Sleeping Bag Buying Guide
Sleeping bag selection can be a real slog. Set-up camp in our buying guide as we walk you through choosing your next slumber satchel. We’ll talk about all the jargon you’re going to come across when browsing our sleeping bag range and help you narrow down your choices to ensure you pick a sleeping bag that meets your camping needs.
Here are the key factors we’re going to be looking at with sleeping bags, and the main things you might consider when making your decision…
- Warmth, temperature and season ratings
- Types of insulation
- Weight and compressibility
- Women’s specific sleeping bags
- Outer fabrics
- Other features
- Our brands
- Sleeping bag add-ons
- Sleeping bag care
Sleeping bag temperature ratings
How cold is it going to get when you’re camping? Where do you plan on camping in the future? Whilst it’s arguably the most important factor to consider, the temperature rating of your sleeping bag needs to be thought out beyond your imminent expedition. Check out the ‘The best bits…’ section in our product descriptions and pick a bag that’ll keep you comfy in the temperatures you’re likely to be spending your nights in. Remember, every camper sleeps at a different temperature, so the ratings should be used as a guideline only. As a rule of thumb, select a bag that will keep you warm at a temperature slightly below that which you expect to be sleeping in. Sleeping bag manufacturers rate under the assumption you will sleep in a minimal layer of clothing and on a camping mat, so have that in mind when making your choice too.
EN temperature ratings
The EN European ratings system regulates temperature ratings with a standardised test, so you can be sure of consistency from brand to brand. You’re likely to come across three
EN temperature limits, here’s what they mean…
- Comfort temperature – This is the temperature at which an average adult woman should stay warm throughout the night in the sleeping bag.
- Limit Temperature – This is a lower threshold for a night’s sleep at which an average man can sleep uninterrupted, in a curled-up position for eight hours.
- Extreme temperature –The extreme limit is the minimum temperature at which an average woman can remain in for up to six hours before risk of hypothermia.
Sleeping bag season ratings explained
You’ll also find our sleeping bags listed by how many seasons they can potentially be used over. Season rating can be used as a rough guide along with the sleeping bag’s temperature rating to find the right one for you.
|Season Rating||Weather Conditions||Approx. Temperature|
|1 Season||Warm summer nights||10°C and up|
|2 Season||Cool nights||5°C|
|3 Season||Cold nights||0°C|
|4 Season||Snowy and frosty conditions||-5°C|
|5 Season||Extreme conditions||-5°C and below|
Types of sleeping bag insulation
It’s what’s inside that counts. Your sleeping bag’s innards are a vital step in the decision-making process. The differing properties of natural down, treated down, and synthetic insulation will have a huge impact on your nightly nap, and as such, should be carefully thought out. Let’s go digging – after all, a sleeping bag’s insulation can make the difference between having a comfortable night’s sleep, being too hot, or risking hypothermia.
Goose or duck down can is wonderfully capable of locking-in your body heat when inside your sleeping bag. The 3D structure of the bird’s plumage has evolved to keep these animals alive in the ‘fowl-est’ of weather by trapping pockets of air to retain body heat. Down’s quality is measured in fill power – the higher the quality, the more loft, the better insulation you get. Higher quality down comes at a higher price but provides excellent warmth to weight. Down is resistant to being stuffed and unstuffed, so a high-quality bag can last for years. It’s immensely compressible too, so a down sleeping bag won’t take up too much room in your pack.
The down side is water. If the down fill in your sleeping bag gets wet, it near enough loses all its insulating magic. Some people will also steer clear of down for moral and environmental reasons – it’s a by-product of the meat industry and in extreme cases is produced unethically.
Synthetic sleeping bag fills come in a variety of forms, depending on their purpose and who’s made them. You get short staple fibres that mimic the three-dimensional properties of down to allow for air pockets. These compress well too, but don’t last as long as down fibres. Alternatively, long filaments of various dimeters are used to create durable high loft but won’t pack down as well because they aren’t quite as compressible.
