While there are many sleeping bags out there, not all of them are suitable for backpacking, which means that for you to get a good backpacking sleeping bag, you should first know how to choose one. Remember, backpacking can be a tiring venture and therefore a good night’s sleep is what you need to rejuvenate you for the following day.
Because you have come here, most probably, you already know the importance of having a good sleeping bag and the problem might be how to choose the right one. First, you need to understand that not all sleeping bags are good for backpacking. Since their main function is to offer you a warm and comfortable night’s sleep, it’s only logical that you go for those sleeping bags that are warm and comfortable. Secondly, choosing the best backpacking sleeping bag is not all about the price. There is more to it than that as you will see here. To get the right gear, it’s critical that you know how to choose what is most suitable.
As I have stated before, a good sleeping bag allows you to have a comfortable sleep after a hard day of backpacking. Otherwise, you will find yourself sleepwalking on day two of hitting the trail. While many people think that buying a sleeping bag is easy, it is not, especially if it is your first time to buy. That is why you need to read backpacking sleeping bag reviews to help you get the right gear.
Even if you are looking for a sleeping bag for large men, it will also be as small as a bag for average size adult, so don’t worry.
Consider the temperature of the area where you will be hiking
First, you should buy a sleeping bag that is suitable for the conditions you’re expecting to encounter on the trail. For instance, if you’re planning to do a winter camping, you should do your homework well to find out about the normal highs and lows for those areas that you’ll be visiting. This information should actually help you to choose a sleeping bag and remember to go a bit higher on the low side. Ensure that your sleeping bag is about 10 degrees F warmer than the lowest temperature of the area in which you expect to spend the night.
Read more about sleeping bag temperature ratings in our extended sleeping bag guide.
Consider weight and size
The second most important thing after temperature rating is the weight of the sleeping bag. Weight is an important factor because it’s something you’re going to carry and you don’t want to break your back. Therefore, your sleeping bag should be lightweight and compressible for the obvious reason that you are going to carry them on your back. Specifically, you should choose a backpacking sleeping bag that weighs less than 5 pounds (~2.2 kg), or about 10 to 20 percent of your total backpack weight. The good news is that there are many ultralight sleeping bags available, which are much lighter, warm and weigh just a fraction of what the regular sleeping bags weigh.
Still on weight, you can consider a top of the range bag that saves weight by depending on a sleeping pad to insulate the bag’s bottom. To ensure that the bag you choose stays put, go for a top bag that has a pad sleeve.
Pick a sleeping bag with the lowest possible weight, but that which still provide you with the necessary warmth and comfort when you are sleeping. If you don’t consider weight, you might end up with a sleeping bag that is actually not meant for backpacking especially if you are not able to carry it on your back throughout the day as you trek the trails.
Normally, sleeping bags that have a down fill are much lighter than those with synthetic insulation. So be mindful of that as you go to buy one. On the same note, it would be good to remember that the sleeping bags with synthetic insulation are much better in wet conditions. Thus, depending on the weather of the place where you are going for your backpacking vacation, you may want to a synthetic fill sleeping bag.
Don’t buy sleeping bag that is too big for you. Sleeping bag itself doesn’t create warmth, your body does. If you buy a bag that has too much empty space inside, lots of heat produced by your body will be used to heat up that empty space.
Type of insulation
For you to keep warm and enjoy good night’s sleep after a day of backpacking, you should first determine the type of insulation that you prefer, which should depend largely on the night temperatures of the area you are going to.
Sleeping bag insulation or “fill” is very important because it reduces the amount of heat that your body loses while you are sleeping at night. While there are many types of fill, the main ones are only two natural down and synthetic.
For lightweight durability, you should choose down fill. Naturally, down is very light and compressible, which makes it the best for backpacking sleeping bags. Actually, down comes from the inner layer of the feather lining of geese and ducks, which means it is a natural fiber that is not only very breathable but also durable. The only downside is that down filled backpacking sleeping bags will cost you more money than synthetic filled sleeping bags. Again, when they get wet, they are more likely to lose their insulating ability. Therefore, you should choose down sleeping bags when you are going to a dry place.
