One of the most important equipment when camping is sleeping bag. No matter how good your tent is, your camping experience can become a torture if your sleeping bag selection is wrong. If you do not make the right choice of sleeping bag, it is highly likely that you will wake up shivering from the cold at night or not even sleeping at all because of sweltering. Choosing a sleeping bag is a very difficult task, especially for those who have just started to be interested in this area. Even when you make a simple search, you will find hundreds of sleeping bags of different brands with different characteristics. So in this post, I wrote about what to consider when choosing a sleeping bag.
What to consider when choosing a sleeping bag
First of all, as all your other equipment, the sleeping bag you buy should be suitable for the type of accommodation you intend to do. The season, region, suitability to your body, quality, weight, volume and price of the sleeping bag are the main things that matter.
Types of Sleeping Bags
It is possible to find different types of sleeping bags for different activities. When it comes to camping, the most common types of sleeping bags are mummy and rectangular or envelope type sleeping bags. Especially mummy type sleeping bags are preferred in cold weather because of their narrowing shape which makes it easy to maintain the heat. Other sleeping bags allow you to move more easily and they are suitable to be used in hot weather where comfort is at the forefront.
Sleeping Bag Zippers
You may see several types of zippers in sleeping bags. In most sleeping bags, zippers from the neck to the bottom of the bag are used. Some sleeping bags have zippers which are shorter and known as half zipper. Some sleeping bags have a zipper on one side, while others have a full-length zipper on one side and a half zipper on the other. Naturally, the excess of the zipper will mean a decrease in the thermal insulation. However, it is up to you and the conditions of your accommodation which type of zipper to choose.
You can see R and L letters on the sleeping bags. R means right; L means left. These definitions are used to indicate the zipper direction of the sleeping bag. The zipper direction is important for practicality as well as if you want to combine your sleeping bag with another one. You can use it as a double sleeping bag by combining the zips of two sleeping bags, one of which is R and the other is L.
Working Principle of Sleeping Bag
The sleeping bag works with a very simple logic. It maintains the temperature by minimizing the contact of the heat produced by your body inside with the outside air. So two things are important in a sleeping bag. The contact of the indoor air to the outside is should be minimized and there should be not much air voids in the sleeping bag. Therefore, a sleeping bag made of the right filler should be chosen and the sleeping bag should be suitable for your body type. In addition to a well functioning sleeping bag, it is extremely important to use the sleeping bag correctly. If you are not sure whether you are using your sleeping bag correctly, you can find out by clicking here.
Selection of Sleeping Bags by Body Type
We said that the present heat inside must be kept inside for the sleeping bag to ensure the best thermal insulation. In order to achieve this, the air gap in the sleeping bag must be minimized. This means that you need to buy the sleeping bag that best suits your body type. Some brands have shorter and narrower sleeping bags for women.
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Choosing a sleeping bag might be tricky when it comes to temperature ratings. It is very important that sleeping bags have this rating system in order to ensure correct and comfortable use. There is a rating system for sleeping bags in accordance with the European Standard. This standard, which you will see in many websites, is EN 13737. However, this standard was canceled and replaced with 2 different standards. The first one is the ISO 23537-1 standard, which regulates the thermal insulation and dimension of the sleeping bags, and the other one is the ISO 23537-2 standard, which regulates the fabric and materials of the sleeping bags.
There are four different temperature ratings according to European standards. These ratings are expressed as upper limit, comfort, low limit, and extreme. In some sleeping bags, these values may appear as t comfort, t lower limit and t extreme. The numerical value of the ratings may also vary with the gender as men and women.
What Does the Temperature Rating of Sleeping Bags Mean?
Sleeping bag is one the most false expressed equimpent while being sold. For exampe, an extreme value of -15 causes a misunderstanding that the sleeping bag can be used in any harsh weather condition. However, the meaning of the ratings of sleeping bags are quite different. While rating sleeping bags, standard man and woman are taken into consideration. In these ratings, the standard man is 25 years old, 1,73 m tall and weighing 73 kg and the standard woman is 25 years old, 1,60 m tall and weighing 60 kg.
