After you’ve chosen your camping tent, usually your next step is choosing a sleeping bag. Taking all the important factors into account, you can choose the right sleeping gear that can greatly boost your overnight comfort. And when discussing “important factors”, we’re not talking about its color or how it is.
Season and Comfort Ratings
The first thing you need to do is to determine what kind of weather you’re likely to encounter when you go out camping. These bags have seasonal ratings so you can determine the best time of the year to use them.
- 1-season. This is an airy bag for indoor use when you’re backpacking, or for warm summer nights.
- 2–season. For early fall or late spring nights, when it’s cool but not really all that cold.
- 3-season. This works well for mild to cold nights and there’s no frost.
- 4-season. For really cold nights, with frost and snow. They’re usually a bit bulkier than the others.
- 4+-season. This is for extreme weather conditions.
For some bags, you may have a rating showing the temperature range the bag is best for. Other bags may offer an extreme comfort rating, which is the temperature that a woman can use the bag for and still survive (although her comfort is another story).
The best advice we can give for you is to get something that can protect you through cold weather. After all, if it is too warm then you can always wear less clothing and sleep with the bag open. But when it gets colder than you expect, warming yourself up can be a problem.
When you have two bags with very different prices, it’s usually because they use different types of insulation.
- Down. This is the fine layer of fluffy feathers under the regular feathers of geese or ducks. The insulation this material provides is excellent, and it is much warmer than synthetic materials. In fact, humans haven’t quite matched its insulating capability with anything they’ve made in a laboratory. It is also very light, and it can be compressed into a much smaller size.
On the down side, they’re a lot more expensive. Also, they don’t work as well when they get wet. That means you need to take very good care of your down sleeping gear when you’re washing and storing it.
- Synthetic. Its pros and cons are the opposite of down’s. It is much cheaper, and it can still be warm even when wet. But it’s not as effective in keeping you warm, and it is bulkier and heavier which you’ll definitely notice if you’re carrying it while hiking.
However, the most important insulation layer is the one between you and the cold ground. So you need to make sure that you use good sleeping pads or air beds if possible.
Here you have two things to think about. There’s the face, which is the fabric that protects the insulation, and the inner fabric which is what you feel inside on your skin.
For fabrics, your choices include:
- Down-proof finish. Feathers can easily poke through fabric, but this material prevents the down from poking holes.
- Durable water– This is important if you want to protect your down insulation.
- Ripstop. It’s very durable, and yet lightweight too.
- Nylon. It’s quite soft, and it also offers a nice balance of breathability, durability, and comfort.
For the inner fabric, most just use nylon. But sometimes polycotton is used. This is a blend of polyester and cotton, and it strong, soft, and very breathable. They’re great for the summer season, but since it takes a long time to dry it’s not really good for the colder seasons.
The shape isn’t just for aesthetic reasons. Actually, its shape can affect how warm you’ll feel inside.
- Rectangular. This is one of the two basic shapes, although sometimes a manufacturer may call this a “square” shape. It’s usually just a simple rectangular shape with thick padding. They offer a lot of space and they’re usually more affordable. They’re great for use in the summer, and you have lots more room to move about if you hate feeling cocooned.
However, they’re quite heavy and bulkier too. And in cold weather, the extra space means there’s more room for the cold air to circulate.
- Mummy. If you’ve seen an Egyptian mummy tomb, then that’s the shape of this sleeping bag. It’s wide at the top and narrow around the feet. It’s more restrictive, and if you open it to use as a duvet its shape can make that awkward.
But it’s more appropriate for cold weather because of its snug fit. Unlike the rectangular shape where the head is exposed, it also has a hood to keep your head warm. And this shape is lighter and less bulky, so they’re great for hiking.
When you buy a bag, make sure that you’re getting one that’s right for your age or gender. The women’s sleeping bags are cut to fit the female figure. They offer more room for the hips and bottom. They are also typically narrower at the shoulders, which helps to keep in the warm air more effectively and to keep the cold air out.
For kids’ sleeping bags, they should be smaller too. Excess space means more air circulation inside, and that keeps children from being as warm as possible. A sleeping bag meant for children is much more effective in keeping them warm, although they may soon outgrow the bag.
The layer under the sleeping bag is perhaps the most important among the sleeping bag accessories, especially in cold weather. You can get a roll mat, a self-inflating mat, an airbed for comfort, or even a camp bed for real support (although they’re too heavy for backpackers).
Aside from that, here are some other accessories you may want to think about:
- Liners. These can keep you even warmer, and at the same time it keeps the bag clean so you don’t have to wash it as often (which prolongs its lifespan).
- Camping pillows. You don’t have to use a towel for a pillow, nor do you need to bring your bulky pillows at home.
- Compression sacks. These sacks can reduce the size of your sleeping bag even further.
Take note of all these factors, and you can find the most suitable sleeping bag setup for yourself.