SLEEPING BAG GUIDE
Planning to sleep under canvas? Then you’ll need the right sleeping bag for your trip. One that keeps you warm and comfortable for the entire night to ensure you’re refreshed and raring to go in the morning. But with different types of fill, different warmth ratings and even different shapes, finding the right one for your adventures can be tough. To help you make the right choice, we’ve put together this handy guide which covers the basics.
Where will you be using your sleeping bag?
Knowing where you’ll be using your sleeping bag and what conditions you'll face will help you choose the best sleeping bag for your adventures.
For multi-day treks, you're likely to need a warm yet lightweight bag, whereas for group camps, comfort may be more of a priority. As a result, most sleeping bags come with a ‘warmth to weight ratio’ which looks at how effective the insulation is against its weight.
For example, a sleeping bag with a high-quality down fill will be warm and very light. Whereas a bag with less high-quality insulation can still be as warm but will need more insulation to achieve the same rating and will be heavier. It means that although the two bags offer the same warmth as one another, the first has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio.
If you’re bunking down in one spot and parking close to your pitch, the warmth-to-weight ratio won’t matter too much because you can pack everything you need into the car. However, if you'll be carrying all of your gear with you, then weight and packability are essential.
Where you’re heading will impact the warmth rating and level of insulation you opt for. So to make choosing easier, our sleeping bags come with a ‘season rating’ to indicate the conditions they are suited to:
Season 1 – Ideal for warmer nights, typically 5°C or above
Season 2 – Cooler spring and summer evening between 0 - 5°C
Season 3 – A cold night but no frost – typically between -5 and 0°C
Season 4 – Perfect for winter nights and temperatures as low as -10°C
Season 5 – Typically used on expeditions and suitable for temperatures as low as -40°C
Many sleeping bags also come with a ‘comfort limit’ for guidance on the lowest temperature in which you should be able to have a comfortable night’s sleep. We recommend buying a sleeping bag that offers a comfort limit slightly lower than the temperature you are expecting to sleep in to give yourself a couple of degrees as insurance, should the mercury drop lower than anticipated.
We use three temperature ratings to show you the range of comfort for each sleeping bag. The upper figure we refer to as ‘Comfort’, the middle figure is ‘Limit’ and the lower is ‘Extreme’. These ratings are based on recommendations by the European Outdoor Group and are described as follows:
Comfort - The temperature at which an adult female can have a comfortable night’s sleep.
Limit - The lowest temperature at which an adult male can have a comfortable night’s sleep.
Extreme - A survival rating for an adult female; after eight hours hypothermia may set in.
There can be huge variances between people in the way they sleep and how susceptible they are to the cold caused by a number of factors such as gender, age and weight. This should be taken into account when choosing your bag. Down bags generally offer a larger guide range because they tend to be less clammy than synthetic equivalents, so are more comfortable in warmer temperatures.
Tip: If you know you feel the cold, opt for a sleeping bag that offers a little more warmth than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to cool yourself down than it is to warm up.
Most sleeping bags use either down or synthetic filling.
Down filling is one of the warmest, lightest and most compressible insulation materials available, and offers an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. However, it can be expensive and requires a little more TLC to keep it performing at its best. For example, down loses its insulating properties if it gets wet.
- Pack your down sleeping bag into a waterproof dry bag to ensure it stays dry in your rucksack
- When not in use, don’t store your down sleeping bag in a compression sack as this squashes the down fibres and can reduce their insulating properties
Synthetic sleeping bags warmth-to-weight ratio isn’t as good, and they don’t pack away as small, but they aren’t as maintenance-heavy as down. They retain most of their insulating properties if they get wet. And, as synthetic fill technology improves, their warmth and pack size is getting ever closer to that of down sleeping bags.
- Synthetic sleeping bags are easier to wash and dry
Down bags are generally constructed using down-filled channels (baffles). Different brands use various methods to create baffles, but all are striving to keep the down insulation in the right place to maximise warmth and reduce cold spots, areas formed when the down shifts leaving no insulation.
Synthetic bags rely on either an overlapping shingle construction or a single sheet of multiple layers of wadding. With improving technology, the styles of construction and the quality of synthetic insulation gets better creating warmer and more effective bags.
Most sleeping bags use nylon fabrics as they provide a good balance of comfort and durability. The outer fabric will normally be a rip stop fabric, as it’s relatively lightweight yet is durable and will help prevent damage or a loss of the filling.
