How to pick the right sleeping bag for your outdoor activity
Your sleeping bag will make or break your camping trip, so you shouldn’t rush into buying one. You need to consider how and when you’ll be using it and whether you’re especially sensitive to cold or heat. Let’s take a closer look at the things you need to know when choosing a sleeping bag.
The sleeping bag temperature rating
Seeing as sleeping bags are meant to keep you warm, the most important consideration is the temperature rating. There are usually two or three temperature ratings associated with each sleeping bag. The comfort rating is the temperature at which the average woman can sleep comfortably outside.
The lower limit is the temperature at which the average man can sleep comfortably outside. The extreme limit is the lowest temperature it can be used for survival by the average woman.
Bear in mind, these temperature ratings are tested in a laboratory, not in the real world. So we recommend getting a sleeping bag that’s a little warmer than you think you need.
As a general rule winter sleeping bags should have around a -9ºC rating, while summer bags can be up to around 2ºC. But you still need to consider the kind of places you’ll be using the sleeping bag.
A synthetic or natural filling?
The next factor to consider is insulation. This is why it’s so important to know where you’ll be using the sleeping bag most often. Synthetic insulation is usually made from polyester. It’s relatively cheap and easy to wash, but it’s not very compressible and it’s more on the heavy side.
Down insulation is made from goose and/or duck down feathers. It’s more expensive, but light and very compressible. It’s warmth-to-weight ratio is superior to that of synthetic alternatives.
However, down is more susceptible to moisture. It loses its loft and therefore much of its insulating power. Synthetic insulation on the other hand, retains its insulating capacity even in damp, humid conditions. Have a look at our Eco Trail 2C Synthetic sleeping bag or the 7C Synthetic sleeping bag.
What about the shape?
These days, the most common shape for a sleeping bag is the ‘mummy’ shape. Its base is narrower than its top. This is to be most space efficient. However, for those of you who like to have some space around your feet, a classic rectangular shape may be better.
Before you go down this route, consider the design of the zip. If it’s a two-way zip that runs the length of the bag – or even wraps around the bottom – you can easily ventilate just your feet, keeping the bag zipped up over your chest.
How to match a sleeping bag to your activity?
Now let’s put it all together. The most versatile sleeping bag is one with a temperature rating of around -7ºC or -9ºC that’s filled with down feathers and has a mummy shape. This sleeping bag will see you through backpacking trips, all year round in most locations.
However, you probably won’t need a temperature rating that low if you’re just a summer camper and you’ll save space in your backpack with a +2ºC bag, as it won’t take up as much space, like our Kazoo 2°C Down sleeping bag.
If backpacking isn’t on the cards, then space isn’t an issue. In this case you can save money by going for a synthetic insulation sleeping bag.
If you plan on going to extremely cold places, then you’ll need a sleeping bag to match. For this you need to look at temperature ratings down to -40ºC.
Whatever sleeping bag you decide on, our advice is to err on the side of caution and get a sleeping bag that’s warmer than you think you need. You can always unzip it to let off some heat if you start to get too warm.