As you can image, just like most outdoor gear decisions, it’s not always black and white, and quite honestly it shouldn’t be. There are numerous companies out there making sleeping bags, are some better than others, of course, but I am not telling you this to sway you toward a certain company, but to give you the knowledge to make an informed decision. I am hoping to help you along a little bit with some of the most popular questions about one of the most difficult pieces of gear to purchase – THE SLEEPING BAG.
Are their different sizes of sleeping bags?
Believe it or not, yes. When you refer to size, you are simply referring to length, not so much girth, but that can be an issue too, but that’s more along the lines of the next question. As far as length is concerned there are regular, long, and children’s sleeping bags. The regular typically can be used for someone up to 6-feet tall at the very most, I would say under 6-feet tall to be safe. Anyone 6-foot or taller should go with a long. If you get a sleeping bag too short, you won’t be able to have adequate coverage and be too cramped. Too long a sleeping bag puts too much empty space at your feet, making it harder to warm the void space and keep your feet warm. So, take one down off the rack and get in it, in the store.
What shape sleeping bag should I think about getting?
This is more of a preference question.
A mummy style bag is much more form fitting when you get in it. This fit makes it tough for bigger users to get comfortable. If you toss and turn a bunch in your sleep, maybe a mummy bag isn’t the way to go. A mummy bag is a warmer sleeping bag even with the same rating. It heats up faster due to less dead space and those pesky cold spots are almost non-existent.
A rectangular bag is just that, a rectangle. These are very comfortable but usually have a bunch of dead space around your legs and feet. They take longer to warm up and cold spots happen frequently. If you are a bigger user this option can be the ticket; ton of shoulder space and you can easily toss and turn. They also make what I refer to as a hybrid. They fit somewhere in the middle with a wider shoulder than a mummy and narrower foot that a rectangle.
Do they make women’s specific bags?
Yes they do, but not all companies. A woman’s specific bag has a bit more room in the hips and extra circulation in key areas like the feet. For example; women’s feet tend to have poorer circulation than men so designers accommodate for that. Women’s sleeping bags are typically just one length however and this can often pose as a problem for taller ladies.
Do I buy a left or a right zip?
This is a simple preference really. Some say a left handed person likes a right zip so they can reach across their body to work the zipper better, just try it out. Also, keep the next question in mind while you are deciding.
Why wife and I like to camp together and we miss being close to one another, what can we do?
Well, first off body heat is amazing and nothing will heat up a sleeping bag better than two. Many sleeping bags come with a left or right zip option. This option is not only a preference or a dexterity thing, but a matable sleeping bag option. A left and a right zip will often zip together forming one large sleeping bag for two. Even with a cold spot in the center where they zip together it’s a great feature. There are also companies out here that make a two person sleeping bag, which is nice for car camping, but you don’t want to have to carry these beasts into the back country.
What temperature rating should I go with?
I have to redirect with a question, are you a warm or cold sleeper? The answer to this question can help out in your decision; you might be able to adjust by 5-10 degrees in one direction or the other. You also need to think about the time of year, weather forecast, and the region you will be in. For camping overnight in the Adirondacks and the High Peaks, it’s not outlandish for the summer temperatures to drop into the 30’s at night. You may need more than one bag at some point in your backpacking career. I have a 40 degree bag for nights I know will be very warm or if I am staying in the foothills. If I camp in the Adirondacks I usually bring my 30 degree bag. A 0-20 degree bag is great for the fall season where frost is frequent and snow is not unheard of. I have a negative 40 degree bag for winter camping. I will also add that I am a cold sleeper.
Another thought, will you be in a tent, on a hammock, or in a lean-to? A tent traps heat and gives you nearly 10 degrees warmer temperatures. Will there be someone else in the tent with you? This also helps with indirect body heat, or direct if the case may be.
You also have the option of a sleeping bag liner. Liners can add up to 25 degrees of warmth to your current sleeping bag. This also opens up the option to get a warmer weather sleeping bag and use the liner as needed.
What kind of fill should I get?
This is a HUGE question and a very important one. First off you have down; it’s lighter and compacts up very small. Unfortunately if you get it wet, you will lose all your warmth ratings and the bag will become near useless in keeping you warm enough. Down works great if you plan to be in dryer areas without the fear of heavy rains. It needs to be in a waterproof bag, no exceptions; protect your investment. If it gets wet in your pack from a freak rainstorm or your water bottle leaks, you can be in trouble. Down fill bags works great for winter camping where drier climates are more likely.
Synthetic fill sleeping bags are heavier and much more bulky. However, you could all but throw it in a lake and it will keep you warm. Because of its heavy fill and size, most backpackers going on long journeys will opt for down.
Do you get what you pay for?
Not always. I have a $100.00 bag that I swear is as nice as my $300.00 bag, but the warmth rating is different. But as far as quality and durability, it’s been bomb proof. You will pay more a down bag than a synthetic bag, sometimes as much as three times as much for the same features of a synthetic, depending on the quality of the down. A 600 fill down will cost you less than an 800 down fill, based on the quality of the down. The warmer the bag, the more you will pay as well, based on the amount of material you get. Long bags are also more expensive, by about $10-$20.
Seek out a local outdoor retailer if you do, or give me a shout right back here and I will do the best I can to help.
I have never camped before, where do I start?
Do some shopping around. Get in a bag. Do research online and checkout feedback forums. Rent before you buy to try out a couple different styles and brands. Contact a local guide service for details on an introduction to backpacking course.