Man in the mountains holding sleeping bag

A practical guide on how to choose a sleeping bag

What are the most important aspects that you should consider when buying a sleeping bag? With so many options available on the market, you could fall under the impression that it’s not that easy. There are lots of materials, temperature ranges, sizes, accessories, and the price is also an essential aspect to consider.

Feeling overwhelmed? No need to worry. Read on, and you will find that it’s not that complicated if you know a few basic info.

Where to start from?

First things first, right? Before rushing to the first shop and start looking for sleeping bags, you must have some aspects clear in your mind.

If you are backpacking, it means that you probably will be carrying your sleeping bag yourself. In this case, its dimensions and especially weight are the most important aspects, in strict relation to the temperature range. While comparing the weight of different models, make sure their temperature range is the same.

If you go car camping, you will probably look into other aspects, like having enough space and comfort in the sleeping bag, and you’ll not care that much about the weight.

For both scenarios, consider choosing a sleeping bag with backpacking in mind.  You don’t want to carry significant weight on your back while hiking. 


view from inside tent
Photo source: Unsplash

Take into account the season when you want to travel. Do some proper research on the area you will be exploring. Use that information all together to have an objective idea of the temperature range you will face during the night. Your comfort during the night time is crucial to have a good sleep and to enjoy your trip. It would help if you considered that at high altitudes, temperatures are lower than you might usually expect, even during the summer, so do your research well.

What sleeping bag should I buy?

To be able to properly respond to this question, after you have clarified how you will travel, when, and where, check out the main characteristics of sleeping bags:

1. Temperature range

Usually, on the sleeping bags, you will find 4 temperatures, according to the European standard EN 13537:

  • Comfort temperature: The lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep you comfortable if you get cold easily while you sleep (like I do). You want to look at this range, especially if you are a woman.
  • Limit temperature: The lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep you comfortable if you are a “warm sleeper.” It is more accurate for the average man.
  • Extreme temperature: This is the limit beyond which you will get hypothermia. You really don’t want to be inside the sleeping bag at this one, if you ask me. But it is useful information for you to know. Hopefully, you will not experience it.
  • Maximum temperature: The maximum temperature at which a standard person (man) can stay inside the sleeping bag, with his hands out, without excessive sweating. If the temperature goes over the maximum limit, it is considered that it would be too uncomfortable to sleep inside it.

It is probably best for a beginner to choose a sleeping bag with a temperature range that goes lower than the lowest temperature you would expect on your trip. If you are too hot, you can always unzip the sleeping bag for ventilation. But if you are cold, things become more complicated and unpleasant.

Also, consider that the sleeping bag’s temperature range isn’t the only factor that guarantees you a warm, comfortable, and good night’s sleep.  It would be best to choose a proper pad to use combined with the sleeping bag to protect you from the cold ground.

The temperature listed on the products is referring to an average person. Keep that in mind and use it only as a reference point, but it’s not advisable to rely only on it because we are all different.

2. Shapes

You’ll find three forms of sleeping bags on the market:

  • Mummy: Best choice if you think of keeping warm and carry minimum weight with you. You don’t have much space inside to move, though. If you prefer sleeping on the side, you’ll have to turn with the bag.
  • Rectangular: Best choice if what you look for is comfort and space inside the bag. Not so light, and the space inside the bag makes it more difficult to keep warm because of the air that gets in.
  • Semi rectangular: This one is a compromise between the two above.


Rectangular sleeping bag

Semi rectangular

Semi rectangular sleeping bag

3. Insulation

There are two types of insulation available for sleeping bags:

Photo source: www.blisterreview.com
  • Down: Durable and very good at keeping you warm in a dry and cold environment, it is indeed the best choice if you think about traveling light. It compresses very well. Keep in mind that it’s not performing so great in a humid environment. However, down can be treated to become water-resistant and so you can find sleeping bags with water-resistant down insulation.

