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Guide For Types Of Sleeping Bags And Features

sleeping bags over the top of a tent with two guys camping

Before buying a sleeping bag from the local store it's worth understanding the various types of sleeping bags, what features they offer, the materials used and what they're most suitable for.

It's advisable not to judge a bag by looks alone because so many other factors need to be considered such as, shape, materials used, and what conditions they're suitable for.

This frequently asked questions guide will teach you the kinds available and how each type excels.

What Types Of Materials Are Used For The Fill?

Down fill

Down fill is the most expensive kind of material used for filling the inner part of the bag which uses goose and duck feathers (goose down or duck down).

Choosing goose down sleeping bags are recommended for cold climates because they retain the most warmth, especially if it has a high fill of down. They are also good for travel and backpacking because they weigh less, offer more durability, and are not as bulky as the synthetic bags for stuffing in a pack when compressed.

The main negative point of using down is they are much harder to dry if they get wet or damp and the insulation that is keeping a person warm stops doing it's job. This can be overcome with a quality bag that has a waterproof shell, although your looking at a higher price tag for these types that could make synthetic a better option.

Synthetic fill

Synthetic sleeping bags can solve the problem of getting a bag wet because they dry easier and don't lose the insulation properties if you get damp during the night. Also, you won’t have to pay as much for synthetic, however, these are not so luxurious, wont last as long and don't offer the same insulation for warmth as down material.

Which fill material is best suited for you?

Down are best to buy if you want a quality bag that will offer durability, breath-ability and will be compact enough to stuff in a sack for hiking, backpacking or camping.

Synthetic offer the ability to dry easier and still keep a user warm if they do get wet or damp. For recreational camping folk on a budget, or those that camp in damp or wet conditions frequently, your going to go for these.

What Shell Material Should A Buyer Look For?

Basic materials used for the shell includes nylon, taffeta and polyester that maybe ripstop ( reinforced for durability).

Finding a bag that is waterproof and offers good breath-ability is not easy, because waterproofing can restrict air. Many bags come with a waterproof coating applied when bought and can be re-applied when it wears off called DWR “durable water repellent”.

To "keep it simple" most buyers will purchase a bag using nylon, polyester or both for the shell.

What Shapes Are Available?

When choosing sleeping bags the shape is a factor to consider. The main shapes are mummy, rectangular and semi- rectangular.

showing three sleeping bag shapes

Mummy

The first type is the mummy sleeping bag which resembles those Egyptian mummy cases. These are the types to choose if you really need a lot of warmth. These can get warm pretty quickly because they take up a small area and offer a snug fit to the body.

In order to keep you comfortable, mummy sleeping bags are wider on the shoulder area and narrower on the bottom area where your feet should rest. Many of these bags also have an attached hood.

Rectangular

The rectangular style is a fit that is the same in width each side which are the most people use for basic camping. Recreational campers that camp out a couple of trips a year will use these especially if its in the summer.

They are easy to get in and out of and can be left open/unzipped if your lucky enough to be experiencing warm weather to keep you cool while still providing comfort between you and the pad or camp mattress.

Semi Rectangular

These have a tapered shape similar to the mummy style at the bottom and rectangular at the top. They offer a roomy loose fit at the top and a snug fit that tapers down to the feet. Also, named barell or hybrid sleeping bags.

These can be a good choice if you want a bag that will cater for hot and cold weather without owning two different bags.

Which shape is best suited for you?

If your a serious enthusiast your likely to need a mummy style. For recreational camping rectangular would suit you fine, especially if you need the extra room and want to save money.

The semi-rectangular types can be used if you like the snug fit for the lower section of the body to keep warm but appreciate the extra room at the top.

What About Temperature Ratings?

It is already given that the down filled mummy sleeping bags provide a lot of warmth and insulate heat well. Some companies add temperature ratings to their bags which is the European standard EN 13537.

Many US stores are now using the EU standard even though it's not a legal requirement, even for Europe.

There are ways temperature is rated for various types of sleeping bags, however, none are 100% for all people. Most stores will give a rating of say 30F which means it will keep a person warm down to that temperature.

The biggest problem with using ratings although they are a brilliant guide is there's other factors for people to consider including metabolism, food eaten, and how active a person has been.

A simple way temperature ratings are advertised is by using the method of stating it's a 2, 3 or 4 season sleeping bag. These are called seasonal ratings that are pretty basic

Picking the right temperature rating can be simple for most of us by choosing a sleeping bag with a lower rating than what is recommended (E.g. 20F instead of 30F).

More about sleeping bag ratings here »

Are There Any Useful Features A Sleeping Bag Has?

We've dealt with the inner material for a bag, the shape and briefly how we can gauge the temperature ratings. Now, lets take a look at useful features that improves a bag for each individual user.

Zipper

A zipper can open on the left or right hand (mainly women’s) side. It makes sense that a zip would be opened easier on the opposite side of whichever a persons dominate hand is ( E.g. Left handed person has a right sided zipper) which is maybe why most are made this way, however, not many users place much empathises on this .

A zipper style that's practical you might want to consider is like how the Marmot Trestles is designed that opens at both sides of the top end, making it a bag you sit up and get out of, that's great for those who like to have the bag open to read or for keeping cool during the night.

You can mate 2 sleeping bags together by putting a left handed and right handed bag zipped together, although they must be compatible.

Hood

Most mummy style types of sleeping bags have a hood that helps a user keep warm and improves comfort. Most recreational summer campers wont need a hood because they can be a bit restrictive and makes it more work by having to undo it, when there's no need to be keeping heat inside to that extent.

Neck baffle - Draft collar

This is simply an area designed to keep warmth in and cold air from getting inside the bag. It adds extra comfort as well.

Footbox

The area that keeps the feet warm and comfortable is called the footbox. There's various designs available including the trapezoidal foot box that matches the same shape as someone’s feet.

The style of a foot box a person will need depends on what kind of temperatures the user will be sleeping in and how much of a snug fit they need.

Other Useful Information When Choosing Sleeping Bags

Women

The various types of sleeping bags for women have been designed better over the years to cater for a woman's needs. This includes shorter in length than men's, shoulder area that's narrower and extra width for the hip area.

Sleeping Pads

Your sleeping pad is what offers the insulation needed between you and the floor. You can buy a bag that has a pad sleeve that helps keep a person from rolling off during the night. Big Agnes is a brand that designs many bags with a full sleeve for the pad.

Double Sleeping Bags

If you like to snuggle up with your partner and share sleeping space then you will find a few double sleeping bags worth considering on the market. As mentioned above, you can also mate single ones together.

Sleeping Bag Liner

Liner's for a sleeping bag can be purchased separately. They will offer an extra lining between you and the bag which will provide a person with extra warmth, prevent the need to wash the bag so often making it last longer and generally increasing the life span of the sleeping bag you just purchased.

Pillow

For a car camper on summer vacation then it's advisable to use any pillow that you want that keeps you comfortable and fits well with your sleeping arrangements and bag. For those that camp light you have a few options that pack well and don't take up to much room in a backpack which are also pretty lightweight.

The most popular pillows made for camping and backpacking are usually made form compressible materials or they have to be inflated.

More About Sleeping Bags

How ratings work: Understanding How Temperature Sleeping Bag Ratings Work »

By Jason Jones

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