The outer fabric is designed to shed a certain amount of moisture to keep you dry from the inside too. However, bags designed for use on expeditions often also use a waterproof fabric to prevent moisture getting in.
- Look out for technologies such as fabric welding, which does away with the need for seams, and provides a lighter more water resistant sleeping bag
Shapes & Sizes
You can get sleeping bags in different shapes and sizes, and for good reason. The less space there is in your sleeping bag, the more effective it is at retaining heat, but bear in mind there’s a balance between being able to move and staying warm enough for a good night’s sleep.
MUMMY SLEEPING BAGS:
Mummy sleeping bags are tapered at the legs and the head, following the natural contours of the shoulders and hips.
Pros: Highly efficient, mummy bags usually pack down small and have a high warmth-to-weight ratio making them for backpacking trips.
Cons: Can feel restrictive once you’re zipped in.
RECTANGULAR/WIDE SLEEPING BAGS:
Rectangular/wide sleeping bags are square top to bottom and prioritise comfort over performance.
Pros: As well as offering more room, they are versatile. You can open them out as a duvet or zip together with another bag to create a double-wide sleeping bag.
Cons: Can be bulky and tend to have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio.
DOUBLE WIDE SLEEPING BAGS:
Double wide sleeping bags provide space for two, allowing you to cosy up to your fellow camper.
Pros: Ideal for families on couples, they can often be converted into two separate bags or blankets.
Cons: Usually bulky to pack and heavy with a low warmth-to-weight ratio.
You can also get sleeping bags that have been designed specifically for women and children, as well as extra-long or extra-short bags to accommodate everyone.
As well as coming in different shapes and sizes, sleeping bags come with different features:
Neck Baffles & Anti Snag/Draft Tubes - Help reduce cold spots, particularly around the sleeping bag opening, the zip and around the shoulders. They can also help the zip run smoothly along the length of the bag and not damage the fabric.
Your head loses approximately 20% of your body heat in total, so drawcords which allow you to cinch in the opening and reduce heat loss are great in cold conditions.
Contoured Footbox - Helps reduce empty space helping to keep your feet warm.
Stash Pockets - Allow you to stash away your valuables close to you and keep them secure while you sleep.
Zip – Essential for ease of access, zips should be on the opposite side from your dominant hand so that it is easy to reach across the body and adjust. It’s also good to look for two-way zips which allow you to ventilate easily.
Pillow Pockets – Often a feature on less technical sleeping bags where weight isn’t an issue, they are great if a pillow is a must for getting a good night’s sleep.
The use of sleeping bag accessories such as liners and mats are great ways to keep warm. Check out some of our must-haves:
A sleeping mat provides extra cushioning and acts as a barrier between the cold ground, the sleeping bag and you. Simple foam roll camp mats to packable self-inflating mats are the best option for camping out on fast-moving hike, while blow-up airbeds give you the proper glamping experience.
A luxury for some, a necessity for others, pillows are definitely a personal choice. Blow-up pillows are great for family camping stays, whereas compressible pillows are the best option for treks as they are lightweight and easily packable.
- To shave the grams off your trip without sacrificing your comfort fold up a couple of your dry layers and make your own pillow
SLEEPING BAG LINERS:
Protect the life of your sleeping bag and add some extra warmth with a liner. Available in fleece, cotton and silk they offer variable degrees of warmth, so pick wisely based on your activity.
Sleeping Bag Care Tips
Keep your sleeping bag performing at its best by following these top tips:
- When not in use, store your sleeping bag as loosely as possible as excessive compression damages the fibres of both down and synthetic bags. Many come with a breathable cotton storage sack, but you can store them in a pillowcase or leave them loose in the airing cupboard, if not
- When carrying your sleeping bag in your rucksack pack it in a dry bag to ensure it stays dry, no matter how hard it rains
- Using a sleeping bag liner will help keep your sleeping stay cleaner for longer; trust us, it’s much easier to wash a sleeping bag liner than it is a sleeping bag
- Not matter how tight space is in your rucksack, you should always carry your sleeping bag inside your pack. No-one wants to bed down for the night in a damp sleeping bag
- Wash your sleeping bag when necessary according to the instructions on the label. If you’re unsure, speak to one of our in-store experts
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