The best sleeping bags
Everyone knows sleeping bags. Heavy or light, large or narrow, more or less warm, they come in a multitude of models. Sleeping bags are a great way to sleep when you don’t have a bed or sofa around and need a confortable way to rest. Also, they are easy to use, unpack and repack and demand a little care to be properly maintained. They are easily cleaned with a washing machine and find their place in any car or backpack.
In fact there are situations where a sleeping bag is absolutely necessary: sleeping outdoors when trekking, hiking or camping requires some proper gear to insure the good sleep we need. Of course blankets are warm, but can be heavy and bulky. Instead good-quality sleeping bags are easy to carry, maintain the temperature and insulate form the exterior temperature. If you are travelling, this will be helpful.
We are a team of friends and colleagues with a good deal of experience in camping, trekking, alpinism and selling sleeping bags. We know what camping outdoors or living in some off-grid cabin looks like. Furthermore we have tried and tested many brands and models during the years and got some knowledge. The sleeping bags we present on this site are among the finest we encountered in our activities and work.
We prepared detailed reviews on many subjects, like:
Hoping to offer useful information to let people choose good gear with amazing features, we will make guides and detailed pages of products, like budget bags, coming at an interesting price. And cold weather, winter ones, for the cold season. Ultralight sleeping bags are very lightweight. On the other hand, there are many other important things to consider in the choice of a good sleeping bag, so you will find pages and guides on various topics. We hope you will enjoy.
What to look for in sleeping bags
How to define a good sleeping bag? What qualities should it have? This item must satisfy certain criteria to fulfil its function properly. This is very important particularly on extended periods of time, for sleeping for one night in suboptimal conditions is not a great deal. On the contrary, resting poorly for days or weeks will affect your performances and mood. Your organism need rest to refuel itself, repair and maintain your health.
There are three great categories of sleeping bags: the rectangular, semi-rectangular and mummy ones. The first are more traditional, in the shape of a rectangle. They offer space to move and turn inside and are great to rest with ease. You may also sleep on different positions, if you want. As rule of thumb they are indicated for temperatures above freezing, although there are many models for below-zero environments. The fact is, they take some space.
The semi-rectangular are rectangular-like, but get narrower toward the feet. Like hybrids between rectangular and mummy bags, allow decent movement. They have more space than the tight mummy ones, without losing warmth or impermeability. If you want a thermally efficient bag, with sufficient space to keep some objects and clothes inside, and yet lightweight, you should focus your research on this type of models.
The mummy ones are wider at the level of the chest and go narrowing toward the feet. They seem somehow Egyptian mummies, and are more compact, with less room to move: the feet will have to remain tight. While having less space inside, they favour compactness, lightness and temperature conservation. Yes, they tend to maintain better the temperature. They are more indicated for winter time or cold countries.
In addition they are easier to place in a backpack, and are more indicated for campers who like to travel by foot. Other small details of the sleeping bag are some inside pocket where to put the wallet or documents. Quite handy if you stay in crowded places. You may also want to have an integrated pillow, if it’s important for you. Double sleeping bags are roomy and generally warm, with enough space for two people.
These bags take the basic shape of mummies but, in order to reduce the pack size and weight, eliminate the hood and sometimes also the superior part, up to the waist. The result is a bag protecting just the legs and low abdomen. It’s obvious that you’ll need a jacket warm enough to sleep with to complete the bag, especially when the cold hits. Fast movers and hikers who want to minimise their package could think about them.
Zipless sleeping bags
As you have surely guessed, these bags have no zippers. They use overlapping fabric or comforters to close the bag and avoid the entering of air. They allow to side sleep while moving a lot and cooling down rapidly by just moving the tissue aside. Great during summer. The downside is that they can open easily and so expose to cold without you noticing. It’s better to avoid these models for winter activities and choose zip ones.
Many manufacturers produce also hoodless models, in an effort to reduce weight. Such bags have normally collars with cinch cords to close properly. While they are very good for the good season, in winter they don’t protect the skull, so it’s necessary to use a beanie or a jacket with a hood to stay warm. However they are an acceptable option for people who don’t like hoods or want, again, to reduce as much as they can the weight of their packsacks.
Wearable sleeping bags
Wearable sleeping bags are a less-known category of camping gear. Besides working as normal bags, they have slits for the arms and can open on the downside to let the legs out. They are wearable like a (big, bulky) jacket during daytime, although their appearance is rather atypical. You can sleep in during the night and wear them in the day. Bu even if they can save room in the backpack, they aren’t the most practical jackets to hike or walk in.
