How to Choose a Backpacking Sleeping Bag

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These past 2 years, it hasn’t been the best time to take a vacation. A holiday should not be a luxury, it’s a necessity, now more than ever. In contrast, splurging on room service might sound wonderful but why empty those post-pandemic funds even more? With many COVID-19 restrictions loosening up, the time has come to execute that getaway you’ve been planning for months. There is nothing more unique, adventurous and cheap than going off the rails with your backpack and finding your own path and pitstops. No reservations. No deposits. Just you, and your backpacking essentials.

Every detail is checked, from the hiking trails to the energy-boosting protein bars that will give you the right boost along the way but you’re still struggling with an essential question: How to choose the right sleeping bag?

Well, consider this: Where are you going? Is it alpine environments, backcountry or by the beach? The nature of your trip will determine which type of sleeping bag is best for you. Nonetheless, there are some sleeping bag features that are a must, regardless of where you may be going.

Lightweight

Even in your prime, carrying a lighter backpack is a better option. Your knees and back will thank you eventually. The weight of a sleeping bag depends on its insulation (what fills it) and its shape (how it’s cut). For instance, a backpacking sleeping bag with down insulation would be a better choice if you’re looking to reduce your backpack’s weight.

Lightweight-backpacking-sleeping-bag
Source: switchbacktravel.com/

Moreover, the down-proof insulation matters as well. You can buy sleeping bags with a super smooth down-proof nylon that has threads with only 7 deniers (units of fibre thickness measurement) and weighs 21 grams per square meter. Furthermore, a sleeping bag can have 3 shapes: rectangular, semi-rectangular and a mummy shape. Rectangular sleeping bags give you more room while you sleep. On the other hand, mummy-shaped ones are more compact and fit your body in an economical fashion.

To conclude, a down mummy shape backpacking sleeping bag would be the lightest variant out there.

Temperature Rating

The first thing you should answer is: Are you a cold or a warm sleeper? Based on international standards, “comfort” rating (the lowest temperature at which a cold sleeper or a woman would feel comfortable) and “limit” rating (the lowest temperature at which a cold sleeper or a man would be comfortable) have been coined as terms.

Despite the international standards, some companies give their brand’s estimate (the terms “comfort” or “limit” will be left out from the description), also based on multiple characteristics which make up the insulating capacities of the sleeping bag, such as type of insulation material and shape as mentioned above.

It’s highly advisable you start browsing for sleeping bags online if you’re going to higher altitudes and the bag you own is a synthetic one, no matter the tag “2 seasons” on it. There’s nothing worse than shivering yourself to sleep. However, it’s been recommended to go with a slightly lower temperature rating than what you think you need.

Temperature-Rating
Source: campinggoal.com/

Compact Packed Size

Down sleeping bags are more compressible hence you can surely fit them in your backpack instead of feeling like you’re carrying two. The world’s lightest full size down sleeping bag weighs only 300g and packs to a size hardly more than a 1L bottle.

Make sure your sleeping bag comes with a stuff sack or a large storage sack. Moreover, there are some bags that can be additionally compressed with a compression sack. A compression sack has a mechanical advantage due to its compression straps. Suitable for bushwalking, travel or cycle touring, it can be a great addition to your gear essentials, as it can make many of them fit easily and make room for more.

Compression sacks are also made out of lightweight, durable and water-resistant materials.

Insulation

There are 2 basic types of sleeping bag insulation: synthetic and down insulation.

Contrary to popular belief, down is not the feathers from ducks and geese but a collection of the soft filaments found underneath their feathers. Its insulating effects are due to air trapping. Being light, easily compressible and durable makes it the perfect choice for a backpacking trip.

Due to the inhumane treatment of ducks and geese in the past, RDS (Responsible Down Standard) and TDS (global Traceable Down Standard) have been set up, to ensure that the product has not been acquired through live-plucking, the birds were not subject to force-feeding and that their health and welfare were a priority.

On the other hand, outdoor sleeping bags can still insulate when wet and are much cheaper so it might be the best sleeping bag for camping in damp and humid climates or if your backpacking trip takes you to the beach. The lightness of your summer clothes could compensate for the weight of the synthetic sleeping bag, exceeding down sleeping bags by much more than a few grams.

Bag construction and design features (draft tubes, neck collars) and the use of auxiliary products (pads, bag liners) which help make out the sleep bag system also contribute to insulation properties.

Water Resistance

Every backpacking sleeping bag has its shell, an outer layer for extra protection which is usually made out of nylon or polyester. However, these protect you mostly from wind and disappointingly they are water-resistant to a certain degree but they are definitely not waterproof.

Remember, down can’t keep you warm when it’s wet. Before you invest in future backpacking trips and buy sleeping bags for sale, make sure you check the composition of their shells. A great choice would be fabrics treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish which prevents moisture and dampening.

water-resistance-sleeping-bag
Source: frequenttraveller.com.au/

In addition, the ultra-light durable water-resistant coating Hydronaute XT-R is a 100% recycled nylon fabric made from pre-consumer industrial waste which not only prevents moisture from entering the “core” of your sleep bag but also traps warmth, contributing to the insulation. There are also sleeping bags online that have hydrophobic down, sewn with hydrophobic threads that protect the seams of the shell.