How to choose the perfect sleeping bag

You have spent time setting up camp or finished a hike it’s important to get quality sleep. You can’t sleep well if cold or hike very well if too heavy.

There are many types of sleeping bags at different price points, enough to make your head spin.  I have provided our top tips below to help you choose the perfect sleeping bag for you.

Hiking versus Camping sleeping bag

Is there a difference between hiking sleeping bag and camping sleeping bag.

Yes, there are slight differences. Hiking sleeping bags are often light and snug, while camping sleeping bags offer plenty of room. 

What is the Camping Sleeping Bag?

Camping sleeping bags are heavier than hiking sleeping bags. You would not want to be lugging around a camping sleeping bag while hiking.

Camping sleeping bags designed to be transported in a vehicle and placed into the tent for a comfy sleep.

Spark SpI Sleeping Bag
(image Sea to Summit)

What is a Trekking Sleeping Bag?

Choosing the right trekking sleeping bag is balancing weight and compressibility with the correct level of warmth, so keeping an eye on temperature ratings is important.

(image Sea to Summit)

What is an Alpine Sleeping Bag?

Choosing an alpine sleeping bag is not dissimilar to choosing a sleeping bag for trekking. Needs to be lightweight, provide added focus on warmth and water resistance.

In order to provide the lightest bag whilst providing additional warm Alpine bags do come at a higher price. Their shell materials will also often feature waterproof/breathable membranes and water repellent coatings to deal with increased moisture levels.

Alpine ApII Sleeping Bag
Sea to Summit, Alpine ApII Sleeping Bag (image Sea to Summit)

What are the kinds of insulation?

DownFill

There are two different types of fill, Synthetic and Down Fill. Down Fill are feathers from geese and ducks.

Downfill insulation is more expensive than Synthetic, its lighter and more compressible. It is also more durable and provides greater warmth. Typically the high level of Downfill in a bag the more expensive the bag (visa versa).

A note about ethical down: Most brands take steps to monitor the treatment of ducks and geese that provide down. You can identify a bag from one of those manufacturers when you see it labeled as either RDS (Responsible Down Standard) or TDS (global Traceable Down Standard). To learn about what goes into those standards, read Animal Welfare and Outdoor Gear.

Synthetic

Synthetic insulation offers solid performance at an affordable price. Unlike down, it continues to insulate when wet, so it’s the bag of choice for damp climates. 

Downfill versus Synthetic

Insulation Type Key Benefit
Down Lightweight
Easy to compress
Excels in cold, dry conditions
Durable
Synthetic Quick-drying
Insulates when wet
Non-allergenic
Affordable

How do Sleeping Bags keep you warm?

A sleeping bag traps air and keeps it from circulating. This “dead air” around your body is warmed by the heat created by your body’s metabolism.

Remembering the bag forms a barrier between this air and the colder ground or outside air. Smaller spaces warm up faster and retain heat more efficiently.

perfect sleeping bag
How to choose the perfect sleeping bag

Temperature Ratings

How are they rated?

In the past manufacturers test their own sleeping bags using a variety of methods. The sleeping bag industry solved this by agreeing to industry standards, however not all manufacturers use or rate their bags.

The EN (European Norm), was the original standard adopted by the sleeping bag industry. Today, a new entity, the ISO (International Standards Organization), oversees bag testing, but the method is almost identical to the EN bag test. (Because ISO testing is so similar to EN testing, you can compare your old EN-rated bag to a newer bag that sports an ISO temperature rating when you shop.)

Image supplied by Sea to Summit

The standard measures 3 temperature ratings:

Comfort – the temperature at which a standard woman can expect to sleep comfortably, without feeling cold and in a relaxed position.

Lower Limit – the temperature at which a standard man inside the bag sleeping in a curled position is starting to feel cold but not shivering, this is the limit of performance for the sleeping bag.

Extreme – at this temperature anyone can expect to feel particularly cold and there is a risk of hypothermia. You should only use the sleeping bag in this range when it’s an emergency.

If you want to read more about the EN 13537 rating standards and validity, there is a paper from the Outdoor Industry which discusses in detail.

Final Thoughts

Your sleeping bag plays an important role. In very cold conditions it will help protect you from freezing temperatures and cold weather injuries. Remember if you become too hot you can simply unzip the bag, but if you wake up in the middle of the night shivering it is not much you can do.

If you have further comments on how to choose the perfect sleeping bag please leave your comments below

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