The Best Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide

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The Best Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide

 

History of the Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags are a necessary component of any camper’s or hiker’s equipment. Sleeping bags are insulated coverings that are used as portable bedding in situations where one has to sleep outdoors.

The primary function of the sleeping bag is to provide warmth, comfort, and protection from the wind and the cold. It is used mainly by camping enthusiasts, hikers, and climbers. Most of the sleeping bags are water-resistant and water repellent so that it can be used outside in wet or damp conditions

So how did sleeping their bags come into being? The forerunner of a sleeping bag was the ‘Euklisia Rug’, first created in 1876 by Pryce Jones, who ran a mail-order business. In those days it found a good market as it was found to be useful by soldiers, missionaries, pioneers, explorers and more.

He became so successful and he was shipping it all over the world through mail order. Pryce shot to fame and was eventually knighted in 1887.

The idea was simple: it was basically a blanket or quilt which has zippers (straps in those days) on its sides in which a user can get in and close it up.

In this Post:

  • Shape/Design
  • Mummy shaped sleeping bags
  • Rectangular shaped sleeping bags
  • Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags
  • Double wide Sleeping Bags
  • Elephant foot sleeping bag
  • Quilts
  • fill Material or Insulation
  • Season type
  • Gender 
  • Infant Sleeping Bags
  • Ultralight Sleeping Bags
  • How to select the right sleeping bag for your needs 
  • Should I get a sleeping pad along with the sleeping bag?

How are the various types of sleeping bags different from each other?

The sleeping bags differ primarily on the following criteria:

●     Shape/Design

●     Preferred fill Material or Insulation

●     The season type

●     Gender

We will look at how each of these criteria needs to be considered when buying a sleeping bag.

What are the Types and Designs of Sleeping Bags?

Let’s look at some of the design types that are available in the market now.

Based on shapes you can choose between 4 major types and two special types that are available.

What is a Mummy shaped Sleeping Bag?

It is called Mummy shaped because of…(good guess)…its shape! The shape tapers from head to toe, thereby it has lesser volume and surface area. This, in turn, improves the heat retention properties of the sleeping bag.  A Mummy Sleeping bag Quick Guide you can find here.

These bags are especially useful for those camping in colder conditions as it is used to optimize warmth. The shape does not allow for a lot of turning around and could be restrictive and uncomfortable for some people.

It is popular among campers and backpackers as it is lightweight and has an overall smaller pack size as compared to other sleeping bags. The warmth to weight ratio is optimal for the mummy-shaped sleeping bag. The foot area is highly tapered when the width is more at the hips and the shoulders.

Top of the bag tapers about the shoulders to join a fitted hood that can be tightened using a simple cord.

Some Mummy bags do not unzip all the way to the feet as this affects the insulating properties. Their weight is usually under 2lbs which makes it convenient for backpackers and hikers to carry long distances. You can have a closer look at Mummy Sleeping bags in our post 12 Best Recommended Mummy Sleeping Bags.

What are Rectangular shaped sleeping bags?

Rectangular sleeping bags are more common as it is spacious and proportional all through. They are seen as less warmth generating as compared to the other sleeping bags.

But the best advantage of this type is that movement of the back, legs and arms are freer. These sleeping bags are not too warm hence are chosen as Summer or 3 Season sleeping bags when the temperature does not become too cold. 

They are also devoid of a hood over the head. So in very cold weather, these may not be as useful as other models. Some advantages are that they are cheaper and in most cases, can be opened up and used as a quilt too. Also here we have made an overview with our 12 Best Recommended Rectangular Sleeping Bags 

What are Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags?

These are also known as barrel-shaped sleeping bags. They are wider at the shoulder and then taper towards the foot. They are a hybrid between the rectangular as well as mummy shaped sleeping bags. They combine the spaciousness of the rectangular sleeping bags with the insulation properties of the tapering shape that a mummy sleeping bag offers.

The Best Sleeping Bag Buyer's Guide - OutdoorSleepingAdventure.com

As they require less fabric than the rectangular sleeping bags they are slightly lighter too. Some of the Semi Rectangular sleeping bags come with over the head hoods too. Look here for our 12 Best Recommended Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags.

What is a Double wide Sleeping Bags?

If you are comfortable with more than one person sleeping in the sleeping bag, this may be a good option. As the name suggests these are double-wide ie. Suited to fit 2 people. They are in fact sleeping bags zipped up together.

