Even though everything in nature is simple, preparing for an outdoor activity is not. There are a billion things to sort out before embarking on a nature adventure, one of which is the gear. Firstly, you must understand the importance of the quality of your outdoor gear. The quality of your gear is your shield against all dangers that nature poses. Safety should always come first when picking and choosing your gear.
If you want to be in nature, you must be prepared to live by its rules. And its rules are harsh most of the time, especially when people are used to the comforts of everyday modern life. This doesn’t mean that you won’t experience comfort while in nature. It means you should be well prepared to make the most out of it.
You should also be aware that you will carry all the equipment with you all the way. So, you want to make sure that all the items are lightweight, practical, reusable, and easy to assemble and maintain.
When it comes to choosing the proper camping and backpacking sleeping bags, opt for the type that will bring you the most comfort after all-day hiking or biking trips. You also want it to be easy to carry and for it to not be a burden on your activities. Choosing the perfect sleeping bag for you is perhaps one of the most important decisions when you are assembling your outdoor gear. Here are a couple of facts that will guide you to the right decision.
Types of Sleeping Bags
The ultimate deciding factor when purchasing a sleeping bag is the insulating fill – so the two options available are down-filled or synthetic sleeping bags. The fill is important for its insulating properties. The main function of the insulation is to trap the heat that exits your body, in a layer of air around you. Because air is a poor conductor of heat but an amazing insulator, the loftier the insulation the higher the warm-to-weight ratio. Both down and synthetic insulation can achieve this, but they are some crucial pros and cons to consider when thinking about purchasing either one of them.
Down Filled Sleeping Bags
Down-filled sleeping bags are made of down. Down represents the plumage found under the feathers right next to the goose or duck’s skin. It is very light and one of nature’s best insulators. An individual plume has a 3D-like structure and creates pockets of air that will literally entrap the heat and keep you warm.
When it comes to its pros, down has quite a few. Starting with its durability, a down-filled sleeping bag will probably last you at least 10 years, which makes the purchase of it a great investment. It has one advantage over synthetic insulation and that is the fact that down is incredibly compressible. It’s also very light and a great choice if you seek comfort above all.
But there are also a couple of cons. A down-filled sleeping bag isn’t the most ethical choice. It’s a byproduct of the food industry and if you are morally opposed to using animal products in any way, stay far away from down. It is also very important to mention that all the insulation properties are gone once some water comes in contact with down. This makes it a less smart choice for the more adventurous nature explorers, who don’t really mind the weather and the conditions.
Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Even though different companies have their own proprietary fill, the insulation in the synthetic sleeping bag mainly comes from short-staple fibers and long continuous filaments. The short-staple fibers are used to replace the properties of the 3D plume structure used in down. And the long continues filaments are used to achieve durable and high-loft insulation.
That being said, synthetic sleeping bags are the less expensive option due to the fact that the price of down keeps going up(people eat less fowl nowadays). It’s also a better option if you are searching for non-allergenic components in your gear. The synthetic bag has another great quality to it – it gets warmer when wet. And it also drys way faster than down. Synthetic sleeping bags are easier to take care of than other materials, making them the perfect option for any and all weather conditions.
The only downside to owning a synthetic sleeping bag is its compressibility i.e. it doesn’t compress as well as down. Some companies today find ways to close this gap, by inventing synthetic designs that compress better. These advanced synthetic sleeping bags are professionally made for backpacking, camping, hiking, and biking.
Sleeping Bag Shapes
If you are a beginner in any kind of outdoor activity, you are probably wondering why the shape of the sleeping bag is so important. Each of the main eight shapes offers something different. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages of each shape, depending on the activity, the conditions, your body shape, and your sleeping style.
- Rectangular sleeping bags – most shifting room, less restrictive, less conductive to claustrophobia, more comfortable for side-sleepers. On the other hand, they are one of the heaviest options with a fairly poor warmth-to-weight ratio. Good for warm-weather camping.
- Semi-rectangular sleeping bags – provide more warmth than rectangular ones due to the less room. A perfect option for those who are opposed to a mummy-style sleeping bag.
- Mummy-style sleeping bags – by far the most popular sleeping bag shape. They offer an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. Although restrictive, exceptional for 3-season and 4-season conditions.
- Double sleeping bags – ideal for camping trips with loved ones. Some of them even come with an option to convert into two separate single sleeping bags. Not recommended for colder conditions.
- Quilts – a substitute for mummy-style sleeping bags. Lighter, more packable, more versatile, more comfortable, and more affordable than mummy-style sleeping bags. Quilts are sleeping bags without an underside, providing more room and freedom to move but not the safest bet when it comes to colder conditions.
- Elephant’s foot sleeping bag – aka half bags. Designed to be used in a combination with an insulating mid-layer or a jacket since they lack the hood and the shoulders of a traditional sleeping bag design. Nonetheless, it is the lightest sleeping bag system without compromising on warmth.
- Zipless sleeping bags – one of the lightest to carry, but also one of the less safest ones. Meaning it doesn’t take much to slip out of it in the middle of the night and be exposed to the cold. That being said, it is one of the more comfortable options out there.
- Woman’s sleeping bag – due to the fact that women are biologically predisposed to be “cold sleepers” this type of bag offers more insulating fabric than others. Also, it is anatomically optimized for the female form.
All sleeping bags come with a temperature rating. Although the temperature ratings are based on an “average sleeper” they can still help you to make the best choice for you. You always want to purchase a sleeping bag with a lower temperature rating than the lowest nighttime temperature of the coldest place you ever plan to visit.
For example, if you are camping in the summertime you will probably want to get a sleeping bag marked “Summer season” with a temperature rating of +30°F and higher. Whereas “3 seasons” sleeping bags are with a temperature rating of 15 to 30°F and “Winter season” bags are with a temperature rating of lower than 15°F.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag by Activity
As stated above, not all sleeping bags are for all types of activities and conditions. For example, if you are backpacking your main concern will be the weight of the bag. That’s why a synthetic sleeping bag would be a better option for that activity i.e. it weighs less than a down sleeping bag. But if you’re going camping, and you don’t have to carry the bag on your shoulders for a whole day – then you can choose the down-filled sleeping bag.
But if you want a sleeping bag that will satisfy your needs for different types of activities, then that is a more complex decision and you need to consider more details about the bag. Another contributing factor to this equation is the weather. Is the activity done in the summer months or in the winter months? Is there a chance of rain during that activity? The answers to these questions should make a difference in your choice. If you are in need of warmth because you’re embarking on a winter expedition then the down-filled sleeping bag is your next best friend. If you’re cycling or you decide to try out rock climbing while on your backpacking trip – go for the synthetic sleeping bag.
Have in mind that there isn’t any rule book on this and there are no right or wrong answers. You have to closely examine your priorities and weigh the advantages and the disadvantages of each characteristic of the sleeping bag you want to purchase.