Sleeping Bag Buyers Guide
As with any piece of camping equipment, buying a sleeping bag is all about determining your specific needs and finding the most suitable product at a price that you can afford. One of the most important things to bear in mind is that sleeping bags are always meant to be used with a ground mat. Specifically for sleeping bags, the following questions should be asked before deciding which bag to buy:
• What sort of temperatures will I be using it in?
• What type of camping will I be doing? (i.e. trekking, mountaineering or recreational camping)
Sleeping bag styles
There are two main styles of sleeping bags-
Mummy Sleeping Bags
These generally are the more expensive option, but stuff down to a smaller size, fit your body more closely and require less energy to keep warm during the night.
Rectangular (traditional) Sleeping Bags
The classic sleeping bag shape, this is simply a large rectangular sleeping bag that has been a firm favourite for many years! While they do normally take up more space than Mummy type sleeping bags, they provide more room and can be zipped together to make a double-size sleeping bag. There are various models that sit somewhere in between these two distinct types and can provide a compromise between the strengths and weaknesses of these designs.
Sleeping bag filling/stuffing
Sleeping bag fillings are generally divided into two types, natural insulators (such as down) and synthetic fills (such as hollowfibre). Down fills are more expensive than synthetic fills and require more care to keep in good condition. However, if they are looked after and washed properly, they will last a very long time. As with all things, the higher the quality of down, the more expensive it will be. Synthetic fills are cheaper to produce than down fills, but are slightly bulkier and have a lower warmth to weight ratio. There are various different types of synthetic fills, and the exact specification used will depend on the manufacturer and price bracket of the sleeping bag. One of the major benefits of synthetic fills are that they are less likely to lose their insulating abilities when they become wet.
Type of lining
The most popular types of lining are nylon, cotton or fleece. As the lining doesn't provide much insular capability to the sleeping bag, it is mostly a matter of personal taste.
It is important to select a fabric that will be durable and breathable. While most shell fabrics aren't intended to be waterproof, if you do a lot of camping in damp areas, it would be wise to select a shell fabric that is at least water resistant. Needless to say that much of the insulating properties of a sleeping bag are hampered if the bag is allowed to get wet!
The most important piece of advice when looking at temperature ratings is don't always believe what you read! Different manufacturers use different criteria to determine the temperature ratings of their sleeping bags. Essentially, the temperature rating of a sleeping bag should be the minimum temperature in which it can be used where the occupant will still be comfortable. Obviously 'comfortable' is a very subjective concept and will vary greatly from one tester to another. Another way of rating the temperature range in which a bag can be used is through seasonal ratings. These range from 1 season bags (for use in mild summer conditions) to 4 season bags (for use in very low temperatures and harsh conditions). It's always best to be conservative and choose a bag that will be slightly warmer than you're likely to need. It's much easier to open the side of the bag to let warmth out than it is to generate more warmth if the bag isn't warm enough.