Buying guide: sleeping bags

Finding the right sleeping bag depends on many different factors, including when you’re planning to camp and what style of overnight adventure you choose. Here’s all you need to know to make a well-informed decision.

Man shaking out sleeping bag with tent and sky in the mountains

by Trail magazine |

If you're sleeping out int he hills then you'll need some specific kit to help keep you warm and comfortable. Chief amongst that gear is a good sleeping bag.

There's actually quite a lot of variation for something which is essentially a human-sized sock, from the shape of the bag, to the thickness and insulation, not to mention the variety of zips, pull-cords, and odd things called 'baffles'.

Are you baffled? Don't be - it's really not too complicated and this guide will help unveil the mysteries and ensure you get a good night's sleep.

What time of year are you camping?

Sleeping bags tend to be broken into three categories: summer, 3-season and winter. All three types are pretty self-explanatory, with summer bags lighter and less insulated; 3-season bags slightly thicker to keep you warm through spring, summer and autumn; and winter bags bigger and bulkier to cope with serious sub-zero mountain conditions.

Temperature ratings explained

All sleeping bags have temperature ratings, which indicate the minimum or maximum temperature at which the bag will keep you comfortable. The common stat you’ll see is the lower comfort limit (eg -5°C), which shows the lowest air temperature that the bag is designed to handle. Only use these figures as a rough guide though, because there is no universal testing method for it, and every person deals with cold differently.

Woman with sleeping bag and tent in the mountains

What type of insulation do you want?

This really comes down to a simple choice between down or synthetic. Here are the pros and cons of both...

■ Down insulation: Made from goose or duck plumage – the lofty, fluffy stuff underneath the feathers – down is the lightest and most efficient form of insulation, and also the most compressible (so is great for stuffing into your backpack). The drawbacks are that down is more expensive and loses its insulating qualities when wet.

■ Synthetic insulation: Synthetic bags are typically bulkier and heavier, but they’re also usually cheaper and don’t absorb water, which makes them a good choice for the wet conditions usually found in Britain.

Always check the packed size

If your camping is limited to campsites then the packed size of your bag isn’t crucial, but if you’re sleeping wild then it’s a big deal. Most websites will list the packed size of their sleeping bags, but it’s even better to head into a gear shop and check them out for yourself. You should get a compressible stuffsack with your sleeping bag that allows you to pack it down small, plus a larger storage sack to let it loft and breathe at home.

Construction is key

The better the construction method of your sleeping bag, the less opportunity there will be for the insulation to migrate and leave cold spots. Down bags use internal fabric baffles (dividing walls between the insulation) of various shapes and sizes to trap the down where it is needed most. Larger baffles give more space for insulation to loft, smaller baffles help stop the fill from spreading out. Synthetic bags are usually made from one or two layers of insulation attached to the inner and outer materials.

Key features to consider

Zips: A full-length zip allows you to vent heat and makes getting in and out easier, though a shorter zip saves weight.

Fabric: Shells and linings are usually made from nylon, though cheaper bags use polyester.

■ Cut: Most sleeping bags are available in different lengths or widths, as well as women’s specific fit.

■ Shoulder baffle: An extra neck or shoulder baffle helps to lock heat inside the bag.

■ Hood: An insulated and close-fitting hood makes a big difference in cold conditions. Look for a sleeping bag with hood drawcords so you can adjust the fit.

■ Fill power: The warmth of down depends on the ‘fill power’, with ratings ranging from about 600 to 900. The higher the number, the warmer the bag will be.

Woman in sleeping bag in a shop with assistant

LFTO's top sleeping bags:

Therm-a-rest Hyperion 20F/-6C

Best 3-season sleeping bag
Therm-a-rest Hyperion 20F/-6C

View offer

Verdict: "An excellent mummy-style sleeping bag for wild camping and backpacking, delivered at a superb weight."

Trail magazine Gear of the Year awards

Sierra Designs Cloud 800 20u00b0

Editoru2019s Choice
Sierra Designs Cloud 800 20u00b0

View offer

Verdict: u201cA versatile, warm and extremely comfy bag with an innovative design u2013 but the quilt-like approach wonu2019t suit everyone.u201d

Robens Icefall Pro 900

Best Value
Robens Icefall Pro 900

View offer

Verdict: u201cFor beginner campers or price-conscious experts, this is an affordable, high-performing choice.u201d

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