Pathfinder Pathways

Camping 101 - Sleeping Bags

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A sleeping bag is one of the most important camping equipment purchases and outdoors person makes, and one that many people purchase at the last minute or on the spur of the moment. Many types of sleeping bags are available. The best bag for you depends on your sleeping habits, the temperature and climate where you camp and whether you’ll be carrying the bag on your back or in the trunk of your car.

Sleeping bags come in two basic shapes, mummy and rectangular. The best choice for you depends on your sleeping style and how you intend to use the bag. Most backpackers prefer the mummy-shaped bag. The narrow cut can decrease a bag’s weight by up to a half-pound, which is critical to backpackers who measure every ounce. The mummy’s smaller size also requires less energy to heat up at night than the larger rectangular bag, which has more air space. Remember a sleeping bag does not warm you, but retains the heat your body generates.


While the rectangular bags end abruptly just above the shoulders, the mummy bags have a hood that can be pulled tight around the sleeper’s head.

Sleeping bags come in different sizes. Some bags are made in junior or youth sizes. Most are available in regular and extra-long. Some also come in extra-wide sizes. Backpackers often buy longer sleeping bags for their winter treks because they store so much gear (such as boots, drinking water, flashlight and batteries) in their bag at night. If at all possible try on the sleeping bag at the store. If you can’t try it on then measure a bag that you know is the right length for you and compare it to the ones you are considering buying. If you are ordering one from a catalog make sure to give yourself plenty of time for returns in case it’s not what you expected.

A sleeping bag acts as an insulator to slow the loss of body warmth. How well a bag insulates depends on its insulating material, construction, and amount of loft. Choose a temperature rating based on the conditions you plan to camp in most often. A bag’s temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature at which a camper would be comfortable. But what is comfortable for one sleeper may not be for another. There is no industry standard for temperature ratings and they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Some things to consider before choosing the right temperature rating for you. Temperature ratings always assume that the bag will be used with a ground pad. Your metabolic rate, levels of fatigue and hunger, and the quality of your tent and ground pad also impact your sleeping comfort. Some people are colder than others when sleeping and might want a warmer, or lower-rated, sleeping bag.

Many traditional camp bags are comfortable to about 40° F. A bag rated to 20° F is considered a versatile three-season bag, usable in New England from early spring to late fall. A bag rated to 0° F is used for cold weather and some winter camping. Bags rated from -15° F to

-30° F are suitable for most winter camping conditions.

Sleeping bags are filled with either down or with synthetic fibers. Down is the best natural insulator known. It is light and compressible. It packs small and its loft can be fluffed back with just a couple quick shakes. Down costs more than synthetic fill, and if it becomes wet it loses about 80% of its insulating abilities and takes a long time to dry. Keeping your down bag dry is essential. A well-cared-for down sleeping bag will keep you warm and comfortable through several years of outdoor adventures.

Synthetic fill is made from small fibers that are treated with silicon to help enhance their loft. The fibers also have chambers in them to help trap air. Synthetic-filled bags cost less and are great for people who are allergic to down. They also continue to insulate when wet and dry quickly. However synthetic bags weigh more and have a shorter life span than down bags.

Other things to look for are a zipper draft tube, a draft collar, well-designed baffles and double stitches sewn at stress points.

A sleeping bag is one of the most important camping equipment purchases and outdoors person makes, and one that many people purchase at the last minute or on the spur of the moment. Many types of sleeping bags are available. The best bag for you depends on your sleeping habits, the temperature and climate where you camp and whether you’ll be carrying the bag on your back or in the trunk of your car.

Sleeping bags come in two basic shapes, mummy and rectangular. The best choice for you depends on your sleeping style and how you intend to use the bag. Most backpackers prefer the mummy-shaped bag. The narrow cut can decrease a bag’s weight by up to a half-pound, which is critical to backpackers who measure every ounce. The mummy’s smaller size also requires less energy to heat up at night than the larger rectangular bag, which has more air space. Remember a sleeping bag does not warm you, but retains the heat your body generates.

While the rectangular bags end abruptly just above the shoulders, the mummy bags have a hood that can be pulled tight around the sleeper’s head.

Sleeping bags come in different sizes. Some bags are made in junior or youth sizes. Most are available in regular and extra-long. Some also come in extra-wide sizes. Backpackers often buy longer sleeping bags for their winter treks because they store so much gear (such as boots, drinking water, flashlight and batteries) in their bag at night. If at all possible try on the sleeping bag at the store. If you can’t try it on then measure a bag that you know is the right length for you and compare it to the ones you are considering buying. If you are ordering one from a catalog make sure to give yourself plenty of time for returns in case it’s not what you expected.

A sleeping bag acts as an insulator to slow the loss of body warmth. How well a bag insulates depends on its insulating material, construction, and amount of loft. Choose a temperature rating based on the conditions you plan to camp in most often. A bag’s temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature at which a camper would be comfortable. But what is comfortable for one sleeper may not be for another. There is no industry standard for temperature ratings and they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Some things to consider before choosing the right temperature rating for you. Temperature ratings always assume that the bag will be used with a ground pad. Your metabolic rate, levels of fatigue and hunger, and the quality of your tent and ground pad also impact your sleeping comfort. Some people are colder than others when sleeping and might want a warmer, or lower-rated, sleeping bag.

Many traditional camp bags are comfortable to about 40° F. A bag rated to 20° F is considered a versatile three-season bag, usable in New England from early spring to late fall. A bag rated to 0° F is used for cold weather and some winter camping. Bags rated from -15° F to

-30° F are suitable for most winter camping conditions.

Sleeping bags are filled with either down or with synthetic fibers. Down is the best natural insulator known. It is light and compressible. It packs small and its loft can be fluffed back with just a couple quick shakes. Down costs more than synthetic fill, and if it becomes wet it loses about 80% of its insulating abilities and takes a long time to dry. Keeping your down bag dry is essential. A well-cared-for down sleeping bag will keep you warm and comfortable through several years of outdoor adventures.

Synthetic fill is made from small fibers that are treated with silicon to help enhance their loft. The fibers also have chambers in them to help trap air. Synthetic-filled bags cost less and are great for people who are allergic to down. They also continue to insulate when wet and dry quickly. However synthetic bags weigh more and have a shorter life span than down bags.

Other things to look for are a zipper draft tube, a draft collar, well-designed baffles and double stitches sewn at stress points.