The movement is less restricted as space is more now. Even though two people are in the same sleeping bag the loose fit of the bag type lets excess cold air circulate within. If you are camping or hiking with your significant other then this certainly provides good snuggling options. Some double sleeping bags can be separated by unzipping them from each other and it can be made in 2 sleeping bags. Some double sleeping bags also come with hoods. Yep, also here we have made a post for our 12 best Recommended Double Sleeping Bags.

What is an Elephant foot sleeping bag?

Serious climbers, hikers, and mountaineers would want very lightweight sleeping bags. This type of sleeping bag fits their requirements as they are super light and can be easily transported.

It is basically shaped like a mummy bag but without the hood and shorter. The upper body will be exposed and the sleeper is required to wear a jacket and hood to be warm.

Some come with shoulder straps but most don’t and usually, it is laid on a sleeping pad. They are very compact when packed and because of the tapering and body-hugging design, they can be quite warm.

What is a Quilts Sleeping Bag?

While not classifiable as a sleeping bag, a quilt is extremely useful as it can be accommodating of different body shapes. Moreover, it is less restrictive as it does not have zippers and straps. It is a good choice, especially in warmer conditions.

They are easier to pack and carry than a sleeping bag. Quilts are gaining popularity as when they are used with a sleeping pad to insulate from cold from below they are as warm as other sleeping bags. Let us try to understand each of these in further detail.

What type of Fill Materials is used in sleeping bags?

The insulation properties are provided primarily by the fill materials. Some inexpensive sleeping bags do have materials like wool or cotton.

These are difficult to use by serious outdoor enthusiasts as wool tends to be heavy and cotton retains water and is not warm enough.

So serious hikers and campers do not use such fillings. The filling material of the sleeping bags used by serious hikers and campers is mostly 2 types – Synthetic and Down.

 

Synthetic

Synthetic is mostly polyester and down is usually bird feathers which typically of goose or duck. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and is chosen for a specific purpose. Let us understand each in more detail.

Synthetic sleeping bags use synthetic insulation usually made from polyester or a similar material. Compared to down feelings synthetic material is always heavier and less compressible making packing and carrying slightly more tedious.

A great benefit of synthetic materials is that it maintains the insulation during rain and can be easily dried out when wet. Generally, synthetic filling causes sleeping bags to be priced at a lower cost as compared to down fillings.

 

Down

If you want a lightweight sleeping bag, your choice for filling would definitely be down insulation. It is great for backpackers hikers and mountain use as it is lightweight and provides excellent warmth to weight ratio.

The downside of using such fillings is that it gets affected by rain and can take a long time to dry out once wet.

In the market currently, there are now a  few water repellent down sleeping bags available which may turn the tide in the favor of down fillings. The benefits of using down filling are that it is lightweight it is easy to pack and it is long-lasting.

What does not work in its favor is that It is more expensive as compared to synthetic fillings and does not function well when wet. In fact, a soaked sleeping bag is worse as using it can cause hypothermia.

Most avid hikers and campers use water-resistant storage bags to keep the down-filled sleeping bags dry. The only problem with this is that if kept folded for a long time in one position it destroys the filling at places where it is folded and affects the usability of the sleeping bag.

To avoid this while storing the down-filled sleeping bag, there should be opening and refolding of the sleeping bag done at regular intervals.

 

What is better, Synthetic Versus Down Sleeping Bags?

  Synthetic Down
Material Polyester Bird feathers of goose or duck
Insulation Good insulation in rain Gets affected by rain. It takes a lot of time to dry. Can cause hypothermia
Weight Heavy, less compressible Lightweight. Good for hikers and for mountain use
Cost Affordable Expensive  
Easy to Pack No Yes

How to Understanding Temperature Ratings used in Sleeping Bags?

Sleeping bags come with temperature ratings that show the minimum temperature the bag is designed to handle.

The temperature ratings are set after conducting a laboratory test.

 

Upper limit

This is the uppermost air limit that a standard adult man can sleep without perspiring or heating up excessively.

Note:  The standard average adult man is taken as around 25 years of age with a weight of 73 kgs and height of 

1.73 m

 

Comfort Rating

This is the lowest air temperature suitable for a standard adult woman standard to sleep comfortably and in a relaxed position.

Note: The standard female is taken to be 25 years old and of a weight of 60 kg and height of 1.60 m

 

Lower Limit

This is the lowest air temperature at which a standard man can sleep comfortably for eight hours in a curled up position.

 

Extreme limit

This is taken as the minimum temperature a standard female can sleep for 6 hrs without risk from hypothermia.

