How to Choose a Sleeping Bag – The Complete Guide


Choosing a sleeping bag can be a difficult decision. It’s an essential part of any camping, hiking or bug-out equipment. However, not all sleeping bags are the same. If you want to fully enjoy your next camping or backpacking trip, you will need a sleeping bag that feels comfortable, keeps you warm and suits all your needs.

You should choose a sleeping bag according to the outdoor activity you’re planning. This means taking into consideration its weight, comfort, filling, warmth, the ease of packing and storage, and durability. You must check the bag’s temperature rating, select the correct shape and the appropriate insulation.

With all that in mind, let’s cover everything you need to know about how to choose a sleeping bag in detail.

 

Select the Sleeping Bag’s Type by Activity

There are different sleeping bags available, each designed to answer the needs according to the activity. That is why you shouldn’t just purchase the first sleeping bag you stumble upon or that someone recommended.

Here are the main 3 types of sleeping bags you can choose from:

  • Sleeping bag for camping: This type of sleeping bag is considered to be heavy, since you’re not supposed to carry or hike with it for a long period of time. This bag is bulky and its purpose is for you to sleep in it during camp. There is a lot of room for you to move around inside. It is comfortable and ideal for car camping trips and camping with the family. Because this bag is less technical, it is also cheaper than the other sleeping bags.
  • Sleeping bag for backpacking: Backpacking is an outdoor activity that combines both hiking and camping. That is why when purchasing a backpacking sleeping bag, it is important to consider and check its weight and compressibility, because you will be carrying it with you during the hikes. Your backpacking sleeping bag should be light and also not to take too much space in the backpack. Overall, this type of bag is snug and light, so try getting a sleeping bag that weighs 2 lbs. or less. This type of sleeping bag is usually more expensive.
  • Sleeping bag for mountaineering and alpine climbing: This type of sleeping bag is designed to keep you a lot warmer than the other bags. It’s waterproof and features the best and highest quality insulating material. The shell material is also waterproof as well as breathable. The coating of the bag is water-repellent, it keeps the moisture away and keeps you dry and warm. This type of bag can be a bit expensive.

 

Check the Bag’s Temperature Rating

In order to know the lowest temperature in which you can use your sleeping bag, check its temperature ratings. Bear in mind that you should use a sleeping pad as well, since these ratings are determined assuming you’re using sleeping pads. The advantage of a sleeping pad is that it adds a couple of more inches of insulation between the ground and yourself. This basically makes your sleeping bag even more effective and warm.

Whenever you feel too warm in the bag, you can unzip it. That is why it is always best to choose a sleeping bag that has a low temperature rating. Choose a sleeping bag whose temperature rating is lower than the lowest temperature expected at your destination, especially at night. This way, if you get too warm, you can unzip the bag. It’s better safe than sorry, or in this case, better too warm than freezing cold.

Here is the breakdown of the temperature ratings:

  • Summer season sleeping bag: +30 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Used for camping during the summer, warm weather and indoor use.
  • 3-season sleeping bag: +15 to +30 degrees Fahrenheit. Used during seasons of autumn and winter, but when the nights are mild-cold and without frost.
  • Winter season sleeping bag: +15 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. Used during winter when the nights are extremely cold, and may include frost and/or snow.

Here is a useful video from Enwild that goes into additional details on temperature ratings:

 

Choose the Correct Shape

First and foremost, your sleeping bag should be comfortable in order to get a good rest and a good night sleep. You want to be able to roll over and even stretch. As I mentioned earlier, there is a variety of sleeping bags to choose from, and this variety includes the shape of the sleeping bags.

The best way to know if a sleeping bag is comfortable to you is to actually feel it, but this means going to the store and feeling the different shapes, including zipping yourself in them.

