Camping Basics: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

Get a good night’s rest in the great outdoors with a high-quality sleeping bag. Learn how to choose the right sleeping bag for different terrains and weather conditions.

Campers should consider temperature, climate and their own comfort level when selecting a new sleeping bag. Experienced backpackers should head out with a lightweight, packable bag, while those heading to an established campground can use heavier, plusher models.

 

The Anatomy Of Your Sleeping Bag

Anatomy of a Sleeping Bag

Hood

  • Prevents heat from escaping the head, neck and shoulders
  • Varying shapes of hoods, form-fitting hoods usually for trail campers and flat hoods for campground and wilderness campers
  • Not featured in every sleeping bag

Draft Collars

  • Tubes of insulation inside the hood on mummy bags
  • Seal the neck and shoulders from heat loss

Draft Tubes

  • Strips of insulation that run along the inside of the zipper
  • Prevent heat loss through the zipper

Chest Baffles

  • Tubes of insulation that wrap across the chest
  • Prevent heat loss through upper torso area

Accessory Pockets

  • Sewn into some sleeping bags, these pockets allow campers to store small objects, like a phone or watch, inside the bag
  • Gives campers easy access to items without opening the bag and losing heat

Lining

  • Nylon: Lightweight, easy to wash, dries easily
  • Polyester: Dries quickly, not as breathable, wrinkle-resistant
  • Cotton: Strong, absorbent, breathable
  • Poly cotton: Coolness and lightness of cotton with the strength, durability and wrinkle-resistance of polyester

Zipper

  • Two-way zipper allows better ventilation and flexibility
  • On mummy bags: Right-handed people should buy a left-handed zipper sleeping bag, and left-handed people should buy a-right handed zipper sleeping bag

Outer Shell

  • Nylon: High-quality bags use nylon because it is lightweight and durable
  • Polyester: Less expensive bags use polyester shells, dries quickly, tough
  • Poly cotton: Lightness of cotton with strength of polyester
  • Cotton: Provides maximum comfort and feel
  • Element barrier: Super durable and weather resistant
  • Canvas duck: Heavy duty fabric for rugged camping

Types of Sleeping Bags

  • Campground sleeping bags are designed for use in warmer temperatures. They’re also made with comfort in mind—some area heavier in weight because campers won’t be carrying them over a long distance. These rectangular bags should be used for shorter camping trips at established campgrounds.
  • Trail sleeping bags are lightweight, compact and packable. They perform well in cold temperatures and are lightweight for hikers and backpackers.
  • Wilderness sleeping bags are durable, rugged and thick. These bags keep you comfortable in extreme weather conditions and are fortified with a heavy-duty construction.

Mummy Sleeping Bag

  • Cut wider at the shoulders and tapered at the feet
  • Most efficient combination of weight and warmth because they minimize dead airMummy Sleeping Bag

Rectangular Sleeping Bag

  • Provides extra foot room and space for campers
  • Large top opening is more comfortable, but conducive to heat loss
  • Versatile option, you can zip two rectangular bags together or unzip to use as a blanket

Rectangular Sleeping Bag

Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags

  • Compromise between Mummy bags and Rectangular bags
  • Tapered foot and additional room in the torso
  • Provides extra room and warmth

Semi-rectangular Sleeping Bag

Double Sleeping Bags

  • Sized for two people
  • Added room for extra comfort

Double Sleeping BagEN Ratings Temperature Rating

The European Norm (EN) is the standardized sleeping bag rating system. These ratings help campers understand which sleeping bag they should choose based on temperature. Each EN rated bag shows a comfort rating, a limit rating and an extreme rating, giving a consistent comparison of warmth from one manufacturer to the next.

Stated in the EN ratings is the fact that women generally feel colder than men at the same temperature, and should choose a lower temperature rated sleeping bag.

Campers should purchase a bag with a rating lower than the coldest temperature they expect to encounter.

  • Comfort: Lowest temperature at which a standard woman can have a comfortable night’s sleep
  • Lower Limit: Lowest temperature at which a standard man can have a comfortable night’s sleep
  • Extreme: Survival rating for a standard adult woman

Insulation

The type of insulation used in a sleeping bag determines how warm the bag will be in a variety of weather conditions. Most bags have either synthetic or down insulators, which are sandwiched between the sleeping bag’s shell and lining via enclosed channels, layers or baffles. Another thing to note is the carry weight vs. the fill weight. The carry weight is how much the entire sleeping bag weighs, and the fill weight is what the insulation on its own weighs.

Synthetic Insulated Sleeping Bag

  • Plastic threads woven together as a single filament
  • Designed to trap air and increase warmth in the sleeping bag
  • Much more water-resistant than down. If you might experience wet conditions, synthetic is the definitive choice.

Down Insulated Sleeping Bag

  • Fluffy undercoating beneath the outer feathers of geese and ducks
  • Light and compressible, best natural insulator
  • Higher weight to warmth ratio
  • Should only be used if the camper can keep the bag completely dry
  • Do not buy a sleeping bag with down insulation if there is any chance of it getting wet.

As a tip, the best way to store your sleeping bag at home is by hanging it from a close from the loops on the bag.