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Which kind of sleeping bag do you need?

  • Jan 12, 2015

If you haven't gone camping since you were a Cub Scout, there may be a lot to learn about sleeping bags. Before you embark on a camping trip with your friends or family, make sure you invest in a sleeping bag that will help you when you need it. Here are some of the most important features to analyze before making a sleeping bag purchase to ensure you get the one that will be the most useful and comfortable for you. 

There are a variety of types of sleeping bags, including general use or overnight sleeping bags, that are only suited for indoor use, like sleepovers. However, every sleeping bag suited for camping should have a temperature rating. 

A temperature rating is a number in degrees Fahrenheit that tells you what temperatures that the bag will generally keep you warm in. The rating is not always completely accurate, so it should be used as a guideline. There are four ranges of temperature ratings:

  • Above 35 or 40 - These bags are only for the summer, hot climates or indoors. 
  • Between 40 and 15  - Often called three-season bags, these are all-purpose bags for most campers who camp throughout most of the year, but don't dabble in high-altitude climbs. 
  • Between 15 and -10 - These are winter or cold-weather bags, perfect for camping or hunting in snowy areas. Beware these can be too warm for summer trips. 
  • Below -10 - A bag that's rated for extremely low temperatures is uncommon among typical outdoorsmen. Bags rated this low are often expensive and used for extreme environments or high altitudes. Check your watch altimeter and ask your Sherpa if you need a bag like this. 

There are three shapes of sleeping bags: mummy, rectangular and tapered rectangular. Rectangular is a standard rectangle and fine for car camping, while mummy-shaped bags - wide at the top and narrow at the toes - are more form fitting and better for backpacking where every inch of space counts. A tapered rectangle is in between the other two and offers more room than a typical mummy bag. 

Sleeping bags are designed to keep whoever is inside warm and comfortable, so the filling and material of the bag matters. Most bags are either filled with down feathers or synthetic fibers. 

Synthetic fibers are heavier and bulkier than down, but work better when wet and clean well. Down, however, has an excellent amount of insulation, but costs more and isn't as functional if wet. There are also variations on synthetic types based on brand. 

Size and weight 
If you're hiking or bicycle touring with your sleeping bag, its size and weight are critical. You want a bag that's compact and light as possible. As explained earlier, a down bag will be lighter and less bulky on average. Before buying one, talk to the store about seeing the bag both open and compact to ensure that it will accommodate your height and fit in your pack. 

Additional features to look for 
When you invest in a sleeping bag you want it to last. Find bags that are made of durable materials, can be cleaned easily and have odor-protecting features. Outdoor sporting goods company REI also pointed to hoods at the top of the bag as possible benefits. Pockets for your belongings, draft collars, padding and durable zippers are other features to investigate. 

When you look for a sleeping bag, consider buying a sleeping pad as well. The majority of your heat is lost to the cold ground while sleeping. A pad allows an additional layer of insulation between the ground and your body. 

Everyone should know how important it is to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night especially if you are out doing a lot of exercise during the day. That is why its important to have the proper gear. The right sleeping bag, healthy snacks, water, and a watch with great features like the PRG270-4A. This watch can help you a lot when you are out in the wilderness not to mention it is a fun bright orange color.