How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Traveling

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Depending on how you’re planning to travel, a sleeping bag can become an essential piece of gear.

Getting the right sleeping bag is crucial, as after a long day traveling there’s nothing worse than trying to get to sleep in a cold, uncomfortable sleeping bag.

The following steps will provide you with a guide for buying the right sleeping bag for you (depending on your requirements).

Small, Light, Warm and Cheap
Sleeping bagWhen buying a sleeping bag for traveling, you will essentially be looking at the weight of the bag, the amount of warmth it offers, how large and bulky it is and how much it costs.

Obviously the ideal sleeping bag will be one that’s small and light yet warm and cheap to buy.

Unfortunately, finding a sleeping bag that is small, light, warm and cheap can be tricky, as bags that are small, light and warm are often made from high-end materials and as a result are expensive.

Conversely, sleeping bags that are small, light and cheap probably won’t be very warm to sleep in, so you might have to find a compromise somewhere.

1) Temperature

Large iciclesIt doesn’t matter how light your sleeping bag is or how cheap it was to buy, it’s worthless if it doesn’t keep you warm and comfortable throughout the night.

Because of this, you need to choose a sleeping bag based on the temperatures that you’re anticipating during your trip.

Most sleeping bag manufacturers stick to the ‘European Norm 13537’ (EN) standards, meaning it’s easy to compare EN temperature ratings across different brands.

There are 4 different EN temperature ratings, and each rating assumes that you’ll be wearing one layer of clothing (including a hat) and that you’ll be using a sleeping pad (i.e. a ‘comfy mat’) underneath your sleeping bag for insulation.

Here are the 4 EN temperature ratings:

  • Upper Limit — the recommended rating for the average man. For temperatures of 35 degrees Fahrenheit and above.
  • Comfort — the recommended rating for the average woman. For temperatures ranging between 35 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Lower Limit — for cold weather and for temperatures ranging between 10 degrees Fahrenheit and minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Extreme — for extreme winter temperatures below minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s a good idea to choose a sleeping bag that’s able to handle temperatures slightly LOWER than the ones you’ll be expecting (as you might arrive at a particularly cold time).

2) Insulation

Once you’ve determined what kind of temperatures you’ll be sleeping in, you can start to think about insulation.

The two main types of sleeping bag insulation are ‘synthetic’ and ‘down’.

Down is a light material that is very durable and breathable and tends to be more expensive than synthetic insulation.

Synthetic is heavier than down, but is cheaper and is better suited to wet conditions (as it’s still effective when wet – unlike down).

3) Size & Shape

A lot of sleeping bags are designed specifically for either men or for women (with women’s sleeping bags typically being smaller than men’s and being wider in the hip area).

The sizes of different sleeping bags are generally designed based on height, and should be bought accordingly.

Men’s sleeping bags usually come in 3 sizes (short, regular and tall) whereas women’s usually only come in two sizes (short and regular).

Most people don’t realize that there are several different shapes of sleeping bag. As well as there being ‘mummy bags’ (i.e. with hoods) and ‘regular’ sleeping bags, some sleeping bags are narrower around the shoulders and the hips in a bid to increased warmth (and to decrease weight), whereas some are wider in those areas.

The problem with this is that if you have a sleeping bag that’s too small for you it’ll be uncomfortable and restricting, and if you have one that’s too big you’ll lose unnecessary warmth, so it’s important to consider the sizes before buying.

4) Additional Feature to Look for

If you’re going traveling, make sure your sleeping bag has a waterproof outer shell (i.e. bags that have been treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. This is crucial, as a wet sleeping bag is no good to anyone.

Night skyHaving a hood on your sleeping bag is very handy in colder conditions, but can be a bit of an annoyance when it’s warmer (as it’ll get too hot).

If you do go for a sleeping bag with a hood, make sure the hood has drawstrings on it so you can tighten it around your head and limit heat loss.

Lastly, if you’re going to be sleeping out in cold conditions, one further way to prevent heat loss is to get a sleeping bag with a built-in draft tube (which rubs along the length of the zip and prevents heat from escaping).

5) Price

Obviously the amount you can afford to spend depends entirely on your budget and how often you’ll use it (as it’s worth spending a bit more on a sleeping bag you’ll use a lot).

Depending on the type, the price of a sleeping bag can range anywhere from £8 to £500.

6) Weight

After taking all of these considerations into account, find the lightest sleeping bag available (that fits in with your budget).

As a guideline, look for sleeping bags under 4-5 pounds in weight.

So there you have it! By determining the temperatures you’ll be sleeping in, the kind of insulation you want, what size and shape you require, how much you have to spend and what additional features you’d like, you should now have a strong idea of what to look for when buying a sleeping bag.

Related posts:

  1. A Guide to Sleeping in Airports
  2. How to Travel With Only a Carry-On Sized Bag

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