Selecting a Sleeping Bag

sleeping bag

While backpacking bags focus on minimizing weight, sleeping bags for camping (also known as car camping, family camping or base camping) are all about comfort. These bags are typically wider, softer, cushier and less expensive than their backpacking counterparts. Here's what to look for when shopping.

A sleeping bag's temperature rating identifies the lowest temperature at which a bag will keep the average sleeper warm. When you hear a bag described as a "20 degree bag," it means that most users should remain comfortable if the air temperature drops no lower than 20°F. These ratings assume that the sleeper is wearing a layer of long underwear and using a sleeping pad under the bag.

Metabolism varies from person to person, and sleeping bag temperature ratings vary from one manufacturer to the next. Use these ratings as a guide only—not a guarantee.

 Besides the sleeping bag itself, the following factors influence your warmth and comfort.

·                          Sleeping pad: This insulates the space between your bag and the cold ground (reducing convective heat loss) and adds a layer of cushioning.

·                         Tent: Using a tent traps another layer of "dead air" around you, warming it by up to 10°F.

·                         Metabolism: Are you a "cold sleeper" who prefers extra insulation when sleeping? Or maybe you're a "warm sleeper" who kicks off the covers at home.

·                         Gender: Women generally prefer a bit warmer bag than men, up to 8°F warmer per recent EN (European Norm) testing on backpacking bags.

·                         Clothing: What you wear inside the bag makes a difference. Long underwear and clean socks help insulate you while also keeping body oils off of your bag. A cap and neck gaiter help retain body heat. For colder-than-expected nights, a fleece jacket and pants can help.

·                         Hood: Sleeping bags with hoods (more commonly found on backpacking bags) can be cinched up on cold nights to help retain warmth.

·                         Hydration: Staying hydrated adds warmth. Enjoy a warm drink before bed.

Select a bag with a temperature rating a bit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. If you're headed for near-freezing temperatures, then choose a 20°F bag instead of a 35°F bag. If temperatures climb higher than expected, you can easily vent the bag to provide more circulation on warmer nights.

Here's a general rule of thumb on temperature ratings:

Bag Type

Temperature Rating (°F)

Summer Season

+35° and higher

3-Season Bag

+10° to +35°

Cold Weather

-10° to +10°

Winter/Extreme

-10° and lower

Note: Most camping bags feature a temperature rating between +15°F and +50°F

How you store your bag between trips affects its lifespan. When you arrive home from a trip, first air out the bag inside-out for a couple days to make sure it's dry. Then store in a large cotton storage sack—often included when you purchase a sleeping bag, but also available separately.

Do NOT store your bag compressed in its stuff sack as this will eventually suck the life out of the loft. Watertight storage bags are also a bad idea. Condensation can build up inside them and result in mildew. In short, allow your bag come to its full loft with plenty of cool, dry ventilation, and all will be good.

Comments for Selecting a Sleeping Bag


Name: Suzi
Time: Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I'd like add one addition to the clothing section - change your clothes before getting into your bag. The moisture in your clothes from your sweat, etc will cool you down. Also if you're in bear country you'll want to store your clothes in the either in the car or hung away from camp (if your backcountry).

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