CHOOSING A SLEEPING BAG
The style and design of sleeping bag you should buy depends greatly on where exactly you’ll be using it.
On any trip where you’ll spend even one night in the outdoors, the quality of your sleep has a tremendous impact on your ability to function during the day, and ultimately your enjoyment of the experience. Like at home, getting a good night’s sleep depends on a number of things including your level of hydration, your sleeping apparel, hunger level, light quality in the environment, noise, etc.
These are important factors to keep in mind when you sleep in the wilderness but the biggest factor is the bag. What design, style, and make of sleeping bag should you buy for a good night’s sleep in the outdoors?
Here’s a primer.
STEP ONE: CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE RATING
- Summer 15 C to 0 C
- Three-season -1 C to -15 C
- All-season/Winter -15 C to -40 C
You can end up in cold temperatures even in warmer seasons if you ascend any kind of hill or mountain during your trip. With every 1000 feet of elevation gain the temperature drops around 10 C. Consider both where and when you’ll camp: In the summer at a high elevation, in the winter at a low elevation?
Learn as much about your camping site and the design of your tent as possible.
The temperature ratings on a sleeping bag take into account both thermal underwear as well as a sleeping pad. Meaning it’s necessary to come equipped with both warm sleeping apparel like an Icebreaker base layer system as well as a sleeping pad appropriate for the climate.
Comfort Tip: Eat something high in fat before bed to give your body fuel to burn all night.
STEP TWO: CHOOSE YOUR STYLE
The mummy style of sleeping bag is rapidly becoming the go-to style for many campers, hikers, and backpackers thanks to its reduced weight and size. The narrowed shape means the design cuts down on fabric while at the same time reducing the amount of air surrounding your body while inside the bag.
Sleeping bags keep you warm by utilizing the ‘dead air’ around your body within the bag – this air does not circulate and is instead warmed by your own body heat, creating a layer of warm air between you and the outside air.
Because mummy-style sleeping bags allow for less ‘dead air’ space within the bag, your body is required to warm less air to keep your core temperature regulated.
Rectangle-style sleeping bags are designed to be warm and comfortable in a variety of temperatures and environments. For some people, they allow greater range of motion than a mummy style but can also be a bit bulker to pack and carry. You might want to marry two bags together or open one up and use it as a blanket in which case a rectangle-style bag is the right choice. If you’re planning on car camping and comfort is your biggest priority a rectangle design could be a great option for you.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIAL
A down sleeping bag is actually made from the plumage of a duck, the fluffy white layer found directly below their feathers, not the feathers themselves. Duck and goose plumage is nature’s best insulator: It’s so fluffy it easily creates a healthy layer of air between the material (called ‘loft’) which allows heat to remain trapped. The greater the loft the greater the insulating potential of the bag.
Down sleeping bags are:
- Highly efficient at insulating
- Extremely lightweight
- Fold or ‘pack down’ very small
One of the challenges of using a down sleeping bag is the material does not dry quickly and loses much of its ability to keep you warm when ‘soaked out.’ This can lead to a tricky situation where your bag is soaked out after days of use in the winter but you’re ready for bed.
A synthetic sleeping bag is designed to mimic the properties of down. Using a polyester material woven together to create a pattern that allows room for air within the design, a synthetic bag:
- Is warm in cold conditions thanks to its insulating properties
- Dries quickly and is still warm even when damp
- Is less expensive than a down sleeping bag
A hybrid-style sleeping bag mixes the best of both down and synthetic materials to create a bag that’s relatively inexpensive, efficient at insulating, and is light and easy to pack.
STEP FOUR: CHOOSE THE RIGHT WEIGHT
Your ability to transport your bag will have a significant impact on your choice in sleeping system. Backcountry campers and minimalist campers will obviously be more concerned with weight than someone going car camping, but the overall weight of your gear should always be on your mind.
Down is considered the lightest insulation and it also packs down quite easily.
Synthetic sleeping bags can be a bit heavier but they’re also usually less expensive and don’t retain moisture as easily as down does.
OTHER SLEEPING NECESSITIES
There are other elements that go into keeping you warm and comfortable during your sleep in the outdoors. While the sleeping bag is the first and most important choice you’ll have to make, at certain temperatures it’s crucial you select the right sleeping pad and layering system for your clothing.
In the winter months and in climates where the temperature drops during the night, a sleeping pad is critical to your sleep. Creating a barrier between you and the cold ground will make it easier for your body to keep warm, and it has the added benefit of being softer than the ground.
In fact, a softer sleep is a great reason to always pack a sleeping pad no matter what conditions you’re camping in.
- An air pad
- A self-inflating air pad
- A foam pad
Keeping your body temperature up during the night is much easier when you’re wearing heat-regulating, moisture-wicking clothing. From socks to long underwear and thermal top, a base layer system is designed for ultimate comfort when you’re sleeping by allowing your skin to breathe, rather than trapping moisture close to your skin where it gets cool quick.
When the temperature drops lower than expected, throw on a bluff to cover your face and neck along with a toque.
Sleeping Bag Liner
Essential in extreme cold conditions and also a great way to fool-proof your warmth during the night, a liner sits between you and the sleeping bag. It creates another layer for air to become trapped and warmed in, increasing the overall insulating abilities of your bag and sleep system.