The brilliance of synthetic insulation lies in how it responds to moisture. Unlike down, synthetically insulated sleeping bags will stay warm when wet. So, on the adventures where you can’t help but get your gear damp, a synthetic fill has you covered – you’ll hang on to body heat even if your sleeping bag’s soaked.
Hydrophobic down insulated sleeping bags
The newest and increasingly-popular player in the sleeping bag fill game is hydrophobic down. We know that when down gets wet it loses its insulating magnificence – no good if you’re spending the night in cold and damp conditions. Picking a synthetic fill sleeping bag solves the cold-when-wet issue but at the sacrifice of relative loft, weight-saving and compressibility. There’s clearly a void to fill and that’s where hydrophobic down comes in. Before being stuffed into your sleeping bag, the duck or goose down is treated to help it to continue to perform when moisture gets in. As a result, it absorbs less water, maintains fill power longer and dries faster too. The best tech comes at a cost, so a hydrophobic down sleeping bag will stretch your budget a little further.
What does sleeping bag fill power mean?
You can call it puffiness or fluffiness for want of better words – your seeping bag’s fill power is a measurement of warmth relative to how much it weighs. The higher fill power number you find in our product description, the more loft your sleeping bag has, the better it will trap to keep you warm. Fill power ratings range from about 550 to 900 – the figure represents volume in cubic centimetres when the fill is completely ‘fluffed-up’ per gram of fill weight.
Sleeping bag construction
There are numerous techniques used to put sleeping bags together. So, if you’re a bit baffled by baffles and stunted by shingles, check out the descriptions of the construction methods below. It’s worth noting, that sleeping bags are often made using a combination of the construction techniques, so keep a look out for that in our product descriptions.
Down bag construction
Stitch-through or sewn-through construction
This is a straight forward as sleeping bag anatomy gets, so a great call if you’re short of pack space. The shell and liner of the sleeping bag are stitched directly together to form channels of the fill, commonly known as baffles. Sewn-through sleeping bags have cold spots at the seams, this is good if you’re sleeping in warmer temperatures, but if you’re camping in the cold, you’re going to need a bag that insulates you a bit better.
Box wall baffle construction
The down is formed into walled boxes without the requirement for stitching through the fabric. Box baffles can vary in shape, all designed to trap body heat in, minimise where warmth might escape and keep the fill where your body needs it most.
V baffles construction
V baffles are positioned face-to-face and slot together to form the sleeping bag wall. This construction results in a far greater number of baffles, giving the manufacturer far great control over the positioning of down throughout the bag. V baffle construction lets you articulate within the bag, so you can go for an insulating snug fit without feeling like you’re being squeezed to death.
Synthetic sleeping bag construction
Layered construction layers several sections of section insulation, adhered to the inside of both the liner and outer layer of the sleeping bag. These layers are off-set so that there are no gaps or stitching alignment where heat might escape.
The shingle method of making up synthetic sleeping bags uses overlapping layers and stitches them together. The stitching is not offset, but since the layers are overlapped, it’s difficult for heat to escape, making shingled bags a great choice for cold weather camping if if you prefer a synthetically insulated bag.
Since stitching creates cold spots where heat can sneak out, laminated sleeping bag construction is an awesome option for adding warmth. The synthetic fill is laminated at certain pints to the shell and liner, no stitching is required so you get cosy insulation for cold weather camp outs.
A sleeping bag’s insulation might not be even throughout. To keep you warm when you need and make the sleeping bag as warm as possible, manufacturers will often ‘map’ insulation to provide extra density around your core and at your feet. The rest of the bag will have fill purposely distributed to allow you to move when you’re it in whilst doing its job of keeping you warm. The underside of your sleeping bag might have a bit less insulation since you’ll likely be on your sleeping pad or at least not exposed to the air.
