Buying Guide – Shopping for the Best Sleeping Bag
What to Look For In a Sleeping Bag
If you want to get a good night’s sleep while camping, you’ve got to have the right sleeping bag. Here are the common design features to keep in mind as you shop for your sleeping bag.
Sleeping bags come in different lengths and widths to suit varying builds. For the bag to work effectively at insulating you properly, you want to avoid having too much extra room in the bag around your body. However, you still want to be able to move around to be comfortable and not feel restricted while you sleep.
The goal is to choose a bag that closely fits your body, while still providing some wiggle room for you to move in your sleep. Choose a length that matches your height, and go up a level if you are right on the upper limit. For width, ensure there is enough room for you to shift sleeping positions without it being an ordeal.
Some bags have a “men” or “women” label, but it’s really more important to look at the length and width and how that applies to your body, versus your gender. However, women’s bags may also have a slightly different shape, with more room at the hips and less at the shoulders (and vice versa for men’s bags). For best results, always try out a bag before taking it camping.
Since you may be toting your bag around on your back during your days of hiking, it’s important that it be of a weight you’re prepared to carry. You’ll see some sleeping bags advertised as “light” (2 to 3 pounds) or “ultralight” (1 pound or less) for this reason. Typically, the lighterweight the bag, the more expensive it is, but not always—as sometimes that weight comes the cost of insulation.
The temperature rating indicates in what temperatures the sleeping bag will keep you warm while you sleep.
Some sleeping bags will have both “lower limit” and “comfort ratings.” The Lower Limit will indicate the temperature at which the bag will keep you alive. The Comfort Rating may be up to 15 degrees warmer, indicating the outdoor temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep your comfortably warm. If there is no Comfort Rating listed, mentally add 10 or 15 degrees to the temperature rating to estimate.
Some sleeping bags use the European Norm (EN) rating system, which standardizes the temperature ratings for all sleeping bags.
- EN Comfort indicates the lowest temperature at which an average woman will sleep comfortably in the sleeping bag with long underwear and a hat.
- EN Lower Limit indicates the lowest temperature for a man to sleep comfortably (men typically sleep warmer than women).
- EN Upper Limit refers to the highest temperature at which a man will sleep without sweating.
- EN Extreme is lowest temperature for women to sleep in without risk of hypothermia.
Sleeping bags are insulated using either down or synthetic down.
- Sleeping bags with down insulation compress more easily, are more effective at insulation, and also tend to last longer. Unsurprisingly, they also tend to be more expensive than synthetic sleeping bags.
- Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper, and while they can retain heat a bit better when they’re wet, they’re also much bulkier and heavier when compressed.
Down Fill Power
Ranging from 500 to 900, fill power (fp) refers to the quality of the down filler in the sleeping bag and how “fluffy” the bag is. Specifically, the higher the fill power, the less the bag will weigh, the warmer it will be, and the better it will compress. As a result, it will also cost more.
Bags with lower fill power, in the 500s to 600s, are still likely to keep you as warm – they’ll just have to weigh heavier to do so.
The down to feather ratio also indicates the quality of the down. It’s typically displayed as a fraction with the down percentage shown first (e.g. 90/10 to indicate 90% down, 10% feather). A lower feather percentage tends to indicate a better quality down.
There are two main designs to sleeping bags: quilts and mummy style.
Quilt-Style Sleeping Bags look like a down comforter for your bed, and are used similarly. You sleep in the sleeping bag, on top of a mattress pad. There may be straps that enable you to connect the bag to your sleeping pad. Quilts are significantly lighter weight, and tend to be better at insulation in most mild environments, making them a favorite among campers.
Mummy Sleeping Bags, which tuck you and your head in like a mummy, are better for cold or windy environments because of the extra insulation around your head. However, they are bulkier and heavier.
Waterproof/Water Resistant Construction
Most sleeping bags feature a nylon shell on the outside that’s either water-resistant or waterproof, enabling the bag to stay in good shape whatever conditions you’re camping in.
Durable water repellent (DWR) makes water on the outside of the bag bead up, as opposed to soaking into the bag. While DWR is applied to sleeping bags during manufacturing, over time it will wear off.
Some sleeping bags advertise their ability to stay “warm when wet.” Typically, these are synthetic sleeping bags. Even if they still stay somewhat insulated, this is not going to be comfortable to sleep in, so don’t be confused by the hype. You should always try to keep your bag as dry as possible.
Sleeping bag zippers are full-length, three-quarters, or some other length. The advantage of a full-length zipper is that you can fully open up the bag for ultimate versatility, while the advantage of a non-full-length zipper is that it makes the bag weigh slightly less—but at the cost of flexibility.
Sleeping Bags FAQ
There are still a few more things to consider as you shop around for your sleeping bag. Review the following questions to find the best sleeping bag for you.