Here are the different shapes of the sleeping bags:

  • Rectangular: This is a basic sleeping bag and many sleeping bags come in this shape. They offer a lot of room for the arms and legs, allowing you to stretch out. You can even unzip some of these bags completely and use them as a blanket or comforter. Most of the times these bags feature a zip around its two sides. They are less effective than other sleeping bags when it comes to keeping heat and are ideal for camping during the summer, indoor use, and caravanning.
  • Mummy: These sleeping bags feature a snug fit, in order to make them lighter and to improve retention of heat and boost warmth. With these bags, you don’t just get inside the sleeping bag, but roll over with the sleeping bag. Most of these bags come as a single bag, but there are also left and right handed bags to zip together in order to create a double bag.
  • Double bags: Sleeping bags that are designed for two people and are great for couples. There’s an option to make a double sleeping bag and it’s to combine two rectangular bags (from the same brand and model) and zip them together. Another option to make a double bag is as I mentioned just now, which is to zip together two sleeping bags, one right-hand zip and the other left-hand zip.
  • Semi-rectangular: These sleeping bags are also known as a “barrel” shape or “modified mummy” shape. There are many different shapes to these kind of sleeping bad, and basically they are a compromise between space and warmth.
  • Quilts: When you use these sleeping bags, you lie on the sleeping pad and then draw the quilt around yourself. They feature strap systems that you can adjust and remove. These straps integrate with the sleeping pad, which makes sure they stay together and intact. Quilts are extremely light, because they use less material and filling.
  • Sleeping bags for kids: These sleeping bags are shorter and smaller than regular adult bags, and are designed especially for children.

 

Select the Appropriate Insulation

There are two main materials that make the sleeping bags. Down fill and synthetic fill. Let’s understand the benefits of each:

  • Down insulation: This is the superior choice. It does a great job in cold and dry weather. It’s lightweight and most of the time can handle water. It’s easy to pack due to its ability to compress into a small form. Down insulation is very compressible, so it keeps lofting even after you stuff the sleeping bag into a compression sack for many times. It is also very durable and can retain warmth for many years.
  • Synthetic insulation: Sleeping bags that feature this type of insulation are more affordable. The insulation is non-allergenic, it can dry pretty fast, and it continues to insulate even when it’s damp. If you’re planning to go on a trip in a place that may be very moist, synthetically insulated sleeping bag is a great choice, thanks to its great features to dry fast and keep you warm even in wet conditions.

If you choose a sleeping bag that features down insulation, you should know that there is a down fill rating system. This rating system tells you how “lofty” the sleeping bag is. So, if the fill rating is high, it means that more air is getting trapped by the down insulation. A high rating of down fill keeps warmth with less filling, which makes the sleeping bag lighter in weight.

Here are the common down fill ratings:

  • 550-600 fill: These are the most affordable sleeping bags. They can be a bit heavy compared to other down filling bags, but still lighter than sleeping bags with synthetic filling.
  • 700 fill: This is your average cost sleeping bag with down filling. It allows a balance of sorts between weight and cost.
  • 800+ fill: These sleeping bags are the most expensive ones. They are ultralight and can be compressed to extremely small sizes. This means you can stuff them in the backpack and have plenty of room for other gear. These are probably the best sleeping bags you can get.

Down insulation should be protected from moisture, and the following video explains how to do this:

 

Consider Additional Sleeping Bag Features

There are other features to consider when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag, although not as crucial as filling, type and shape. But I will still go over them just to cover everything, to be on the safe side.

  • Sleeping bag hoods: Hoods come on sleeping bags that have low temperature ratings. A snug-fitting hood helps the sleeping bag be a lot warmer, and that is why it is best to have and use in cold weather and environments. If you’re camping during the summer or warm weather, there is no need for a hood.
  • Sleeping bag shells: The shell is the outer fabric and can be made of two materials, nylon or a durable polyester. This shell features a durable water repellent (DWR) which protects the insulation inside the sleeping bag from dampness. That is why the inside of your sleeping bag will feature materials that are warm and soft. The lighter and thinner the shell is, the more expensive the sleeping bag is. Sleeping bags that are designed for mountaineering and alpine climbing will feature waterproof and breathable membranes in order for them to remain dry under rainy and snowy weather.
  • Sleeping bag stash pockets: Some sleeping bags come with stash pockets that can be zipped. This allows you to store different things inside them, like a lip balm, a watch, and other small objects.
  • Sleeping bag zippers: If you get a sleeping bag with more than one zipper slider, it will be easier to ventilate it. Also, try looking for a sleeping bag that has a snag-free zipper, so it won’t get caught on the fabric. Look for a large zipper with sturdier teeth, because their operation is easy and smooth when it comes to both zipping and unzipping. Another tip I can give you is getting a zipper on the right size if you’re left handed, and vice versa. It is much easier to operate the zipper this way.