Sleeping bag shape
What shape of sleeping bag is best for you? Sleeping bags keep you warm by insulating the layer of air closest to and your body, trapping heat in and keeping cold out. The less air there is to heat, the quicker the air gets warm and the quicker you’ll be cosy. More air space in a sleeping bag isn’t as effective at insulating you but is more comfortable, cooler and less-restrictive when you’re sleeping.
A laidback camping classic, rectangular-shaped sleeping bags offer excellent comfort levels and room to move in. It’s worth noting that these bags have more space and therefore don’t insulate is well as tighter-fitting technical bags.
For maximum insulation levels, a mummy bag is a great choice. Fitted at the shoulders and hips to remove high volume, cold air spots, these bags are warmer but more restrictive as you sleep. Since a mummy bag uses less material, these are generally easier to pack and will take up less space in your rucksack.
Becoming a popular alternative to sleeping bags, down quilts offer sleeping versatility for warmer weather adventures. Acting much like the everyday quilt, you can let your top or bottom half of your body breathe, and if the temperature drops a bit, you can cinch it round your feet and head and lash it to your camping mat to seal in your warmth. It’s worth noting though, you’ll need to have a camping mat with a decent warmth rating, by using a down quilt you lose the insulation a sleeping bag gives you underneath your body. Similarly, you’re not going to enjoy the cosy warmth you get from the sleeping bag hood, so a down cap is a good add on to have in your pack for colder nights under your down quilt.
Weight and compressibility
Depending on the adventure you’re heading out on, the weight and compressibility of your sleeping bag could be a vital aspect of the decision-making process. Think about everything else in your pack and how much volume you’ve got to spare for your sleeping bag. Similarly, how much weight do you want to be carrying around with you? How long are you going to be spending with your bag on your back? If you’re heading off for a two-month backpacking trip, you’re going to want as light and as compact a sleeping bag as possible, without sacrificing warmth. Look for high fill power down and low volume material combinations.
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s sleeping bags? Women’s specific sleeping bags are shaped differently to fit the female anatomy – with slightly narrower shoulders, yet wider hips. Considering on average women sleep a little bit colder than men, women’s sleeping bags are made with extra insulation around the core and in the footbox to ensure warmth where you need it most.
Your sleeping bag outer material must stand up to the demands of your adventure, and hopefully many future adventures too. Check out the face fabric – where minimalist construction is ideal for keeping bulk and weight down, it’s likely to tear easier than thicker fabrics. A durable exterior can stand up to cuts and scrapes, whilst water-repellent treatments can help ensure your down sleeping bag does what it’s supposed to for as long as possible and even keep you dry. For multi-day trips lightweight, low volume, permeable fabrics are ideal, especially for airing your sleeping bag out or quickly drying it off.
When you’re out under the stars without a tent you’ll want to consider a bivvy bag. These external sleep sacks are built, partially or entirely, from waterproof and breathable fabrics for spending nights in the wild without a tent.
They offer excellent protection against water, and regulate internal moisture just like a hard-shell jacket, so they can be great when used in conjunction with a down sleeping bag. A bivvy bag will keep the wind and rain off for extra warmth but should definitely be used in conjunction with a sleeping bag for warmth.
Other sleeping bag features
There’s a few other things that might swing your decision. Here’s some sleeping bag jargon, what it means, and how it might help make your decision.
Neck baffles are an excellent bag addition to stop heat escaping from your sleeping bag. Often made with drawcords, baffles around your neck and shoulders can be cinched as required for extra cosiness as the temperature drops, or you can leave them more open in warmer camping conditions.
Sleeping bag zips
A zip’s a zip, right? Not quite, it’s a bit different when it comes to sleeping bags. Do you want a two-way zip that can let you cool your feet down whilst keeping your top half warm? Maybe you’re camping in a bivvy and the side on which your zip sits is a vital decision-making factor. Sometimes a full-length zipper is handy is you’re camping in warmer weather and you simply want to use your sleeping bag as quilt, or you might want a half-length zip to keep things cosier. Have a think about what zip style is best for you when making your decision.
