A Helpful Guide to Choosing and Buying A Sleeping Bag

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Anyone who has spent a cold night in a tent shivering the night away due to it being chilly knows full well the importance of a sleeping bag. I'd go as far to say it's one of the most important pieces of camping gear you'll ever buy, due to it's importance I'd thought I'd prepare a helpful guide about what types of sleeping bags are available and what you might want to get for your particular camping and hiking purposes.



THE WINTER SLEEPING BAG -  Designed for cold weather use

Winter sleeping bags come in two varieties. Those that will keep you warm down to 0 degrees and those that will take you down to -20 or -40 degrees (and occasionally more). For pure winter camping you really, really should get a bag that will take you down to -20. And if you camp during the winter in the Northern U.S or up in the mountains, a -40 degrees bag should most definitely be used.
Remember, it is always better to have a sleeping bag that's "a bit too warm" than "a bit to cold"
The insulation type you get in a winter bag should be goose down, which allows for maximum warmth and the best pack-ability among winter bags.
Virtually all winter bags will have these features, but it never hurts to make sure. Any winter bag you get should have a good insulated hood as well as a draft collar.
Be prepared to spend big £££ for a good winter bag, especially if its made from goose down, however, considering your life could potentially depend on having a warm enough bag for your environment, it is money definitely well spent if your planning on camping during winter.

STANDARD THREE-SEASON SLEEPING BAG - Designed to be used in most climates during the spring, summer and fall period

The Three Season Sleeping Bag is by far the most popular bag around and also the most versatile. For all purpose three season use, I recommend that a camper get a sleeping bag that is rated to 15 or 20 degrees above Zero.
Additionally for maximum versatility I also suggest a sleeping bag that has a synthetic fill of PolarGuard Delta (and not other types of synthetic insulation available). PolarGuard Delta is nearly as packable (able to pack very small when space is an issue) in a three season bag as in goose down, and unlike goose down the bag is easy to clean, and above all, dries out quickly, a goose down bag becomes completely useless once wet and literally takes forever to dry!
That said if you know you will never worry about getting you bag wet and you need maximum pack-ability and lightweight, then a goose down bag is for you. Just ALWAYS take precautions to keep that bag dry!

LIGHTWEIGHT SLEEPING BAG - Designed to be used where the temperature NEVER drops below freezing or 40 degrees. Best used for desert camping and camping in the Southern U.S

Lightweight sleeping bags only have a temperature rating of 32 to 40 degrees above Zero, and this is probably a bit charitable, however for those who only camp in warmer climates or for bikers (who can always hit a hotel if the weather becomes unexpectedly cold) a lightweight bag is a very good choice, moreover a lightweight bag can have its temperature rating extended a bit by using a sleeping bag liner (although I don't necessarily rate liners myself! See why below).


I'm torn on the utility of sleeping bag liners, on the one hand they CAN provide an extra boost to your sleeping bags insulation rating. Depending on what type of liner you get, you can extend your sleeping bags temperature rating by 5 or 10 degrees, now of course this is a good thing.

However the reason I'm torn over liners is because I hate using them! They are frequently awkward to get set up inside the sleeping bag. And once you get it set up right, as soon as you crawl inside the liner becomes like a constricting snake as the night progresses, seemingly wrapping itself around you tighter and tighter until you can barely move. So if you need to extend the rating on your bag by a few degrees and you can live with the awkwardness of setting them up inside, then consider getting a sleeping bag liner. However if weight and bulk isn't an issue then I would consider getting a thick sleeping pad instead!


When laying in your sleeping bag, the bottom insulation or 'fill' is compressed making it less thermally efficient. Additionally the ground temperature is always colder than your body temperature. Mattresses combat these two problems adding extra insulation just where its needed. They also help to keep the underside of the sleeping bag cleaner.


Not to many years ago sleeping bags were all made from goose down or polyester. today however in an effort to improve sleeping bag insulation and to dazzle consumers about their products, manufacturers now use a multitude of 'cool' sounding names for sleeping bag insulation.

Since anyone who is searching for a sleeping bag will inevitably stumble across this terminology, I thought it would be helpful to also tell you about the different types of sleeping bag insulation, so here goes:


There are five major types of insulation a consumer will stumble across, while other insulation types do exist these five are by far the most common.