If you choose to buy a down insulated sleeping bag, please make sure that the material used comes from traceable sources (ducks and geese that are not mistreated in the process). You may look for these two designations on the products: RDS (Responsible Down Standard) and TDS (Traceable Down Standard).

In the process of analyzing which down insulated sleeping bag to choose, you may come across the term “fill-power”. What does it mean, exactly? The higher the fill power, the more heat it will generate for its weight. It is a variable you want to consider especially for sleeping bags you want to use in harsh weather conditions.  More fill-power means also a more expensive product.

  • Synthetic: Best choice if you look for a non-allergenic option. It’s performing well in a humid environment, and it’s more affordable than the down insulation. However, your sleeping bag will be weighing a bit more than the down-insulated bags.

4. Types

There are several ways to analyze sleeping bag types. The two most relevant to me are the seasonal categories and the size categories if you consider who is going to use them:

  • Summer sleeping bags: Light and with good ventilation these sleeping bags are made for those summer nights you want to sleep under the stars.
  • Three seasons sleeping bags: These are suitable from late spring until early autumn. Their temperature range goes lower than the summer sleeping bags.
  • Winter sleeping bags: The sleeping bag you want to have with you if you fancy a camping winter adventure. The comfort temperature goes below 0 degrees Celsius.
  • Expedition sleeping bags: The most robust and technical sleeping bags, usually used in trekking expeditions (including 8000+ peaks).

Sleeping bags come in different sizes. It’s important to consider the sleeping bag’s dimensions because a smaller bag also translates into less weight. So be sure to check this in the specs before buying.

  • Adult and unisex sleeping bags – classical standard shaped sleeping bags. Those are wider in the shoulder area and narrower in the rest.
  • Women sleeping bags are made with the physical constitution of women in mind, and some have additional insulation in the chest and feet area. They are shorter than the adult/unisex ones, narrower at the shoulders and wider at the hips.
  • Kids sleeping bags – shorter and smaller than adult sleeping bags.

Sleeping bags accessories

If you want to go into more detail, here are some really cool sleeping bag  accessories that you may be interested in having on your trip:

  • Stuff sack – excellent for packing your sleeping bag while traveling so that it takes as little space as possible.
  • Sleeping bag liner – Using one of these not only it will help you keep your sleeping bag cleaner, as you can take it out and wash it separately, but it will add more comfort and even warmth to your sleeping experience. Depending on the materials used, liners can be soft and fresh when made of silk or provide additional warmth when made of merino wool. Between these two, there are different other models that perfectly fit every occasion and environment.

Tip: You can even use the liner as a sleeping bag if the weather is hot and humid, like in a tropical climate. 🙂

Compression sack

Compression sack

Sleeping bag liner

Sleeping bag liner

What other features to look for when choosing a sleeping bag?

You want to have in mind to check if your new sleeping bag has a right-hand zip or a left-hand zip. It can be quite annoying to have a zip on the wrong side. The right-hand zip is for left-handed people, while the left-hand zip is for right-handed people.

You may want to check out if the sleeping bag has additional pockets you could use for storage. Some are designed with a special pocket also for a pillow.

Sleeping bag hoods can prove very useful to keep warm and can be easily adjusted around your head.

Check out on the inside part of the zip if the sleeping bag has a draft tube. This one is made especially for keeping additional warmth and stop heat from getting out through the stitches. Just a general rule, remember that as many stitches you will find on your sleeping has, as more likely it is to lose heat through those stitches.  

view from mountain cabin
Photo source : Unsplash

For sure now you are ready to make an informed decision and know better which sleeping bag you could buy for your next trip. Keep in mind that sleeping bags are an excellent choice if you want to sleep in a tent, directly under the stars, or even in mountain refuges, huts, or places that you don’t think are very clean.

I believe a sleeping bag is a must in any traveler’s backpack, especially in actual pandemic conditions. I am going to buy a new one for myself too. So, did you decide which one you need? 🙂

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