Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag

When choosing a sleeping bag to best suit your needs consider how you will be using it and what your price point is.  Once you have made those decisions consider these six questions to help you further. 

  • What is the weather climate where you will be camping?

For dominantly summer camping a sleeping bag rated around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) would be a good choice.  If there is a chance you will encounter colder temperatures you have some options to consider. You could get a bag that will stand up to the coldest temperature, then open it up like a blanket in summer temperatures, or consider bags that have a zip in fleece bag option. These bags have great flexability in using the fleece bag alone when its warm, the main sleeping bag for mid temperatures, and zipped together for colder weather. Otherwise there is always the option of getting one bag for winter and one for summer. 

  • What kind of conditions will you be camping in?

The filling used in a sleeping bag is very important, and could determine your satisfaction.  A down fill will not perform well when wet, so it is not recommended for dominantly damp climates such as the northwest.  I would suggest a synthetic fill for you.  On the other hand if you will be spending most of your time in the deserts or the southwest type climates, down fill will keep you warm to below freezing.  Down fill also compresses nicely when packing so it won't be heavy or bulky to travel with.  While shopping, determine what type of climate you will spend most of your time in, making room for weather conditions you may encounter to help you decide. 

  • How well do you handle small spaces?

A mummy bag does not leave much room to move around which may be comfortable for some people, and claustrophobic for others.  The best way to determine if you will be comfortable in a mummy bag is to try it out, maybe borrow one if you can.  It will score you the warmest sleeping bag for it's weight, but if you find you don't enjoy it, opt for a semi-rectangular instead and enjoy that extra space.

  • How is your height?

Consider your height, and make sure you will comfortably fit into the sleeping bag with the hood closed.  If the fit is too tight then you will probably be more comfortable in a rectangular or semi-rectangular bag.

  • How heavy is the sleeping bag?

A good summer sleeping bag will run 3-5 pounds and a winter bag a bit more since there is more filling.  When you get into ultralight weight bags for hiking and backpacking, the price ranges can also go up.  It is very important when shopping for the right bag to look at the temperature ratings, weight and pack size to make sure it is right for you.

  • What is the pack size?

When it comes to synthetic bags they will not compress as much as a down filling so consider how much space you have and how you will be using the bag. Wether car camping or backpacking, bag size is still be an important question. You can use compression sacks to pack them tighter but eventually the filling will start to lose it's insulation ability and the compression sack does add more weight if backpacking. If you use a small scale backpack the best sleeping bag would be a down for pack size.

These six questions cover the basics to get you started, but look at all the features and keep in mind where you will spend most of your time. For instance if you will be camping outside a water-resistant shell on your bag will come in handy when that morning dew settles down, or if you get hot while you sleep a zipper that opens at the bottom will create a breathable option for your feet. Little details about a bag can make a big difference.