An uninsulated sleeping bag zipper is a clear spot where your body heat can escape. To combat this, more technical sleeping bags come complete with a draft tube – an insulation filled strip that runs the length of the zipper and locks-in your body heat.
Toasty toes are a vital part of staying warm when you’re camping and in extreme cases, cold toes can lead to frostbite. Sleeping bags are often made with a contoured footbox. These unrestrictive foot-fitting shapes allow your feet to sit naturally as they would as you sleep and minimise the amount of air around your feet that would otherwise be a key area of heat loss.
Whether it’s a quick post of your epic adventure on Instagram or having it handy to use in emergency, having a convenient pocket to hold your phone or other essentials is an awesome addition to any sleeping bag. These are usually in an easy to reach spot, so you can get to your goods when your snuggled up and have a secure zip so that valuable aren’t going to go walkies when you move around in your sleep.
Whether you’re a cold sleeper, or just like to have some cosy around your head, your choice of sleeping bag should consider how much hood is good for you. Look out for hood, shoulder and neck sections with drawcord adjustments – these will ensure your body heat doesn’t escape on colder nights.
The puffy fill in your sleeping bag can make it bulky, so more often than not it will come with a compressible stack to help you store your sleeping bag as well as minimise how much space it’s going to take up in your rucksack. Check out “The Vital Stats…” section on the product page to find out what volume your sleeping bag will take up once it’s fully compressed. When storing your sleeping bag for a long time, it’s worth putting it in a looser bag or uncompressing the stuff sack – long term compression can damage the fill in your bag and reduce its lofting capabilities. Your stuff sack also acts as an extra barrier against moisture when you’re on the trail, particularly important if you’re rocking down fill.
We work with some big names in the camping game to bring you a selection of sleeping bags that’ll suit every need. Check out sleeping bags from:
- Mountain Hardwear
- Sea to Summit
- The North Face
You don’t have to stop at the bag to make sure you get a comfy night’s sleep in your tent. There are plenty extra you can get to make sure your sleep’s good.
The unsung hero of the camping world, a liner is an excellent complement to your sleeping bag and isn’t going to take up any pack room. They’re extremely packable and can add a few extra degrees of warmth that might make all the difference on chilly nights. On top of that, they act as on awesome barrier to keep you sleeping bag clean and fresh. The liner can be pulled out for washing and since the sleeping bag isn’t in direct contact with you as you sleep, it’ll stay fresh for days. When temperatures really climb, ditch the sleeping bag and use the liner as your sleeping sheet.
We’ve got a full rundown on all things camp mats for you to school-up on. Your sleeping mat has two main functions – to keep you comfy and to work with your sleeping bag to keep you warm. You’re usually going to be camping far-from-even ground, so a camping mat can give you plenty cushioning and extra insulation that works with your sleeping bag to keep you warm.
You’ve got a mattress and your duvet in the form of your mat and sleeping bag, why stop there? Compact and comfy, a camping pillow can seal the deal in making sure you sleep like a log.
Sleeping bag care and repair
Down sleeping bags will last forever if they’re well looked after, and although synthetic insulation will degrade over time, looking after your sleeping bag can drastically increase its life. If you’re washing your sleeping bag always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer – you’ll find these somewhere on the inside of the bag or on the compression sack.
Keeping your sleeping bag as clean and dry as possible will help to protect it, make it last longer and retain its insulating properties. Sleeping in clean clothes and with a sleeping bag liner will keep things fresh, and it’s worth airing your bag for a while after each sleep. Keeping it clear of the dirty ground by hanging it from a tree or draping it over your tent if you need to put it down.
When stuffing your bag away, work from foot to head to release air from the bag. If you’re storing your sleeping bag for a longer time, don’t have it fully compressed so that you’re damaging the fill.
And that’s about it. We hope our guide has helped cure your sleeping bag selection struggles. If not, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help you further. If reading’s not your thing, check out our Summer ’18 sleeping bag rundown video – we’ve pulled out some of our favourite sleeping bags in our Edinburgh HQ to give you the lowdown on what to look out for.