4 Steps to Buying the Perfect Sleeping Bag

Jan 2014

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of waking up in a fluffy cocoon of soft down while the morning light creeps into camp and warms away the chill of the night. Fresh cool air hits your face while the rest of you is snuggled comfortably in your sleeping bag. Birds chirp nearby, your camp-mate knocking around making you coffee.

Why is your camp-mate up? Because her night was not so felicitous as your own. Too hot, too cold, a draft around her neck – after tossing and turning all night she awoke in a sweat, chilled by the air seeping in by her neck and feet. Hat askew, muscles sore, she rose to make the coffee and stretch after the night’s gymnastics. Yet you couldn’t be happier. This is the tale of the perfect sleeping bag and how to ensure your trip is not ruined by discomfort and lack of sleep.

– Use: Backpacking or Camping?

Multi-day backpacking trips require a lot of gear, all of which you are carrying yourself, so sleeping bags are specifically designed to pack small and light while retaining maximum warmth. Car camping or an equivalent activity where you do not have to carry all your own equipment over a long distance, such as AOA’s Havasupai Adventurer guided hiking trip, allow more space for carrying a cushier and bulkier bag.

Shopping for a camping bag opens up a lot of fun options, like double sleeping bags for those who want to cozy up to their significant other, sleeping bags with arms and legs, or a bag that charges your phone while you sleep using your body heat.

– Temperature Rating

Every sleeping bag is categorized by the temperature level it is designed for. Typically the bag is assigned a number that indicates the lowest degree level (usually in Fahrenheit in the US) to which the manufacturer recommends it be used. Ex: “+35 degree bag” means that that sleeping bag is recommended to be used only in temperatures above 35 degrees F.

Every person differs slightly in average core body temperature. Women tend to sleep warmer than men, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Knowing your own body temperature and comfort level for optimal sleep will help greatly when shopping for the perfect sleeping bag.

– Insulation

You will find bags that are either down fill or synthetic fill. The insulation primarily functions to reduce the amount of body heat lost while sleeping.

Down: Down is the baby-soft wispy feather that forms the undercoat of a goose or duck. Down feathers have evolved to keep waterfowl warm in sustained cold conditions. Down is light, compressible, and breathable, making it an excellent option for sleeping bag fill in cold dry conditions.

Down is measured by fill power, the number of cubic inches 1 oz of down can fill in a testing device. A sleeping bag with 800-fill down will be lighter than one at 600-fill at the same temperature rating because 1 oz of down feathers fills up 800 cubic inches in the one and only 600 cubic inches in the other.

The chief pitfall of down is its susceptibility to wet conditions. This coupled with the higher price-tag, often steers the casual outdoor enthusiast towards synthetic fill.

Synthetic: Synthetic insulation has come a long way over the years and is now designed to mimic down fill as closely as possible. Most manufacturers use a polyester threading that is molded to a shape something like a down feather. Synthetic fills have greater water resistance and are generally less expensive than down. The other great plus of this option is that most synthetic materials are hypo-allergenic. There is a serious range of options when it comes to synthetic fill so do your research to determine the best brand options in your price-range before you buy.

 – Size & Fit

Your sleeping bag fit can be extremely important to ensuring a comfortable night’s sleep. When shopping for a sleeping bag, go to a store location like REI or your local outdoor retailer and ask to try out their bags. You will want to find one that fits you in terms of both height and width. Many manufacturers also make mens’ and womens’ specific sleeping bags as well. Mens’ bags provide more room in the shoulders and are tighter on the hips whereas womens’ bags are designed with a bit more room in the hip region to mimic the shape of a woman’s body. You don’t want too much extra space in your bag, the gaps and spaces can allow more of your body heat to escape and lower your overall temperature during the night.

Other factors can be extremely important when purchasing a new sleeping bag for your backpacking trip or a guided hiking trip like AOA’s. Consider things like: Do you have the ability to vent your bag when you wake up too warm? What sort of sleeping pad are you going to use? Are you going to use a liner? Do you prefer to sleep with a lot of layers of clothing? Are you taking a guided outdoor trip like AOA’s Grand Canyon hiking trips where there is an option to rent a sleeping bag from your outfitter? Maybe you don’t need to purchase one at all.


Hike and Backpack with AOA

Interested in learning more about AOA’s multi-day guided backpacking trips? Check out our adventure tour calendar or give us a call at 1-866-455-1601. If you don’t see something you like, ask about a custom adventure like cycling Death Valley or backpacking in Utah.