Sleeping bags for camping
See also: Choosing the right gear
After your tent, a sleeping bag is probably the most important pieces of camping equipment you’ll buy.
Making the right choice is vital to ensuring a good night’s sleep – and that can be the difference between a brilliant camping trip and a disaster of a holiday.
Our guide will tell you what you need to think about when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag
- What shape sleeping bag should I buy?
- What are the best sleeping bag materials?
- How do I know how warm the sleeping bag will be?
- What design features of should I look for?
- Do I need a sleeping bag liner?
Sleeping bags come in a variety of weights, pack sizes and warmth, depending on your needs.
From luxury double sleeping bags for family camping trips to cosy mummy sleeping bags for outdoor adventures, especially in cold temperatures, they really do come in all shapes, sizes and specifications.
There are many factors that will affect how you experience a bag's performance - your height, weight, shape and how warm or cold you sleep.
Decide on the type of camping you will be doing, set yourself a budget, and try a few bags for shape and comfort.
What shape of sleeping should I pick?
Rectangular sleeping bags
Rectangular bags are ideal for family camping and when weight, bulk and transport are not an issue
Available in single, XL and double sizes, they are cut wide at the shoulders and maintaini the same width down to the feet, giving the user plenty of room to move around.
Rectangular bags normally come with a nylon filling and shell materials, which tends to make them bulky and heavy for the insulation provided. However, they do offer more space, especially around the legs.
Mummy sleeping bags
Following the natural shape of the body, a mummy-shaped bag is wider at the top to accommodate the shoulders, tapering towards the feet and into a box-shaped foot section.
Mummy bags are more efficient at keeping the body warmer, principally because of their shape, which in itself is more restrictive.
If you have not used one before, a mummy bag can feel claustrophobic, so try before you buy.
Sleeping bags are filled with either synthetic fibres or natural goose/duck down for insulation.
Fill Power is a measure of the loft of fill such as down, and how well it resists compression. Made from small fibres with chambers to help trap air, synthetic fill is treated with silicone to help enhance loft.
When unpacked, the hollow fibres decompress and spring back to gain maximum re-loft.
Hardy backpackers, weight-watchers and mountaineers will prefer a quality goose down bag, as the weight-to-warmth ratio is paramount.
The bag will almost invariably come with a durable water repellent outer fabric (DWR). Do not be fooled, though.
This will not keep the bag waterproof, and a down bag is difficult to dry compared to its synthetic counterpart.
It is also a more expensive option. However, on the plus side, a down bag packs down small, puffs up big, and is wonderfully snug.
How do I know how warm a sleeping bag will be?
The comfort rating of a sleeping bag relates to the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average person warm.
Sleeping bags sold in the EU should now clearly display the standard EN 13537 ratings for temperature.
Not the easiest to comprehend, they do provide a standard measure of temperature across different types and brands.
In brief, it ensures that the performance of sleeping bags can be assessed by standardt ests to give comparable ratings between bags.
- Upper Limit or Maximum Temperature is the highest temperature at which a ‘standard’ adult male is able to have a comfortable night’s sleep without excess sweating.
- Comfort rating is based on a ‘standard’ woman having a comfortable night’s sleep.
- Lower Limit is based on the lowest temperature at which as ‘standard’ adult male is expected to be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep.
- Extreme rating is a survival only rating for a ‘standard’ adult woman.
Rating by the four seasons offers a rough guide to sleeping bag warmth but some people sleep warmer or colder than others and only you know how much you feel the cold.
As well as gender, weight and fitness, the seasons themselves are flexible but they are useful as a starting point before considering more detailed ratings; put simply the season ratings recommend the use below:
- 1 season: For using in the summer months
- 1-2 seasons: Best suited for use in late spring/summer and summer/early Autumn
- 2-3 seasons: For use between spring and autumn
- 3-4 seasons: For all year round use
What design features should I look for in a sleeping bag?
Located at the base of the hood, this insulated tube of material is designed to prevent heat loss from around the neck and shoulders. Rectangular shaped summer bags will not normally have one.
Around half of your body's heat can be lost through your head, so a good fitting hood, which can be drawn snugly around the head, can greatly improve the efficiency of a bag.
Zips should have teeth big enough to run smoothly, without catching on the fabric If you are right-handed, you will probably prefer a bag with a left-hand opening zip, and vice versa. If you are planning to zip two bags together, ensure one has a right zip and the other has a left zip
A zip baffle is an insulated flap normally sewn on to the lining material, that runs parallel to the zipper to block heat loss.
What is a sleeping bag liner?
Cotton, silk or fleece liners help to keep your bag clean and add flexibility to the range of comfortable use.
Each has specific benefits - weight, easy care, warmth and price - but all can be washed easily by hand or machine.
Cotton is the most popular, but silk packs down small, is light and dries quickly after washing.
By keeping your bag clean, they also help with maintaining loft as well as reducing the need to wash it.
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