, warm, and fits your needs. Our guide will help you navigate the many options available and find the perfect bag for you.

Out of all your camping gear, your sleeping bag is perhaps the most crucial item. It serves as the foundation of your sleep system and determines how enjoyable your time in nature will be. The right sleeping bag should be easy to pack and carry, provide warmth without overheating, and have a suitable fit and features for your needs. On the other hand, a poor choice can leave you shivering and uncomfortable in your tent. With so many options available in terms of materials, ratings, and features, finding the perfect sleeping bag can seem overwhelming.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to simplify the process and help you find the ideal sleeping bag for your next camping trip.

  • How to Choose
  • Down vs Synthetic
  • Temperature Ratings
  • Shapes of Sleeping Bags
  • Sleeping Bag Sizes
  • Other Features

What Sets Sleeping Bags Apart? How Do You Determine the Right One for You?

When it comes to sleeping bags, the most significant factor to consider is the temperature rating. Therefore, before making a purchase, ask yourself: “Where will I be using this bag and how cold will it get?” Neglecting these crucial questions would be a disservice to yourself. Camping equipment can be costly and tailored to specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to sleeping bags. The best bag for you may not necessarily be the most expensive or the warmest option available.

Before choosing a sleeping bag, determine the temperature range you will be camping in and if you plan on carrying it in your backpack while hiking. Typically, sleeping bags are rated based on three factors: warmth, packed size and weight, and affordability. It is difficult to find a bag that excels in all three areas. Some bags may provide excellent warmth and light weight but come at a high cost. Others may be affordable but bulky and difficult to carry in a backpack. The key is to find the sleeping bag that best suits your needs and balances all of these factors.

When deciding on a sleeping bag, consider your main purpose for using it. Will you primarily drive to a campsite and sleep in the bag, where size and weight aren’t as important? Or do you plan on backpacking for long distances? In that case, you’ll want to prioritize finding a bag that is both compact and lightweight while still providing enough warmth. Once you determine your specific needs, you can narrow down your search based on these factors.

Down vs. Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping a layer of air around you that insulates you from the outside temperatures. They do this using two main materials, down, or synthetic insulation. Both have their pros and cons, however, the largest differentiators are packability, weight, price, and performance while wet.

Down insulation is usually more expensive than synthetic insulations because it’s got a greater warmth to weight ratio – down will keep you warmer while weighing less. That said, down has its weaknesses, down is much more prone to wetting out and losing its warmth than synthetic insulators. However, modern down usually comes with some sort of water repellent coating to ward against this.

When you’re buying any down product, it’s worth making sure it’s traceable in some way. Environmentally conscious companies will include some sort of certification of their down to make sure it was harvested responsibly. Not only does making sure your down products are certified help the planet, but it also helps you make sure you end up with a high quality down bag, with no substitutes.

If weight is a priority, choose down, and just make sure to keep it dry. But if you don’t mind gaining a few grams, a synthetic bag can save you a lot of money, and is easier to care for down the road.

Almost all sleeping bags come with some sort of temperature rating system, but it’s important to know how to use this system to find a bag that will work well for you. Look for bags with a rating system that says either “EN” or “ISO.” These standardized rating systems are a way for sleeping bag manufacturers to compare warmth, both among their own models, and with other brands. So a 30° bag will be warmer than a 40° bag, no matter which brand each comes from.

Beyond the rating system, there are several calculations that should go into choosing the warmth of your bag. The rating system usually has two numbers: a “comfort” temperature, and a “limit” temperature. Knowing what those temperatures mean is key.

Sleeping Bag Comfort vs Low or Limit Temperature Rating

The sleeping bag “comfort” temperature is the outside low temperature in which an average person will stay comfortable. The “low” temperature is the outside low temperature at which an average person will be able to sleep, with some discomfort. Obviously, those numbers are rather arbitrary, so think about your own habits, do you sleep warm, or cold?

If the bag has only one temperature rating, check whether it’s a unisex, men’s, or women’s bag. Men’s bags with only one number are generally the “limit” number, as are unisex bags. Whereas, women’s bags generally reflect the “comfort” temperature.

How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag Temperature?

Look for a bag whose “comfort” temperature rating roughly matches the average nighttime lows in the areas you want to camp. It’s ok to get a bag that’s a little warm, it’s easy to unzip and cool off. But it’s much harder to make a bag warmer.

If you’re looking to extend the use-range of your bag, it’s easy to get a liner that ups the temperature rating of the bag by about ten degrees. This allows you to use a lighter bag in the summer, and up the warmth in the spring and fall.

Once you’ve figured out the materials and temperature rating you want, it’s time to pick what shape bag you’re looking for. The three main shapes are Mummy, Rectangular, and Tandem.

Mummy Sleeping Bags

Mummy sleeping bags are the lightest, and pack down the smallest, because they use less material, and instead hug your body shape. Mummy bags are best for folks looking for the lightest sleeping bags. The downside is that they can be uncomfortable and restrictive, especially for side sleepers. There isn’t much room to move around, and if you do tend to move a lot in your sleep, you may end up tangled in the bag.

Rectangle Sleeping Bags

Rectangular bags don’t pack down as small as mummy sleeping bags, but feel more like sleeping in a traditional bed, with sheets above and below you. They don’t pack down as small, and weigh more, but they’re the most comfortable option for car campers, and many can be unzipped to create a comforter for warmer nights.

Tandem Sleeping Bags

Finally, tandem sleeping bags are designed for two people. Tandem bags are great for couples, but aren’t efficient to hike with, since one person has to carry one big bag, instead of two people carrying smaller bags. Some mummy bags can also zip together to form tandem bags as well. If your not sure you and your partner want a tandem bag, hold off and figure out how well you sleep together. Tandem bags can be really uncomfortable if one of you tends to sleep warmer or colder than the other.

If you’re pretty average-sized, you don’t need to worry too much about sleeping bag sizing, but it matters a lot if you’re very tall, usually above 6’. If your bag is too short, you’re going to have a cold chest and shoulders. Many bag makers sell “long” sized bags for people over six feet. They weigh a little more than average bags but make a huge difference for taller campers. Any good sleeping bag will have an approximate size chart.

Sleeping Pad Compatibility

It’s important to remember that your sleeping bag is part of a sleep system. It needs to work together with your sleeping pad to keep you warm. If you don’t move around too much while sleeping, some bags, like those from Big Agnes, come with an integrated sleeve for the sleeping pad, which helps protect it and keep you warmer. It also makes for a lighter sleeping bag.

DWR Coatings

If you think you might be cowboy camping or sleeping in a bivy without a tent, it’s a good idea to look for a bag with a water resistant DWR coating to help protect it from dew. A DWR coating will also just help your bag stay clean longer, so it’s often worth the extra price.

Elephant’s Foot Sleeping Bags

Some bags are specifically made to work in tandem with a puffy jacket, they have heavier insulation around the legs, and lighter, or no insulation around the torso. These are called “elephant’s foot style bags.” They pack down smaller and still keep you warm. However, this style of bag is only necessary if you’re willing to trade comfort for weight. For most folks, a regular mummy or rectangular bag will be much better, so make sure to avoid these elephant’s foot bags, unless you’re sure that’s what your after.

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