Sleeping bag technology has come a long way from the days of cowboy bedrolls. These days,
there are a number of high-tech materials and designs available to keep you warm during the
coldest outings. Here's a short list of things to keep in mind when you're shopping for a
It's a safe bet that on
at least one of your adventures, the nighttime temperature will drop unexpectedly. That's
why it's smart to buy a bag that's rated for the lowest possible temperature you expect to
face on your camping and backpacking trips. For summer trips, a bag rated at +35 degrees or
higher will likely do the trick. If you like to camp in higher elevations in the summer, or if
spring and fall outings are in your future, consider bags rated from +10 to +35. Winter
adventurers should look for bags in the -10 to +10 range, while those on serious winter alpine
climbs and expeditions will want a bag rated lower than -10.
Keep in mind that sleeping
bag manufacturers' temperature ratings only estimate the minimum temperature at which the bag
will provide warmth. Take these numbers with a grain of salt, as different folks generate
different amounts of heat when they sleep. If you're the type who likes to pile on the covers
even on warmer nights, go for a bag that's rated ten degrees colder. The opposite is true for
"warm" sleepers--a 35-degree bag will probably work for you on a 25-degree night.
The most important
component of any sleeping bag is its insulating material. Modern sleeping bags offer two
choices: goose down or synthetic. While both materials have advantages and disadvantages,
down bags are considered superior because of their phenomenal warmth-to-weight and
warmth-to-bulk ratios. While providing great insulation, down is extremely compressible and
light. There's a reason why geese can fly and stay warm through the winter!
Down also boasts great long-term durability and will typically retain its insulating
properties after years of use.
All of that said, there are many high-quality
synthetic bags on the market and synthetic materials are getting better all the time.
While a synthetic bag will weigh somewhat more than a down bag at an equivalent temperature
rating, synthetic bags perform better when wet. (Yes, the Achilles heel of down is that it loses
all insulating properties when wet.) If your trips take you to wet climates, you may want to consider
a synthetic bag for this reason alone. Keep in mind, too, that many people are allergic to
down--synthetic bags are non-allergenic. Finally, down is considerably more expensive than
synthetic, which might tip the balance for adventurers on a budget.
Sleeping bags come in two
basic shapes that reflect their intended use. Mummy-shaped bags offer the best warmth because
they conform to the body's contours. This minimizes the amount of body heat the body must put
out to maintain a constant temperature. Many mummy bags are offered in women-specific shapes
and sizes, as well. Rectangular bags, while they do offer more room to toss and turn, are
less thermally efficient because they contain more open air space. Also, they are typically
heavier than mummy bags, and are generally not offered with down insulation, making them
best suited for car camping or short backpacking trips.
No matter what kind of bag you
choose, a sleeping pad is a required accessory. Not only do they provide much-needed comfort
when sleeping on the ground, pads also offer crucial warmth for your backside, as the weight
of your body compresses--and renders virtually useless--the sleeping bag insulation that lies