The upper limit specifies the maximum temperature a standard man can sleep without sweating. Comfort temperature is the temperature that a standard woman can sleep comfortably. The lower limit is the temperature at which a standard man can sleep comfortably for 8 hours. Extreme temperature is the temperature at which a standard woman can survive for a while in the sleeping bag at a temperature that is at risk of hypothermia. That is, the extreme degree of a sleeping bag is -15 doesn’t mean that you can easily sleep inside when the temperature is -15 degrees. When buying a sleeping bag, you need to consider the comfort temperature as the value that you can easily sleep in.
Temperature Rating 101
T Comfort refers to the temperature at which a standard woman can sleep comfortably, T Lower limit is the temperature at which a standard man can sleep without waking up overnight, and T Extreme limit is the temperature at which a standard woman can survive without the risk of hypothermia.
Ratings of sleeping bags with these rating system are usually listed on the properties part of the sleeping bag as lower limit, comfort temperature, and extreme temperature. (Upper limit is not usually written.)
Some sleeping bags do not have these ratings on them. They are simply expressed as summer or winter, or represented by a single temperature value for their use. The reliability of the temperature ratings of such sleeping bags is very poor. Therefore, if you intend to buy such a sleeping bag, inquire about the quality of the sleeping bag in consultation with those who have used the same bag before.
All sleeping bags of some professional brands, such as Marmot, are subjected to the European Standards tests. Whereas some of their sleeping bags have only a single rating. The reason is that the insulations of such sleeping bags are beyond the upper limits of the tests. This sleeping bag, for example, is a high performance sleeping bag with -40 degree.
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag Based on Its Temperature Rating?
When choosing a sleeping bag, you should know that sleeping bags come with different temperature ratings. There is no all in one. You should find a suitable temperature for summer and winter according to your activity. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to use a single sleeping bag both in summer and winter.
You should choose your sleeping bag according to the lowest temperature average of your destination. The camping season, temperature and the altitude of the camping site have a direct effect on the sleeping bag that you’ll choose. You should choose the right sleeping bag to stay warm in tent while sleeping.
We can separate sleeping bags into three categories based on their temperature ratings as winter, summer, and 3-season.
Summer 0°C – 15°C
3-Season -2°C -15°C
Winter -15°C – -40°C
You can see the classification also as 1-season, 2-season, 3-season, and 4-season. According to this distinction, 1-season sleeping bag is suitable for 10 degrees and above in summer. 2-season is suitable for 0 degree and above in summer and spring. 3-season is suitable for the range of 0 -5 degrees in the end of spring, in fall, and in the beginning of winter. 4-season is used at temperatures of -5 degrees and below.
In short, you can see more than one table where season and rating distributions of sleeping bags are represented. You can choose the most suitable sleeping bag for your activity by deducing an average value from these tables.
The Importance of Filling Material of the Sleeping Bag
Filling material is one of the things you should consider when choosing a sleeping bag . The most common filling materials of sleeping bags are synthetic fillers and goose feather. These filler types have some advantages and disadvantages compared to eachother.
Goose Feather and Synthetic Filler Comparison in Sleeping Bags
If the goose feather gets wet, it loses its insulation property. However, synthetic fillings retain their insulation properties unlike goose feather.
Goose feather sleeping bags are lighter and smaller in volume than synthetic sleeping bags of similar characteristics.
Goose feather sleeping bags are more difficult to maintain than synthetic fillings. You can easily wash synthetic filled sleeping bags in the washing machine by following the washing instructions. Washing goose feathers is more laborious. Goose feather sleeping bags take longer to dry than synthetic filled sleeping bags.
Goose feather sleeping bags keep you warmer than synthetic filled sleeping bags. However, thanks to the developing technology, synthetic-filled sleeping bags are developed which provide temperatures close to goose feather temperature.
The prices of goose feather sleeping bags are higher than those of synthetic filled sleeping bags. Goose feather may not be a logical choice for allergic people.
