How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag for Your Next Adventure

Everyone sleeps under the stars a little bit differently. Maybe you’re a car camping expert or perhaps you prefer to go light-and-fast in the alpine. It doesn’t really matter what it is you’re into, you’ll want a solid sleeping bag to keep you cozy and warm at night. So let’s dive into how to choose a sleeping bag for your next big adventure.

Think About Your Activity

The first step to choosing a sleeping bag is to consider what activities you like to do. Someone who goes bikepacking will need a different type of sleeping bag than the weekend-camper. In general, sleeping bags can be used in more than one application, but if you’re serious about a particular sport, you’ll want the right bag to match. For example, a heavy, double person car camping sleeping bag works well if you want to feel like you’re in bed at home, but it isn’t a great option for the thru-hiker. 

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re carrying your sleeping bag, you’ll want to consider its weight. Otherwise, the sky is the limit for you. You can always use a backpacking sleeping bag for car camping, but it might be more difficult to go the other way around. Consider buying a sleeping bag for the activity that’s the most demanding on your list of favorite outdoor adventures, then you can use your bag for multiple activities.

Choose a Comfortable Budget

Now that you know what you need your bag to do, choose an appropriate price point that works with your budget. You may want to do a little window shopping before setting a budget. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a budget for your sleeping bag:

  • Down sleeping bags cost more than synthetic sleeping bags, but they are typically warmer and lighter. 
  • Lightweight, warm sleeping bags will cost more than heavier bags.
  • Certain shaped bags, like mummy bags, will cost a bit more than their rectangular counterparts.
  • Ultra-warm, 4-season sleeping bags cost more than 3-season bags.

Synthetic Vs Down Sleeping Bags

Your budget will likely play an important role in determining if you can purchase a down sleeping bag. Down bags are far superior to their synthetic counterparts. They weigh less, compress more easily, are far more durable, and provide more warmth. If you’re backpacking in cooler climates, you’ll for sure want to invest in a down sleeping bag.

Just be sure to purchase a down bag with hydrophobic down. Once down gets wet, it isn’t super-useful, so be sure to protect your down sleeping bag while on the move and keep it high and dry. 

Car campers will love the price point of synthetic sleeping bags. They are a tad bit heavier and less backpacker-friendly, but they are far cheaper and don’t lose their insulative value when they get wet. 

Lastly, brands also tend to create sleeping bags differently. For example, EXPED and Kelty are well known for their cozy car camping sleeping bags, some of which are suitable for two people. While Rab and Mountain Hardwear are known for their down expedition sleeping bags. NEMO takes the cake for excellent ultra-lightweight sleeping bags.

Pick the Right Shape

There used to be only two choices when it came to choosing a sleeping bag, rectangular bags and mummy bags. Today there’s a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles to choose from. If you’re looking for maximum warmth, you’ll want a bag that hugs you and has the least amount of dead air. A mummy bag offers the most warmth.

If you toss and turn at night, then a rectangular bag might be a good option. However, keep in mind they are bulkier for backpacking. The semi-rectangular bags are a great in-between size. Your body size and shape and the type of sleeper you are plays a role too. We love that Big Agnes offers a variety of unique sleeping bag sizes and shapes for all kinds of sleepers. They even have an added insert for bigger campers.

Find a Cozy Temperature Rating

Before you buy a sleeping bag, be sure to understand the temperature ratings. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of guarantee when it comes to bag warmth. The ISO/EN testing is attempting to standardize sleeping bag ratings. There are two numbers, a low and a high number. The high number is the “comfort rating,” or the rating at which a cold sleeper will remain comfortable throughout the night. The second number is the “limit rating” or the number at which a “warm sleeper” will stay comfortable. Pretty subjective huh? 

A good rule of thumb is to select a bag that suits your comfort rating, based on if you’re a cold or warm sleeper. For example, if you run cold and you camp in just above freezing temperatures overnight, you’ll want a bag with a comfort rating in the mid 20s, just to be safe. Never buy a bag based on the limit rating, since you might find yourself in an extremely cold situation.

Select a Snug Size

Size your sleeping bag correctly by measuring your height. Next, choose a sleeping bag that fits your body. You want around six inches or so of room at the bottom of the bag. If you have more room, you’ll have a lot more dead space, which can keep you feeling cold. Many sleeping bags come in a regular and tall size, so size up if you need to.

Men’s vs. Women’s Sleeping Bags

Men’s and women’s sleeping bags are more alike than you think. Aside from a slight difference in cut, different colors, and sizing lengths, there isn’t a huge difference between men’s and women’s bags. One major difference (which varies from brand to brand) is the temperature rating. Women’s sleeping bags tend to have a lower temperature rating than men’s bags simply because women, in general, sleep colder than men.

However, don’t let the “sex” of a sleeping bag deter you from buying the bag that’s best for you. Men who sleep cold will love the added warmth of a women’s sleeping bag. On the flip side, taller women may want to purchase a regular-sized men’s bag to avoid paying extra for a longer bag. At the end of the day, it’s all about choosing the right bag for you, so don’t be shy to check out a variety of sleeping bags.

Additional Features and Accessories

There are a few other important features and add-ons to consider when choosing a sleeping bag:

  • How easily does it compress down?
  • What does it weigh for how warm it is?
  • Do you like how it zips?
  • Can you cinch down the hood for added warmth?
  • Are there baffles to protect the cold zipper from your skin?
  • Do you need an interior or exterior pocket for a phone or headlamp?
  • Does the sleeping bag come with a way to attach to the sleeping pad so you don’t slip off?

Choosing the right sleeping bag requires you to weigh all of the different factors that go into your ideal night’s sleep outside. Choose a bag that suits your activity, sleeping style, body type, camping conditions, and budget. You’ll get a fabulous night’s sleep with these sleeping bag tips on your next big adventure.

About the Gear Tester

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Meg Atteberry is a full-time freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Her mission is to empower others to get outside and have an adventure. She loves a sunny crag and delicious trail snacks. When she’s not wordsmithing you can find her hiking, climbing, and mountaineering all over the world with her fiancé and adventure pup, Nina. To learn more about Meg, check out her blog Fox in the Forest. She’d rather be dirty than done up.

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