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Buying Guide for Sleeping Bags


By Steve Kopitz

Sleeping Bags


You have the camping itch or maybe you have a backpacking scratch, either way your going to need a sleeping bag. This guide will walk you through several different key points when you are considering buying a sleeping bag. Obviously the goal of a sleeping bag is to keep you warm, but there are other factors you need to think about like staying dry, the right fit, and weight. Gender also plays a part when picking out the right bag so lets get started.


Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating


This would be the first decision I would suggest you make. All sleeping bags have a temp rating usually included in the name, like the Mountain Hardware Lamina 20º. The 20ºF refers to the bags suggested comfort level so anytime it’s 20ºF or warmer you should be good. This does not mean you don’t have to dress accordingly, but you get the idea. Keep in mind the rating also assumes your wearing a layer of long underwear and using a sleeping pad (see our sleeping pad guide). It’s important to keep in mind that some sleep cold and others sleep warm so use the rating as a guide and not a guarantee. Try to figure out what type of climate you plan on camping in and then make a decision on what temperature rating will best fit your needs. Something to keep in mind is women generally prefer a bit warmer bag than men, on average 10ºF warmer. Below is a guide to help determine your rating.


Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating

Climate Temperature Rating (°F)
Summer +35° and Higher
Spring/Fall +10° - +35°
Winter -10° - +10°
Extreme -10° and Below



Sleeping Bag Shape / Fit


You have 3 basic shapes when it comes to sleeping bags. The first shape is rectangular, which is the most common and is designed for roominess and comfort. If you’re planning on backpacking this is not the best choice. The second shape is semi rectangular or the barrel-shape bag, which offers greater warmth and overall efficiency than your standard rectangular sleeping bag. This sleeping bag can be used for both camping and backpacking. The third and final shape is the mummy bag designed for the avid backpacker. The mummy bag is the king of bags when it comes to maximum thermal efficiency and weight reduction. Keep in mind if you are a restless sleeper you might find the mummy sleeping bag a little restrictive, In this case a semi rectangular bag might be a better option or you.


Sleeping bags are also available for two, most commonly available in the rectangular shape and some bags even zip together to create a nice sleeping space for two.


Sleeping Bag Shapes


Gender Specific Sleeping Bags


Don’t forget there are sleeping bags designed specifically for women. These bags are engineered to match a woman’s contours. You will find a women’s sleeping bag is shorter and narrower at the shoulders, wider at the hips, has extra insulation in the upper body, and extra insulation in the footbox.


Sleeping Bag Length


Sleeping bags also come in different lengths for both men and women. For men up to 5’6” go for a short bag, for 5’7” to 6’0” go for regular, and 6’1” and up go for long. For women up to 5’6” go for regular and 5’7” to 6’0” go for long. For women these guides apply to women’s specific sleeping bags.


Sleeping Bag Fill


As mentioned above we all know sleeping bags keep us warm, now we will take a quick look on how that works. When you zip up in your sleeping bag there is a layer of dead air next to your body.The heat your body creates is actually what warms this air. The sleeping bag is used to form a barrier from the outside air so the less air space the faster you will warm up. You have 2 forms of fill in a sleeping bag synthetic and goose-down. Synthetic insulation offers many pros including water resistant’s, dries quickly, less expensive, easy to care for, and it’s completely hypoallergenic. Couple cons to synthetic are being bulky, heavier than down, and they will break down over time. Down is warmer than synthetic and no manmade fiber matches down in its warmth-to-weight ratio. Down longevity cannot be beat. It wicks body moisture, and is lightweight along with being highly compressible. Some down cons are being costly, requires special cleaning, losses insulting properties when wet, and can contain allergens.


Sleeping Bag Outer Shell Material


The outer shell of your sleeping bag is most likely made of a ripstop nylon or polyester for durability. You will find high quality down and synthetic bags will have a durable water repellent finish.


Sleeping Bag Weight / Packing


The last thing you need to think about is weight. You have to really think about what type of camping you are mainly going to do; this will help determine what kind of weight you’re looking for. Do you want the lightest bag on the market or are you concerned with roominess and a good nights sleep. Most sleeping bags try to find that balance, but it’s up to you to make that decision. Along with weight comes how you plan to pack your sleeping bag. If you plan on backpacking you want to consider a lightweight bag that packs down, or a stuff sack. If you do not plan on hiking with your bag you can go for more of a convenient style sleeping bag. Never store any kind of sleeping bag in your stuff sack when your not using it this will cause your fill to break down much quicker.


Hopefully this guide has aided you in choosing the best sleeping bag for your needs. Don’t forget to contact our friendly customer service with any further or more specific questions. See you on the trail!

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