 

Choose Recommended Sleeping Bags by Activity

I want to share with you now a few highly recommended sleeping bags that you can purchase today on Amazon, according to the activity you’re planning.

Best Camping Sleeping Bags

Coleman 0°F Mummy Sleeping Bag: This is an excellent sleeping bag for camping even in extremely low temperatures, as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It can serve tall and big people (up to 6 feet 2 inch in height) and comes with a hood that can be tightened to seal the warmth inside. Also, thanks to the included ZipPlow systems, you will never have to fear snagging when you use the zipper.

Click here for more reviews.

 

HiHiker Camping Sleeping Bag: This sleeping bag guarantees that you stay warm and cozy inside, even if you’re lying on a ground, in wet and cold conditions. This bag also comes with a soft travel pillow to support your head and neck and to prevent strains. No matter if it’s hot or cold outside, this bag will keep you nice, warm and cozy as it’s ideal for all 4 seasons (according to the manufacturer). It’s lightweight and can also be compressed and folded into a carrying bag. It’s washable, waterproof and features double sided zippers.

Click here for more reviews.

 

TETON Sports Celsius XXL Sleeping Bag: A great 3-season sleeping bag that will keep you warm at night. Features an innovative fiber fill and double-layer construction. The mummy hood is half circle, keeping your head warm and off the ground. There is also extra padding along the zipper and around the shoulder, to keep you warm and to keep the drafts away. The zipper runs smoothly while opening and closing the bag. This sleeping bag also comes with interior pockets for your watch, keys, wallet, etc. The bag can be stuffed for an easy and comfortable carry.

Click here for more reviews.

 

Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags

WINNER OUTFITTERS Mummy Sleeping Bag: It’s designed for 3-4 seasons and is made of high-quality polyester and a coating shell that makes the sleeping bag extremely soft. Keeps you warm even in extreme weather conditions as well as dampness. The draft collars and draft tubes prevent the warmth from getting out and the cold to get into the bag. It is waterproof, lightweight (3 lbs.). When compressed, it is 9.8 x 8.5 x 8.5 inches. It comes with a carry bag and as mentioned, you can compress it. Also features SBS double slider zipper with a design that is completely anti-snag. It is washable, so when you get back home, you can easily wash the bag in a washing machine.

Click here for more reviews.

 

Coleman Brazos Cold Weather Sleeping Bag: Made of 100% polyester, lightweight and compact (only 4 lbs., 75 x 33 x 4 inches). It keeps you warm and cozy even in low temperatures as 20-degrees Fahrenheit. The body heat is not getting out, thanks to a draft tube along the bag’s zipper. Durable and lasts for a long time. Packing is very simple, as you only lock the sleeping bag’s edges together. Snag-free opening and closing. There’s even a 5-year limited warranty.

Click here for more reviews.

 

TETON Sports LEEF Lightweight Mummy Sleeping Bag: This sleeping bag is one of the best around. It’s lightweight (4.2 lbs., 87 x 34 x 22 inches), and it keeps you warm thanks to the added insulation in the bag’s footbox. The hood keeps your face entirely warm, and the warmth is kept inside due to the full-length zipper draft tube. Keeps you warm even in a temperature as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The shell of the bag is water-resistant and the bag is easily stuffed and compressed for easy carry. It also comes with an interior pocket and anti-snag zippers.

Click here for more reviews.

