How to Choose a Sleeping Bag (5 Things to Consider)

September 29, 2020

So your outdoor vacation has arrived, and you’re well into your trip.  The day’s events are all you hoped they would be.  There are beautiful views. You are connecting with nature.  The only problem is you can’t get a decent nights sleep.  It is affecting your enjoyment of the great outdoors.  A good nights rest is important.  To this end, selection of a good sleeping system is essential.  It is one of the “Big Three”.

When looking for that perfect sleeping bag, you should really know yourself.  Do you sleep hot or cold? Do you sleep like a log or toss/turn?  Here are some features you should seek when shopping for a sleeping bag.

sleeping bag

  1. Choose the proper degree rating:

Knowing your needs when it comes to temperature is important.  Sleeping hot or cold will affect what temperature bag to get.  Some people don’t get cold easy, and they sleep hot.  Their bag doesn’t need to be as warm as someone who gets cold easy.  That being said, it is best to error on the side of warmth.

When helping a customer, I usually ask what temperature will it be when they are sleeping.  A general rule of thumb is to knock 10 degrees off of that number.  If one gets too warm, it is easy enough to unzip and open the bag.  Conversely, one can only zip up a bag so much.  If you know you are a very hot sleeper, then it is ok to risk ignoring this rule.

  1. Choose the shape bag you like:

Sleeping bags come is different shapes.  Rectangular bags are commonly used in car camping.  The advantage is that it gives you lots of room to move around.  The down side is that it is less thermally efficient.  Heat can be lost through the head end, and one’s body must heat up the extra room in the bag before the insulation can do its job.

Most backpacking bags are mummy shaped.  There is a hood which weather strips the head end.  The bag tapers at the foot to reduce the space inside the bag.  It is very important to understand that the sleeping bag doesn’t keep you warm.  You keep yourself warm, and the bag prolongs the getting cold process.  It holds your heat upon yourself.  You are the heater, and like a house with high ceilings the extra room requires more heat.  Mummy bags also are lighter because they use less material at the foot end.

There are some hybrids of these two basic shapes, and these are worth looking into. If you are backpacking, be mindful of the weight as you will have to carry it.

  1. Options in insulation:

The big question is “down or synthetic”.  This question once was over weight versus functionality when it gets wet.  Down is useless when wet, and near impossible to dry in the field.  However with new technologies, this is less of an issue.  Now, down can be waterproofed.

So what is the difference?  There is down fill and synthetic fill, and within those two categories is high and low end prices.  To get the lightest and most compressible bag, one must go to high end down (800+ fill). To save money, but still have a light bag, one can get a low end down (600 fill) or a high end synthetic bag.  Technology in synthetic insulations now brings it up to par with the less expensive down. The bottom line is to look at the weight of the bag, and how small it and your wallet compresses.  This is very important when backpacking.

  1. Don’t forget the pad:

The sleeping pad or mattress is a very important part of the entire sleep system.  As stated before, know yourself and your needs.  Someone who can sleep anywhere including the cold hard ground has plenty of options. If you are like most, a little cush goes a long way. Closed cell pads are very firm.  Air mattresses have more cushion.  To keep you from the hard ground, the pad doesn’t need to be very thick.

Cushion is an obvious benefit of pads, but just as important is the insulation value.  When one gets into a sleeping bag, their body weight crushes the insulation of the bag underneath.  The pad makes up for this.  Some sleeping bags have no insulation on the bottom, but have a sleeve in its place to put the pad into a system.

  1. Don’t forget a pillow:

Remember to include a pillow.  This can be crushable or inflatable.  It can even be a pillow case into which you put jackets and clothing to create a pillow.  Whatever it is, there is no need to go without a pillow.

You’ve put a lot of planning and effort into your trip.  Don’t let a bad night of sleep negatively affect your vacation. If you have questions or would like to get into a bag in our store before you buy, staff at Bill Jackson’s can help you. Done correctly, sleeping in your tent can be the most restful night’s sleep one can get.