To verify if a sleeping bag is of an appropriate size for us there are four measures to check. First, the length: normally the bags come in two or three sizes (regular, tall, long) to fit both men or women. The regular for men is normally 72 inches, the tall 78. The women’s models are a little shorter. In case you want the hood to cover your head, it’s better to take a size a little bigger than yours. And for information: bigger sizes cost a little more.
Then come the shoulders, hip and feet girth: higher figures mean the bag is roomy and we can move quite freely inside. To consider the comfort level, the shoulders and hip measurements are the most crucial. Spacious bags are great to toss inside, but are generally less able to retain heat, bulkier (even when stuffed) and heavier. Many brands produce similar bags with different girths, so it’s quite easy to choose in the heap.
Women’s sleeping bags
Some models have a specific version for women, while others just a short one. What’s the point? The difference with men or unisex cuts is that they are designed to be wider at the hips and narrower around the shoulders. Furthermore, these bags have more insulating filling to increase warmth (probably the most interesting point). While this is interesting for ladies, many women adopt standard designs and have a very good experience.
The comfort of resting in a sleeping bag depends mostly on its warmth, dimensions and type of textiles. Naturally a good internal temperature is necessary to feel at ease. But speaking of size, for sure a model with enough room to stretch, turn and move a little will be more cozy than a narrow one. If someone thinks to be a little claustrophobic, he/she should prefer some model with generous measures, enough to bend its knees.
The down bags are commonly lighter, softer and more snug than synthetic ones: they weigh less on the stretched body. And yet also the synthetic ones are pretty enjoyable in our experience, seeming blankets you would buy for your sofa at home. Anyway, having a cotton or flannel or silk liner adds to the general feel-being, it’s easy to wash and clean and to pack up. Maybe the best bags are those with a plump pillow.
In order to rest properly, you should remain at a confortable warmth. The sleeping bags protect you from getting too cold with insulating and hot materials. And producers indicate the temperatures for normal and limit use, giving an idea of the use to make. In general rectangular bags contain more air inside and are less insulated, and therefore colder. They allow more air to circulate inside and as result the user will be more exposed.
How can sleeping bags be judged upon temperatures? That’s where the ratings come in. Bags are classified for the temperatures they can withstand and the seasons they are the best in. These descriptions are valid but it’s always better to take a bag that will withstand a temperature lower of the one expected to sleep at. This will spare us uncomfortable nights if the temperature drops more than thought before.
The main rating systems nowadays are the EN (European Norm) and the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). To establish the performance of a bag, various tests are performed, some with a manikin dressed with underwear. The temperature of the manikin is monitored to see the loss or gain of heat. Some companies use these methods, which is useful to make comparisons, while others have their own.
These two standards give three numbers to describe the performances of a bag: comfort, lower limit, and extreme. By reading these figures we can get a general idea of the use the bag is intended for. They are mostly points of reference between ranges, for the individual metabolism of each person reacts differently to temperatures. Here we describe the EN and ISO general temperature ratings for sleeping bags:
At this temperature a woman can sleep agreeably. This is the optimal degree of heat to use the bag, and you should aim to rest at. But below that you won’t feel the same degree of comfort and and warmth. Because generally ladies are more sensible to cold, the ratings of bags designed for women are generally higher. Naturally these ratings are indicative, and the feeling of cold can vary depending on wind, humidity, etc.
Lower limit (transition range)
At this level a man is “fighting against cold but not shivering”. It’s supposed to be the bottom point of relative wellness for an adult male slumbering inside. Normally ladies will feel uncomfortable at such degree. It’s better to avoid to get to the point of sleeping at such range. Besides being disagreeable you could eventually get some cold. If you think the atmospheric conditions could be worse than expected, buy a warmer gear.
In the official standard language at this range, you may expect a strong sensation of cold and shouldn’t suffer of health damage by hypothermia. Just for emergency such sleeping bag should be used. Do we need to say more? This is the bottom of the thermic scale to (not) use this gear. At these (harsh) temperatures you may get injures like frostbite or worse. Never consider the extreme rating as a viable one for using the bag.
The season ratings are very useful to start looking for a bag. They will give you a quite specific idea of the use you can make of a particular bag and under which circumstances. They start from summer, light bags to winter, most-efficient, protective but heavier ones. The critical factor is frost: it affects our organism and we must take good precautions to avoid excessive exposure. We count four main categories:
|Summer||Season 1||Summer, indoor camping|
|Spring, Autumn||Season 2||Early autumn, late spring|
|Winter||Season 3||Autumn, winter nights without frost|
|Winter||Season 4||Winter, frosty nights|
We can relate temperature ratings to seasons in a very general way. Sleeping bags with a 35°F rating are for summer use, those with a 15-30°F rating are for two and three seasons, while all the bags with less than 10°F rating are for winter or expeditions. As a general rule, you should choose a bag with a rating of 15°F less of the temperatures you are expecting: just to be sure you won’t have a bad experience.
