Sleeping Bags
A Buyers Guide

Sleeping Bag Buyers Guide

Down Sleeping Bags
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Anyone who has spent a cold night in a tent shivering the night away due to being cold knows full well the importance of a sleeping bag. Indeed, I'd go so far to say it is one of the most important pieces of camping gear you'll ever buy. Due to it's importance, I thought I'd preprare a short guide about what types of bags you may want to get for particular camping and hiking purposes.

Additionally, you may also wish to read the Sleeping Bag Insulation page as well as the article that tells How to Care for a Sleeping Bag, too.


The Three Types of Sleeping Bags

In the world of sleeping bags, there are three primary types of bags a person need concern themselves with. These bags are:

  1. The Winter Sleeping Bag - Designed for cold weather use.
  2. Standard Three-Season Sleeping Bag - Designed to be used in most climates during the spring, summer and fall period.
  3. Lightweight Sleeping Bag - Designed to be used where the temperature NEVER drops below freezing or 40 degrees. Best used for desert camping and camping in the southern US.

Winter Sleeping Bag

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Winter sleeping bag come in two varieites. Those that will keep you warm down to 0 degrees, and those that will take you down to either -20 or -40 degrees (and occasionally more). For pure winter camping, you really, really should get a bag that will take you down to -20. And if you camp during the winter in the Northern US or up in the mountains, a -40 degrees bag really should be used. By having a bag that is a bit "too warm" for your surroundings, you are reducing the impact of sudden turns of weather on your camping trip - and your health.

Remember, it is always better to have a sleeping bag that is a "bit too warm" than a "bit too cold."

The insulation type you get in a winter bag should be goose down, which allows for maximum warmth and the best packability among winter bags. Read the Sleeping Bag Insulation article for more information.

Virtually all winter sleeping bags will have these features, but never hurts to make sure. Any winter bag you get should have a good, insulated hood as well as a draft collar. The hood will keep your head warm while the draft collar will prevent cold air from slowly seeping down into the bag from the opening around the head.

Be prepared to spend big $$$ for a good winter bag, especially if it is made from goose down. However, considering your life could potentially depend on having a warm enough bag for your environment, it is money definitely well spent if you camp out in the winter.

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Three Season Sleeping Bags

The Three Season Sleeping Bag is the "workhorse" bag. It is by far the most popular bag around and also the most versatile. Due to their popularity, three season bags span the gauntlet in terms of quality - from bags that are truly miserable to bags that are outstanding. And happily, the "outstanding" bags frequently don't cost that much more than a cheap big-box store brand. In general, a quality synthetic fill 3-season bag will run between $125-$200 and a goose down bag will be between $200-$300 (learn more about Sleeping Bag Insulation).

Synthetic Sleeping Bag
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For all-purpose three season use, I recommend that a camper get a sleeping bag that is rated to 15 or 20 degrees above zero. Additionally, for maximum versatility, I also suggest getting a sleeping bag that has a synthetic fill of PolarGuard Delta (and NOT the other types of synthetic insulation available). PolarGuard Delta is nearly as packable in a 3-season bag as goose down. And, unlike goose down, the bag is easy to clean and, above all, dries out quickly. In stark contrast, a goose down bag becomes completely useless once wet and can literally take forever to dry.

That said, if you know you will never worry about getting your bag wet AND you need maximum packability and lightweight, then a good goose down bag is for you. Just ALWAYS take precautions to keep that bag dry.

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Lightweight Sleeping Bags

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I refer to lightweight sleeping bags as the "bikers bag" as well as the bag that works perfectly for camping out in the lower elevations of the desert Southwest as well as in other areas of the southern US during the warmer months.

Lightweight sleeping bags only have a temperature rating of 32 to 40 degrees above zero, and this is probably a bit charitable. However, for those who only camp in warmer climates or for bikers (who can always hit a hotel/motel if the weather turns unexpectadly cold), a lightweight bag is a very good choice. Moreover, a lightweight bag can have its temperature rating extended a bit by using a sleeping bag liner (although liners have their own issues!).

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