Should sleeping bags be made of down or synthetic? What sleeping bag is best for camping, hiking or backpacking? A guide to make your decision easier.
First off it should at least be rated for the lowest possible temperature you’ll encounter. You may want to even go a little lower just to be on the safe side.
Obviously the main purpose is to hold your body heat in to insulate you from the cooler air. So the better the insulation holds your body heat in the warmer and more comfortable you’re going to be.
Insulation Down The Filamentous And Fluffy Layer Underneath The Feathers.
Positives: All being equal down is warmer, lighter, more comfortable, compresses smaller, and can last a lifetime if cared for properly. Goose down is the standard others are compared to. The more it lofts the better it insulates. This is known as fill-power, the higher the number the better it retains heat.
Negatives: Down looses most all of it’s insulating properties when wet, takes a long time to dry outdoors, is more expensive short-term, and may require professional cleaning.
These are usually hollow plastic threads that serve to trap warm air.
Positives: Synthetic sleeping bags retain heat better when wet, costs less short-term when compared to the same temperature rating as down, drys quicker than down, and is hypo-allergenic. It’s usually well-suited for recreational use, but consider your own individual needs.
Negatives: They’re bulkier, heavier, less conforming, and can lose their insulating properties after a few seasons of hard use because of breakdown.
More expensive long-term.
Child’s/Kid Sleeping Bags
A kid has a harder time staying warm than an adult, so keep this in mind when you’re getting them a sleeping bag. A cool summer night can chill a child quickly so consider a Kids’ Bag/mummy bag like the Tigger by North Face to keep them warm and cozy. (Most of the links on this page will take you to Back Country as they’re one of the stores that I recommend the most, their customer service and guarantee are top notch).
Provides more warmth for cold conditions and is more compact/lighter when packed. The narrow cut and insulated hood means less air for your body to heat. This bag is wide at the shoulders and narrows down to the feet. The drawback is it restricts movement. That said the Marmot Sawtooth sleeping bag is a good light 3-season 15 Degree down bag ideal for backpacking.
These sleeping bags are ideal for campground camping because they give you more room to move around in. They’re not suited for the winter due to the larger area you have to heat and the open top design. This is the best design for double sleeping bags, usually you can just zip two of the same kind together. Not for weight conscious backpacking and hiking gear enthusiasts.
A combination of the mummy and rectangular sleeping bags this hybrid splits the middle between room to move and warmth.
The “comfort rating” is the minimum temperature that a sleeping bag is designed for. Of course this is just an approximation as people tolerate temperature differently. If in doubt go for more warmth, it’s easier to open the zipper to cool off than it is to try to sleep while you’re shivering. Remember tents can increase the temperature up to ten degrees to effectively reduce the amount of warmth you’ll need.
Do you sleep in warm clothing? Are you “warm-blooded”? Your level of physical fitness and how well you take care of yourself also come into play. Keep in mind women usually like more warmth. When in doubt always err toward warmth especially if you camp during the late fall, winter, and early spring.
Comfort ratings only reflect how well each particular sleeping bag retains your body heat. The better the insulation the higher the warmth. Most recreational campers, hikers, and backpackers should be fine with a 3-season rated down to +20 F. Those looking for 4-season comfort should have at least two different choices for warmer and extremely cold weather.
Good summer bags like The The North Face Kilo (down) are rated down to +30-35 F, where 3-season bags are rated down to +20 F, and Cold/Extreme +10 F and below.
Liners can be added to add a measurable degree of warmth (usually 5+ degrees F) for cool weather.
Make sure to consider your height when selecting your sleeping bag. The specifications should state what the maximum user height is.
These sleeping bags are cut especially for a women’s body. They also provide more insulation to make women, who are usually “colder sleepers”, more comfortable.
Features to Look For
Darker colors inside and out absorb more light and therefore more heat if you need to dry them in the sun. Draft tubes or wedges help to keep cold air from seeping in at the zipper.
Better bags have outer shells made of ripstop nylon and linings made of nylon taffeta or nylon.
Weight and Compressibility
These aren’t too much of a concern unless you’re shouldering a pack. In this case obviously the lighter and smaller you can compress the sleeping bag the better. Most 3-season bags weigh between 2-7 pounds and some summer lightweights are under 2 pounds. Again goose down offers the lightest weight and best compressibility.
Sleeping Pads & Mattresses
A good pad or inflatable mattress is important because it will protect and insulate you from the cold hard ground. Without it the cold will go right through the compressed insulation to make you cold and stiff. During the summer a partial pad may be enough if you’re concerned about weight, but during cool weather you’ll want a full pad and for freezing temperatures consider two full pads.
For camping I recommend an air mattress, it’s definitely worth the money. I couldn’t believe the difference it made over a sleeping pad. If you like pads though get a sleeping bag with a pad sleeve on the bottom like the summer weight Big Agnes Cross Mountain (synthetic), a good bag although it’s only rated to +40 F. Back Country (55 to 30 Degree Synthetic Bags). has the new version I’m not as familiar with, but it should be an upgrade. It’s nice because you won’t roll off of it and it takes the place of the bottom insulation that would otherwise compress from body weight and get cold anyway.
Sleeping bags are a very important piece of equipment used for hiking and camping. Down is the best insulation for sleeping bags until you get wet. If your tent leaks or you sleep outside then down will make you miserable when you get wet. Otherwise goose down’s warmth, light weight, and lifetime durability make it a great choice if you take care of your gear.
Synthetics can be good for adult beginners because of their low short-term expense, ability to retain more heat when wet, and quicker drying capabilities.
Plan on investing $100+ in good summer or 3-season sleeping bags. If you’re going on a long trip and want warmth, light weight, compressibility, and durability it’s going to be more.