Sleeping Bag selection is critical. From a packing standpoint, it generally is one of the more bulkier items you will travel with, so so size and weight are important. In addition, and more importantly, sleeping safely and comfortably is one of the most important parts of any trip outdoors.
One must consider the following facts in Sleeping bag selection.
Temperature Rating: It is good practice to select a Sleeping Bag with a temperature rating below what you plan to encounter on your trip.
Insulation Type: The 2 main fill types are Down and Synthetic. Each has advantages and disadvantages, which are explained further down below.
Weight: As Sleeping Bags get rated for lower and lower temperatures, they tend to get heavier as more fill is required for the decreased temperature. Insulation fill quality are big factors when it comes to weight.
Sleeping bags can be broadly categorized into to main types:
Camping Sleeping Bags
Backpacking and Bikepacking/Bike Touring Sleeping Bags
It is assumed that “Camping Sleeping Bags” are transported by a vehicle, so weight and size are less critical.
The essential 3 differences in the Sleeping Bag types are Backpacking and Bikepacking/Bike Touring Sleeping Bags are lighter, pack smaller and are more efficient in how they provide warmth for their weight (and are therefore more expensive).
Temperature Ratings Explained
The temperature rating for a sleeping bag is the temperature that bag was designed to keep an average person warm, comfortable and safe. In general, bags can be broadly categorized by the following ratings
Summer Sleeping Bag: 30 degrees F and above
3-Season Sleeping Bag: Between 15 degrees F and
Winter Sleeping Bag: 15 degrees and lower
It is good practice to select a Sleeping Bag with a temperature rating below what you plan to encounter on your trip. If it turns out to be warmer than anticipated, you can always leave the bag open…if things get too cold you may have some serious things to consider.
ISO/EN Temperature Ratings
ISO and EN are ratings systems that allow for the comparison of multiple Sleeping Bags. EN is an older standard, but provides essentially the same data as ISO
With Sleeping Bags using the ISO/EN Rating System, the values are usually given as “Comfort” and “Limit”. “Comfort” is the temperature that a Cold Sleeper will be comfortable, “Limit” is the temperature that a Warm Sleeper will be comfortable.
These ratings are not a guarantee,. Other factors such as clothing, sleeping pad, tent, metabolism and weather can effect sleep comfort and safety.
Insulation Fill Types
Understanding Sleeping Bag Insulation Types
Down Fill Insulation
Easy to compress
Best choice for cold, dry conditions
More expensive on average than synthetic insulations, down is sought after because it’s lighter and more compressible. In addition, down fill is more durable than a synthetic fill, which means it retains a more consistent level of warmth for more years. Here are a few common questions when considering down insulation:
Fill Power: Fill Power is a rating that determines the quality of the down fill, with higher ratings generating greater warmth for its weight.
Water-resistant down insulation: Because down doesn’t work well when wet, many Sleeping Bags contain down that have water repellent characteristics and/or treatments.
Responsible Down: Because most down is a by-product of the meat industry, bag manufacturers have taken steps to ensure humane treatment of the animals that provide down: RDS (Responsible Down Standard) and TDS (global Traceable Down Standard) are two designations to look for.
Synthetic Fill insulation
Insulates when wet
Synthetic Fill insulation is more cost-effective than down. It continues to insulate when wet. Most synthetics are made of polyester. Because of the great diversity of Synthetic Fill, there is no Fill Power rating that is used for thes ebags.
Down/synthetic blends: These are bags that use Down Fill on top (better loft and warmth), and Synthetic Fill on the bottom (less compression)
Sleeping Bag Weight
The 2 factors that determine the weight of a Sleeping Bag are its insulation and its shape. More efficient advanced synthetics and high-fill-power downs will deliver greater warmth for less weight than less efficient fills.
The overall bag weight is what matters when you’re carrying a bag in your pack. Insulation fill weight tells you only the weight of the insulation in the bag.
Sleeping Bag Shape
Sleeping bags work by retaining heat emitted by your body, which can warm a small space up more efficiently than a larger space. A bag with a sleek shape and a tight fit will be lighter and more efficient than a similar bag that’s nice and roomy. Sleeping bags come in three basic shapes:
Mummy: To increase warmth and reduce weight, this type of bag has a slim contoured cut, along with a hood you can pull tight for increased warmth.
Semi-Rectangular: This shape aims to capture the mummy and rectangular shapes advantages
Rectangular: A lot of camping bags have a simple rectangular shape that maximizes roominess.