Whether you plan to camp in remote locations or just spend a few nights at a traditional campground, selecting just the right sleeping bag for your specific needs is essential. The ideal sleeping bag will provide the perfect balance of warmth and comfort, allowing you to fully enjoy every moment of your camping experience. So, before you head out to purchase a sleeping bag, consider the information below to be fully equipped to make an informed purchasing decision.
Sleeping Bag Factors Overview
- Sleeping bag shapes: What shape of sleeping bag is appropriate for your body size and personal sleep preferences?
- EN temperature ratings: Review these ratings to determine which sleeping bag option will be the best choice for your personal preferences.
- Insulation types: Do you need a sleeping bag that provides greater warmth or has higher durability?
- Additional features: Are you looking for a hood or other addition to provide extra convenience during your camping trip?
Sleeping Bag Shapes
Rectangular sleeping bag – A rectangular sleeping bag is the traditional choice, and what most campers select for their outdoor excursions. This option is comfortable and spacious, and works well for use in any camping environment. Oddly enough this is also called a square sleeping bag.
Mummy sleeping bag – This option is the best choice if you will be heading out on backpacking treks. The mummy bag is lighter to carry, and fits tighter during use to help you conserve your body heat.
Barrel-shaped sleeping bag – This shape option provides the user with more space than the mummy bag style, but it is usually lighter and more compact than rectangular bags. This type of bag sustains heat better than a rectangular bag, but not as well as the mummy bag.
Double-wide sleeping bag – Select this sleeping bag design if you would like the room to fit two people inside of a sleeping bag. This option also works well with a sleeping pad or air mattress to increase sleeping comfort.
Body-shaped sleeping bag – A more recent development in the sleeping bag market is the body-shaped bag that conforms fairly tightly to your body for maximum warmth. It has actual arm and leg spaces, and allows you to even “wear” the bag to go sit by the campfire and stay extra cozy.
Queen sleeping bag – Also known as a mammoth, double or 2 person sleeping bag these bags are extra large allowing for more than one person to sleep in them.
EN Temperature Ratings
As you evaluate your sleeping bag options, one of the key considerations is the temperature rating. Traditionally, sleeping bag producers have used a one-temperature rating to tell consumers how cold a temperature they recommend using a specific bag in with an acceptable level of warmth. But to offer a better way of advising buyers regarding sleeping bag comfort or lack thereof, the EN 13537 Standard was developed for all sleeping bags sold in Europe.
The EN rating is a new standard system that many sleeping bag manufacturers are switching over to in the U.S., as it provides a more accurate way of determining the warmth a sleeping bag actually provides. This more customized standard provides sleeping bag shoppers with a range of temperatures for the areas of comfort, transition and risk, as well as an upper and lower temperature limit (These ranges are indicated based on the standard measurements of a 5’6” 160 lb. man and a 5’2” 132 lb. woman).
Comfort – This temperature range indicates when a defined “standard” person will not feel cold when in a relaxed state.
Transition – When temperatures fall in this span, an individual is curling up in their sleeping bag to enhance warmth but they are not shivering.
Risk – At this point, you are moving beyond the recommended safe use of the sleeping bag. Use during temperatures in this range could lead to hypothermia.
Upper Limit – At this temperature an average man can comfortably sleep without overly sweating, with the hood off, the sleeping bag unzipped and the individual’s arms sticking out of the bag.
Lower Limit – Developers of the EN system defined this temperature as when a standard male is able to sleep for eight hours straight while in a curled position, without waking due to being too cold.
The EN temperature ranges are valuable guidelines, but not definitive for determining the best use of any sleeping bag. There are many factors involved in how effective the sleeping bag will be in providing warmth, including individual health, what type of clothing you are wearing, and if you are using a mattress underneath to prevent heat loss.
You have a few options when it comes to insulation material for your sleeping bag. Which option you select depends on what you are looking for most – warmth or affordability.
