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When you’re backpacking through the wilderness, your sleeping bag is one of the most critical pieces of equipment you’ll have with you. You could have all the right gear, but if your bag isn’t warm enough, you won’t comfortably get good sleep and feel refreshed enough to tackle the trail again the next day. When picking out your sleeping bag, consider our five tips that can help make sure you get just what you need to stay warm on your next adventure.
What Are the Backpacking Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings?
|3-Season sleeping bags
|32°F and above
|Winter sleeping bags
|20 to 30°F
|Low elevation sleeping bags/Summer
|20°F and below
Do you know what all those temperature ratings mean? Don’t worry. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to get it right. The bag industry uses regular, extended, and extreme terms when labeling their bags.
Regular sleeping bags are meant for temperatures between 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit, while an extended sleeping bag is best for temperatures ranging from 10-30 degrees Fahrenheit. An extreme sleeping bag is meant for temperatures under 10 degrees Fahrenheit and below.
The 5 Proven Hacks to Guide You in Choosing the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag
The beauty of backpacking can’t be emphasized more than choosing the best sleeping bag. Here are a few pointers towards an ideal bag for the occasion:
- Pick a bag that is warm enough.
- Purchase a backpack with built-in thermal and water protection.
- Buy a sleeping bag with a warmer temperature rating than you think you’ll need.
- Pick out a synthetic or down-filled bag rather than one filled with foam.
- Select a mummy-style sleeping bag instead of an option that gives you more room to move around at night.
To help you in purchasing the best backpacking sleeping bag, ensure you consider the factors discussed below:
1. Filling Type
There are two filling types: Down and synthetic Insulation. Down is your best bet as it is light, warm, and packs down tightly. Down insulation is also very compressible and uses less space in your pack compared to synthetic insulation of a similar warmth rating.
However, it doe cost more than synthetic options. Suppose you are on a budget or camping only during warmer months, then you might want to choose a synthetic bag. Most backpacking sleeping bags will have an internal temperature rating.
The most important thing when picking out the right bag is choosing one that will keep you warm enough at night even if you are not dressed appropriately or haven’t built up body heat.
2. Loft and Insulation
Insulation helps keep you warm by trapping air next to your body, preventing heat from escaping. You can generally gauge how well a sleeping bag insulates by looking at its loft (how fluffy it is) and its fill power (how many cubic inches of air it traps per ounce).
However, several factors can affect these measurements—the most important being down vs. synthetic-based insulation.
Synthetic bags have been criticized as less efficient than down ones because they tend to absorb moisture and lose their loft more quickly over time. However, plenty of high-quality synthetics are on the market that rival or surpass their down counterparts’ performance.
- The benefits of Synthetic Sleeping Bags: They’re cheaper and don’t require special care like drying or storing away from water.
- Advantages of Down Sleeping Bags: They can withstand extreme cold better than synthetics.
- Drawbacks of Down Sleeping Bags: They pack up smaller but weigh more, need to be dried out after getting wet, and cost twice or thrice as much compared to synthetics.
Tip: If you go with a synthetic bag, make sure it has high-quality insulation for maximum warmth. On the other hand, if you go with a down bag, make sure it’s affordable enough, so you don’t get soaked in an accident or during storage.
Often, you’ll see backpacking sleeping bags described as Mummy-shaped (sleeping bags that are meant to be zipped up all around, including through your feet). But, there are also rectangular and semi-rectangular options.
The sleeping bag’s shape depends on how much space you want and whether or not you plan to sleep on your side. For example, mummy bags offer less space but keep you warm because they fit snuggly around your body.
So, think about what works best for where you plan to backpack and how comfortable you like to sleep. If you want to sleep on your side, choose a rectangular-shaped bag that doesn’t restrict movement.
4. Temperature Rating
Don’t get trapped in a situation where you’re stuck with an inadequate sleeping bag. Keep in mind that most bags have a comfort rating as well as an extreme rating.
A sleeping bag that claims to be rated down to 20 degrees may not be adequate if you plan on backpacking in 10-degree weather. Extreme temperature ratings can differ significantly from company to company, so paying attention to all aspects of your gear before hitting the trails is essential.
In general, buy based on comfort ratings and consider carrying additional insulating layers when it comes time to push into extreme temperatures. Adding extra clothing is easier than cooking some hot soup while shivering at 30° below zero!
5. Style or Shape
Backpackers have two main options for bag style: They can go with a mummy-style sleeping bag or choose a traditional rectangle shape.
This decision primarily depends on personal preference, but some trade-offs are worth knowing.
Mummy bags are usually more streamlined and lightweight, as they pack in less air. However, these bags also require you to keep your body in a specific position to be warm enough.
Traditional rectangular-shaped bags allow for more freedom of movement but tend to be bulkier and heavier (depending on fill type). Some rectangular bags feature zippers that create an overlap so you can easily vent heat from your feet if needed.
Understanding Comfort and Limit Temperature Ratings on Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Let’s say that a 15-degree limit bag is nothing but trouble. The difference between comfort and limit ratings can be significant, but some manufacturers err more on one side than others.
Here are the key aspects to remember when comparing comfort and limit ratings to help you pick out your sleeping bag.
- The general rule of thumb dictates that people who sleep hot will want to look at bags with lower limits, while those who sleep cold should go with higher limits.
- Comfort ratings often offer a more comprehensive range of temperatures, as well as different lengths of body coverage (e.g., 3/4 length).
- Lastly, if you have doubts about whether or not the bag will suit your needs, buy it and try it out!
Aligning Your Sleeping Bag with Your Sleeping Pad: Do They Work Together?
|Expected Low (Nighttime)
|R-Value Range (Pad)
|Temperature Rating (Bag)
|30°F and below
|20°F and below
|15°F and below
The right sleeping bag will insulate you from cold temperatures and allow your body to breathe enough, so you don’t wake up suffocating in sweat. The wrong one can leave you shivering all night or sweating so hard that dampness seeps into your bag.
If you plan to buy both at once, pick a sleeping pad before choosing a sleeping bag. While they don’t always go together perfectly, they should be relatively close in price and weight.
They each have their warmth rating system. Finding the right combination for your climate and sleeping style shouldn’t be challenging if they match.
How to Determine the Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag Fit
One of the biggest mistakes people make when shopping for a sleeping bag is purchasing one that’s too big or too small. Knowing how big you are is essential, so you don’t end up with something that doesn’t comfortably fit your body shape and size.
Place your arms at 90-degree angles to your sides, then measure from under one armpit across your chest to the other armpit (this should approximate shoulder width).
Next, wrap a measuring tape around your hips where they meet your torso. This will give you an idea of where on your body you carry weight and help determine if a particular sleeping bag style is right for you.
The Final Word
It’s no secret that getting a decent night’s sleep while on a trip is essential. When you sleep well and wake up refreshed, you’re more likely to have a great time in nature, which has been proven to make you happier. But if your sleeping bag doesn’t give you an optimal experience, it could be hard to rest at night. To ensure that doesn’t happen, follow the above tips when shopping for your next backpacking sleeping bag.