Next to your choice of shelter, nothing can make or break an outing like your sleeping bag. Chosen correctly it is warmth when you're chilled, comfort when you're exhausted, a cozy nest in which to end the day's adventure. Pick the wrong one though and you'll wish you had stayed home. But, who wants to stay home? Let's take a look at the major points to consider when buying your next sleeping bag.
Temperature Ratings: First, not everyone is the same. Depending on your metabolic rate, you may need more or less "warmth" from your sleeping bag. Second, determine the lowest temperature you expect to encounter and be sure your choice of bag exceeds that temperature by 10 to 20 degrees. It's much better to have to vent your bag to cool off a bit than to stay awake all night shivering. Safer, too, when temperatures are more extreme. Following is a generalized rating chart.
- Most summer bags - to about 40 degrees F - with sleeping pad
- Three season bags - to about 20 degrees F - with sleeping pad
- Cold weather / high country - to 0 degrees F - with sleeping pad
- Most winter conditions - minus 15 degrees to minus 30 degrees - with sleeping pad
Note that to achieve these ratings you must utilize a good sleeping pad to insulate yourself from the chill of the ground.
Type of Fill: Natural down filling is, pound for pound, your best insulator. It fluffs nicely when unpacked and rolls up into a more compact size than synthetic fill bags. If size and weight are important, down bags are a good choice. The drawbacks with down are it looses it's insulating value when wet, doesn't dry as quickly and generally costs more than synthetic fill. Synthetic fill bags, on the other hand, retain 70 to 80 percent of their insulating value when wet, dry fairly quickly and usually cost quite a bit less than down filled bags. However, it takes more fill to match down's temperature ratings so they weigh more and they take up more space when rolled and packed. Typically, down is the prefered choice of backpackers due to it's warmth to weight ratio and synthetic works well for family camping and where weight is not so much of a concern.
Bag Shapes: Sleeping bags come in two basic configurations, mummy style and rectangular. Mummy bags are tapered and usually have a hood and drawstring to keep out drafts and cold. Because of their tapered design they weigh less and take less time to warm up, making them a good choice for cold weather camping. They also take up less space when rolled. Rectangular bags have the advantage of more room and two can often be zipped together to form one large double bag. They take a bit longer to bring up to a comfortable temperature and without hoods or drawstrings are best suited for summer or three season camping.
Bag Sizes: Some manufacturers offer junior or youth size sleeping bags. They are about two thirds the size of a regular bag, but, unless weight is a major concern, I don't consider them to be especially practical. Kids grow like weeds and you'll soon be having to buy them a regular size bag anyway. Regular size bags work well for people up to about six feet tall, large bags for people up to about six feet six.
Other Thoughts: Be SURE to get a good quality sleeping pad to go with your new bag. Besides taking the edge off the sticks, stones and pine cones you'll invariably encounter a pad is critical for your bag to achieve it's temperature rating. Some other features to keep in mind when researching your new bag are draft tubes over the zippers, two way zippers for ventilation and an extended foot box on mummy bags for added comfort. Some manufacturers make sleeping bags specifically for women. These bags feature greater width in the hip area and more insulation in the foot and torso areas - areas where women tend to feel the cold. Also, as an add on, consider a fleece liner. Great for minimal cover on warm nights and it can add 10 to 20 degrees rating to your bag in cold weather.
Don't skimp on your sleeping gear. Besides your shelter it's the most important piece of equipment you can own. You can always cook on a stick or boil water in a can if you need to but if you're cold and miserable at night....you're just not having any fun.
To learn more why not drop by our eBay Store and check out our specially selected sleeping bags and get the right gear to match your needs. Then, get out there and enjoy!
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