Pitch Your Tent: Sleeping Bags

Buying a Sleeping Bag

3 Things To Know Before You:

Ah, sleeping bags! A good sleeping bag is the difference between enjoying your camping trip and heading home at 3 am. (Okay, so there’s a BIT more to it than that, but sleeping bags play a major part.)

Sleeping bags work when your body heats the air inside the bag. All of these types of bags should be available in both child and adult sizes.

If you’re in the market for a sleeping bag there are 3things you want to consider:

Shape

Sleeping bags come in three shapes: mummy, rectangular, and semi-rectangular.

Mummy Bag

Mummy: This sleeping bag is narrow at the feet and wider at the shoulders. The bag tapers again around the head. Most mummy bags also include a hood that would be drawn around your head.

Advantages: Light weight since it uses less materials. That makes it a favorite of backpackers when space and weight are at a premium. Mummy bags are considered warmer than other bags since there is less air for your body to heat.

Disadvantages: This is NOT a good choice if you are claustrophobic since the bag fits your body pretty tightly. The bag also might be uncomfortable for a side sleeper.

Kim’s Experience: I’m NOT a fan of mummy bags. I didn’t find my mummy bag to be warmer, frankly. I know that you’re supposed to roll the entire BAG over when you’re switching positions, but I always just rolled inside of it so by morning I felt like I was a fork wrapped in spaghetti!

Semi-Rectangular or Barrel-Shaped Bag

Semi-Rectangular: (Also called barrel-shaped) This sleeping bag is somewhere between a mummy (form-fitting bag) and a rectangular bag. It can be a good compromise for a lot of folks.

Advantages: A semi-rectangular bag isn’t as constricting as the mummy bag and has more room for the shoulders, hips, and feet. Not as heavy and bulky as a rectangular bag if space or weight is an issue.

Disadvantages: You give up some of the warmth efficiency of the mummy for extra sleeping room. Barrel bags weigh more and are bulkier than mummy bags.

Kim’s Experience: This is a nice compromise bag. My first “adult” sleeping bag (after I had graduated from the one with Snoopy on it!) was a semi-rectangular bag. It was find for tent or RV camping.

This is the bag I have. Made my Coleman.

Rectangular: Rectangular sleeping bags are exactly what they sound like: a rectangle. They are usually used as warm weather sleeping bags or for recreational campers.

Advantages: Rectangular bags are roomy so you’re less likely to feel claustrophobic. You can buy oversized bags that are wider and longer for anybody who wants more space. Many rectangular bags can zip together to make a larger sleeping bag for two people. This style is a must if you think that a kid might get cold in the middle of the night and crawl into the sleeping bag with Mom!

Disadvantages: They are usually not suitable for backpacking and hiking campers since they are bulky and heavy. Rectangular bags take up the most room of any of the styles. They also may not be as warm because the wide top opening allows more warmed air to escape.

Kim’s Experience: This is my favorite type of sleeping bag. Since I’m usually in a RV or tent, I don’t need to worry about size or weight. There is plenty of room for me to turn over without getting tangled in the bag.

When I was little and would go camping, a rectangular bag was a must. At about 1 am I would decide I was FREEZING and crawl into my mother’s sleeping bag. If you’re camping with small kids, the size of a parent’s bag might be a consideration!

Fill

There are two basic kinds of materials that are used to fill (stuff) a sleeping bag: down or man-made synthetic. The fill of a sleeping makes a big difference on how a sleeping bag will keep you warm in different weather conditions.

Fill is designed to catch and hold air between its fibers. The more air the fill can trap and hold, the warmer the sleeping bag will be. Manufacturers use a variety of different methods to fill the bag, including enclosed channels, layers, and baffles, all of which effect how the fill will settle during storage!

Down: This means goose or duck down — the soft fluffy feathers. Down fill usually is warmer than man-made synthetic. Down is very light weight, warm, compressible, and expensive. And, you have to be able to sleep in a bag that has feathers in it — might not be a good choice for people with allergies.

Synthetic: Constructed with man-made fibers. This costs less, is easier to clean, and is a choice of people with allergies.

Kim’s Experience: My bag is synthetic fill. I’ve only borrowed a down bag so I don’t have a lot to share. Just know that which ever fill you choose, you need to consider proper cleaning and storage.

Next week’s article will be about care and storage of your sleeping bags!

Materials

When buying a sleeping bag, you want to take into account the OTHER materials that are used in its construction.

Zippers: the bigger the teeth, the better! Look for a vinyl zipper as it is less likely to jam. Make sure it has a guard on it so you don’t zip the liner of the sleeping bag into it! If you are getting a rectangular bag, you want a zipper that allows the bag to lay completely flat. That’s perfect for when you want to zip two bags together or use it more like a blanket than a bag.

Liner: Nylon, usually in mummy bags, is lightweight and durable but doesn’t feel very warm against your skin. Cotton flannel is soft, warm and durable and feels good against your skin on cold evenings. Cotton bi-blend isn’t as warm as flannel but feels more like a bed sheet.

Shell: A nylon is lightweight will be very light weight. Ripstop nylon is the most durable and might be a good choice if you have kids or pets that might snag the shell of the sleeping bag. Cotton is rugged and a good choice if weight is a nonissue.

Kim’s Experience: Any form of nylon will be slippery so you might slide around on your sleeping bag or RV bed in the night. I’ve also found that nylon can be noisy when sleepers roll over or adjust position. The bag I own now has a cotton shell. The bag prior to that was nylon — I slid around a LOT with that bag and prefer something that will stay put a bit better.

I also use a separate sleeping bag liner. These come in a variety of materials (adding warmth or not) and really make a difference in keeping the inside of a sleeping bag clean. This can be really important after an evening around the campfire!

Do Your Research

Be sure to read the weather ratings for each bag before you buy it. You want to match the temperature rating of the bag to the expected temperature when you’re planning your camping trip. ESP Boss has different sleeping bags (warm weather, cool weather, cold weather) depending on what season it is.

Sleeping bags will also have length and width sizes. It is important to notice that when buying a sleeping bag — too large and you get cold; too small and it’ll be uncomfortable so you won’t use it!

I don’t recommend buying a sleeping bag just because of the price. Do your homework to make sure the bag you pick will make sure you sleep comfortably on your camping adventure!

My last bit of advice:

If you have kids that like to take a sleeping bag for slumber parties: buy a cheap on! You don’t want them taking the high-dollar camping bag to a party with six other kids who play sack-races in the sleeping bags! Or spill orange soda on Dad’s down sleeping bag!

To make life easier for you, here’s a link to some sleeping bags so you can start the research and shopping process!

Next week’s article will be about the care, storage, and cleaning of sleeping bags so be sure to check back!

Experienced Campers:

  • What type of sleeping bag do you like the best?
  • Have you ever had a sleeping bag you hated?
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2 Responses to “Pitch Your Tent: Sleeping Bags”

  • I’m just starting the search for a reasonable camping bag for my son. He wants one “like Dad’s” (mummy style). This article will come in handy as we search in earnest. I’m looking forward to the care article, since we still occasionally have “accidents” at night.

  • Kim:

    Ollie — I’ll make sure to cover “spilling” liquids on your bag. How old is your son?

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