 

Best Mountaineering Sleeping Bags

Therm-a-Rest Oberon 0-Degree Down Mummy Winter Sleeping Bag: An excellent sleeping bag that knows to trap and keep the body heat inside, even at temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It absorbs 90% less water and dries very quickly. Weighs 2.63 pounds, and you can compress and easily store it.

Click here for more reviews.

 

 

Marmot Lithium 0F Degree Down Sleeping Bag: A lightweight sleeping bag that weighs less than 3 pounds. It keeps you very warm inside and can handle cold temperatures such as -1 degree Fahrenheit. The offset zipper seals you completely and does not allow the body heat to escape. If it’s too hot, the double zipper allows you to vent the bag and cool down a bit. Stuffed with 800-fill-down. Repels water, so that you stay dry and warm under any weather condition.

Click here for more reviews.

 

Sierra Designs Nitro 0 Degree DriDown Sleeping Bag: One of the lightest sleeping bags available, it weighs only 2.8 pounds. It can keep you warm even at 2 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to the filling, 800-fill DriDown. If it gets too hot for you, the bag features a self-sealing foot vent. The zippers are anti-snag, so it will be comfortable and easy to get in and out of the bag.

Click here for more reviews.

 

How to Take Care of the Sleeping Bag

In order to enjoy the sleeping bag for many years to come, it’s important to know how to take care of it. I will share now some tips on how to take care of your sleeping bag, so that it will keep you cozy and warm in every camping trip.

  • Wear clean clothes: It is most recommended to sleep in the bag with clean clothes. Try not to get inside the bag with the same clothes you just hiked with. The reason is that as time goes by, dirt, sweat and body oils rob the sleeping bag of the insulating power. So, get inside with clean clothes, including clean underwear and clean socks. Also, don’t forget to wash your face, so that sweat, dirt and sunscreen won’t get rubbed on the hood. You can wear a bandana as well, to get the oily hair off the hood.
  • Use ground protection: If you plan to sleep on the ground, place something underneath the sleeping bag, like a pad. It’s better to have the sleeping bag resting on a pad than directly on the ground. You don’t want the bag to get scratched or ripped. Also, some bags come with durable fabric, which is also waterproof (on the outside), and it must be protected.
  • Test the zippers: Sometimes, a two-way zipper can snag or even come apart. What you can do is practice with the zipper at home before using it outdoors and at camp, get to know the mechanism and how to use it correctly so that it will operate smoothly. Be gentle with the zipper and operate it lightly, never use force.
  • Use the sleeping bag properly: Your sleeping bag is an important asset. So, as silly as it sounds, do not stand inside the sleeping bag jumping around. This will destroy the toe box of the bag. Keep it away from fire and heat, and use it only for sleeping.
  • Dry the bag: Always keep your sleeping bag dry. Each day, turn the bag inside out and get all the moisture out of it. However, do not leave the sleeping bag in direct sun for a very long time. With time, the sun’s UV rays degrade the bag’s fabric. If the sleeping bag gets very wet, you may need to air it out, and it can take a few hours for the bag to get dry. Definitely air the bag out before you store it at home.

 

How to Store the Sleeping Bag at Home

It’s important to store the sleeping bag correctly at home after your trip. Here are the steps to keep the bag intact and well stored at home:

  1. Unzip the sleeping bag and air it out to make sure it’s 100% dry.
  2. Store the sleeping bag in a loose position in a large, breathable sack. The sack can be made of cotton or mesh. Sometimes, a sack like this is included with the sleeping bag, or sold separately. A large pillow case is also an option.
  3. Don’t store your sleeping bag when it is compressed inside the stuff sack. This will destroy the bag’s fill in the long run. That’s why as I mentioned above, you should store it when it’s in a loose position.
  4. Moisture and high temperatures can damage the sleeping bag. Do not place it in damp places, as well as places that are too hot or too cold. In other words, don’t place the bag in the car’s trunk, the basement, the attic or the garage. The best solution is to find a place in the closet, maybe in its corner.