Also, it has to be noted that the ratings assume that the sleeper is in a tent on a sleeping pad and has a layer of thermal underwear.

 

How are these ratings set?

These are based on testing the bags using standardized testing methods. But even then they need not be accurate all the time and change with the manufacturer.

Initially, there was an EN standard 13537  that was published in 2002 and was followed in Europe extensively by most manufacturers. By around 2010 American manufacturers had also started to adhere to this.

The EN 13537 standard ratings were created after testing extensively on thermal mankins which were created with various zones to track the effect of heat, movement, perspiration, etc. These mankins were made with heat-conducting materials to check sensitivity to heat.

The EN 13537 was replaced by the ISO EN 23537:2016 which is now being adhered to by most manufacturers.

 

What are the Season type classifications of sleeping bags based on temperature ratings?

Sleeping bags are primarily 3 types of seasons based on where you will be in a hot, mild or cold temperature. Not selecting according to the expected temperature can dampen your outdoor experience.

 

What Summer Sleeping Bags are for Summer Nights?

To handle the heat there is light airy material used as well as numerous ventilation options. They allow you to cool off if the temperature gets too hot.

The temperatures of these sleeping bags are suitable for are above 32 degrees F                         or 0 degrees C.

Usually, they are double wide or rectangular or semi-rectangular. You do not usually find mummy-shaped summer bags as they are prone to get heated up.

If you are looking for a sleeping bag primarily for camping in warmer temperatures, this would be the best choice.

 

3 Season Bags for all Moderate Temperatures

The three-season bag is great for fall or spring and possibly even summer as they can be suitable for 20 degrees F or -7 degree C.

These bags are ideal for those who are not very sure when they will be camping.

They can come in any of the shapes and may contain any of the 2 types of insulation fillings.

 

Winter Sleeping Bags for the bitter cold

If you are going to camp in extremely cold weather conditions then you need to definitely chose the Winter bags. As you may have guessed, they are almost always mummy-shaped and use down filling material. There are a few winter sleeping bags in the market that have synthetic insulators although these tend to be heavy and take more space.

 

4-Season Sleeping Bags for all around the year

Well somebody thought of this as well! As the name suggests it is suitable for all 4 seasons.

The issue is that while it is equal to the winter sleeping bags in warding off cold and keeping the sleeper warm, it can be uncomfortable in warmer temperatures.

It does come with layers that can be detached so that it becomes lighter but would still not be as light as the summer bags.

  Material Used Temperatures Suitable for Shape or Design
Summer Bags Light Airy Material Perfect for warmer temperatures – 32 deg F or 0 degrees C Double wide or Rectangular or Semi Rectangular
3 Seasons Bags  Synthetic and Down Moderate Temperatures ( Fall, Spring, and Summer) – 20 degrees F or -7 degree C Mummy shaped, Rectangular shaped, Semi Rectangular, Double wide and Triple Sleeping bags
Winter Sleeping Bags Down mostly Extremely Cold Weather Mummy Shaped
4-Season Sleeping Bags  Synthetic and Down Suitable for all seasons Rectangular shaped, Semi Rectangular, and Double-wide

What are Gender-based Sleeping Bags?

You may be wondering about the need for is gender bias here as well. But the underlying reason for sleeping bags to differ for genders is that the body shapes are different for men and women.

Women tend to feel colder than men at lower temperatures. This again is not always true but certainly taken into consideration to ensure that the sleeping bags are as comfortable as possible.

Unisex sleeping bags may be uncomfortable especially for women, hence the new trend of making gender-specific sleeping bags.

 

What are Sleeping Bags for Men?

It is generally believed that men produce more body heat while sleeping and tend to grow warmer so the materials used in men’s sleeping bags are lighter than compared to women in the same category.

Also, most of the men’s sleeping bags come as rectangular shaped sleeping bags.

 

What are Sleeping Bags for Women?

The contours of the woman’s body are different from that of a man’s as they tend to be narrower at the shoulders and wider at the hips.

Also based on the perception that women tend to feel colder than men at the same temperature, the feet and torso have extra insulation.

Other types of sleeping bags

 

Indoor Sleeping Bags

These are mostly used by kids for sleepovers or when the family is visiting and there are not enough beds.

It is for using indoors and has no materials for insulation that are used for outdoor sleeping bags. Popularly known as slumber bags these come in various designs and are usually colorful and kid-friendly.

Infant Sleeping Bags

Usually used to keep infants warm indoors and possibly ensuring warmth when going for a short time outdoors maybe in a pushchair.