Other considerations on temperature
Besides the technical specifications of the producer, consider other factors affecting the final temperature perceived. Bigger bags, with more room (we are speaking of the rectangular shape), tend to be a bit colder for having void space that will be heated by your body. Also the age of the bag counts, because some models lose their insulating power: it’s sad to write it, but they are, in some sort, perishable.
A sleeping pad is like a little (often inflating) mattress lying under the bag to avoid contact with the soil. It’s important to prevent heat loss and soaking the bag. This item can be very simple, and many models of bags also offer features to keep them in place. Moreover it’s also appropriate sometimes to wear hot clothes in the bag, like hats and wool socks, to increase insulation. This is particularly crucial with the cold season.
The body response to cold
Also, everyone has a different response facing different temperatures, because of body mass, age, circulation, metabolism, habits, nutrition. Skinnier people generally, but not always, feel more the cold than the average. If you believe to be sensitive to freezing weather, use a warmer down-filled bag, a thick sleeping bag liner, a robust sleeping pad, dress with wool clothes, and eat more. That’s very simple to do and it works.
In our pages and articles we’ll talk about temperatures mostly in Fahrenheit but also in Celsius, for some companies use one or the other measures. A special note goes also to outdoor gear, skiing, mountain equipment and climbing gear, for there are special requirements to meet: we’ll indicate the sleeping bags who are best for these endeavours. It’s not the same as peaceful, easy and restful car camping.
This quality matters only if you plan to sleep outside or in very humid places. Waterproofness depends on the material of the bag: the synthetics tissues tend to resist better to water, while the naturals get wet easier. It’s paramount to keep your sleeping bag dry and protected, for sleeping one night in a humid environment can pass. But at the second night it starts to become really unpleasant, especially in cold weathers.
Synthetic bags maintain their loft and insulation also when wet, while down absorbs water, create clumps and loses warmth. In either cases drying up a bag by exposing it takes a certain time. The best way to deal with this trouble is to avoid your sleeping bag be exposed to rain, wet snow and water. Thankfully there are models resistant to water and humidity up to a certain point: they are quite effective in this task.
Some sleeping bags have special shell fabrics, known to stop moisture and water. If combined with water repellents, these tissues keep dramatically dry the gears. Another way to achieve the goal is to treat the down feathers with special hydro-repellent substances. The two methods are also combined to achieve the best results, and yet, the complete waterproofness is not achieved: some quantity of water can always get in.
Sure, there are sprays who can improve the impermeability. But to be really sure of good results either we use waterproof bags or specific covers around the bags. The main advantage of the covers is that they are very effective, light and replaceble if ruined. For example if you consider to camp in a refuge or in some house you can leave the cover aside. But if you plan to go hiking and it could rain a little, you’ll do the opposite.
Solidity of the sleeping bags
We like robust sleeping bags with good zippers who don’t break, and sewings who don’t unstitch. It can be frustrating, but this happens sometimes. In our reviews we present the most robust models on the market, assuring to avoid bad surprises. Anyway sleeping bags are always to handle with some care, and may need repair from time to time. Please have care for your gear if you want it to last during years in good conditions.
Versatility is the ability of a sleeping bag of serving properly in different activities and conditions. Some bags can serve well in two or three different seasons, but no one in every possible situation. Or in any season. Summer bags aren’t warm enough for winter and winter bags too warm for summer. But some models, giving the opportunity to vent through zippers, allow to adapt to quite strong variations in temperature.
When sleeping bags open completely via their zippers they can serve like quilts or blankets. It’s an option to look for in a hot summer, and more than a few manufacturers offer it. Versatility increases with waterproofness, windproofness and lightness, so these are points you should focus on while searching models. The bags that zip together to create a double one are a good example of versatility and portability.
Robustness and durability
A good metric to measure the robustness of sleeping bags is the shell denier(D), a unit of the fibre thickness of filaments or threads of fabric. If the number goes up, the tissue is more resistant. Generally, with a little care, even the lightest bags don’t get scratched or pierced. Eventually watch your dog from entering the tent and chewing your materials. However, looking at how much some bags cost, it’s better to keep them away from sharp objects.
To give an idea, tissues with less than one denier are microfibers, extremely thin. They have a soft, silky, downy texture. Instead a human hair has a 20 denier. Fabrics with a 1-10 denier are very light, and not commonly used for sleeping bags. We find tissues with a 10-20 denier in some bags and quilts; yet they can have a lot of strength too, even with little weight. The threads with a 80-100 unite resistance and durability on the long time.
We find this denier on backpacks, tents, jackets: all gear needing mechanical properties on the outdoors. With more than 100 denier, the tissues are very thick, hard to tear, but also come heavier. In this category we can find backpacks for alpine guides, climbers and hunters. But concerning sleeping bags, finally the denier of internal and external tissues goes from 10 to 60, which is always acceptable, and not coarse to touch.
The best models are easy to fold and lightweight to carry, ideally on a car or backpack, and their producer are also often respectful of the environment. Rectangular ones have a greater surface and normally will require more space and weight a little more. Generally the artificial tissues are less compressible than natural ones, and will need more room. You can easily conclude that mummy bags are better for trekking and hiking.
A sleeping bag can be one of the heaviest items of a backpack, so it’s crucial to have a good warmth-to-weight ratio. Ideally the bag should be very light to move and as warm as possible at a chosen temperature. The materials matter in this equation, for synthetics tend to be bulkier and heavier, while down bags are warmer and lighter. So these last ones are better performers, but are also more expensive for our wallets.
Weight is one paramount variable to consider in this kind of equipment, especially if you plan to backpack on quite long, physically challenging trips. While there is no concern to transport them by car, you should always take a look at the burden they take. We can put sleeping bags in three main categories, based on their weight: they give a general idea of what you get and should expect by buying them.
Bags weighting 1-2 pounds are ultralight, extremely portable: the Holy Grail for backpacking and hiking. They will be mostly two-three seasons models, versatile, but their price should be high. Those of 2-4 pounds are still lightweight, very easy to carry, and more affordable. Bags of 5-10 pounds are for car camping only, and also very bulky: they shouldn’t be considered for backpacking, for taking too much space.
The price of sleeping bags
For sure sleeping bags have a cost, proportional to their quality, features, filling materials. You can go from twenty dollars to more than a thousand in very high choice models. The problem is the use you’re gonna make with it. If you plan to sleep in some summer camp or heated hostel during your vacations a little and low-cost bag will be enough. But if you look to stay in some very cold and harsh environment, opt for a more expensive one.
For personal experience we assure you that the money spent for a good sleeping bag is not wasted. Especially when hiking on mountains and with freezing temperatures a warm place to rest is paramount. We also slept in the snow, on glaciers and know is a very delicate matter. In such situations we have been happy to have he opportunity to wake up in the early morning in good shape. Despite having -20°C outside the tent.
Sleeping bags are built in layers: there is a shell fabric on the outside, an internal filling, and an interior tissue covering the inside surface, like a liner. These different materials, often used also in jackets, have specific functions and properties, and can vary a lot in terms of resistance, impermeability and so on. If you are new to this subject, you can read the little following summary we prepared, in order to cover everything.
While the exterior tissues of the sleeping bags are generally some nylon fabric, the filling, insulating materials are the key to keep you warm and safe. They fall in two big categories: down and synthetics. The down comes from ducks and geese, it’s a purely natural material. The most commonly used are probably the synthetics, and yet a great number of customers like the down, especially for its thermal properties.
The outer tissue is responsible for protecting the bag structure from mechanical harm, wind and rain. Ideally it should be waterproof, wind stopper and breathable. By allowing the body moisture to filter out, the bag won’t get wet. Common materials of these fabrics are nylon, taffeta and polyester, coming with slight differences for each manufacturer. Anyway, among the best fabrics we can find on the horizon are the GoreTex® and Pertex®.
These are highly waterproof, breathable fabrics, created with special technologies. Perseverance Mills Ltd created Pertex® in 1979, using two yarns of nylon to generate a capillary action. With the thicker filaments inside, and the thinner on the outside, the humidity moves through them to the exterior, leaving the tissue dry. Furthermore, this type of thread is very packable in a small size: it has a reputation among backpackers.
To quantify the waterproofness of a material and get a hint of what it can do, we can use the water column rating. This water column corresponds to the pressure of water a tissue can bear before the liquid starts penetrating it, and is calculated in mmH2O. The Pertex Shield+ (a more recent version of Pertex®) has a water column of 20.000mm, which is full impermeability: it’s used for jackets, and even sleeping bags.
Gore-Tex and sleeping bags
Wilbert L. Gore and his son, Robert W. Gore, created a fabric membrane in polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in 1969, calling it Gore-Tex. This material has a microporous structure, avoiding the passage of water and allowing the movement of humidity from the inside to the outside. Often it has also a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, rejecting water. Its water column begins at 28000mm and can go much higher, achieving a great waterproofness.
Tissues with a Gore-Tex layer are a little stiff, but very durable, and more than Pertex. On the breathability side, they can be compared to Pertex ones, but are also heavier (on sleeping bags this difference of weight isn’t noticeable). A difference to note however is the price: the Gore-Tex gear costs more than Pertex one, for the fabric is more expensive for the producer. If you need a very professional bag for intense use, we suggest to choose a Gore-Tex model.
Other shell materials
We add to the list other tissues, common in the manufacturing of these items. Ripstop is made out of polyester or nylon, but with heavier, reinforced threads, to avoid tearing. It’s breathable, durable and quite impermeable, but its best use is in dry conditions. Dryloft is another premium fabric, windproof, water-resistant but not waterproof, and breathable. It’s very good for four-season camping, but also expensive.
DriClime is a hybrid tissue, partly in nylon and partly in polyester, with very thin deniers. It’s breathable and waterproof, but not as strong as Ripstop. Gossamer fabric is usually made of wool, silk or cotton, but very thin: with a rubber-coating process, it becomes waterproof. Microfiber textiles have one denier thread, and have properties like softness, absorption, toughness, water repellence, filtering and thermal insulation.
Filling materials: down sleeping bags
The down is the fine under the feathers of geese and ducks, and is light and very effective for keeping the bag hot. Its capacity is measured with a number called “fill quality” (or power), ranging from 400 to 950. This number indicates how much space in cubic inches is filled by an ounce of down. The higher is it, the better the warmth-to-weight ratio and the insulating power. However this superior filling will come with an higher price tag.
Measuring the fill power
The basic way to measure the fill power is this: manufacturers take a ounce of down, putting it in a graduated cylinder. After, the sample down is compressed by an ounce weight. After removing the weight, the down is left resting for 72 hours. The final volume in cubic inches of the ounce of down is the fill power. A superior fill power creates a warmer and more lightweight filling, which will result in more performant gear.
Fill power values in sleeping bags
At the beginning we can find 550-600 fill models. They are quite inexpensive, relatively heavy, but still lighter and more compressible than synthetic ones. 700 fill ones are the the mid-range, with a balance between cost and weight. In the range of 800 and more we find the most expensive, lightweight and compressible bags of them all. They are prized by backpackers who need to save as much space as possible and travel light.
The down sleeping bag is ultralight and littler when stuffed than synthetics ones, and take less place in the backpack. Another unit of measure is the fill weight, the weight of the quantity of down in a product, calculated in ounces or grams. With these two numbers we can get an idea of the quality and mass of down in a bag, and of its final warmth. The production of this animal fine comes from farms who must respect certain standards.
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is a certificate stating the animals were not ill-treated to source the down trough unethical practices. It’s better to buy models with it, to assure no living being has endured mistreatment and have transparency. There are also specific standards and ways of sourcing created by some companies. We can name for example the Mountain Equipment’s Down Codex and Patagonia’s Traceable Down Standard.
Down bags must be washed and cleaned with specific protocols, and once wet, need longer time than synthetics to dry up perfectly. Drying up these bags need also some care, in order to avoid the down to clump. While it’s possible to hugely compress down to reduce the size of the bags, it’s also necessary to let it expand in bigger sacks when storing it at home. Not observing this general rule can end in damaging the filling.
If wet, down feathers lose much of their insulating power: that’s why some manufacturers treat the down with polymers to make it hydrophobic and avoid clumping. The resulting waterproofness is good, yet not complete, but the bags can withstand great amounts of moisture and rain. The feathers become a little heavier with this process, but it’s hard to sense the difference. The best result is obtained when also the exterior fabric is impermeable.
Goose and duck
Goose and duck down aren’t the same, because the two species of birds differ in many ways. Consider also that down is a food byproduct (to say, it’s taken by animals bred for food), and the animal’s diet influence its qualities. Geese are bigger, eat mostly grass, and are taken for food when more mature: the down then has more filling power, with larger and loftier clusters. Duck have a different nourishment, and the down can be oilier, with a special smell.
Synthetic, polyester sleeping bags are another story. They are cheaper, dry up rapidly and insulate also (but less than normal) when wet. But consider also they are have a lesser warmth-to-weight ratio, and have less insulation than down at the same weight. Then they tend to be bigger and bulkier, and need more room in your backpack. For sleeping in a warm weather, light and very portable models are just fine.
Usually this type of filling consists in layers of polyester fibers mimicking the down’s air-trapping properties: the body heat is blocked by the tissue’s loft. The difference with the animal fine is that the synthetic materials are less compressible, less warm and heavier. Their advantage is for sure the ability of letting humidity transpire (in this way the bag won’t get too wet for the body moisture) and the price, inferior to down.
The inner liner is the tissue on the inside of the bag, your body will be in contact with. It should be smooth, comfy and soft, to not irritate the skin. Like the outside shell, it must be also breathable, to avoid the accumulation of sweat. The main materials we see as liners are taffeta, polyester and nylon; they allow the movement of humidity and don’t overheat. So they are very good for spring and summer sleeping bags.
Fleece is less common, but very warm. It adds an inner layer of insulation to the bag, making it very appropriate for winter conditions. Instead silk is really soft, breathable and insulating; it’s also more expensive and delicate, and should be handled carefully. Repairing silk rips isn’t so easy. Flannel and cotton are easy to clean, durable, lightweight and easy to clean. They are probably the best natural tissues for warm temperatures.
What are the baffles?
Baffles are the vertical or horizontal chambers of fabric appearing on sleeping bags, made out of stitchings. They contain the warm filling protecting the body temperature, and prevent this material to move freely inside. Vertical baffles go from the hood, or the neck, to the toes. Horizontal baffles go around the bag. If you feel that the filling is too concentrated is some area you can shake the entire bag to allow a better distribution.
Manufactures create the baffles by different procedures. First, in the stitch through baffle construction, the lining and shell fabric are stitched together to form the baffles. It’s a simple method, often used for summer bags, as cold can penetrate through the seams, where the filling is absent. These baffles are really lightweight. Instead curved baffles enhance down migration, distributing the filling evenly in all the available place.
Also the box wall baffles are separate pieces of tissue, sewn between the lining and the outer fabric. They create a better insulation by reducing the spots for cold air entering. It’s a complicated and little expensive procedure. Lastly, the trapezoidal construction uses a distinct material to keep the fill and an offset design to distribute the down optimally. It also reduces the thin spots around the seams, and it’s even more expensive.
Features to consider in sleeping bags
Besides all we covered, there are other minor details to check in a sleeping bag. They are useful options and extra aspects to consider before making a proper choice. First the hood, who keeps your head warm: in winter it will be necessary, or you’ll need a cap. It’s very important. The inner pocket is handy to keep a torch or your wallet with you. Third, a draft collar, who protects the throat and avoids cold air entering inside.
The draft collar
The draft collar is essentially a warm tube of fabric, below the hood, with warm fill. By wrapping around the neck, chest and shoulders it avoids the “bellow effect”, to say, the loss of warm air present inside the bag while you move around at night. While it may seem a curiosity, it’s very important for resting well in cold weather and winter, and sealing the bag from freezing drafts. Usually the collar opens and closes via the zippers.
A footbox at the bottom of the bag reduces the empty space and keeps your feet warm. Draft tubes along the zippers avoid snags, damaging the fabric and losing heat at the same time. Pillows and pillow pockets add comfort with a base to put the head on. A zip cover, normally in fabric, covers the zip to avoid this to open during sleep. Finally the filling is evenly maintained on the surface of the bag, in compartments called baffles.
The stuff sack, with a draw string closure, is to fold and put away the bag once is not needed. A zip baffle, behind the zippers, prevents heat loss. Some models are waterproof thanks to the water repellent (DWR) finish. DWR allows water to touch but not soak the material. But such operation makes the tissue less breathable and more prone to accumulate perspiration. Then the trapped humidity will reduce the insulation properties and cold will be felt more.
For sure there are very good brands of sleeping bags, and we’ll show them in our reviews. Probably you heard already names like North Face, Marmot, Nemo, Coleman, Sierra, Western Mountaineering, Big Agnes, Alps Mountaineering, Sea to summit and so on. American companies are very good at producing sleeping bags, but aren’t the only ones. For sure there is a great, diversified offer and to check lots of models becomes almost a work.
Maintenance and care
Sleeping bags need a little care and upkeep to remain in good conditions and serve their purposes. For sure it’s not difficult, but when you come back from your camping or ramble you should consider to take simple actions on your bag. First of all, check it for the presence of dust, dirt; look if it’s wet or full of sweat. Search for scratchings or holes in the fabric, needing repair: they could lose filling, meaning insulation.
Repair the rips, if there are any. Then clean the dirty surfaces, the zippers and hood with a smooth brush, to begin. If the bag is in general neat, without stains and smelling good you can choose to let it dry and store it. Otherwise, if it smells badly or the tissue is really dirty you have to wash to clean it thoroughly. Muck, oil and grime can deteriorate the shell fabric and the filling, so it’s better to remove them quite rapidly.
The down leaks
Sometimes in down bags you could note the quills of the down feathers poking through the shell fabric. Despite the tightness of the fabric this can happen in new bags, especially along the seams. If you see that, put the feathers back inside by pulling them gently from the other side. With this simple manipulation you shouldn’t lose the filling, and no holes will remain. The down must remain at its place to insure warmth.
Caring of the DWR
The DWR (durable water repellent) may, on long periods of time, wear off. Then the bag will start to lose impermeability and get wet easily, with much discomfort. Withal you can restore the DWR by reapplying the finish with appropriate materials. For as little as twenty dollars you can buy some spray can with a water repellent to apply on the bag. Read always carefully the instructions to see if this substance is compatible with the fabric.
Storing sleeping bags
The way of storing a bag impacts its future performances. The insulating power of a bag depends on its filling loft, and it’s necessary to let the fill rest and expand naturally to keep its good properties. So, never store a sleeping bag compressed in the stuff sack. The best option is to keep a bag in a cool, dry place, a closet for example, open and hanging. This method allows the filling to breathe, stretch and remain in good conditions.
Washing sleeping bags
Washing a sleeping bag is an easy task, but down and synthetic models need different procedures. While synthetics can withstand normal machine washing, the down ones are more delicate. First, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing, coming in the instruction tag. If you have doubts, ask questions to the producer to clarify, or visit its website. Normally you will have all the clear informations for doing that and not ruining the bag.
It’s crucial not to dry clean a sleeping bag, for the chemicals can damage the natural down by removing its natural oils. Also, don’t use bleaching or softeners, never ever. Furthermore, don’t use top loading- machines with agitators. The best option is front-loading machines. Down bags need specific detergents for a gentle cleaning: turn the bag inside out to be sure the water and soap penetrate everywhere (the shell fabric can be waterproof).
Clean one bag at a time
Before launching the machine, close the Velcros and zip the zippers, then use a gentle cycle in cold water. And it’s best to clean a bag at a time, for water penetrates better. A second cycle in the machine, without any detergent, is also useful to remove any trace of soap. At the end of the washing, transport carefully the bag from the machine to the dryer. The wet down is to handle gently, or it could poke out of the fabric (and that’s annoying).
Then place the bag in a dryer with very low temperature: high temperatures can ruin the fabric and even the filling. Add some tennis balls in the machine to help move the filling, so it won’t clump. The bag has to dry in the machine for three hours (yes, it’s a long time), then at home, in some safe place, for two-three days. Finally your bag should be clean, dry and ready for a new use. You should keep it in some large sack to avoid compressing the filling.
How can I increase the warmth of my sleeping bags?
If you feel needing more comfort while you rest there are some good tips to enhance the warmth of a sleeping bag. First, if you see and feel the filling material fluffed up it’s time to wash the bag for good, removing eventual dirt and accumulated sweat. In order to protect the external fabric from tearing, put the bag in a pillowcase. Use an gentle cycle in the washing machine, and a down shampoo if the bag has a down filling.
If you intend to dry the sleeping bag in a tumble dryer, put also inside some tennis balls: they will avoid the filling to fluff up again. Otherwise, if you put the bag on a clothesline, you will have to beat it up with a tennis racket to break the filling. If you have your bag at home, open it from time to time, so it’s not always compressed. Also, if you see tearing and holes in the fabric, patch them up to avoid any loss of thermic filling.
A thermal liner adds a layer of tissue to your bag and keeps it clean. I favour those in silk or cotton, for they are very soft. Thermal underwear is also great to remain protected during freezing nights: certain modern models are very thin and performant. Wear also wool socks and a beanie, for they will add more protection to the extremities and avoid losing your body heat uselessly. Generally humans lose 30% of body heat by the head.
What to wear in a sleeping bag?
In order to keep the bag clean we suggest to use a flannel or cotton bag liner for all night in spring and summer; usually such item is very light. In the autumn and winter season you should wear also wool socks, thermal underwear, a hat, to increase the insulation and avoid to lose body heat. As always, all depends on how you feel in your sleeping bag at a certain moment: you can always put down some clothes.
What’s the meaning of GSM?
In all sleeping bags, GSM (Grams per Square Metre) is a measure of the thickness of the filling. It measures the number of grams of filling per square meter. The effectiveness of the insulation depends also on the quality of the filling: sometimes bags with lower GSM are warmer than other, high-GSM ones. For sure the best quality material is down, of duck or goose, while synthetic polyester comes after.
How do sleeping bags and quilts differ?
These two items are pretty similar at a first glance, but differ in crucial details. Both protect from cold and allow to sleep warm, but a quilt has no hood nor zippers to close it, and have less insulation material. Quilts are lighter, smaller, more packable. Then it’s ok to sleep in summer camping tripsand under the stars with a opened quilt, but when the temperatures go down, a winter sleeping bag is the best option.
