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Growing up, we always tent camped. Whether it was just my dad and I or the whole family, we were on the ground, in sleeping bags, often freezing cold, even in the summer.
We were cold because we didn’t have the right sleeping bags. We took whatever my dad had collected over the years, whether it was a 30-degree bag when the temperatures were in the teens at night or a 10-degree bag when the temperatures were below zero.
So, to help you avoid the same fate, I thought I’d put together a sleeping bag buyer’s guide. Let’s begin!
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
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Since my biggest problem with my sleeping bags back in the day was that I was always cold, let’s start this sleeping bag buyer’s guide with temperature ratings for sleeping bags.
Sleeping bags are rated for certain temperatures so you know what temperature range in which they will perform their best.
There are three ranges that every sleeping bag is tested within: comfort, transition, and extreme.
The comfort temperature range gives you an idea of the range of temperatures at which a cold sleeper might feel comfortable.
The transition range represents the temperatures at which someone that is a warm sleeper might be a little warm in the bag.
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And the extreme range is representative of when a sleeper will likely be very, very cold – like hypothermic cold.
Of course, since every person is different, you’ll need to choose your bag’s temperature range in part on how you sleep at night. The sleeping pad you use, the clothes you’re wearing to bed, environmental conditions, and even your metabolism will all influence how warm you’ll be as you sleep.
Additionally, a good rule of thumb is to select a bag that is rated for temperatures below what you expect. If you’re camping in the summer and the lowest temperature you expect is 30 degrees, a 20-degree bag is a good option. But if you’re camping in the winter and the lowest temperature you expect is 0 degrees, a -10-degree bag is a good bet.
Speaking of sleeping bags for seasons…
Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide: Choose a Bag for the Season
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The temperature ratings discussed above relate to the season that a bag is rated for.
So, for example, a winter sleeping bag is usually rated at 10 degrees or lower. These bags have lots of insulation and fit snugly to keep the warmth inside the bag.
Summer bags, on the other hand, are rated for temperatures of 35 degrees and higher. These bags tend to be pretty light and spacious, which helps improve ventilation to prevent you from overheating.
There are three-season bags as well. These bags can transition from cooler to warmer temperatures – usually between 15-35 degrees – so they are ideal for environments in which temperature changes are expected.
Pro Tip: There are other factors to consider when buying a sleeping bag, like if you need a men’s bag, a women’s bag, or a kid’s bag. Sizing the bag appropriately while also getting a bag with the appropriate temperature rating will ensure that you are warm – but not too warm.
Think About Sleeping Bag Shapes, Too
There are essentially three main sleeping bag shapes: rectangular, semi-rectangular, and mummy. Let’s discuss each one in a little more detail.
Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide: Rectangular Bags
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A rectangular bag is what you probably think of when you imagine a sleeping bag.
These bags have lots of room for added comfort, but tend to not be as warm as a result. This makes them ideal choices for warmer camping. For example, you can unzip the bag and use it as a blanket if you get too warm.
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These bags are actually more shaped like a mummy bag than a rectangular bag. The difference is that a semi-rectangular bag doesn’t fit tightly like a mummy bag does.
However, these bags are more form-fitting than rectangular bags due to their slender build. They tend to taper from top to bottom and have a rounded top to wrap around your head.
These bags are ideal for campers that want a combination of warmth and comfort with some room to move around. They tend to be warmer than rectangular bags but not as warm as mummy bags.
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If you’ll be camping in cold temperatures, a mummy bag is the way to go.
These bags are designed to fit your body snugly, therefore they retain the most heat. But because of that snug fit, they offer the least amount of room – there’s no rolling over inside these bags. Instead, if you roll over, you and the bag will roll.
Pro Tip: Consider the fitment of the bag before you buy. If you want a fitted bag, you’ll need to measure your height, shoulder width, and hip size, and then use those numbers to select a bag that will fit you well.
Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide: Other Bag Features to Consider
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In addition to the factors already discussed, there are a few other things you should think about when buying a sleeping bag.
A bag’s weight will be important if you’re backpacking – the lighter the bag the better. Likewise, the side the zipper is on (and the number of zippers, too) is something to consider. The more zippers a bag has, the better you’ll be able to regulate temperature, which is handy if you’re a hot sleeper.
The type of insulation is also an important factor. Typically bags either have synthetic or down insulation.
Synthetic insulation has the advantage of being hypoallergenic, fast-drying, and it still insulates even if it gets wet. Down insulation, on the other hand, is highly durable, lightweight, and insulates very well in cold, dry weather.
If you give all of these factors some thought as you shop for a sleeping bag, you’ll be able to invest in something that gives you the performance you need for the type of sleeper you are and the type of camping you do.