Sleeping Bag Information
Choosing the right bag means the difference between a good nights sleep
and a night of tossing and turning. Learn more so you choose the bag that is right for you.
Different types for different folks. A variety of inexpensive bags are available. Watch for the type of bag (rectangle vs. mummy-style), insulation, and cold weather features. Mummy bags are warmer than rectangle bags, but are more confining. The trick to avoiding clostrophobia in a mummy bag is to move the bag with you when you roll over; don't try to roll over inside the bag. For warmth, cinch up the bag around your face. Do not put your face in the bag. Moisture from your breath will be retained by the insulation and will make your bag feel cold.
Always breathe outside the bag.
Be aware that rectangle bags let a draft down the neck and shoulders. This can be compensated with extra clothing. The rectangle bags are generally too bulky for backpacking. If you like to sleep with your head out of the bag, but your head gets cold, wear a stocking cap. It's guaranteed to remove any curl from your hair.
Some Features to Look for. A good bag will insulate along the zipper and allow the top to cinch around the head and shoulders. Extreme cold weather bags have a draft collar that goes around your neck to keep out cold air. Baffles, or the layers of insulation within the bag should not be sewn completely through all the layers, but should be offset so insulation is as deep as possible. Try holding the bag up to a bright light to see if light comes through near the seams or stitching. If light comes through, cold will too.
Insulation materials make a difference. The warmest is down, but it is also the most expensive and requires a little extra care. A good down bag, though, is lightweight, compressable, and can last a lifetime. Store your down bag in a large cotton bag so the down fibers stay fluffed up. Compress the bag in a smaller bag when you are ready to go camping.
Down is rated by the number of cubic inches an ounce of down fibers will fluff up to. A rating of 550 is excellent; 750 is incredible.
Artificial insulation supposedly will retain heat even though damp. In winter camping a bag tends to retain moisture. Moist air from your body generally freezes when it hits the outer layer of your sleeping bag. The body puts out about one pint of moisture during the night. The least effective insulation is plain polyester batting. Good insulation is Hollofill, MicroLoft, Quallofill, and Polarguard. Some more expensive bags have an outer layer of Goretex or similar material to allow moisture to pass out of the bag without letting moisture in.
The next thing to look for is the amount of insulation (by weight) that is in the bag. About three pounds of artificial insulation is necessary for a comfortable bag. Good bags will be rated by degrees of comfort. Generally, a bag rated at 20 degrees is a good three season bag. A five degree bag will usually be too hot for summer camping, but adequate for most winter camping. If you have to sleep in a snow cave, know that snow caves stay about 40 degrees through even a below zero night if the cave is adequately closed in.
Care for your bag. Regardless of what the conditions have been, always air your bag out after use. Hang it up in a dry place for a day or so. You can wash a sleeping bag in a large front loading commercial washer with a small amount of mild detergent. Tumble dry with a tennis shoe to fluff up the insulation.