July 20, 2024
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag is probably the second most important item you need to purchase after your tent. Sleeping bags can be one of many types; depending on personal preference and outside temperature. The shape, size, room to move, and feel of the fabric should be sampled, just like you would try a mattress for your bed at home.

Weather conditions can also determine what type of bag you’ll need, if any. In warm, dry conditions, you might only need a lightweight ‘bed-roll’ or fleece bag. At other times, the cool night air will indicate a need for a warmer bag or combination of warm clothes and warm bag.

Style and Shape

Unless your camping entails a lot of long term backpacking, where weight plays a large part in determining the shape and weight of your bag, you can choose whatever style of sleeping bag you like. Most manufacturers offer two basic shapes, rectangular and mummy, along with a few modifications to each style.

The most common sleeping bag is a rectangular bag, which has been around the longest. It’s a roomy and comfortable inside, with ample foot room. Because of its shape, it can be unzipped and used as a comforter on warm nights. Some rectangular bags can be opened and zipped together to make a double size bag – great for very young kids and especially good for parents!

The more modern, mummy style sleeping bag is meant to wrap tightly around the sleeper, so it will generate the maximum amount of warmth while using substantially less material. If you do a lot of camping in cold weather, in 40 degree or lower temperatures, you should consider purchasing a mummy bag. This heating efficiency will also keep the bag’s weight to a minimum, making this the optimal bag to use when backpacking. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone likes the constricted feel of a mummy bag, so you should definitely try it out before committing to purchase one.

Variations on the mummy include the “barrel” shape, a mummy bag with added space in the middle. This is a great choice if you prefer the mummy bag’s warmth, but desire a little space for comfort. There are also mummy bags that have draw string tops to pull in the opening to help keep in your warmth, and modified mummies with slightly larger top openings.


All styles of bags can usually be purchased in three lengths: junior or child, standard and extra long. The juniors are for small children. If weight is not important, I suggest you get a standard length for your child. The bag will be a trusted piece of equipment for longer that way, and the junior size bag can be outgrown quickly, depending on the child.

The extra long size is usually advertised for those over six feet tall. In some cases, the extra length might be appreciated by shorter people who crave the extra roominess. It just depends on what makes you most comfortable.

Another dimension of great importance is the girth. Girth is the interior space of the bag, as measured around the sleeper’s waist area. As I mentioned above, mummy bags have the smallest girth, and rectangular the largest.

Temperature Rating

Temperature ratings are often advertised by manufacturers – 0 degrees, 20 degrees, 40 degrees, etc. Consider these ratings as a guideline only. Your body may sleep warmer or cooler than another person. These guidelines seem to assume that you will be wearing warm clothing too (I actually recommend sleeping with as few clothes as possible, if not completely stripped – it tends to keep you warmer since your sweat will not absorb into your clothes but wick through a good bag and evaporate). If you are a neophyte camper you will most likely be able to use any bag rated for summer temperatures, since you will most likely be camping during warmer times of year.

There are several ways to make a bag warmer. One common method is to include a “liner” bag. These bags are placed inside the bag, similar to adding an extra blanket to your bed. These bags are available ready made, or you can make one at home by attaching a blanket to your bag with safety pins. If you want to carry the extra weight, you can also throw a blanket over you as you sleep, rather than put it inside. If necessary in frigid conditions, two summer bags can be placed one inside the other.

It’s extremely easy to make a lightweight sleeping bag warmer, so start with a warm weather bag with a 40 degree rating or warmer depending on your location.

Insulation Materials

Good quality sleeping bags [http://www.birdseyeoutdoorsupply.com/sleeping_bags.html] used to depend on prime goose down for insulation. Down is still used in the highly specialized mountaineering bags where extreme dry cold and a need for lightweight equipment are the primary concerns. However, the cost of down and the difficulty laundering it make it an impractical choice for most average campers.

Modern synthetic fibers have been developed which have reliably replaced down as a great source of warmth for sleeping bags. Synthetics cost less, are easily washable, and can hold their warmth as good or better than down, especially when conditions are wet or snowy. For most family camping, any of the synthetic fills will be sufficient.

Zippers and Collars

You should make sure the bags have a good quality zipper; one that will not pinch or catch on the fabric when attempting to zip it up. It should have two zipper pulls to allow for inside or outside zipper operation. If you plan on connecting two similar bags together to make a double sleeping bag, make sure the zippers are compatible.

Other Options

Choosing a sleeping bag is quite easy. In fact, you might not need a sleeping bag at all! Plenty of campers started and continue with a bedroll. You can make your own bedroll by taking sheets and blankets and making up a bed just like home. Add more blankets or a comforter for cooler weather. A bedroll will work best, for comfort, if you have an air mattress [http://www.birdseyeoutdoorsupply.com/air_mattresses.html] to place your bedroll on.