Hiking - Gear/Equipment

Camping Basics: How to Choose Sleeping Bags (A Quick Guide)

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Ever thought of just packing your bag and leaving for the journey. A journey to a place that’s more than its name, a place that has the power to dissolve your stress with only its aesthetics and bring spiritual comfort. If only that comfort could be extended to something more tangible, like comfort in sleeping at night in those places. And hence you to have also throw in a camping sleeping bag in your bag.

 It may sound easy to choose them but there are guidelines to follow to select a sleeping bag. Keep reading to know all about choosing the best sleeping bag for backpacking.

With winter upon us, check out how to do a winter camping cozily.

Know more here:

How to Choose Camping Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags
Do Not Compromise With These (source)

Sleeping bags for backpacking come in all shapes, sizes, and for every weather. Here’s how you examine hiking sleeping bags to be ideal for wild camping.

Temperature Ratings

The first thing to check in a sleeping bag is its temperature. Think carefully about the place you are going to, its weather conditions, and the ambient temperature.

Based on those factors, all hiking sleeping bags can be categorized into three groups - summer, 3-season, and winter based on the temperature ratings

Of these, 3-season bags are most popular as the bag can always be zipped down for a summer trip and also, be used to sleep in comfortably in a winter trip by adding just a liner. Most 3-season backpacking bags will show an EN testing rating with two temperature ratings called “comfort rating” and “lower-limit rating”.

Comfort rating is the lowest temperature at which a sleeping bag will keep the average woman or “cold sleeper” comfortable. Conversely, the lower-limit rating is the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep a man or “warm sleeper” comfortable.

Livingit Tip
EN ratings are based on a sleeper wearing one long underwear layer and a hat, and sleeping on a single one-inch thick insulating pad.

Insulation Types

Down vs synthetic insulation
Which One Is the Best Type of Insulation? (source)

Sleeping bags don’t provide any warmth by itself. It works by decreasing the amount of heat your body loses while sleeping via insulation. Two basic insulation types are commonly used are:

Type 1: Down Insulation (Goose or Duck)

Lauded for being light, soft, easy to compress with long-lasting and breathable features, down insulation is an exceptional insulator. It excels in cold, dry conditions or whenever saving weight and space are priorities.

Down is more expensive than synthetic fill, but it maintains its loft (which provides its heat-trapping ability) at a near-original state longer than synthetics. That makes down a good value over the long haul.

These down sleeping bags come in two variants - goose down and duck down

Goose down has long been considered the best of all down but duck down with fill-power ratings of 900 and potentially higher has largely taken over as the fill of choice in most down jackets and sleeping bags. Most down is a by-product of the meat industry, and more ducks are eaten than geese. As a result, duck down is more abundant and less expensive.

Type 2: Waterproof Sleeping Bag

Wet down turns into a soggy lump, losing its ability to retain heat. That’s why most hiking sleeping bags now contain down that’s been treated at a microscopic level with a water-resistant application. It’s often called “hydrophobic” down.

Livingit Tip
Remember- it is water-resistant, not waterproof.

Type 3: Synthetic Insulation

Synthetic insulation sleeping bags are usually made from a type of polyester. These are less expensive than down bags and dry much faster as well. And since synthetics are non-allergenic, they insulate even when wet! They are a good choice to camp in damp climates and for backpackers who are budget-minded.

The downsides of these synthetic sleeping bags are that they offer less warmth for their weight, gets bulkier when compressed, and the insulating power reduces each time it is stuffed into a stuff sack.

There are some synthetic-fill bags that feel soft and compressible, similar to down, while others feel stiffer but may have better durability. Check both the kinds of sleeping bags and decide which you prefer.

Also, learn to choose the best flashlights for camping.

Type 4: Down/Synthetic Combination

Some bags now combine down and synthetic fill. These hybrids can provide the benefits of both materials and offset the imperfections. In some cases, the two types of insulations are blended together throughout the bag. In others, the durable synthetic may be on the bottom and lofty down on top.

Sleeping Bag: Weight and Shape

couple sleeping bags
For Couples, There are Sleeping Bags That Can Be Zipped Together (source)

Backpacking sleeping bags are available in several shapes. Each structure is designed to appeal to different types of campers.

  • Mummy

These sleeping bags have a tapered cut through the legs and feet to offer high thermal efficiency. The mummy bags are designed with the concept that a bag’s insulating power increases with a decrease in interior space. Although most mummy sleeping bags have plenty of room through the shoulders and torso, restless sleepers and broader campers should opt for an alternative cut as they may be more comfortable.

Another benefit of mummy bags is that because they use less materials and insulation, they’re lighter-weight and easier to pack.

