Selecting a Sleeping Bag
The proper sleeping bag is crucial for an enjoyable camping trip. There are a variety of options to choose from with different shapes, sizes and features, but your choice should be based on where you will use the sleeping bag. Will you be camping in below zero temperatures? Will you need to haul your backpack through rough terrain? These are questions to consider before you purchase a sleeping bag or sleeping bag accessories, continue reading to learn more about picking the best sleeping bag for you.
Campground sleeping bags are generally designed for warmer temperatures and with comfort in mind. These sleeping bags are usually rectangular and made for shorter camping trips, some being heavier than others because campers aren't carrying them far. Use campground sleeping bags at established campgrounds.
Trail sleeping bags are lightweight, compact and packable. These sleeping bags are designed to perform better in colder temperatures, and are light so hikers and backpackers can carry them on or in their pack with ease. Use trail sleeping bags if you will be carrying your sleeping bag long distances and need to pack light.
Wilderness sleeping bags are durable, rugged and thick. These sleeping bags are designed to keep you comfortable even in extreme weather conditions, and the heavy duty construction won't rip or tear.
Sleeping bags come in various shapes and sizes, and should be bought according to body type, end use, sleep habits and environment.
Mummy Sleeping Bag
- Cut wider at the shoulders and tapered at the feet
- Most efficient combination of weight and warmth because they minimize dead air
Rectangular Sleeping Bag
- Provides extra foot room and space for campers
- Large top opening is more comfortable, but conducive to heat loss
- Versatile option, you can zip two rectangular bags together or unzip to use as a blanket
Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags
- Compromise between Mummy bags and Rectangular bags
- Tapered foot and additional room in the torso
- Provides extra room and warmth
Double Sleeping Bags
- Sized for two people
- Added room for extra comfort
The right size sleeping bag will insulate you the best and be the most comfortable. Choose a bag that's big enough to sleep soundly, but not too big that it adds a lot of extra weight and space. If you're a campground camper, you can buy a bag with extra room for comfort and weight for durability. If you're a trail camper, you want one that is compact, lightweight and sized to your body.
- A too large sleeping bag will create pockets of dead air that are difficult to keep warm and will reduce the overall effectiveness of the bag.
- A too small sleeping bag will compress the insulation, and won't be able to keep you as warm.
Adult Sleeping Bags
- Standard sized sleeping bags
- Sleeping bags that are not called out to be a women's or youth size are an adult size bag
Women's Sleeping Bags
- More narrow at the shoulders and wider through the hips
- Special fit delivers more protection and prevents dead, cold air from entering the bag
- Various sizes available to fit a range of women's body types
- Extra insulation for women's "cold spots" in the foot and torso area
Youth Sleeping Bags
- Built smaller to accommodate children's sizes
The temperature rating number represents the most extreme temperature a sleeping bag can withstand while still keeping you comfortable. Campers should purchase a bag with a rating lower than the coldest temperature they expect to encounter.
The European Norm (EN) is the standardized sleeping bag rating system. These ratings help campers understand which sleeping bag they should choose based on temperature. Each EN rated bag shows a comfort rating, a limit rating and an extreme rating, giving a consistent comparison of warmth from one manufacturer to the next. Stated in the EN ratings is the fact that women generally feel colder than men at the same temperature, and should choose a lower temperature rated sleeping bag.
Comfort— Lowest temperature at which a standard woman can have a comfortable night's sleep
Lower Limit—Lowest temperature at which a standard man can have a comfortable night's sleep
Extreme—Survival rating for a standard adult woman
When selecting a temperature rating for a sleeping bag, consider the following:
- Poor hydration, lack of shelter from wind and rain, and sleeping directly on the cold ground will require a colder rated bag to stay comfortable
- Campers with low or slow metabolism tend to feel colder at night and should consider a colder rated bag
- Consider the coldest nights you'll experience, and buy a bag 10-20 degrees lower
- Ratings are based on campers wearing a layer of weather appropriate clothing and using a sleeping pad
- If you plan to camp in warm and cold conditions, look for a bag rated to 20 degrees
- Traditional camp bags are comfortable to about 40 degrees
- Women typically sleep colder than men
- The lower the rating, the warmer the bag
The type of insulation used in a sleeping bag determines how warm the bag will be in a variety of weather conditions. Most bags have either synthetic or down insulators, which are sandwiched between the sleeping bag's shell and lining via enclosed channels, layers or baffles. Another thing to note is the carry weight vs. the fill weight. The carry weight is how much the entire sleeping bag weighs, and the fill weight is what the insulation on its own weighs.
