The Basics: Sleeping Bags
The buzzword surrounding sleeping bags these days is lightweight. Outdoor manufacturers are continually innovating new bags with both down and synthetic fills that are extremely warm, but weigh little, and pack into a small stuff sack that can easily fit into your backpack.
New innovations circulate around designs made specifically for women – and we’re not talking about pretty colors. Manufacturers like Sierra Designs and The North Face have a whole line of bags that are tapered and shorter to fit a woman’s size. They also have more fill in the torso and foot-bed areas since women tend to run colder than men while sleeping.
Like other outdoor gear, manufacturers realize sleeping bags are an investment. With that in mind, they offer warranties against manufacturer’s defects. Be sure to check their for information.
How to Shop
Let’s face it, when you’re buying a sleeping bag one of the most important things to consider is warmth. After all, there’ s nothing more miserable than sleeping in a bag in the wilderness and being cold. You’ll have two options: a down or synthetic-fill sleeping bag. Both have their pros and cons. Synthetic-fill bags dry quickly and keep their insulation properties if they get wet, down-fill bags don’t. Down-fill bags require more care than synthetic bags, but they are compressible and offer a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than synthetic bags. Each also comes with a temperature rating. The temperature rating is lowest temperature the bag will keep you warm at. This is according to the company. Be aware that sometimes these ratings are not completely accurate. It’s better to err on the side of warmth. You can always unzip the bag to cool off.
To decide on which one you’ll need, again it’s important to consider where you’ll be camping. When you’re comparing bags, pay attention to their foot sections, hoods and draft tube. Does the insulation have any cold spots? Down-fill bags should be firm and not soft since the insulation could shift in spots and give you a draft. Also, it’s important to consider the material the bag is made with. Outer shells that are coated to be water-resistant and windproof are a plus, but they can be more expensive than those that aren’t. Insulation is another area to look at. The more high-tech the insulation, the higher the price attached to the bag.
Other cool features: a bag that is lined with a soft taffeta or a fuzzy fleece for increased comfort; a bag that has a hood that can be cinched comfortably around the face to prevent drafts; and a bag that’s gender-specific.
Sleeping Bag Glossary
Baffle – Seams that run across the length of the bag that compartmentalize insulation and prevent it from shifting and creating cold spots.
Differential Cut – The inner lining of the bag is sewn smaller than the outer shell to allow insulation to loft to its maximum. More loft, more warmth.
Down – A natural insulation made of the very small, extremely light down feathers next to the skin of geese. For its weight, down has the natural ability to trap air.
Down Fill – This insulation is rated according to its loft. The rating is achieved by measuring an ounce of down in a cylinder. The higher the measurement, the higher the fill and the loft, which ultimately means a higher-quality bag.
Draft Tube – A fabric that covers the zipper to prevent heat loss.
Fill – A generic term for insulation that goes into sleeping bags.
Loft – Refers to the physical height of a sleeping bag. The more fill the bag has, the more loft it has and the warmer the bag is.
Mummy Bags – Take up less room and weigh less.
Rectangular Bags – Offers users greatest flexibility and interior room. Tapered bags are bags with a rectangular shape that’s tapered slightly at the foot end to decrease overall size.
Synthetic Insulation – Man-made insulation that are made with polyester filaments. There are several with their own distinct characteristics. For instance, Polarguard is a popular high-performance insulation produced from continuous filament polyester that’s soft, compressible and strong.
Temperature Rating – The degree down to which the company claims the bag will keep you warm.