There are few things worse than a poor night’s sleep! Particularly if that night was at the end of a gruelling (but enjoyable) day outdoors, and with the next day promising much of the same.
Part of the solution is to buy the right sleeping bag in the first place. This guide looks at the key points to consider before purchasing your next bag.
Each sleeping bag comes with a recommended temperature range within which it should be used. Both a minimum and maximum limit will be defined.
Although these ratings can vary, bags will loosely fall into one of the following categories:
A summer sleeping bag is going to be thinner and more light weight than others (easier to carry). In colder temperatures – even during the summer – it’s going to offer little to no protection from the cold.
A three-season sleeping bag is the all-rounder. It should be usable in summer and will suffice for non-extreme cold temperatures.
If space or pack weight is a concern then during the summer you might still want to go with a specialised summer bag.
For mountaineering and the extreme cold there is no other option than a winter bag. More awkward to carry and usually the more expensive models.
Size and Shape
To a degree, the size and shape will be influenced by the temperature rating of the bag. e.g. summer bags the smallest/lightest and winter bags the largest/heaviest.
A “mummy” shape gives maximum insulation: snug at the feet and head. However a rectangular shape is more comfortable as the feet and legs have a greater range of movement.
Hybrid bags incorporate the narrow feet area but the rectangular open head section.
This is going to be a straight shoot-out between synthetic and down with synthetic being the most commonly found.
Synthetic bags are generally cheaper and easy to clean. They also offer better performance than down in the wet. When wet, down loses a great amount of insulating ability and takes longer to dry.
The advantage of down over synthetic material is its natural ability to retain heat. This leads to down bags that are less bulky than the temperature rating equivalent synthetic models.
In terms of warmth-to-weight ratio, down significantly outperforms synthetic. This performance does result in higher prices though, but in harsh cold climates the extra pack space and reduced weight is an expense to swallow.
Aside from the above criteria there are a few extra functions that you may or may not want to consider.
For example what side is the zip? Is the zip full length?
With some square shaped bags it is possible to zip a left side zipped bag to a right side zipped bag giving you a double sleeping bag!
Some summer bags come equipped with a hood – but is this something you are really going to need on a hot night?
Likewise if buying a bag for the cold: the more customisation available with adjusting the hood section the better – particularly if you will be using the bag outside.