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Choosing a Sleeping Bag for Camping

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Choosing a Sleeping Bag for Camping

Choosing the right sleeping bag can mean the difference between a comfortable night of rest, or a night of shivering in the cold.

© Evan Blaser via Flickr

Ok, so you want to go camping and you need a sleeping bag. Before you head out into the wilderness, you should consider some important questions. First, will you be camping or backpacking? Second, do you know the difference?

For camping purposes, a sleeping bag serves one main purpose: It keeps you comfortable. This is much different than a backpacking bag, which focuses on weight. For family camping or camping from your car, a sleeping bag is pretty easy to choose. You just have to consider a few factors before purchasing.

Temperature Rating

So what is that? A sleeping bag’s temperature rating will tell you the lowest temperature that you can stay warm in. So if a sleeping bag is described as a “25 degree bag”, that means you will stay comfortbale so long as the temperature does not go below 25°F. But keep in mind that rating also assumes you are dressed warm (long underwear) and that you are sleeping on a sleeping pad.

Which brings up a good point: 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. (Read more about best tents for family camping.)
  • 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.

So keep these temperatures in mind when you choose your sleeping 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.

Material

What your sleeping bag is made of will affect it’s performance as well. Campers can choose from two materials: synthetic or goose-down. Synthetic is a popular choice as it performs well and won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Other pros include being non-allergenic, dries quickly, and still insulates if it gets wet.

The goose-down sleeping bags are more durable and can compress down to almost nothing in your bag. They are more common for those camping in the backcountry.

Shape

Most camping bags have a rectangular which feel nice and roomy and ultimately, super comfortable. Having that shape is also convenient for those looking to cover an air mattress or who want to join 2 bags to make one big bed.

Other bags are known as barrel-shaped bags and have a semi-rectangular shape to them. This allows for more warmth and still a little room to move around in.

If you are a restless sleeper, don’t choose a mummy bag. Just like it sounds, a mummy bag fits your body and not much else. Since it stays snug to the body, it provides the most warmth, but the least room.

Women and Kids

You can choose a sleeping bag specific to your gender and age if you’d like. Women’s sleeping bags are specifically designed to a woman’s shape and are typically wider where your hips lie, and shorter/narrower at the shoulders. These bags also allow for extra insulation in the upper body and feet.

Kid’s sleeping bags consider all of the factors above but may also have some cool features to help them get a good night’s sleep. Look for extra features like pillow pockets, exterior pockets (for headlamps, comics, etc.), and built-in sleeves that can hold a sleeping pad.

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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