Picking the right sleeping bag will make the difference between an awesome trip or a lousy one, so please choose carefully. But what are the parameters for choosing the right bag? Well, you can begin by examining in what season you will be camping followed by whether or not you will be sleeping inside a tent or outdoors with no cover.
There are several types of sleeping bags available to campers, hikers and trekkers. There is the rectangular bag, the semi rectangular bag, the mummy bag, and the double bag. The rectangular bag is the most common sleeping bag commonly sold at major retailers and camp stores. It is noted for its comfort as it allows users to turn inside the bag without much effort. The rectangular bag is great for those that want to stretch out without the constraints of a mummy bag. It is, however, not well suited for cold weather as most of the heat generated by your body escapes through the opening at the top of the bag. That said, these bags are excellent choices for warmer weather camping in a tent.
The Semi rectangular bag is a slightly tapered sleeping bag with a rectangular shape but with a hooded top. It is slightly warmer than a rectangular bag but still lacks the heating retention needed for extreme weather sleeping bags. The slightly tapered bag allows users to move their arms without much fuss. But like the rectangular bag it will not be easily folded away like a mummy bag. If you opt for a rectangular or semi rectangular sleeping bag pay extra attention to fact that in cold weather, you may have to compensate with additional clothing for the larger opening at the top of the bag. If you are camping in 50-degree weather, you should be fine.
The mummy sleeping bag is your best bet when it comes to cold weather. It is a very tapered bag that fits your body snug and has a small opening for your face at the top of the bag. The mummy bag retains heat better than any other sleeping bag, but it does not have a lot of room for movement within the bag itself. So, if you like to move inside the bag look for a larger sized mummy bag. Talk to the representative about bag sizing while you are at the store. If you are ordering from an online source speak to the representative before you buy. Mummy bags can hold moisture so remember to consider that when you are using one, venting the bag my become a necessity.
Double sleeping bags are meant for two people and is often the favorite of couples that want to stay warm together. They are about the size of a full-sized bed. They have a straight opening at the top like a rectangular bag but with twice the body heat you can stay warm all night long. They are very large sleeping bags that are impractical to carry in a rucksack or shove into a compression sack. They are meant for camp sites where you can drive into the camp location. If you love camping with your significant other this may be a great choice. Talking about size, sleeping bags generally come in three sizes. Small, Regular and Long. Small is 5 feet 6 inches long, Regular is 6 feet while size Long is 6 feet 6 inches. You may find some companies that make an extra-long for those tall folks out there that exceed the 7-foot mark.
Have wide shoulders? Well, most sleeping bags have a shoulder girth of 60–64 inches. There is a big difference between a 60-inch girth and a 64-inch girth, so pay attention. But remember you want a bag that leaves you a little wiggle room at the bottom. Don’t get a sleeping bag that is too big for you otherwise you will lose heat retention and defeat the purpose of the bag which is to keep you warm. As a general rule, most sleeping bags leave three to six inches of space after the initial height of the bag. Meaning that a 6-foot bag would actually be 6.6 feet in length. Don’t hesitate to measure the sleeping when you are shopping. That way you will get it right. And yes, there are men's and women's sleeping bags, ask your retailer for the difference in specs before you buy.
Temperature ratings on sleeping bags give you an idea of the temperatures that the bag can protect you from but remember each of us have different thresholds for when we feel cold. Don’t be disappointed if you feel cold in a bag rated for lower temperatures. As a general rule if you are going to operate in cold weather you should get the lowest rated temperature bag you can find. That way you can feel like you tried to protect yourself from the harshest winters.
Remember that each one of us is different and we all get cold or perspire at different ranges in temperature. You may have to leave the bag slightly open if you are a “sweater” or closed and with more clothing if you are prone to the cold. The sleeping bag rating is a great tool, but it won’t help you discern your body type, only you will know that. So, think about that before you buy. Speaking about buying, you may also want to purchase a compression sack in order to pack the bag to a more modest size. Otherwise, you will struggle to pack the sleeping bag if it is not compressed.
Pay attention to materials such as goose down or synthetic materials. Both have their pros and cons. Goose Down for example loses it insulation quality when wet. Synthetic bags can be heavier and don't compress as well as down bags. Gore-Tex sleeping bags are heavier than non-Gore-Tex bags. Down bags are pricier than synthetic bags and don't come in the range of products that synthetic sleeping bags do. There is always something to consider, that is why you should research your sleeping bag before you buy it. I use synthetic materials and they have worked great for me all the way down to below zero temperatures.
So, will it be a summer bag, a three-season bag or a winter bag? Only you can answer that question. A great bag is one that has multiple interchangeable layers for the different seasons one may encounter. The US Army has a great sleeping bag with three layers including a Gore-Tex bivy cover to keep out the rain. These bags can be had for a fraction of the price on the surplus market. But buyer beware because that bag is heavier and bulkier than many down and synthetic sleeping bags. To think that our troops rucked those bags all over the world. If you are driving into the location, no problem. But if you are hiking into the area and are not in peak physical condition, you will need a lighter sleeping bag.
Of course, the mission will drive your selection of a sleeping bag. Hiking, camping, cross country skiing, and hunting all have their requirements. Think about weight vs function vs utility and you will pick the right sleeping bag for the right use. Either way, you will reap the benefits of your work in researching your purchase before you make it. Take your time and when you get one, just have fun out there. Safe trails…