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How to Buy a Good Sleeping Bag

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A sleeping bag can make the difference between blissful comfort and a verrry long, miserable night. It can even help you ward off life-threatening hypothermia if you get cold and wet.

Follow these tips on choosing the right sleeping bag for your next adventure and check out the Gear Guy’s favorite models.

KNOW THYSELF

If you are warm-natured, get a bag rated about 10 degrees lower than the lowest temperatures you typically encounter on trips. If you are cold-natured, get a bag rated 20 to 25 degrees lower than the coldest nights you anticipate.

BSA 30° F Mummy Sleeping Bag – Youth ($59.99, scoutstuff.org): Warm enough for most autumn nights, this 6-foot-long bag is big enough for a Scout to grow into and has everything you need in a basic sleeping bag. The durable 70-denier nylon ripstop shell is what you’ll find in many models costing two or three times as much, making it a great value. 2 lbs., 13 oz.; rated to 30° F

KNOW YOUR BUDGET

Sleeping bag prices can vary from $60 to $600, depending on factors such as:

INSULATION

There are two main types of insulation: down, which is natural, and synthetic, which is man-made. Generally, goose down is warmer, lighter and easier to pack, but it’s typically more expensive and requires extra care. The biggest downside to down is that it loses its ability to keep you warm if it becomes wet.

Synthetic insulation, like PrimaLoft, is typically less expensive, requires little care and retains its warmth if the bag gets wet. Synthetic sleeping bags are heavier than down competitors, but they remain the best choice for routinely wet adventures.

To blur the line, you can now buy water-resistant down, which retains its ability to trap heat when wet. Still, even saturated water-resistant down loses some of its ability to trap heat, and you might have trouble drying out any bag in prolonged wet weather.

Kelty Dualist 20 (Starting at $139.95, kelty.com): This hybrid-insulation mummy delivers big value for its small price. It combines 550-fill water resistant down as an outer layer of insulation with synthetic insulation next to your body. This helps keep the bag lightweight while still trapping heat when wet. It is, however, heavier and bulkier than more expensive bags. Available in two lengths. 3 lbs., 3 oz.; rated 33° F (comfort) to 22° F (limit)

Kelty Dualist 20 (Starting at $139.95, kelty.com): This hybrid-insulation mummy delivers big value for its small price. It combines 550-fill water resistant down as an outer layer of insulation with synthetic insulation next to your body. This helps keep the bag lightweight while still trapping heat when wet. It is, however, heavier and bulkier than more expensive bags. Available in two lengths. 3 lbs., 3 oz.; rated 33° F (comfort) to 22° F (limit)

WEIGHT

This matters when you’re backpacking, but not so much when you’re car camping. Lighter, higher-quality insulation costs more, but you can trim weight and bulk simply by buying the right bag for the conditions.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite (Starting at $390, westernmountaineering.com): Ultralight bags often come with tradeoffs: thin insulation and a cramped fit or lacking features like a full-length zipper or hood. Not the Summerlite, which comes in three lengths. Packed with 850-fill down feathers, it was toasty on late-March nights below freezing in southern Utah. Continuous baffles let you move feathers to the top or bottom. Really cool: the bag packs into a 1-ounce stuff sack that’s slightly larger than a loaf of bread. 1 lb., 3 oz.; rated to 32° F

TEMPERATURE RATINGS

You’ll notice labels with ratings like -10 degrees or +30 degrees, which tell you the lowest temperature at which most people will be comfortable sleeping in that particular bag. Price is affected by both the quality and amount of insulation, so price goes up as rating goes down.

Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX 0 ($599, featheredfriends.com): For winter camping or climbing a big mountain, the Snowbunting EX 0 excels. With 25 generous ounces of sustainably produced, 900-plus-fill down, it was a cocoon for the Gear Guy on frigid nights during an April ascent of California’s Mount Whitney. Bonus: Its bulk and weight compare with many three-season (roughly 20° F) bags. 2 lbs., 12 oz.; rated to 0° F

SHAPE

Mummy bags taper from head to foot for thermal efficiency and to minimize weight and bulk, but some can feel claustrophobic. Rectangular bags are more spacious but are generally heavier and bulkier, and you can sometimes hit a cold spot. Try it on before buying.

Big Agnes Haybro 15 ($99.95, bigagnes.com): Sized for teens up to 5 feet 6 inches, the mummy-style Haybro is more spacious than many mummies but designed for thermal efficiency with the Big Agnes sleep system: Slide any 20-inch-wide air mattress (purchased separately) into a sleeve on the bag’s bottom side, and there’s no need for insulation on the bag’s bottom. 2 lbs., 14 oz.; rated to 15° F

CONSTRUCTION

Less expensive — yet lightweight — bags have sewn-through baffles, which can create cold spots along seams. Higher-quality horizontal baffles are typically warmer. Other high-quality construction upgrades include a draft tube (along the zipper), a collar (inside the hood) and a no-snag zipper guard.

