Sleeping bags are one of the most vital pieces of gear that you will need on a backpacking trip. A sleeping bag packs all of the warmth and comfort that you need to survive a chilly night, so that you can have a restful night and reinvigorated morning. This efficient way of staying warm is therefore an important piece of the backpacking puzzle.
Unfortunately, many people are under the impression that backpacking sleeping bags are one size fits all. This belief is what makes people choose the wrong sleeping bag for their backpacking. In fact, the ideal sleeping bag depends on several variables, such as your body type, personal preference, and backpacking climate. It is therefore important to put careful consideration into your shopping.
Below I will detail all of the factors that you need to consider when buying a backpacking sleeping bag, so that your shopping can be made easier.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Backpacking Sleeping Bag
There are several factors that you need to consider before making your final backpacking sleeping bag purchase. We will look at all of these factors below.
When selecting a sleeping bag, you need to determine which season you will be backpacking. This is because there are different sleeping bags for different seasons. Firstly, we have the summer sleeping bag, which is suitable for temperatures over 30 degrees F. These sleeping bags are lightweight and compact, and they have less insulation than their counterparts. They also have full-length zippers so that you can open them for ventilation, and they lack the draft collar and hood which provide additional warmth. Buy this bag if you are going backpacking in July.
On the other hand we have a winter sleeping bag, which is designed for temperatures below 20 degrees F. These sleeping bags are bulky and have a lot of insulation, and are packed with features that keep you warm. Lastly, we have the three-season sleeping bag, which is ideal for temperatures above 20 degrees F. This sleeping has features that are similar to those in a winter sleeping bag; however, it has less insulation than its winter counterpart. This bag is perfect for those who want to go backpacking in the spring or fall.
When selecting a sleeping bag, go with a bag that has been rated for the coldest temperature that you expect to encounter. The temperature rating of a sleeping bag shows the minimum temperature that the bag has been designed to handle.
However, you should note that there are two types of temperature ratings; a survival rating, and a comfort rating. The survival rating indicates the lowest temperature that your sleeping bag can handle, while the comfort rating will indicate the lowest temperature at which you will be warm. As you can imagine, the comfort rating will be higher than the survival rating.
Unfortunately, many sleeping bag manufacturers present the survival rating as the comfort rating, and you might be fooled into thinking that you will rest comfortably at very low temperatures. It is therefore important that you make the distinction.
When it comes to the insulation of the sleeping bag, you will be faced with the choice of either down or synthetic insulation. Firstly we have down insulation, which is lightweight and compressible for easy backpacking. This material will retain warmth efficiently, making it an excellent option for cold weather.
The fill-power ratings of down range from 600 to 900 for great warmth, however, this makes down an expensive option.
Down also loses its insulating power once it gets wet, and you might need to look into getting water-resistant down insulation if you will be backpacking in wet areas. On the other hand we have the bulkier synthetic insulation, which usually consists of a fluffy polyester material. Though this insulation has less warmth retention,
it will not absorb water in wet conditions. This choice is also more affordable.
The shell fabric of your sleeping bag will depend on whether or not you want a waterproof bag. If you are backpacking in wet conditions and need the extra protection, go with a waterproof shell. The waterproof shell that you choose should also have breathable fabric, and a seam tape for optimum performance.
Sleeping bags come in numerous cuts and shapes, including mummy, rectangular, and semi-rectangular. The mummy sleeping bag has a tapered cut at the legs and feet, in order to efficiently retain body generated heat. This bag is roomier at the shoulders and torso; however, it confines the lower body and makes it less comfortable for restless sleepers. These bags are also lightweight ad easy to pack.
Next we have the rectangular sleeping bag, which has no taper at the legs. This bag is less efficient at retaining heat, and might not be suitable for backpacking. Lastly, we have the semi-rectangular sleeping bag, which is a cross between the mummy and rectangular shapes.
This sleeping bag is great for those who want the warmth of a mummy and the room of a rectangular bag; however, they are slightly heavier than the mummy.
When selecting a sleeping bag for backpacking in cold climates, you need to select one that will keep you warm and comfortable. Apart from the insulation and shape which determine heat retention, there are other features that you should look for.
These features include a hood to keep your head warm, a draft collar/yoke to keep your neck warm, and an insulated draft tube to prevent cold air from seeping in through the zipper. When it comes to comfort you should look for a foot box, which gives your feet wiggle room as you sleep.
Alternatively, if you are backpacking in a warm climate, look for foot vents which allow for increased ventilation.
Weight and Convenience
The weight of your sleeping bag is very important, and it will depend on several factors such as insulation, baffle construction, and bag shape. When you go backpacking look for a sleeping bag that minimizes on weight without sacrificing on comfort, safety, and warmth.
There are other features that you need to explore in a sleeping bag, such as zipper construction, internal pockets, and storage sacks; however, we have discussed the most important factors that you need to know about. I urge you to use this guide when selecting the best sleeping bag for your backpacking needs. Good luck to you!