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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.

109 Comments on Sleeping bag buying guide

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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

  6. 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?

  7. 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!!!!!!!!!

  8. 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.

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

    I like Coleman sleeping bags.

  10. quest makes good sleeping bags

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