Here is a video demonstration of this method:

 

Additional Sleeping Bag Tips

Allow me to share with you some additional tips regarding how to take care of your sleeping bag, so that it lasts and serves you for a very long time.

  • Checking the bag: Check your sleeping bag from time to time to make sure that the zippers, drawcords and seams are in a good condition. Have a feel of the bag’s insulation, is it distributed evenly or not? You should know that as time passes, the down in the sleeping bag can get uneven.
  • DWR: DWR is the finish that repels water from the sleeping bag. This material is on the shell of the bag, and after some time it can wear off. The good news is that you can help to restore it. You can reapply this finish on the bag’s shell, and thus keep it water-repellent for many years. You can find several products that restore the DWR, like: Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On Waterproofing and GEAR AID Tent Waterproofing Spray for Nylon Tents, 5 oz Revivex Formula.
  • Downproof: Many sleeping bags that come with down insulation have “downproof” liners and their shells are made of tight woven fabric. This helps to keep the down material inside the bag, so it won’t escape. However, not all sleeping bags feature this. So, if a bit of the down escapes from the bag through the shell, not to worry. Simply return the feathers into the bag gently and pull from the other side. The holes will become small and then close.
  • Holes and tears: When you are using the sleeping bag outdoors, there is always a chance that it will suffer some small tears or holes in the shell. In this case, you can sew up the hole by hand. Later, when you get back home, you can remove the hand sewing and sew it better using a sewing machine. Another option is to patch the holes and tears using a repair tape. However, bear in mind that when you try to remove the patch, it can be sticky and make the things even worse. The third and last option is to use a bandage from the first aid kit to seal the hole or tear.

 

Consider These Sleeping Bag Accessories

Now I would like to recommend a few sleeping bag accessories for your consideration. Their purpose is to make the carrying and the storing of the bag much easier, and also to keep it functional for a prolonged period of time.

  • Stuff sack: When you store the sleeping bag inside a stuff sack, it takes less space, freeing some room in the car for other equipment. Here is a variety of stuff sacks for a sleeping bag: click here.
  • Storage sack: When you leave the sleeping bag stuffed inside the stuff sack, over time you might damage the insulation. That is why it is recommended to store the sleeping bag inside a storage sack made of cotton or mesh. Here are some recommended storage sacks for a sleeping bag: click here.
  • Liner: A sleeping bag’s inner liner helps keep it clean and raises the warmth. If you’re camping when it’s hot or warm outside, you can sleep inside the liner and keep the sleeping bag aside. Here are some recommended liners on Amazon: click here.
  • Travel pillow: A travel pillow is small and light, and you can rest your head comfortably on it. At the same time is does not take too much space in the car or backpack. Travel pillows on Amazon: click here.
  • Sleeping mat: I already mentioned a sleeping mat in this article. You place it under the sleeping bag in order to protect the bag from the ground and also to keep the warmth. Sleeping mats on Amazon: click here.

 

Related Questions

How do I choose a camping tent? Sometimes a sleeping bag is not enough, and you need a shelter over your head. Choosing a tent involves checking its capacity, seasons (not all tents are suitable for the winter), size, weight, ventilation, and more. I would like to invite you to get more information from my article on choosing the best camping tent. In addition, if you have a car with a strong root, consider reading about roof rack tents, which are an incredible invention.

What else do I need to pack for a camping trip? You will need to take care of all the basic necessities. This means packing food, a firestarter, water and/or water purifying device, navigational means and a flashlight. If you plan to cook at the campsite, make sure you pack the cookware, utensils, pots, plates, garbage bags for later, and so on. This is, of course, not the entire list, which is why I recommend you to read the essential camping checklist.

How do I plan my camping trip? Camping trip requires a thorough planning, you need to know where you are headed, do you need to reserve a spot at the campsite, how to load the car, and so on. You need to pack all the necessary equipment, as well as water, meals and snacks. You can read more on this in my post about how to plan a camping trip.

Alex Rejba

Alex is a seasoned survivalist, with a passion to all things related to prepping, hiking and living off the grid.

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