The infant sleeping bag removes the need for additional bedding when putting on a cot or any surface. It is also used indoors to keep the infant warm. It cannot be relied upon to keep the infant protected when going outdoors.

Ultralight Sleeping Bags

Ultralight sleeping bags are the lightest sleeping bags. They use a material that allows them to have the highest compression when packing and also the lightest weight while carrying.

This makes it a necessity among bikers and hikers who are looking to travel as light as possible.

How to select the right sleeping bag for your needs?

Since the various types of sleeping bags and their uses are described above now you have to decide based on your needs and of course the budget.

Unless you are going in to go in extreme cold you probably do not need winter sleeping bags which are mummy-shaped and filled with down material.

In most cases for normal uses, the 3 seasons sleeping bag can suit as long as the weather conditions are moderate. Choosing synthetic material would also be suitable for most as it is affordable, long-lasting and easier to maintain.

Once you make your choice regards the shape, insulation material and temperature rating the next step is to actually try it out before buying.

While trying it out here are a few things that you need to check

  •  Is the sleeping bag comfortable enough after adding in layers of clothing that you may be wearing when you normally go for your outdoor trips?
  • Is the sleeping bag comfortable along with a sleeping pad? Most sleeping bags may have straps or sleeves to attach the sleeping pad. Try attaching the sleeping pad and see if the fit is still fine.
  • Is the zipper durable and strong? It is easy to zip up? The zipper is usually the most vulnerable part of the sleeping bag and the first to give problems. Zip the sleeping bag up completely while you are inside to check for any resistance or snags which may be signs that it can cause problems later on.
  • Can you move once zipped in? Try to move and see the amount of flexibility you have. You can also roll around and see if the fit is ok if you sleep on either side of the body. Some also kick out in the night and can feel uncomfortable is the legs are restricted. Check this out by bending and extend your legs at the knees or kicking out.

Should I get a sleeping pad along with the sleeping bag?

Yes, if you are using a sleeping pad and directly sleeping on the ground the weight of the body presses down on the insulation and wetness and dampness along with the cold can make the sleeper uncomfortable.

Also, the ground may not be level or have small stones or roots that can poke the sleeper. A sleeping pad resolves all of this and ensures that adequate insulation and protection of the sleepers is not affected. It also protects the sleeping bag.

 

How to Maintaining your Sleeping bag for a longer time?

When you buy a sleeping bag it is usually quite an investment and not something you want to do often. It would last you a long time if you take proper care and maintain it well.

 

How to store Sleeping bags once you have bought them?

How you store the sleeping bag is of utmost importance as it can extend the life of your sleeping bag. It is always better not to store the sleeping bag tightly packed. Also, remember that dampness can have a detrimental effect on its longevity.

Let’s look at ways to properly store your sleeping bag.

Sleeping bags are usually stored in 2 types of bags:

 

How to Stuff Sleeping Bags?

These are the bags that you take with you on a camping or hiking trip in which you pack the sleeping bag in as compact as possible. The focus is to pack the sleeping bag as compact as possible so as to save space and carry easily.

 

How to Store Sleeping Bags?

These are the bags that the sleeping bags are stored away when not in use for a long time. The reason you need to store in such bags is that the sleeping bag is to be loosely packed otherwise if folds are formed the filling (especially down) gets spoiled and then it lets in cold in those areas which are damaged.

Other storage tips

  • The bags that you store sleeping bags should be made of cotton or mesh and kept in a dry place to preserve its quality.
  • You will also need to buy waterproof bags to take your bag while traveling. Keeping your sleeping bag dry has to be the first priority if you want to preserve it.
  • You may also want to spray deodorants on the sleeping bag one in a while to ensure that bad smells do not develop if stored for a long time.
  • A lot of backpackers also use sleeping bag liner which helps to protect the interior of the bag from the dust and dirt from outside. They are not effective in providing warmth but do help to keep your bag clean and fresh.

We recommend you to have a look at the below-mentioned posts and guides. We included at the end of each post also a list of  “Our 12 Best Recommended Sleeping Bags” for your convenience.

About us

We are Arthur and Eileen and passionate about hiking and camping. Over the past years, we have had many great trips, together with our dog Stippy . We have learned a lot about the practical “need to know’s” and investigated many different camping topics to better understand.

All we have learned and know will be posted on this website. We will continue to update the website on a regular basis with new interesting Outdoor Topics!

We hope this information will help you with an even better Outdoor Sleeping Experience.

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