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How to Buy the Best Sleeping Bag

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.

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

TEMPERATURE RATINGS

Sleeping bags have labels with ratings like -10 degrees or +30 degrees. These tell you the lowest temperature at which most people will be comfortable sleeping in that particular bag.

Do you get cold easily or are you a furnace? If you struggle to stay warm, you’ll probably want a bag rated about 20 degrees lower than the coldest temperatures you plan to sleep in. If you sleep warmly, choose a bag rated to within 10 degrees of the coldest temperatures you’ll encounter.

BSA 30°F Mummy Sleeping Bag – Youth ($60, scoutshop.org): Rated to 30 degrees, this summer bag is warm enough for cool-but-not-freezing nights. While the synthetic insulation will hold some warmth even if wet, it’s on the bulky and heavy side for backpacking; consider it best for car camping. Bonus: It will probably survive through a sibling or two. 2 lbs., 12 oz.

KNOW YOUR BUDGET

Sleeping bag prices can vary from $60 to $600. Price is affected by both the quality and amount of insulation, so the price usually goes up as the temperature rating goes down.

SYNTHETIC VS. DOWN 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 is typically less expensive, requires little care and retains its warmth if the bag gets wet. Modern synthetic insulations like PrimaLoft are nearly as lightweight and compact as down, and remain the best choice for extended trips in wet environments.

Modern bags blur the traditional lines between down and synthetic insulations. Many bags now use water-resistant down, which keeps you warm even 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.

REI Co-op Lumen Sleeping Bag — Kids’ ($119, rei.com): The Lumen hits a middle ground between higher performance and lower price. Rated to 25 degrees, this three-season bag is designed for campers ages 10-14. The synthetic insulation will trap some heat if wet and fits in an 8.25-by-18-inch stuff sack. The mummy style has a girth of 58 inches in the shoulders and 56 inches at the hips — roomier than most mummies. The shingle construction overlaps insulation layers to prevent cold spots, and the bag has a draft tube, insulated collar and anti-snag zipper. 2 lbs., 6 oz.

WEIGHT MATTERS

Are you car camping, where weight matters less, or backpacking, where every ounce counts? How you pack will directly influence the type of bag you need.

Lighter, higher-quality insulation costs more, but you can trim weight and bulk simply by buying the right bag for the conditions.

Big Agnes Boot Jack 25° ($190, bigagnes.com): When you look at just temperature rating, price and weight, the Boot Jack looks like a good value in a three-season bag. But look beyond those specs: There are even more reasons to give it serious consideration. Its DownTek feathers are water-repellent — a performance feature that usually costs more. With a girth of 60 inches at the shoulders, 54 inches at the hips and 36 inches at the feet, the Boot Jack allows a freedom of movement you don’t find in many mummy bags. 2 lbs., 6 oz.

MUMMY VS. RECTANGULAR 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.

QUALITY 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.

Klymit KSB 20° Sleeping Bag ($250, scoutshop.org): Getting serious about your backcountry adventures? The KSB raises the performance bar. The 650-fill down dries quickly and won’t absorb much moisture. Its flexible baffles keep the bag close to your body, ensuring you won’t lose any heat as you toss and turn. With a 20-degree rating and especially warm foot box, the KSB is built for any three-season conditions. 2 lbs., 12 oz.

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.

Coleman Illumi-Bug 45 Youth Sleeping Bag ($40, coleman.com): Looking for a starter sleeping bag? The Illumi-Bug offers everything a camping newcomer needs, including comfortable materials and warmth for temps at about 45 degrees. The bag’s ZipPlow zipper ensures snag-free opening and closing every time. Also cool: The Illumi-Bug features a glow-in-the-dark design. 2 lbs., 14 oz.

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.

10 Comments on How to Buy the Best Sleeping Bag

  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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