For comfort in damp conditions, you should choose synthetic fill sleeping bags. Typically, synthetic fill, which often comes in two insulation categories, is made of polyester. The two insulation categories that you can choose from are short-staple fills and continuous-filament fills.Short-staple fills are often densely packed to reduce heat loss when you are sleeping and they’re more compressible for backpacking. For continuous-filament fills, they are typically thicker and less compressible as compared to the short-staple fills. However, they are more durable. For wet weather conditions,
Short-staple fills are often densely packed to reduce heat loss when you are sleeping and they’re more compressible for backpacking. For continuous-filament fills, they are typically thicker and less compressible as compared to the short-staple fills. However, they are more durable. For wet weather conditions, a synthetic fill is the perfect choice because it retains warmth even when the weather is wet.
Even though sleeping bags with synthetic fill are less expensive and non-allergenic, they are usually heavier as compared to down bags. So, you can always choose the type of insulation according to your backpacking conditions, needs and budget.
BONUS: Check out this cool guide called “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” from Utah State University. It will give you the understanding on how to take care of your sleeping bag, be it down or synthetic.
Pick a gender-specific sleeping bag
Size of the sleeping bag is important. Many manufacturers make sleeping bags that are designed specifically for either women or men. If you want to buy a woman’s backpacking sleeping bag, you should find out the size of a woman’s sleeping bag according to your height. In case you go for a women’s sleeping bag and you’re a man, chances are that you won’t fit inside because they’re often wider at the hips and narrower at the shoulders. Actually, women’s sleeping bags come in 2 sizes – regular and long. If your height is somewhere around 5 feet 6 inches (~167 cm), then you should go for regular, while those women who are taller than that should go for long sleeping bags.
In the same way, men’s sleeping bags come in three sizes – short, regular and tall. Therefore, pick your sleeping bag according to your height and frame.
Yes, a sleeping bag might be the best one anybody can have but it will not serve you right if you fail to consider the gender that a specific sleeping bag is designed for. Studies have shown that women are usually colder when they sleep than men. Therefore, it’s important that when you’re choosing a sleeping bag for backpacking, you should check temperature ratings based on whether you are male or female.
Find out the EN Comfort Rating for women because this rating usually indicates the lowest possible outside temperature in which an average woman can have a comfortable sleep using even the best backpacking sleeping bag.
For a man, you should look for the EN Lower Limit Rating for men because this rating usually indicates the lowest possible outside temperature in which an average man can comfortably sleep using the sleeping bag.
For either gender, it’s advisable that you choose an EN Extreme Rating for you to get the most suitable sleeping bag for backpacking. The EN rating is usually important because it indicates the lowest outside possible temperature in which an average man or women can stay alive while using the sleeping bag. The EN rating should be considered especially for extreme temperatures. It’s important to understand that it doesn’t consider comfort but instead, it focuses on survival only.
If you are looking for a sleeping bag for your kid, read this extensive guide on kids’ sleeping bags.
Assess the shape of a sleeping bag
You now know that not all sleeping bags are good for backpacking. And the shape of a sleeping bag is a way to tell whether it’s good for backpacking. For you to know that a sleeping bag is specifically made for backpacking, it should have a mummy shape. After identifying the mummy-shaped sleeping bags, you should pick a sleeping bag that has a narrow shoulder as well as hip specifications for both decreased weight and increased warmth. However, depending on your body shapes, these narrow sleeping bags might be uncomfortable.
Therefore, for increased comfort, you should pick a mummy sleeping bag that has a larger shoulder and hip specification. However, these sleeping bags tend to be a bit heavier than narrow sleeping bags.
For more information about types of sleeping bags click here.
You can only buy what you can afford
Granted, you also have to consider the price of a backpacking sleeping bag to find out the one that suits your budget. However, you should be careful not to settle for a backpacking sleeping bag just because it’s the cheapest in the market. The sleeping bag is probably going to be the most expensive item in your backpack, but you probably can’t change that. You can pay $80 and you can pay $500 for your sleeping bag, so be sure to thoroughly evaluate pros and cons of the candidate sleeping bags and choose the right one for you.
To get the best deal, you should identify the best backpacking sleeping bag types and then compare the prices between them in sporting good stores, retail stores and camping suppliers and online too. Remember to evaluate how frequently you will be using your sleeping bag before you set a budget to buy another one.
What do you think?
Drop a comment below to let us and other people know what you think about this article. Do you have any valuable tips about backpacking sleeping bags? Have you had a good / bad experience with some particular type or model of a sleeping bag? Let us know…