Choosing a Sleeping Bag

Teddy bear sleeping bag

Teddy bear sleeping bag (Photo credit: 190.arch (aka mamma190))

You’ve outgrown the Spiderman sleeping bag that worked great when you were in 3rd grade, but now you want to get outside into some more extreme conditions.  You want to be comfortable while you sleep, but you don’t have enough room in your backpack to haul your bed.  What kind of sleeping bag should you buy?

These days, there are TONS of choices.  The main things that I look for when selecting a bag comes down to the following:

  • Temperature – I like to make sure that the bottom rated temperature is 5 to 10 degrees lower than the lowest temperature I’m sleeping in.
  • Comfort/Size/Gender – I don’t like mummy bags and I like to toss and turn.
  • Material – Will it be cold if wet?  I’m I going to have duck feathers coming out?
  • Size/Weight – Heavy/bulky bags aren’t fun to carry.
  • Quality – Get a reliable brand.  Cheap bags have cheap zippers and it’s no fun on a winter campout when your zipper breaks.

So what should you buy?  Well there is no one good answer.  Personally, I have separate winter and summer bags.  My winter bag is a -20F Coleman bag that I won’t try to backpack with because it’s too big and bulky.  In the summer, I have a Marmot 40F bag that’s perfect for backpacking because its light and small.  I often sleep on top of it because I also carry a nice liner that I can use as a blanket.  I strongly recommend a liner because it can give you an extra 10F of warmth on unexpectedly cold nights.

Why two bags?  I could actually use more, but I make do:

Bag Type Temperature Rating (°F)
Summer Season +35° and higher
3-Season Bag +10° to +35°
Cold Weather -10° to +10°
Winter/Extreme -10° and lower

* Chart from REI

In addition to a liner, you also want a ground pad.  I know plenty of people that don’t use them, but you’ll appreciate two things about them.  They add to your comfort and they help keep you warm.  Believe me, you want one.  In fact, the temperature rating on your sleeping bag usually assumes that you are using a sleeping pad.

By the way, temperature ratings also assume you are sleeping in a clean, dry layer of clothing.  Spending the night in the socks and underclothes you sweat in all day will wick away heat from your body and make you cold.  Do yourself a favor and have a separate set of bed clothes that are only used for that purpose.

As far as brands?  If you never heard of it, be wary.  I’ve had success with Coleman and Marmot bags, but I can tell you from experience that a -20F Field and Stream bag was a nightmare for me last year because the zipper came apart.

For an excellent guide to sleeping bags, here is an awesome article from REI.

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About ewdupler

Gene is an avid outdoorsman, loves reading and is known to put pen to paper (well, he types) as an amateur poet.
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One Response to Choosing a Sleeping Bag

  1. Forrest says:

    I agree with all of this except that I think people should also look into cottage industry gear. I’m thinking about replacing my sleeping bag, and there’s a guy in Florida who quit his job and set up a small company making nothing but sleeping bags. His bags are highly respected among backpackers and I found a few people locally who own them, so I can try them out before I decide. People say they’re extremely high quality; they’re also about the same price as what I can get at REI, and weigh less. Probably a lot of it comes down to not advertising, having staff, or maintaining a retail store, plus a healthy dose of being passionate about his job.

    But your advice is spot on. 🙂

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