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Choosing the Proper Sleeping Bag

Posted by Sharon Harrington on

Buying the right sleeping bag is as simple as knowing what you need. There likely isn’t a bag that will serve you well both on hot summer nights and freezing winter nights, and you probably won’t use the same bag as someone who is a foot taller than you. Sleeping bags are classified by temperature rating, material, size and shape. Knowing all of these specifics will make buying a bag a breeze.

Sleeping bags have temperature ratings that tell buyers at about what temperature they will keep sleepers comfortable. For example, a thirty-degree bag will keep most people warm when the ambient temperature is thirty degrees. These ratings are averages and should be treated as such. Most people have an idea about whether they sleep “hot” (a thirty-degree bag would be too warm at thirty degrees) or “cold” (a thirty degree bag would be too cold at thirty degrees). What temperature bag you need to buy depends on the weather you’ll be using it in and your personal sleeping preferences (if you sleep hot or cold). In general, sleeping bags for thirty degrees or hotter are called “summer bags.” If it’s rated below fifteen degrees it’s a “winter bag,” and “three-season bags” handle temperatures between fifteen and thirty degrees.

The material a sleeping bag is made of will factor into the bag’s weight and what you’re using it for. Bags can either be filled with down or a synthetic filling. Down bags are lighter, compress to a smaller size and usually retain their loft longer whereas synthetic bags tend to perform better when wet, dry quickly and come at a more affordable price. A down bag would be ideal if you’re sure you can keep it dry but if wet conditions are probable a synthetic bag will be a safer bet.

Like most other gear sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes, usually based on length (but some wide sizes are available, too). Bags often come in short, standard and long lengths. It is important to purchase the proper length of sleeping bag for your height. Any extra space within the bag becomes an airspace that your body heat will have to keep warm. If you know you’ll be trying to curl your knees to your chest inside your bag, buy your bag a size down so that you don’t have a ton of empty space past your feet.

Much like temperature, material and size, what shape sleeping bag you should get depends on how you will use it. Rectangular bags provide lots of extra room, both near the arms and legs. They can be fully unzipped and used more like a blanket and are often easy to zip together to make a double-sized bag. Mummy bags are more form-fitting. Because these bags have less extra space inside of them, they are ideal for colder weather.

Some come with a few extra features. Most bags feature right- and left-hand models, which not only allows buyers to match the zipper side to the door side of their tents, but also allows for two bags to be zipped together. Mummy bags often feature a hood that can be cinched down to cover the sleeper’s face if the weather calls for it (but you’ll always want to leave your mouth exposed). Some bags have extra padding around the hips or where the feet will be, two areas that are often the first to feel cold. And a double zipper, so that you can create an air vent or a way to expose your foot is a feature that is becoming more common.

Buying the perfect sleeping bag is easy, as long as you know what you want. Determine what conditions in which you will most likely be using the bag and your sleeping preferences. Because adventures vary widely, you’ll likely accumulate more than one sleeping bag in your stash of gear. The more, the merrier!