To truly enjoy a camping trip, it’s essential that you get a good night’s sleep to awake invigorated for the day ahead. Therefore, it’s crucial that you have a good quality sleeping bag. There are many types available and choosing the right one for you is very much dependent on your sleeping habits, what kind of material you like to have next to your skin, the temperature and climate of where you’re camping and whether you’ll be carrying the bag on your back, in a car or, perhaps, transporting by canoe.
Sleeping bags come in two basic shapes – rectangular and mummy. The best choice for you depends on your sleeping style and how you intend to use the bag. Those who tend to sleep in a curled-up ‘fetal’ position might be best suited to a mummy bag whilst those who like to sleep with their arms and legs sprawled out might prefer a rectangular bag.
For those who do a lot of wilderness camping, they tend to prefer the mummy bag as the narrow cut can decrease a bag’s weight by up to half a pound, which is critical to backpackers who measure every ounce. The mummy’s smaller size also requires less energy to heat up at night than the rectangular variety which has more air space. Whilst the rectangular bags end around the shoulder mark, the mummy bag has a hood that can be pulled tight around the camper’s head, creating extra warmth and insulation.
Double Sleeping Bags
Whilst it is possible to buy double sleeping bags, it’s also possible to create a ‘double’ sleeping bag as most rectangular ones can be zipped together. To zip two mummy bags together, one must have a left zip and the other must have a right. Most of the longer mummy bags have a left zip whilst regular sized ones tend to have a right.
A sleeping bag acts as an insulator to slow the loss of body warmth. How well a bag is insulated depends on the material it is made out of and how it is constructed. Unless you plan to buy several sleeping bags, you should choose one with a temperature rating based on the climate conditions you plan to camp in most often. A bag’s temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature at which a camper would be comfortable. However, there is no industry standard and these ratings vary between manufacturers.
When looking at the temperature ratings, it’s usually assumed you are going to be using the sleeping bag with a ground pad or air bed or some other kind of protection upon which you lie.
When choosing the right insulation for your bag, however, it’s important to factor in not only the climate in which you’ll be camping but also the activities you’re doing during your trip which can affect your metabolic rate, levels of fatigue and hunger and the quality of your tent and ground pad or air bed, which all affect your sleeping comfort. Some people feel the cold more than others too, so it may be that they prefer a warmer bag.
Insulation and Lining
Sleeping bags are filled with either goose or duck down or with synthetic fibres. Down is the best natural insulator known. It’s light and easily compressed so it can pack small and it can be fluffed back into shape easily. Down filled bags tend to cost more than synthetic filled bags but if they become wet, they lose a large amount of their insulating capabilities and take longer to dry out but a well-cared for down bag will last for several years. Synthetic bags cost less than down and continue to insulate when wet and they dry more quickly. However, they weigh more, tend to take up more space in your rucksack and have a shorter life span.
Most bags come with either a nylon or polyester lining. You can also add a fleece liner which can add extra softness and gives you an extra 15 to 20 degrees of warmth. Liners are mostly bought as they keep the sleeping bags cleaner but, depending on the fabric, they also provide extra insulation, remove the need for blankets and top sheets and are helpful if your bag causes allergies or you don’t feel quite as comfortable with the sleeping bag material close to your skin.
It’s also possible to buy combined sleeping bags which come with an airbed and pillow already attached.
Sleeping Bags for Children
Choosing a sleeping bag for a child is determined in much the same way as it would be for an adult. The important thing to bear in mind is that if you put a child in an adult sleeping bag, the spare space means that the heat will escape from the bag more quickly and they may end up being cold, so it should be a size that fits snugly, just as with an adult bag. There are, however, ‘modular bags’ which come with zip extensions enabling the bag to grow with your child so that you don’t have to buy a new one each camping season. Mummy bags are often better for children as they tend to keep them warmer but an additional woollen or fleece hat might be a useful accessory if you plan on camping in colder climates.
Cleaning and Storing Your Bag
The crucial thing here is to keep your bag dry. It’s always a good idea to pack a large plastic bag into which you can stuff your sleeping bag if there’s wet weather around. After a trip, it’s important to dry your bag thoroughly before packing it away. It should be hung in a dry room and away from mildew or dampness.
You can usually wash both a down bag and a synthetic one in a conventional washing machine (if you have one large enough) on a gentle cycle using warm water and a mild detergent. Alternatively, you can take it to a launderette and some specialise in down garment care. You should leave the bag to dry on a washing line or you can use a tumble dryer set below 140F.
Whatever sleeping bag you choose, make sure it’s the right choice for you and with, good care, it will last you for several years and make your camping trips even more enjoyable.