Nothing beats a night outdoors underneath the stars. But before doing so, you should know that sleeping bag designs can vary significantly, each serving a unique purpose. The sleeping bag you choose depends on the type of trip such as whether you plan on going camping or backpacking. The following tips should explain design differences and how to pick the right bag.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag for Camping
The success of your camping trip very much depends on your sleeping bag design. It’s important to consider some factors when choosing your sleeping bag, provided courtesy of REI.
The temperature rating is one of the of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a sleeping bag. The temperature rating informs the average user the lowest temperature in which they could use the bag and expect to stay warm. Temperature ratings assume two things from the user:
- They will be using a sleeping pad underneath their sleeping bag
- They will be wearing a layer of long underwear
So, for example, a “32-degree bag” will keep the average person comfortable in temperatures above freezing. If the air temperature were to drop below 32 degrees, then they will be uncomfortable and may risk a significant injury like hypothermia.
It’s also important to note that temperature ratings are often not guaranteed by manufacturers because a sleeping bag’s efficiency will vary from user to user based on their metabolic rate. Additionally, temperature ratings can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. But generally, camping sleeping bags of a temperature rating between 15 and 50 degrees F, available in one of two options.
- Summer season bags for temperatures above 35 degrees F
- Three-season bags for temperatures between 10 and 35 degrees F
When selecting a sleeping bag, you should be sure to give yourself a buffer of a few degrees. If you are expecting to encounter a low of 40 degrees F, consider a three-season bag instead of a summer season bag. If it’s warmer than anticipated, you can always ventilate the bag for circulation. But if it is colder than you had expected, there is no way to make your bag warmer.
Believe it or not, the shape of your sleeping bag plays a prominent role in how well it works. That’s because of the sleeping bag design, which traps non-circulating air between your body and the bag. Your body warms this dead air, thus providing an insulating barrier between you and the outside ground and air.
Camping bags typically sacrifice warmth for comfort. They are roomier than backpacking bags, making them more comfortable. But it also means that it takes longer to heat up the non-circulating air, which can cause camping bags to be less efficient.
Most camping sleeping bag designs are rectangular, providing the user with exceptional comfort. Rectangular bags are unique in that their shape allows them to be zippered together. By using two rectangular sleeping bags with compatible zippers, users can create a double sleeping bag. They are perfect for use on a queen-sized mattress.
Another favorite camping bag shape is barrel-shaped. These bags are tapered, making them semi-rectangular. Their design allows them to be warmer than standard rectangular bags without sacrificing comfort. Because they are slimmer than rectangular bags, they are perfect when used for backpacking, ideal for those with a larger frame. They are also great for restless sleepers.
The ultimate hybrid bag for campers and backpackers is a mummy bag, appropriately shaped as their name implies. Their design is narrow through the shoulders and hips, providing a snug fit to maximize warmth. Their lack of material makes them easier to carry, but users will sacrifice some levels of comfort as a result. Campers may find it difficult to fall asleep in one of these bags.
The last possible bag shape you may come across is a double-wide bag. This double sleeping bag can sleep two campers comfortably. They are best when coupled with an air mattress, which can be very comfortable. These types are similar to the DIY version that you can create with single rectangular bags, in that they can be unzipped to create two individual bags.
The type of insulation in your bag will also determine how comfortable and warm you are at night.
Synthetic insulation, often constructed from polyester, is the most popular form of insulation because it is cheap and durable. Synthetic insulation can be advantageous because it not only dries quickly but because it insulates even when it is wet. The one downside to synthetic insulation is that it does not compress well. Synthetic down could be difficult to travel with as a result, especially when backpacking.
If not synthetic insulation, then you can choose goose-down insulation. Goose-down insulation is of higher quality than synthetic insulation, but it shows on the price tag. Goose-down also compresses more naturally and is more durable than synthetic insulation. If you plan to travel with your bag, you should consider goose-down insulation in your sleeping bag design.
Additional Features and Considerations
There are a couple of other things you’ll want to consider when choosing a sleeping bag.
One of the most important things to think about is who will be using the bag. Some sleeping bag designs are explicitly intended for women or children. Women-specific bags vary from standard bags in both shape and insulation. There are also sleeping bags designed for kids. Not only are they smaller than standard bags, but they also have added design features like exterior pockets.
Furthermore, you may want to consider the material of the sleeping bag shell and lining. Some bags use a durable water repellent to keep moisture out of the bag. If treated with the repellent, water on the bag will bead up into droplets.
Lastly, you may want to consider bags with added features that can help enhance your camping experience. For example, some bags come with a built-in hood that cinches with a drawstring cord, keeping you extra warm at night. Bags also come with pockets that allow you to keep your valuables close, and sleeves that enable you to insert a sleeping pad directly.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking
REI has also provided a guide for selecting a backpacking sleeping bag. When searching for a backpacking sleeping bag, you’ll want to remember how important it is to be practical. Backpacking sleeping bags are designed to be lightweight and tightly packed so that they are easier to carry. You’ll sacrifice comfort levels, but you’ll be able to haul other items on your load.
Much like camping bags, backpacking bags come in different bag types based on their temperature rating. In addition to summer and three-season bags, backpacking sleeping bags feature winter bags, which are ideal for temperatures below 10 degrees F. Additionally, you should look for an “EN-Tested” tag on three-season bags, which means they meet the standards of the European Norm 13537 protocol.
Best Sleeping Bags
If you’re in the market for a sleeping bag, be sure to check out some of the models listed below. Also, pay attention to these innovative designs that will revolutionize the market for years to come.
REI Co-Op Trail Pod 29
The REI Co-Op Trail Pod 29 is one of the most popular sleeping bags available right now. The three-season, mummy-style bag has a temperature rating of 29 degrees F and is filled with synthetic down. The bag is a lightweight 2 lbs, 15 oz. It is ideal for camping enthusiasts but is more than serviceable for short backpacking trips.
Campers have found that the bag is very comfortable, and is spacious enough to settle in for a good night’s sleep. The bag is available for around $90.
The North Face Dolomite 20
This bag is an excellent option if you’re in search of a rectangular bag. Because of its shape, this three-season bag is for camping trips. It is temperature-rated to 20 degrees F and filled with synthetic down. The bag seeks to maximize comfort, so it is bulkier and more substantial than other bags, weighing in at 4 lbs, 2 oz. However, users have found that the bag keeps them warm, and is excellent for numerous conditions.
The Dolomite 20 fully unzips so that it can double as a comforter on an air mattress. It is available for $99.
Kelty Cosmic Down 20
Although this bag is the priciest on our list, it is well worth it. The three-season, mummy-style bag is temperature-rated to 19 degrees F and is significantly improved from its previous model. The Cosmic Down 20 features an upgrade in insulation, from low-mid grade 550-fill to 600-fill DriDown. The new insulation enhanced not only the compressibility but the weight of the bag as well.
The down also features a hydrophobic treatment which helps prevent the bag from moisture accumulating inside the bag. While campers can use the bag, many find that it is too snug for their liking. Instead, it is best suited for backpackers. You can purchase this bag for around $160.