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Sleeping bag buying guide

Two Boys Wrapped in Sleeping Bags

You can’t sleep. It’s freezing, so you try to crawl inside your sleeping bag as deep as you can — leaving only a little opening for your mouth to breathe. Or maybe it’s kind of warm out. You’re too toasty inside the bag but too cold without it.

The trick to foolproof camp z-z-z’s is picking the right sleeping bag for the weather conditions. Here’s what to consider when buying your next bag:

PRICE

There’s a wide range. Quality backpacking bags can be found for $75 to $150. Double that price if you’re looking for a down-filled bag. In the $30 to $60 range you’ll find bags that are heavier and won’t pack down quite as well.

A good rule of thumb is, the more you spend, the more compressible and lightweight the sleeping bag will be.

DOWN VS. SYNTHETIC

The stuff inside a sleeping bag that keeps you warm is called insulation. There are two main types: down (as in goose down) and synthetic, which is man-made insulation with brand names like Quallofil, PrimaLoft and Fiberfill.

Compared with synthetic bags, down is more compressible, durable and lighter for the same warmth. But it doesn’t handle moisture well and is tougher to care for.

Your best option is probably to stick with synthetic bags because they work well, are simple to care for (machine washable) and are much less expensive.

TEMP RATINGS

Most bags have a temperature rating on the tag. It’ll say something like: +30° or -20°. This tells you, roughly, the minimum temperature that will be comfortable while in that bag.

It’s important to know there’s no industry standard about how they determine temperature ratings. Those are just generic guidelines.

Also, keep in mind how you sleep — temperature-wise, that is. Are you a hot sleeper? Or do you always seem to be colder than your friends? If you’re a cold sleeper, for example, go with a bag that’s rated for colder temperatures.

SHAPE

Sleeping bags come in two main shapes: rectangle and mummy. Rectangular bags are roomier, giving you more room to roll around and are best for summer camping. They also weigh more and don’t pack down as well. Mummy bags are best for colder conditions. They hug your body, and most come with a hood you can cinch down over your head.

The tighter it fits, the warmer it’s going to be. It’s best to get the smallest bag you can feel comfortable in.

That way your body doesn’t waste energy trying to heat up a lot of extra space. However, you don’t want it so tight that it restricts circulation or compressibility. And in winter you may want a little extra space in the foot area to keep boots warm, dry out gloves or to keep a water bottle from freezing.

WEIGHT & COMPRESSIBILITY

If you’re backpacking, it’s important to find a bag that’s lightweight and compressible. The most compressible bags can be stuffed until slightly larger than a volleyball. Sleeping bags can be made to take up less space in your pack by using a compression stuff sack.

28 Comments on Sleeping bag buying guide

  1. REI makes a good bag

  2. The other day i got a great deal on a mummy sleeping bag😀

  3. if you might get wet, dont bring a down bag – it loses its warmth and dries really slowly. Use down when you’ll definitely be covered and make sure your bag is wrapped carefully when you are carrying it on your pack – in case it rains while you’re on your way to your destination! That said, down rules. Much lighter and smaller than synthetic.

    One neat idea is to buy a $40 silk down mummy bag liner. The thing adds 10 degrees to your existing bag and it means you can make a summer bag into a fall bag. The silk liner is only about as big as two teenagers fists and weights very little. It also keeps your bag cleaner as it is totally washable.

  4. We are new to camping out and have not purchased bags yet. In Fl where it is pretty much hot year round. What type of bag do you recommend? I am sure we are gonna get synthetic.

  5. Recently got a mummy bag after years of using rectangular bag. It’s light, warm, roomy, easy to pack, and I don’t like it. It gives me claustrophobia. First night in it I dreamt I was being swallowed by a python.

  6. Second Classman // September 28, 2009 at 6:28 pm // Reply

    i have a marmot 40 degree bag. great for summer campouts

  7. Yea, some sleeping bags are just freezing cold. I try to make
    mine more at a comfortable tempreture.

  8. pumpernickel // August 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm // Reply

    i have an ll bean bag (0degrees) its a mummy bag and is compressible and good all year

  9. You can use a small camp pillow in the hoods of most mummies, except for in exceptionally snug bags.

  10. Mummy sleeping bags are great for camping; however, mummy sleeping bags cannot accomodate a full size pillow like open end sleeping bags. Are travel size camping pillows available that are appropriate for use in mummy bags, or does a person need to hand make a custom camping pillow for use in a mummy sleeping bag for camping?

    • usually camp pillows come with a stuff sack and are about half the size of the kind we use at home. My mummy bag is rather large and i usually bring a regular pillow and turn it 90 degrees and it fits fine but you can buy small camping pillows too
      from a scout

  11. my whole family got colman mummy bags as a present. They’re great

  12. scoutcamper58329190 // June 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm // Reply

    Goose Down Filled sleeping bags purchased from the local army-navy surplus and overstock store can be purchased at usually less cost than a major retail camping store. Synthetic sleeping bags can sometimes be washed in a laundromat washing machine while goose down filled sleeping bags are usually dry clean only sleeping bags when the care is needed.

  13. I have an alpine design mummy bag rated for thirty degrees and it works great andit only cost35$

  14. tenderfoot // April 9, 2009 at 6:45 am // Reply

    I got a really nice 0 degree bag from teton sports. It’s a mummy and it is VERY comfy.

  15. warmsleeper // April 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm // Reply

    I got a ausome 0 degree teton sport mummy sleeping bag. It is big but VERY comfy!

  16. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm // Reply

    to CHOWDER: good find! I wish I could be lucky like that.

  17. my troop does alot of winter campouts(since were in Ak), and i end up usualy cold and wet which, kinda kills the thought of going on another one. but, i hav never tried a mummysleeping bag before, so would it be wise 2 get a mummy sleeping bag? + can u fit a fleece-liner in it? or is it even necessary?

  18. If I have a 3 pound bag, and I need a 4 pound bag, can I just put a blanket or 2 in it?
    I’m going on a freezeout, so I need to know.

  19. I have a eureka 30 deg. bag It’s nice.

  20. webOLOE We Be Loyal Scouts boys life fan // January 26, 2009 at 6:44 pm // Reply

    Cool

  21. that one dude // January 25, 2009 at 7:11 am // Reply

    this was very helpful, i got a marmot sawtooth that is rated to 15 degrees, but it will keep you snug and warm at -30 degrees if you wear a hat.

  22. Grizzly Bear // January 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm // Reply

    Campmor sells a house brand down mummy sleeping bag that is a steal. Its rated at 20 degrees but it is probably more like 30. 120 bucks for a 550-fill down bag.

  23. Just about Ultimate Scoutmaster // December 30, 2008 at 9:52 am // Reply

    I agree with Ultimate Scoutmaster, you need to go more to the cold side vs getting a warmer bag. Always remember head gear, the times I have been most uncomfortable, I have forgotten my beanie when sleeping in colder weather.

  24. connor the man // December 22, 2008 at 12:42 pm // Reply

    my neighbor gave me a really warm and small blanket for camping that gos under 0 degrees.he made my day!

  25. I have one but the zip broke off and it is a good one.

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