Exped DreamWalker Camp 450 (Starting at $219, exped.com): Is it a sleeping bag or a down jacket? With a draw cord at the foot end, a full-length center zipper and zippered arm openings, the DreamWalker (available in three lengths) converts from a bag to a blanket to a parka. Stuffed with 700-fill down, this mummy kept the Gear Guy warm on nights that dropped into the 30s. 1 lb., 14 oz.; rated 39° F (comfort) to 33° F (limit)

GEAR GUY’S ADVICE?

Get what you can afford. You can still get outside with an inexpensive bag — which is what’s most important, right? If and when you have the dough for a nicer bag, your wilderness adventures will be a little more luxurious.

CARING FOR YOUR BAG

Properly cared for, a sleeping bag can last 10 to 20 years. Body oils can compromise insulation, so you should always sleep in clean base layers. Post-trip, hang the bag to dry for a day or two, and then place it in a big storage sack and keep in a dry place. If your bag gets really dirty or starts losing loft, follow manufacturer instructions for washing it.

25 Comments on How to Buy a Good Sleeping Bag

  1. I am going to Philmont this summer and I realized while going through my gear that my sleeping bag is heavy and compresses to the size of yoga ball (around a yard on the side). I need a good stuff sack that is light weight, that compresses really small, and will keep me warm on Mt. Baldy. Which brand should I get and what model?

  2. i have a negative 15 degree from Dick’s. got it for 50$ then used a ten dollar coupon!
    paid as much as a 40 degree costs!!!!!!!!!

  3. I’ve got a NorthFace sleeping bag – minus 20 degrees and it keeps me warm. Weighs about 1.5 lbs and condenses to the size of a soccer ball with a compression bag.

  4. Titanic Kidd // November 10, 2008 at 8:27 pm // Reply

    I like Coleman sleeping bags.

  5. quest makes good sleeping bags

  6. I got a -15 degree sleeping bag that cost 128.00 it was on sale for 69.00 the cahier rang it up 45.00 and i had two gift cards (20.00,25.00) so i ended up paying 8.00 (that was the tax)🙂

  7. I have a synthetic bag that goes down to 30 degrees, but it’s HUGE! I want to get a new one, but come on, 75$ is a lot for a sleeping bag, and advice for buying, a small, less expensive sleeping bag?

  8. i have a sleeping bag and it’s rated at 0 deggres and it’s extreymly cofertable at summer camp in souther Indiana so isent the rating the maximum tempacer that you can be in befor it gets uncofterbal?

  9. Ultimate Scoutmaster // September 10, 2008 at 10:55 am // Reply

    It is my belief that every person (not just Scouts) should have a sleeping bag that goes down to 0 degrees. If it is too warm, you can just unzip it a little. Sooner or later, you will need that lowest temperature rating, and your life may depend on it. The lower the rating, the more days of the year that you can go camping later. I consider a 40 degree bag is just about useless. It gives you a false sense of security, but still costs money. Also you can add quite a bit of warmth by wearing an oversized hooded sweatshirt or a ski-cap at night. You need to keep your head and neck warm to be able to go to sleep. Mummy bags will definitely keep you warmer, you just have to get used to the restricted area around your feet and the bag closing in around your face. Get a bag that is a little extra long and it feels a lot better. I couldn’t care less about a light-weight sleeping bag or a highly compressible sleeping bag. About 99% of the camping is done within 50′ of a car. Warmth is the most important thing.

  10. I really don’t know what sleeping bag in between weather

  11. what about air mattreses or cots? recommendations? I have a self inflating one but it is so small and slips during the night. Especially important during long term camping of over a week.

  12. Add a fleece bag liner to your equipment list. It will make any ( almost any ) bag warm and cozy, just like dressing in layers. And best of all, it can easily be washed at home after every trip.

  13. i want a sinthetic mummy bag

  14. Well i have 1 sleeping bag already but its for camping in the summer. I’m looking to buy a new one though!

  15. im thinking of getting a compresion sac

  16. Down or Synthetic down is the warmest comfiest sleeping bag you’ll ever find but if it gets wet it loses all it’s warmth. on the other hand synthetic its not as warm but if it gets wet it will not lose it’s warmth

  17. Willy Wonka // July 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm // Reply

    I have my own but need a new one.

  18. OFFTOLOSTVALLEY // July 5, 2008 at 9:43 pm // Reply

    I’ve already tested out a bag for my upcoming trip to lost valley, CA. If you want a SMALL sleeping bag, you can get a “bag” that can compress a little more smaller than a basketball. I suggest going to big 5 or rei. Happy camping!!!

  19. I have been using my dads sleeping bag when I go camping but I need to get my own.this information will help me pick out the right sleeping bag for me.Thanks

  20. I don’t have a sleeping bag, so I have to borrow my dad sleeping bag every time I go camping with my friend.

  21. I have a peak 1 -0 degree bag and I just cant ask for any thing better, it is a great all year round bag.

  22. I have an Big Agnes encampment bag and it is the perfect bag for year round camping- it’s beast!!!!!!

  23. cool

  24. i have an rei synthetic bag that is great but the zipper always gets caught in the frabric but overall it is a great bag

  25. i got a agood bag to sleep

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