The Importance of Outer Surface of the Sleeping Bag
The outer fabric of the sleeping bags is one of the least attention-paid things to consider. When choosing the outer fabric, water resistance, breathability, lightness and tear resistance should be evaluated.
Does Sleeping Bag Leak Water In?
The sleeping bag is not a product that claims to be 100% waterproof due to its use. Some technologies are used in sleeping bags to provide waterproofing against wetting due to moisture. The most common of these are polyester microfiber, pertex nylon fabrics. These materials are lightweight, convenient and durable. And they breathe more than other materials. Dryloft, down defender are among other technologies which are more efficient. Dryloft is thinner than Goretex and can breathe more. In addition, there are sleeping bags with PTFE or simply Teflon surface. However, these are materials that are not much needed for tent accommodation. Still, if you want to buy a waterproof sleeping bag, you should make sure that the fabric is breathable. If the fabric does not breathe, it is possible to get wet with sweat while protecting from rain.
Other Factors That May Affect the Temperature in the Sleeping Bag
Temperature rating of the sleeping bag is not acceptable for everybody and in every condition. There are other factors that affect staying warm in the sleeping bag. Some of these factors are listed as follows:
- Body Condition
- Gender and age
- Sleeping habbits
The head and neck are two of the most important areas to keep your body temperature constant. Therefore, it is very important that your sleeping bag wraps your head thoroughly to keep your body temperature constant. Heads of sleeping bags are generally designed to be contractible. Sleeping bags that are designed to leave only your face out when you squeeze are particularly well suited for camping in cold weather.
Sleeping Bag Weight and Volume
Particularly lightweight sleeping bags should be preferred since the weight is very important when traveling on a bicycle, motorcycle or with backpack. The materials of the sleeping bags affect their weight and volume. Goose feather sleeping bags are lighter than synthetic filled sleeping bags and take up less space. Also, summer sleeping bags are often smaller in size than winter sleeping bags. Especially when traveling with backpacks, bicycles and motorcycles, you should pay attention to these factors when choosing a sleeping bag.
Sleeping Bag Prices
While choosing a sleeping bag you will notice there are lots of sleeping pags with different prices. Depending on the season conditions and preferences, there are lots of sleeping bag options on the market. I’m saying what I’m always saying for any equipment here again: The idea of “Let me buy a cheap one. After all it’s just a sleeping bag.” is as wrong as the idea of “Now that I need one, let me buy the best one.” First of all, the sleeping bag should provide comfort and quality that can meet your needs. When you find a sleeping bag that meets the minimum requirements, you should make a price-performance evaluation by comparing with the equivalents.
How to Care for Sleeping Bags?
The use of the sleeping bag is important as well as the proper maintenance of the sleeping bag. Otherwise your sleeping bag may be damaged.
Sleeping bags should be removed from compression bags and stored by hanging. In this way, breaking of the filling material in the sleeping bag is prevented. Staying in the compression bag for a long time will cause the sleeping bag to lose its insulation.
For more information about sleeping bag care and sleeping bag washing, click here.
Which Sleeping Bag Do I Use?
I’m using Marmot’s Nanowave 55 for summer camps. The comfort rating is 15.6 degrees, the lower limit is 12.4 degrees and the extreme limit is 0.6 degrees. Because it is light and small, it can be carried easily. You can check out my summer sleeping bag here.
I use Marmot’s Trestles 15 sleeping bag for winter camps. My sleeping bag is not made of goose feather. I specifically asked for no goose feather. Spirafil 120 filler, which is a different technology, provides the thermal insulation closest to goose feather in terms of mass / volume ratio. Comfort temperature is -2.6, lower limit is -8.9 and extreme limit is -27.2. Because this sleeping bag is not made of goose feather, it takes up a little more space than other goose feather sleeping bags in volume. However, I haven’t had any difficulty in carrying this sleeping bag in my bicycle travels.
Consider all these facts when choosing a sleeping bag to have a good experience.