There are few things more enjoyable after a great day outdoors than snuggling down into a warm sleeping bag for a good night’s sleep but, with so many sleeping bags to choose from, it can be tricky to decide which one is for you. We have 5 things that you really should be thinking about before you buy that new sleeping bag.
1. The Type of Trip You’re Planning
There are camping trips and there are camping trips and we all know that the sleeping bag you choose for a summer beach adventure is unlikely to keep you warm on winter nights in the mountains. When you’re choosing a sleeping bag, try to be realistic about what you’re going to use it for. If you’re planning to trek whilst carrying your camping kit you’ll need to consider the weight of your sleeping bag and its pack size but if you’re going to camp from or in your vehicle, these become less important.
Before you choose your sleeping bag, take a look at the technical specifications, particularly the temperature rating. A sleeping bag with a 40°F temperature rating is not going to be as cosy as one with a 25°F rating and it pays to remember that these are standardized ratings, some people are colder when they sleep than others, if this is you, aim for a temperature range that is lower than you actually expecting. On the whole it is better to be too warm and need to unzip your sleeping bag than spend the night shivering.
2. The Size and Shape of Your Sleeping Bag
Believe it or not, getting the shape and size of your sleeping bag right can make a big difference to how warm you are at night and it is getting the amount of space around you that really matters. Too much space will mean that your body takes longer to warm up the air inside the bag and too little space will lead to you compressing the sleeping bag insulation around you and making it less effective.
The first thing to think about is your height. On a chilly night you’ll want to be able to snuggle right down inside your sleeping bag so check out the maximum user height before buying.
The next thing to consider is the shape of your sleeping bag. Some people prefer the wriggle-room that a rectangular sleeping bag gives them but others want the reduced weight and pack size of a mummy-shaped bag. Mummy sleeping bags usually have a hood to keep your head warm at night.
Some sleeping bags are gender specific and are shaped and insulated to suit either women or men. The other option for sleeping bag shape is double sleeping bags or singles that can be zipped together. This obviously makes for a friendly and intimate camping trip but does have drawbacks when it comes to warmth sapping air gaps, pack weight and size and finding a large enough flat area on which to camp.
3. The Appropriate Sleeping Bag Insulation
The merits of down sleeping bags and those with synthetic insulation are hotly contested but the truth is that both of these have their advantages.
Down sleeping bags often have a very good warmth to weight ratio and are great for backpacking but need storing in a larger bag to retain their warmth. Down is not great at insulation when it is wet so you’ll need to keep it in a dry bag whilst backpacking. It is possible to wash a down sleeping bag yourself but for the best results we recommend finding a specialist cleaner.
Sleeping bags with synthetic insulation are better at retaining warmth when they are wet and are also very long lasting. Synthetic insulation technology is improving all the time, particularly warmth to weight ratios, but they can’t yet beat down sleeping bags for pack size and overall weight. Synthetic sleeping bags are a good option if you’re camping with young children, as they are easier to wash and are often cheaper than down bags.
4. Sleeping Bag Features for Warmth
Once you have decided on the shape, size and insulation of your sleeping bag there are a few other little extras to watch out for that can make a difference to your night time warmth.
Zips can allow cold air to enter so choose a sleeping bag with a padded strip, known as a zip baffle that covers the zip. The other place that cold air can enter your sleeping bag is through the top opening so look out for additional features such as draw cords and shoulder baffles, which pull the bag tight and give an additional strip of warmth around the shoulders.
Other features which might help with night time warmth include hook and loop fasteners such as Velcro to stop the zip from undoing and internal storage pockets, which will mean less time with your arms outside your sleeping bag.
5. Adding Warmth and Comfort to Your Sleeping Bag
Although choosing the right sleeping bag is important, it is not the only thing to consider when it comes to warm camping nights. There are a few other key pieces of camping gear that can make the difference between a night awake and shivering and stirring at sunrise after a lovely sleep.
A sleeping bag liner can add degrees of warmth to your sleep and will help keep your sleeping bag clean and pleasant smelling, a good quality sleeping pad is essential to keep the ground chill away as sleeping bag insulation is less effective when it is squashed under your body and going to bed warm in a down jacket can help you get off to sleep.
Camping nights can offer some wonderful experiences and these will be enhanced by the purchase of a sleeping bag that suits both your needs and your budget. Take our sleeping bag tips into account and you’ll soon be on the way to your very own night time outdoor adventures.