  • Rectangular

These are best suited for backyard campouts and basement sleepovers, rectangular bags as they aren’t thermally efficient. The structure does not have any taper at all through the legs.

  • Semi-rectangular

A hybrid of mummy and rectangular shapes, semi-rectangular bags are a good choice for campers who can’t sleep in the confinement of a mummy bag. These also provide more warmth than a rectangular bag has to offer. They’re bulkier and heavier than mummies, but give you a bit room to shift and adjust while sleeping.

You also get lightweight sleeping bags which are quite practical for hikers who go a for more than 2 days of a hike.

Sleeping Bag: Length

The basic sleeping bags come in Regular or Long sizes. However, they are also marked as Short (or Petite) or X-Long. The sleeping bag sizes vary depending on gender and manufacturer.

Sleeping bag size
There's One for Every Size of Individual (source)

Sleeping Bag: Features to Know about

A sleeping bag may seem a simple equipment but it’s not! There is an assortment of other features. Such as:

1. Zipper compatibility

Some backpacking sleeping bags can be zipped together (with each other) for sleeping. Just remember that joining two bags together can create gaps inside, reducing the efficiency to stay warm.

2. Hood

It’s essential to have a hood on your bag if camping in cold temperature as heat loss occurs through head too. Certain hoods feature with a pillow pocket that can be stuffed with some clothing to create a pillow. While others are designed to lie flat when the bag is unzipped to use as a quilt. In ultralight bags, the hood is missing which saves some weight.

3. Draft tube

It is an insulation-filled tube running inside the bag's main zipper. The tube is designed to keep warmth intact, not allowing it to escape from between the zipper coils.

4. Draft collar (or neck baffles) and face mufflers

Generally found on bags rated for colder weather, these are insulated baffles around the head and neck. They prevent body heat from escaping and cold air from seeping in.

Do you know how to camp like a pro with these items?

5. Differentiated cords

These cords help to loosen or tighten your hood and adjust the neck opening. And you can tell them apart y feel in the dark.

6. Stash pocket

To keep small items, such as your phone, watch or glasses, close at hand, these pockets come in use. The pocket locations can vary by model.

7. Pad Loops

These sewn-in straps let you secure your sleeping pad directly to your sleeping bag so you won't roll off. You can also hang these bag by way of these loops to store it.

8. Trapezoidal Footbox

This design adds extra space in the foot area allowing your feet to have a more natural sleeping position. This is most useful for people sleeping on their back rather than on the sides. The additional space also reduces the tension your feet put on the bag, thereby prolonging the insulation.

9. Pad sleeve

Some sleeping bags eliminate the insulation on the bottom and replace it with a sleeve or attachments for an insulated sleeping pad. This bag design reduces overall pack weight and compresses smaller than conventional sleeping bags.

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Sleeping Bag: Construction

sleeping bag construction
How Are These Constructed? (source)

A sleeping bag consists of three parts: an outer shell, insulation, and inner lining. While these are not key considerations for most backpackers, there are a couple things to know before buying.

- Shell and Lining

The outer shell of a sleeping bag is usually made of durable ripstop nylon or polyester. Most high-quality bags will have waterproof, breathable shells or partial shells; some are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish that makes water to bead up rather than soaking it in.

A waterproof or DWR-treated shell keeps your bag stay dry if it touches the wet sides of your tent or if you’re sleeping under the stars on a dewy night.

The inside lining of a sleeping bag is typically fashioned with polyester or nylon taffeta. It’s comfortably soft and breathes well in order to let body moisture evaporate.

- Construction Techniques

Using several techniques, insulation is held between a sleeping bag's outer shell and inner lining. The goal is always to make sure that an even distribution of insulation retains.

Down sleeping bags either feature box-style baffles to hold the down in place and create ultimate warmth or all the layers which are sewn-through. It is typically seen in ultralight bags and is not as warm.

While synthetic bags feature sheets or pieces of insulation which are stitched to the shell and lining in different methods.

Livingit Tip
For optimum warmth, avoid bags with many places where heat might escape.

Sleeping Bag: Accessories and Care

Most quality sleeping bags consist of a stuff sack for use on the trail, and a large cotton bag for storing the bag in. Down sleeping bags in particular need to be stored in a roomy bag or hung by foot loops in a closet so the down can “breathe” and not lose its loft.

And that’s how you buy a sleeping bag like a pro camper!

So, now you know how to choose sleeping bags and while you gear up for the next camping trip take a look at the Leave No Trace Principle to do ethical camping.

Camping is a one of a kind experience. But come night, things can do chilly and uncomfortable, especially if you do not have a good quality sleeping bag. To ensure a good night’s sleep in the wilderness and wake up to a beautiful morning with a pleasant mood get the best sleeping bag that is practical to pack and carry.