Choosing the Correct Sleeping Bag for Your Next Adventure
What is the best sleeping bag for me?
Sleeping bags are probably one of the most essential items for comfortable camping. Getting this decision wrong for a Scout can not only mean that they catch a cold, but it can be the foundation of them forming a lasting opinion about whether they like sleeping in the outdoors for the rest of their lives.
Understanding what you are using your sleeping bag for and the conditions that you expect to be sleeping in will determine what the right sleeping bag is. There are 4 main considerations:
- Warmth (think about where you will be camping 90% of the time)
- Stuff sack size/ Weight (are you taking the bag hiking?)
- Durability (is this an investment for the future? Are you likely to be in wet conditions?)
- Ethical (Synthetic or Down)
Firstly understand how you sleep. Generally speaking, women don’t tend to generate as much body heat while they sleep so they are likely to want a sleeping bag rated for colder conditions.
Secondly, choose a bag with a “Comfort temperature rating” that suits the temperature you will be camping 90% of the time. For those extreme occasions, think about a thermal sleeping bag liner or wearing thermals to bed. (These can add 15 degrees to the rating of the sleeping bag).
Things that improve your warmth in a sleeping bag are:
- Whether the bag has a hood and/or neck ruff. You will loose a lot of heat out of your head and a ruff or drawstring helps to trap the warm air in the bag.
- The shape of the bag. Bags tapered around the feet will keep you warmer, but some people find it restrictive.
- How the bags is sewn is important and often an indication of the quality of the bag. If the bag has filling sewn into pockets or baffles, where the seams meet will become cold. If the baffles or pockets have a thick gap between the outer and inner lines of stitching, then this will be warmer. The other good option is if the inside lining has no pockets.
- The other variables that affect the warm is the material that the bag has been filled with. Is it synthetic or down? Down is warmer. We will look at the pro’s and cons of down vs synthetic later.
- What the bag is made of affects the comfort of how you sleep. Polyester or Nylon draws moister away but cotton is more comfortable.
- Zippers that run the full length of the bag can also allow you to regulate your temperature by varying how you are covered.
Finally, understanding the rating system of warmth between sleeping bags is complicated. The industry standardised rating system is the EN1357 system. If you are comparing brands, look for this and the higher the number, the warmer it is. The other comparable is the Powerfill rating. Similarly, the higher the number, the bigger, heavier and warmer the bag.
As mentioned above, an inner sheet both adds warmth to your bag, and more importantly, it protects your bag. An inner sheet is easy to wash and saves you from having to wash your sleeping bag which is not easy to wash. Think about how often you change your sheets on your bed at home – that’s how often you should wash your sleeping bag if you’re not using an inner sheet. On hot nights you can simply sleep in your inner sheet so it’s a great way to regulate your sleeping temperature too.
Stuff Sack Size and Weight
Hikers want to keep the stuff sack size and weight down. Mummy or tapered bags, and bags filled with down rather than synthetic will achieve this but it often means higher cost.
If you are expecting to sleep in damp conditions, synthetic bags are more likely to keep you dry and retain heat. They can also be gently machine washed. If you prefer down filled bags, you should consider a shell for damp conditions.
You will find that synthetic filled bags will deteriorate over time faster than their down counter parts. It's a good tip to not store your bag compressed. It will make the insulation material break down faster and can also cause the bag to retain moisture and grow mould.
Down are the soft fine feathers on baby birds or the little feathers hidden under the tougher exterior feather of older birds. When choosing a down product, (whether it be sleeping bag or a jacket) you should check that it is ethically sourced. If you are perturbed by using animal products, than synthetic is the bag for you. The summary over the debate between down against synthetic can be narrowed to a choice between these key features:
- cheaper than its same rated down counterpart
- heavier and bulky
- has insulation properties when wet
- easy care
- Not as long lasting – will deteriorate over time
- longer lasting than any synthetic when cared for
- no insulation when wet, unless treated
- highly compressible so takes up very little room
- warmer than any synthetic available
- more difficult to care for
- not hypoallergenic
In cold conditions, it is critical to have an insulating mat beneath you. The sleeping bag underneath your body will be completely compressed and not trapping any air, therefore it is the job of your sleeping mat to insulate you. An airbed does nothing to insulate you – it is one large mass of air which transfers your body heat straight through it. A stretcher won’t insulate you either. You need an open cell self inflating mat, or a closed cell sleeping mat. You can put one of these on top of a stretcher if you want to be off the ground. Obviously in summer you don’t need the insulation layer but in winter it is essential.
So to wrap up some sleeping bag tips and tricks
- A sleeping bag cannot generate heat, it can only retain your body heat. Do jumping jacks to get your blood pumping before climbing in on a cold night.
- You can wash a down sleeping bag. Do so in the bathtub with warm water and powdered laundry detergent. This helps remove your body oils, which can degrade both the fabric and the feathers.
- As soon as you get home from a camping trip, unpack your sleeping bag and hang it outside in the sun to fully dry for a day or so.
- Repair any tears or holes with tape before they grow.
- Keep your sleeping bag away from the fire. Embers easily put holes in it and too much heat will melt it.
If you are looking for a good sleeping bag delivered for free to your door, remember to check out the Scoutshop. Give them a call and tell them about the adventures you are planning, they can help you decide on what is the right bag for you.
Special Features on all Bags
- Pillow pocket on reverse of hood
- Inner mesh security pocket
- Outer storage pocket
- Neck muff and internal draft tube
- Fully unzips flat
- Hood draw cord
- Compression sack provided
- SBS Double zips down length and at feet for warmth comfort adjustment
- 3D Draft Tubes down zip lengths to reduce drafts and aid insulation
- Tough nylon compression sack to pack the bag down smaller when hiking
Reference articles, and for more reading on EN ratings and Powerfill: