Camping sleeping bag guide

If you want to have the best chance of getting a good nights sleep then it really is essential that you have a quality sleeping bag. Look at the temperature ratings we have provided and consider the conditions you’re likely to face. Our range of sleeping bags features the latest designs and the highest standards in terms of quality, attention to detail and materials from the most respected and renowned manufacturers.

You’ll see that at the bottom of this page, we have included two comparison charts – one for synthetic bags and one for down. These will provide you with a quick overview of each sleeping bag’s merits, each with links to the bag itself for you to see it in more detail.

Sleeping Bag Features

Click on the numbers in the diagram to find out more about these parts of a sleeping bag.

  1. Anatomical hood

    The head looses approximately 20% of your body heat in total, it’s therefore very important that the sleeping bag has a hood and that the hood is shaped to fit closely round the face for maximum warmth.

  2. Face gasket

    An ergonomically designed face gasket will allow you to get a better fit round your face trapping in more warmth.

  3. Drawcord closure

    A Drawcord around the face allows you to tighten the bag around you when the weather is cold or loosen the bags fit in warm weather.

  4. Ergonomic neck collar

    A neck collar and baffel provide extra warmth on a sleeping bag by sitting above the shoulders and trapping air in with the body.

  5. Side zip plus integral anti snag baffle

    A side zip allows easy entry to the sleeping and venting in warm conditions. Bags with two zippers alow use of your arms whilst in the bag and more venting options. The bags zip should be on the opposite side from your dominent hand so that it is easy to reach across the body and adjust.

  6. Baffle construction

    Baffles are the compartments in the sleeping bag that hold the warm filling. Having them prevents all of the filling ending up in one place in the bag forming a cold spot elsewhere.

  7. Vaulted toebox

    A vaulted toebox is shaped to fit the feet preventing air gaps and keeping the feet warmer in cold weather.

Fill: Down v Synthetic

Down-filled sleeping bags rely on down’s excellent ability to trap air and provide insulation. Down bags are extremely lightweight, with a high warmth-to-weight ratio. They take up less space than synthetic bags which makes them ideal if you’re travelling light. However, while down bags are superbly light, they struggle to provide insulation when wet.

Synthetic bags utilise layers of microfibres to trap air and provide insulation even when wet, often using a shingle construction where the layers overlap like tiles on a roof. Perfect for family trips or festivals, synthetic bags are the less expensive option for camping comfort. They function better in damp conditions and are easier to maintain than down, but they are heavier, bulkier and not as warm.

Down Bags: Loft & Fill

Down bags always quote a loft figure such as 600+. This number denotes the quality of down used. The term “loft” refers to the amount the bag ‘fluffs up’ to trap air, and it’s the heating of this air that gives you warmth.

Shell Fabrics

Most sleeping bags use nylon fabrics as they provide a good balance of comfort and durability. The outer fabric will normally be a rip stop fabric, which will allow for a relatively light bag and prevent damage or a loss of the filling.

The outer fabric will be designed to shed a certain amount of moisture. Some bags use a waterproof fabric to prevent moisture getting in and these are normally designed for expedition use, e.g Rab Summit series. Technologies such as fabric welding (as found in Mountain Hardwear Lamina bags) can do away with the need for seams, and provide a lighter more water resistant bag.

Construction

Down bags are generally constructed using down-filled channels (baffles). Different brands will use various methods, but all are striving to keep the down insulation in the right place for maximum warmth and fewer cold spots, which are formed when the down shifts leaving no insulation in certain areas.

Synthetic bags rely on either an overlapping shingle construction or a single sheet of multiple layers of wadding. With improving technology, the styles of construction and the quality of synthetic insulation gets better creating warmer and more effective bags.

Temperature Ratings

We use 3 temperature ratings to show you the range of comfort for each sleeping bag.

The upper figure we refer to as ‘Comfort’, the middle figure is ‘Limit’ and the lower is ‘Extreme’. These ratings are based on recommendations by the European Outdoor Group and are described as follows:

  • Comfort – The temp at which an adult female can have a comfortable nights sleep.
  • Limit – The lowest temp at which an adult male can have a comfortable nights sleep.
  • Extreme – A survival rating for an adult female, after 8hrs hypothermia may set in.

There can be huge variances between people in the way they sleep and how susceptible they are to the cold caused by a number of factors such as gender, age and weight. This should be taken into account when choosing your bag. Down bags generally offer a larger guide range because they tend to be less clammy than synthetic equivalents, allowing them to be comfortable in warmer temperatures.

Maximising Warmth

The use of sleeping bag accessories such as liners and mats are great ways to keep warm. Sleeping bag liners add an extra boost of warmth to your existing bag, and are much more comfortable than the nylon inner fabric of the sleeping bag. A liner also prevents you from having to wash your whole bag – just wash the liner and prolong the qualities and life of your sleeping bag. Sleeping mats help retain warmth as heat is conducted into the ground easily.

Other ways to stay warm include making sure you’re warm before you get into your bag by exercising or eating, as it is much easier to retain warmth than to generate it. Try wearing a hat, but make sure you don’t wear too many bulky clothes as this will compress the insulation making it less effective – good base layers are ideal.

Care

It is important to store your sleeping bag as loosely as possible as excessive compression damages the fibres of both down and synthetic bags. Many sleeping bags, usually down bags, come with a breathable cotton storage sack, but you can always store them in a pillowcase or leave them loose in the airing cupboard. Synthetic bags are easier to wash in a large washing machine than down, we recommend tumble drying all sleeping bags to ensure that the bag dries evenly throughout. Whilst down bags can be washed at home with Nikwax products they may benefit from professional cleaning whenever possible.

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