What’s the fair price of a good sleeping bag?
Prices vary a lot between brands, models, materials. They start from a few tenths to go to a thousand dollar, the cheaper ones being the lighter, ideal for summer, and with synthetics materials. The costs go up when looking for more insulating power, to cope with cold temperatures. The down filling, a superb element for sleeping bags also add to the cost. The most expensive are the most comfortable in freezing climates.
Which is the warmest sleeping bag?
Probably the warmest bag of them all is the Snowy Owl EX -60 of Feathered Friends. It’s a highly modern model in quality down, with a temperature rating of -60°F. Conceived for expeditions in the coldest zones of the planet, like the South Pole, or the Himalayas, it covers the entire body with a very thick thermal layer. With very special features, it comes for a more-than-reasonable price beyond a thousand dollars.
Is zero degree sleeping bag appropriate for summer?
You can use it in summer, but you will probably feel too much heat to rest inside. Depending on your activities, it would be better to have at least one bag for summer and another for the cold season. And also, three seasons sleeping bags aren’t enough for below zero winters, so think about what you want to do before buying. The ideal situation would be to gat a bag for each season, like one for summer, one for spring and autumn, one for winter.
What’s the lifespan of sleeping bags?
The answer depends on a few factors. A sleeping bag, as other gears, will last longer if it’s built from the beginning with good materials, made to last. Second, if it’s kept in good condition and clean, its lifespan will be even greater. Normal sleeping bags, when maintained and stored correctly abide up to fifteen years (you can be happy if they do that). When not taken care of, this number will go down to at least three years.
Do sleeping bags need to be washed?
Yes, we suggest to wash your sleeping bag at least once a year, even if it’s seldom used. In case of more regular handling, it’s appropriate to do it more often. A good cleaning removes dust, residues and body oils: besides eliminating stains, it maintains the fluffiness of the bag. Keeping the filling clean is important for the insulation and the hygiene. As a rule of thumb, avoid dry cleaning, for the chemicals are too harsh.
Can you wash sleeping bags in a common machine washer?
Yes, provided it’s a front-loader washer, with enough room to clean deeply and centrifuge. The best way to do that is following the producer’s instructions and using a gentle soap, in little quantities, to avoid dregs at the end. These are annoying because the stain the bag and make its surface coarse. We rince twice or run another washing cycle (without soap) to prevent them from forming, and never see them again.
How to dry a sleeping bag?
As you can guess, you can air-dry or tumble-dry them in a machine. The slower but safer way is air-drying, because the fabric of the outer shell can be delicate and it’s better not to overheat it. Also, by experience we see it would be better to avoid direct solar exposure, because it can change the colours. Furthermore, the bag should gently hit with a clean carpet beater to distribute the filling material in the internal space.
Tumble-drying is faster and automatic, but risks to damage the external tissue. If you want to do it anyway, set a very low temperature and be sure the bag has enough place to move freely. When necessary, commercial machines will do the job. To insure the filling is spread out in a uniform way, add three, four tennis ball in the machine before starting. They will help break the clumps of material on the surfaces.
Is a sleeping bag to clean after camping?
After a short period of use (a few days) you should perform a few, simple actions to take care of your gear. First, take out visible dirt with a toothbrush. Then air the bag in the sunlight for one hour to dry it up before putting it away in some stuff sack. Check it for holes, rips in the fabric. If everything is good, pack it. And consider you should, from time to time, unstuff and let it fluff, to keep its proper filling in a reasonable condition.
Do sleeping bags come in different sizes?
Definitely yes, but in their own sort of ways. Three types of sizes are available: regular, long and for kids. While kids dimensions are to verify for each model, the difference between regular and long refers normally to length, and not girth. People up to six-feet tall should use regular bags, and those above six feet should choose a long. A too short bag will be tight and uncomfortable; a too long one leaves empty space around the feet.
Finally, in our experience with camping and backpacking we learned that it’s good to invest a little money in a decent, functional sleeping bag in order to have restful nights. In days-long travels and hikes there aren’t always the basic services of the sweet home and it’s important to adapt. So by choosing the appropriate gear we can control how we sleep and refuel, maintain our health and get ready with what life bring to us.
Personally, we like a lot mountaineering in the Alpine regions on France and Switzerland, and practice often Winter camping in tents and cabins. We privilege superlight, down-filled backpacking sleeping bags for the coldest, below-freezing altitudes. By keeping weighs down in our backpacks we feel more comfortable even in extreme cold when practicing snowsports like snowboard. When we move around in the Alps, it’s never too hot.