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catch a few ZZZZZZZZs
Rendering a decision about purchasing the right sleeping bag shouldn’t keep you up at night. Understandably, when you look at all the different sleeping bags available today, it’s enough to make anyone confused. The key to the right bag is selecting one that suits the elements as well as your personal needs.

Temperature and Camping

The specified temperature ratings need to be taken with a grain of salt. The rating that comes with the bag represents the lowest temperature in which that sleeping bag should be used. Keep in mind temperature ratings are created with the assumption that you are using a sleeping pad. When you lay in a sleeping bag, you are compressing the fill material (whether down or synthetic), thus reducing the loft and insulating capabilities of the bag. A sleeping pad puts another couple inches of insulation between you and the cold ground, increasing the effectiveness of the bag. When considering temperature ratings, there are a few variables to take into consideration, but as noted above, it all boils down to personal needs and preferences.

Sleeping Metabolism

Everybody has a different sleeping metabolism, which is a critical indicator as to what bag you will need. It is important to take into account whether you are a hot or cold sleeper. Understand that the temperature ratings on the bag may actually be 10F inaccurate for you, in either direction depending on how you sleep. Think about whether you are a hot or cold sleeper before making a purchase since this will influence your decision.

Sleeping Bag Construction

There are several key parts in a sleeping bag’s construction, including the shell, the lining and the insulation. The insulation can be rendered of a synthetic material or down, both of which are durable and light.


Mountain Hardwear Down Sleeping Bag

Mountain Hardwear Down Sleeping Bag

Goose-down is very lightweight and offers some of the best weight-to-warmth ratios. However, if the down gets wet, it will lose up to 70% of its insulation properties. Keep in mind down bags are typically more expensive than their synthetic counterparts.

A Note on Fill-Power

Fill-Power is the numerical rating system given to down to determine its “universal lofting value”.  In an enclosed cylinder, one ounce of down is compressed and decompressed (to simulate stuffing), then allowed to loft for 72 hours.  After this period, a one-ounce weight is placed on the sample of down. The down’s fill-power is represented by the loft’s volume in cubic centimeters. For example, 550-fill power down lofts to 550 cubic centimeters of volume, and 800-fill power down lofts to 800 cubic centimeters.

Is a higher fill-power down warmer? No, it isn’t warmer.  Imagine two sleeping bags that look and loft identically; one has 550-fill power and the other has 850-fill power down.  Which one is warmer?  Neither, they’re both the same (so long as they have the same temperature rating).  However, the one with 800 fill-down will be lighter.

Synthetic Insulation

Marmot Synthetic Sleeping Bag
Marmot Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Synthetic bags are more forgiving when wet as they retain insulation, unlike down versions. Sleeping bag shells are typically nylon or polyester fabric for durability and quick drying properties.


Sleeping Bag Liner
Sleeping Bag Liner

The lining of a sleeping bag can be made of cotton or cotton flannel for car camping to give you the comfort of flannel sheets, or nylon and polyester to reduce moisture absorption common to natural fibers like cotton.

Consider your Camping Style

Because there are different types of camping, there are various sleeping bags designed for each camping style. When choosing a sleeping bag, consider how it will be used most often. Please see below for some of the scenarios you may find yourself in when camping.

Backpacking: Weight and size are a primary concern. Remember, whatever bag you choose, you’ll be carrying it on your back. The last thing you need is a heavy, bulky sleeping bag to tote around. Look for a warm, lightweight, compact bag.

RV or Car Camping: Since you won’t be carrying your sleeping bag, weight isn’t a major factor. Concentrate on warmth, comfort, and leg room.

Canoe/Camping: A warm, quick-drying bag is essential. Remember, waterproof stuff sacks and travel bags can leak.

Extreme or Deep Winter Camping Conditions: For hard-core campers, weight, warmth, compactness, and moisture-resistance are all critical considerations.

Additional Warmth Factors
  • Sleeping bag liners are separate pieces which fit inside your bag and can provide additional 15F degrees of warmth to your bag. Bag liners are available in silk and cotton. In addition to increasing warmth, they also protect your sleeping bag from the oils on your skin, reducing overall wear on the bag.

  • Sleeping pads add a layer of insulation between you and the ground. Different sleeping pads have higher insulating capabilities then others. This is indicated by R-Value-the higher the R-Value the more insulation it will provide.

  • Adding layers will definitely add more warmth

  • Sleeping bags with a hood, which most mummy-style bags feature, can be cinched up for a snug fit providing extra heat retention.

  • Dehydration releases body warmth so make sure to drink water.

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