  • Goose Down
Goose Down is the classic insulation used in sleeping bags, and despite all the technological advances, still the most efficient insulation around. Goose Down provides the most warmth for the least bulk, allowing for very warm sleeping bags that are in very very small packages.
However to muck things up for consumers, sleeping bags frequently contain terms like this "600+ fill goose down" or "900+ fill goose down" or something else along those lines. AAll it is telling you is how much goose down is actually in the bag, or the "fill rating". The higher the number, the more goose down insulation is put in the sleeping bag. Most three season bags will have a fill rating of at least 600, And four season down sleeping bags will have a fill rating of around 900 - 1000, those bags are designed for true sub zero weather use.
Now the only problem with Goose Down is that it is USELESS when wet and it can take forever to dry, thus if you think you have a risk of getting your bag wet, do NOT get a down bag, get a synthetic instead!
  • PolarGuard/PolarGuard 3D/PolarGuard Delta
PolarGuard is considered the 'Premier'  synthetic insulation, ther are actually three primary varieties of polarguard available.
PolarGuard-was a bit bulky but still works very well, that's why you still see it in many  sleeping bags today.
PolarGuard 3D was later introduced, which packed the same insulation ability but reduced the  weight and bulkiness of the sleeping bag considerably.
PolarGuard Deta is a recent introduction which is a significant improvement over older polarguard insulation, again they made the bag a lot less bulky  while to improving the insulation abilities by around 10%.
Currently most high quality three season  synthetic bags are made  of PolarGuard Delta.
One superb thing about all varieties of PolarGuard is that, being synthetic, it dries out amazingly quickly. Even better the bag does not lose all insulation abilities once wet. Indeed the simple act of sleeping in a wet sleeping bag will actually dry it out!
And lastly bags made out of PolarGuard  are very easy to take care of, simply put on a cold wash, then tumble dry on a low heat for 10 minutes and your bags ready to go!
  • Quallofil
This is made by Du pont. Quallofil is used in sleeping bags and  in many insulated jackets. The problem with Quallofil is its a bit on the heavy bulky side when it comes to sleeping bags. Which is why its now rarely seen on the higher end (and lightweight) sleeping bags.
  • Hollofil/Hollofil II
Hollofil was once a great insulation, but has fallen way behind PolarGuard. Today it is used in bargain basement sleeping bags. Works well for camping in the back yard for kids. But not even close to being the first choice for true camping let alone backcountry use, these are quite heavy and bulky.
  • Thermolite
Thermolite is a great insulation for jackets as it isnt 'puffy' like Goose Down or Quallofil is. Unfortunately it makes for a poor choice of insulation for a sleeping bag. in a sleeping bag, for outdoor use, you want the insulation to be 'puffy' as the air pockets retain the heat. This is why the only place you'll find Thermolite used in a sleeping bag will be at the cheaper end of the market, again with Hollofil, Thermolite is best used for back yard camping, slumber parties etc. Dont even think of taking them to Montana to camp outside with - you'll freeze even during the Summer!


The answer to this is very simple, let's look at what works best for different types of camping.
  • Four season bags for winter camping - Easy answer get a  Goose Down bag. The risk of getting the bag wet is very very low, and the less weight and bulk of a goose down bag is worth all the money you'll spend.
  • All purpose three season bags - By all purpose i mean the bags can be used on boat trips and wet climates. For this you definitely want a synthetic bag, since if the bag gets wet, it will dry out quickly.
  • Lightweight three season bags - This is a bit tougher, if you really really need an ultra portable bag, then Goose Down is the way to go, however you need to be extra sure never to get it wet.


 ZIPS - As well as enabling easy access, zips can be used to control temperature in the sleeping bag, particularly those fitted with  '2-way' zips, on a warm night you can ventilate the bag from the bottom, this is very handy for bags with a high temperature rating.
Another aspect of zips to bear in mind is the baffle. Zips create a cold spot so the baffle insulates it thus avoiding that cold shock sensation.

HOODS - Ever found you are all snug in your sleeping bag but the top of  your head does not feel quite as comfortable? A sleeping bag with a hood will come to your rescue. Many can be adjusted with the use of a simple draw cord.

NECK BAFFLES - The purpose of the neck baffle is to prevent the air your body has already made warm escaping. If this happens cold air drafts in particularly down the back of the neck. Typically they are adjusted by the use of a draw cord.

THE OVERALL SHAPE - Essentially bags can be shaped into two groups, the mummy shaped bags or rectangular bags

  • Mummy shaped sleeping bags - Because these bags stay closer to your body and therefore have less air-space between you and the bag they are more thermally efficient. Additionally they tend to be a bit lighter as there is less material.
  • Rectangular sleeping bags - Though less thermally efficient, for those who like more leg room they can provide greater comfort as they cater for more sleeping positions.

Well I hope I have helped you in some way when considering what kind of sleeping bag best suits you and your purpose. Thanks for taking the time to read my guide, your appreciation by clicking to show it was helpful to you would make it all worth while! I wish you many happy not to mention cosy camping adventures for the future!



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