Synthetic Insulated Sleeping Bag
- Plastic threads woven together as a single filament
- Designed to trap air and increase warmth in the sleeping bag
- Much more water resistant than down. If you might experience wet conditions, synthetic is the definitive choice.
Down Insulated Sleeping Bag
- Fluffy undercoating beneath the outer feathers of geese and ducks
- Light and compressible, best natural insulator
- Higher weight to warmth ratio
- Should only be used if the camper can keep the bag completely dry
- Do not buy a sleeping bag with down insulation if there is any chance of it getting wet
- Prevents heat from escaping the head, neck and shoulders
- Varying shapes of hoods, form fitting hoods usually for trail campers and flat hoods for campground and wilderness campers
- Not featured in every sleeping bag
- Tubes of insulation inside the hood on mummy bags
- Seal the neck and shoulders from heat loss
- Strips of insulation that run along the inside of the zipper
- Prevent heat loss through the zipper
- Tubes of insulation that wrap across the chest
- Prevent heat loss through upper torso area
- Sewn into some sleeping bags, these pockets allow campers to store small objects, like a phone or watch, inside the bag
- Gives campers easy access to items without opening the bag and losing heat
- Nylon: Lightweight, easy to wash, dries easily
- Polyester: Dries quickly, not as breathable, wrinkle-resistant
- Cotton: Strong, absorbent, breathable
- Poly cotton: Coolness and lightness of cotton with the strength, durability and wrinkle-resistance of polyester
- Two way zipper allows better ventilation and flexibility
- On mummy bags: Right handed people should buy a left handed zipper sleeping bag, and left handed people should buy a right handed zipper sleeping bag
- Nylon: High quality bags use nylon because it is lightweight and durable
- Polyester: Less expensive bags use polyester shells, dries quickly, tough
- Poly cotton: Lightness of cotton with strength of polyester
- Cotton: Provides maximum comfort and feel
- Element barrier : Super durable and weather resistant
- Canvas duck: Heavy duty fabric for rugged camping
- Stuff Sack—Durable drawstring bag that holds your sleeping bag. Make sure you completely dry your sleeping bag before putting it in a storage sack.
- Compression Sack—Saves space, reduces size and easy to use. Don't leave bag in compression sack for long periods of time, as it will reduce the loft.
- Storage Sack—Loose fitting cotton bag that you store your sleeping bag in at home
Note: The ideal way to store your sleeping bag at home is hanging in a closet from the loops provided on the bag
- Eliminates dead air around the feet
- Different shapes and sizes, from roomy to form-fitting
- Trapezoidal box that provides extra foot room
Sleeping Bag Care
- Dry out your bag after every use.
- Pay careful attention to the washing instructions provided when you purchased the sleeping bag. If you lost them, wash your bag by hand in a tub with a mild detergent and tumble dry on low heat, or wash in a front-loading washer on a gentle cycle with cold water.
- Store you bag in a cool, dry place. The sleeping bag will last longer if you store it loosely in a cotton storage sack because it prevents insulation from getting permanently compressed.
- Hang out sleeping bags to dry or tumble dry on low heat when they are wet. Never store a wet sleeping bag.
7 Hole Fiber Insulation: Insulation fibers with 7" interior tubes or air pockets that trap heat while reducing weight compared to solid fibers.
Baffle Construction: Vertical walls of fabric are sewn between the shell and liner to keep insulation in place and minimize the compression found in a sewn-through construction.
Blanket or Single Layer Quilted Construction: Sleeping bag construction method where shell and liner are sewn together to compress insulation.
Double Layer Offset Construction: Sleeping bag construction method where insulation is sewn to the shell and liner separately with stitches offset to improve insulation efficiency, loft and warmth per pound of insulation.
Shingled Construction: Sleeping bag construction method where insulation is stacked in layers and sewn to the shell and liner, similar to using the insulation as its own "baffle".
Draft Tube: Additional insulation that folds against a zipper or person's shoulders to eliminate drafts or cold spots.
Right vs. Left Zipper: Zipper location on a mummy-style sleeping bag. One left and one right are required to "mate" or zip together two mummy-style bags.
Ripstop: Unique fabric weave that adds tear resistance to fabrics.
Sleeping Bag Comparison Guide
The Sleeping Bag Comparison Guide is a handy resource for customers looking to purchase a sleeping bag. With information on end use, temperature ratings, insulation and more, the guide will steer you in the right direction when choosing a sleeping bag from DICK'S Sporting Goods. For a more detailed version of the Sleeping Bag Comparison Guide, click here.
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