Goose Down – Down is a great choice for more serious campers, who need their sleeping bag to provide a high degree of warmth. It has a natural insulating characteristic that allows it to serve as a very effective insulation product. Additionally, down easily compresses into a small space and is durable enough to survive being repeatedly stuffed. The primary issue with down is that it loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet, so it may not be the best choice if there is a chance the sleeping bag may get wet.
Water-Resistant Down – Since the biggest complaint with goose down is that it is not very water resistant, manufacturers have come up with a way to treat the feathers to provide greater water resistance. Bags with this improved down fill are still just as compressible and durable as options with traditional goose down insulation, but are a better option if there is a high chance of rain where you are taking your next camping adventure.
Synthetic – Synthetic fill is the most common material used in sleeping bags, because it is easy to produce and is a much less expensive option than down. One of the key benefits to synthetic insulation as opposed to down is that it stays warm when it gets wet. This type of material also dries much more quickly, so if your sleeping bag happens to get wet it will be ready for use in less time than a down-filled bag. On the negative side, though, synthetic bags are much heavier when wet so that is something to consider if you are heading to a walk-in campsite in a rainy climate.
There may be a few special additions you are looking for in your sleeping bag, beyond the basics such as warmth and durability. These features usually add some aspect of convenience that will enhance your enjoyment while camping.
Liner – A sleeping bag liner used inside of your bag will keep it much cleaner, and reduce your need to launder the bag too much. The liner also provides an extra layer of warmth, so it is a great option if you plan to camp in colder areas.
Shell – A shell can be a pricey additional component, but invaluable if you camp in wetter climates such as the Pacific Northwest. This covering protects the sleeping bag from rain, but it needs to be a breathable fabric to keep you from excessively sweating.
Hood – If you are camping in an area with cold night temperatures or if you just like a little extra coziness when you sleep, you might select a sleeping bag with a hood. Many sleeping bags now come with attached hoods; this feature usually has a drawstring to tighten the hood and retain the heat that escapes out of your head.
Sleeve – Some sleeping bags offer a sleeve on the underside of the bag to slide your sleeping pad in; this prevents sliding around on the pad leading to a more comfortable night’s sleep. This is a particularly useful feature if your bag was designed without insulation underneath.
Pillow Pocket – This option provides a space to put a small camping pillow for added comfort, or you can just use clothes that you brought along to add a bit of cushion for your head. By having this extra pocket you can avoid having to carry along a separate pillow.
Stash Pocket – With an extra pocket on the side, you can keep your phone, music player, glasses, watch or other items nearby for easy access.
Varied Lengths – This may not seem like a very important feature, but if you are particularly tall (or not so tall) having the option to have a more customized size will matter to you. There are sleeping bag options on the market for those who need more length, and even for more petite campers that want a more snug fit when they sleep.
Right or Left Hand Zip – Sleeping bags have a left hand or right hand zip which may seem trivial but it’s actually awkward to zip up a sleeping bag if the zip is on the wrong side. If you’re right or left handed you want the opposite. Left hand zip for right handed people or right hand zip for left handed people.
Questions to Think About Before Your Sleeping Bag Purchase
Do I want a bit of extra space in my bag?
Will this sleeping bag be warm enough; do I usually run more hot or cold when sleeping?
Do I need a bag that is more lightweight for carrying?
Do I need a waterproof shell?
Is my highest priority warmth or durability?
What is my desired price point?
Am I looking for extra features to keep me warm at night?
Would I like a few added convenience options inside my sleeping bag?
Additional Sleeping Bag Options
- Down sleeping bag
- Synthetic sleeping bag
- Woman’s sleeping bag
- Children’s sleeping bag
- Toddler sleeping bag
- Youth sleeping bag
- Character sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag with built-in pillow
Sleeping Bag Extras
- Mats – Roll mats or self-inflating mats
- Camp bed or cot
- Camping pillows
- Sleeping bag liners
- Compression sacks