Get Started With Sleeping Bags

We all know the negative side effects of a poor night of sleep. But the grogginess and mental fog resulting from inadequate sleep can be downright dangerous in wilderness conditions. So for first time campers and experienced backpackers alike, a full night of sleep is absolutely crucial. We’ve outlined a list of simple steps to take to help you get the best sleeping bag for you and your needs. Wherever and however you choose to camp, the same basic principles apply when choosing a sleeping bag as with any piece of outdoor equipment. Buy a bag with features that match to the type of use you will put it through to ensure the best experience possible.

1. If you can, test before you buy

If you’ve never been camping before, consider testing out a friend’s bag or renting a bag on a quick overnight camping trip to have some prerequisite knowledge of what it’s like to sleep in a bag. A quick camping experience before you buy will help you figure out what type of features you want in your own personal bag. While you test out the bag, pay attention to the features of your borrowed bag and your overall experience to help you shop for your own bag.

2. Research camp conditions

The most important aspect of your bag is its degree rating, or the range of air temperatures that you can sleep comfortably in your bag. Figure out what type of camping environment will you do most of your camping in, and pay special attention to climate conditions such as humidity and air temperature. If you plan to take winter trips, research what the lowest temperatures will be at night and then subtract 5-10 degrees. This number is the minimum degree rating your bag should be. For example, during winter in the Southeast United States, temperatures will be about 33 degrees at night, so you should choose a bag with at least a 20 degree rating. If temperatures are actually warmer than you had expected, you can easily vent the bag to keep you cooler. Knowing what type of environment you will be camping in also will help you figure out what type of insulation you should choose (more about that later).

3. Decide what kind of trips you’ll be taking

Think about what type of camping experience you’ll be getting yourself into. Will you be backpacking—carrying all of your essentials on your back over many miles of rough terrain? Or will you be car camping with a nearby vehicle to hold all of your camping equipment? This information will help you figure out how light and compactable your sleeping bag needs to be. If you’re a backpacker, your sleeping bag needs to be lightweight and compactable for storage in your pack. On the other side of the spectrum, truck tent campers and car campers don’t need to minimize weight and space because of the additional storage space and carrying ability provided by your vehicle.

4. Select your preferred insulation type

Once you’ve figured out the type of camping you’ll be doing most often, you can choose what type of insulation will work best for your endeavors. When it comes to the insulation of your outdoor sleeping bag, you have two options: synthetic and down. There are pros and cons to both, so take into consideration the type of camping you’ll be doing as well as the type of climate you’ll find yourself in most often.

  • Synthetic insulation. Synthetic insulation has excellent overall performance and good value. Synthetic insulation is also quick drying for wet conditions such as the Appalachian mountains. These bags will even keep you warm when they are wet.
  • Down insulation. Meanwhile, down insulation is more compressible than synthetic bags and provides a better warmth to weight ratio (a 2 lb down bag will have a higher degree rating than a 2 lb synthetic bag). This makes down an excellent choice for backpackers because these bags will keep you the warmest while weighing the least. Down also retains its shape and loft better over time, giving you many years of use.

The bottom line: Down loses its insulating properties when wet and is very slow to dry. Also, down has a higher price point and can be expensive to clean. For these reasons, most first time campers go with synthetic insulation because it’s cheaper and performs solidly overall. Synthetic insulation is the better option for car camping or truck tent camping when weight is not a huge issue like it is while backpacking. But, if you really love the feel and warmth of a soft down bag, go with the down.

5. Finally, think about what type of sleeper you are

This will help you fine tune your sleeping bag preferences and determine what “extras” you should buy to get the best night of sleep possible.

Think about what small things help you get a great night of sleep at home. Do you like to stretch out while you sleep? How warm do you like to be under the covers? What kind of pillows do you use when you sleep? Thinking about these questions will help you make a better informed choice when buying your bag.

  • Are you a “cold sleeper” who prefers to be very warm while sleeping? Or do you like to be a bit cooler under the covers? If you like to be nice and toasty, choose a bag with an even higher degree rating than the temperature range requires. So, if you’d like to camp during wintertime in the Appalachian mountains and you’re a cold sleeper, choose a bag with a higher rating than the recommended 20 degrees. Another option for cold sleepers is to purchase a sleeping bag liner. Sleeping in a liner adds up to 15 degrees of warmth to your bag and will help you get more use out of a single bag. A warmer bag can be outfitted with a sleeping bag liner to work in colder temperatures. A sleeping bag liner also helps protect your sleeping bag by providing a washable layer between you and the bag. After a camping trip, simply toss in the washer for quick cleaning.
  • Also, be sure to consider how roomy you want your sleeping bag to be. Usually, lightweight backpacking bags are mummy-shaped to minimize weight. However, some campers prefer the added foot room of a rectangular shaped bag. If you’re not as concerned with the weight of your gear because you’ll be truck tent camping or car camping most of the time, go with a rectangular shaped bag for added interior space.
  • Consider adding a microfiber pillow for additional comfort while you sleep. You’d be surprised at how much better a camp pillow feels compared to a rolled up fleece jacket. It’s a small investment that will pay off when you wake up renewed after a long hike.

These tips should help you pick the sleeping bag that’s right for you. When you’re ready to shop, we offer a great selection of camping sleeping bags. Lastly, we wish you the best on your camping adventures!

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