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Choosing a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking

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Sleeping in the backcountry

Choosing the right sleeping bag can make the difference between a comfortable sleep, or a night of shivering or sweating.

© naosuke ii via Flickr

For those looking to explore the backcountry, you’re going to need more than just a standard sleeping bag. Since you will be hiking in and out of your destination, you’re going to want one that is light-weight, warm, and comfortable. Here are some important factors to keep in mind when selecting a backpacking sleeping bag.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Keep these 3 important factors in mind when you go to choose a bag:

  • Temperature rating: Think about the coldest temperature you will be sleeping in and choose according to it. If you know the area drops down to 20°F at night, don’t pick a bag rated at 25°F.
  • Weight: You’re going to want a bag that’s light since you will be carrying it along with all of your gear. For some, this factor outweighs anything else like price or comfort.
  • Insulation: You have two fills to choose from: down and synthetic. Goose-down bags are very light, compressible, and durable making them ideal for backpacking. Though they are more expensive, they offer great value over synthetic which are slightly heavier and less compressible.

Staying Warm

While your backpacking sleeping bag will provide warmth during the night, there are other factors that will affect your warmth.

  • Sleeping pad: Sometimes referred to as a camping mat, this portable item adds some cushion while also protecting your bag from the cold ground.
  • Tent: Make sure your tent is appropriate for the season you are camping in.
  • Gender: You know how they say women are always colder? Well, typically we are so consider whether you are a “warm sleeper” or a “cold sleeper” at home.
  • Clothing: Bringing items like long underwear and clean socks will definately help keep you warm.
  • Hydration: Now you have an excuse to enjoy hot cocoa before bed. Staying hydrated can help you maintain warmth so drink something warm before you hit the hay.

Keep temperature in mind when you choose your bag. For camping in the summer, choose a bag rated at 35° and higher. A 3-season bag is a good choice for most camping and is typically rated at +10° to +35°. For colder weather, choose a bag rated at -10° to +10°. And if you are camping in extremely cold weather, you will want a bag rated -10° and lower. Most camping bags have a temperature rating between +15°F and +50°F, which will more than likely hold up for what you’re looking for.

The Perfect Fit

While standard sleeping bags come in different shapes, all true backpacking bags are mummy-shaped. This shape allows for exceptional warmth and saves lots of room in you pack. When you select a size, look at the shoulder and hip girth to see what will fit your body best.

If want you want maximum warmth, choose a mummy bag that has narrow shoulders and hips. If you are a restless sleeper, you may want to choose a mummy bag that’s larger in the shoulder/hip area. Another option is a semi-rectangular bag - but remember, it’s bulkier to carry.

Choosing Insulation

While weight, comfort, and the pricetag may affect your decision, follow these simple rules when choosing your bag.

Choose a down bag if you are looking for superior warmth, compressibility and durability. A good selection if you mostly camp in dry, arid climates.

Choose a synthetic bag if you want to save some money but still want a bag that offers a good warmth and compressibility. Synthetic bags are also the better choice for wet climates.

After You Purchase

Remember to keep your bag clean and air it out after every trip. For an even longer life, store your sleeping bag in a cotton storage sack. Why? Instead of keeping it rolled up in a tight bag, this loose one will keep it from getting permanently compressed.

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