Choosing the right sleeping bag for your trip is arguably one of the hardest decisions to make for any globetrotting journey. With so many different choices out there, and all the technical jargon used by the retailers, it easily turns your anticipation for the big trip into a headache. To help ease the strain of finding the right bag, take a look at some of the tips and explanations below.
The type of insulation used will mark the largest difference between the bags. Down feather insulation tends to be more lightweight, compactable and warmer than the other insulation, synthetic, however it does have its drawbacks. If down gets wet, it will provide zero insulation whatsoever, requires more care and tends to be more expensive than synthetic filling. It is also worth remembering that you can get different qualities of down, with European goose down generally being better quality than other options. Synthetic insulation on the other hand tends to be heavier than down, not as compactable, and generally isn’t as warm. On the other hand synthetic insulation is cheaper than down feathers, requires less care and maintenance, and will still provide the user with some warmth if it gets wet.
If choosing a down sleeping bag it is important to remember that they require much more maintenance than synthetic bags. Whilst synthetic bags can be compacted within their bags and left in the corner until your next trip, down sleeping bags cannot be left compacted for long periods of time, otherwise the feathers will bunch. If this happens, the sleeping bag will have cold pockets throughout the length of the bag, making you less warm. Instead, down bags need to be hung in a wardrobe, or at the very least, packed away in a larger bag that doesn’t constricted the baffle construction.
In addition to the extra maintenance, down bags take a long time to clean and dry and require a fastidious adherence to the washing instructions. If you don’t have the time or patience and your sleeping bag is becoming a health hazard, for a small fee you can send it to a specialist for cleaning instead. Otherwise the best way to delay the cleaning process is to use a sleeping bag liner; this will keep your bag cleaner for longer, and also offer additional warmth.
On every sleeping bag there will be several temperature numbers on them that should help you find which bag best suits your needs. Generally the three temperatures will denote the comfort temperature, the comfort limit temperature, and the extreme temperature. The comfort temperature is the temperature you will start to feel too warm in the bag, the comfort limit is the temperature you will feel comfortable, and the extreme temperature is the rating which, when caught in an emergency situation, the sleeping bag will keep you alive. These temperature gauges are generally unisex ratings, however it is generally accepted that women feel the cold greater than men and as a result some companies also put separate temperature ratings for women as well.
Sleeping bags are usually graded from one to four seasons, with one being solely for summer use and four for winter camping and mountaineering. Most sleeping bags come in a unisex design, however more and more companies are providing the market with women specific sleeping bags. These bags tend to be shorter in height than the others, and wider around the hip area to accommodate women’s’ body shapes. If you are quite petite in size or have wide hips, then this might be an option to consider when buying your sleeping bag. Otherwise, a unisex bag will suit you just fine.
Before shopping for a sleeping bag, research the weather and temperature range of when and where you are going. Most travel companies provide average temperatures and weather descriptions for all their trips, and if you’re going independently, then a simple internet search will give you an idea. This will help you find the sleeping bag with the right temperature range for your trip.
Find out how much weight you can bring with you, whether you can leave your stuff in one place or whether porters will carry it, and what kind of weather you will face once there. All these factors will affect your decision on purchasing a sleeping bag. I recently had a customer at my workplace who booked a trip to Nepal and came in demanding a sleeping bag, but had no idea which region she was going to, where she would be staying, what the weather would be like, and whether she had any porters to carry her items. As a result she nearly walked away with a one season synthetic sleeping bag when she really needed a three season down bag instead. If in doubt, ask a sales assistant for advice, and buy a sleeping bag from a store rather than the internet, so you know what you’re getting.
Generally, if you plan on hiking around a wet, cold country like England from the spring to autumn season, you will want a good quality synthetic sleeping bag. However, if you’re planning a more ambitious trip, like trekking around the Himalayas, then a three season down bag will do the job. As for those tricky tropical climes where a sleeping bag will make you feel sticky and suffocating from the heat, a cheap one season summer sleeping bag made from synthetic insulation will be more than enough. And for those that want a bag for hostel-hopping around Europe or other city destinations, either a down or synthetic insulated two season sleeping bag will be fine.
After deciding what type of sleeping bag you need, the next thing to consider is additional details you might want in a bag. For instance, some come with an inner security pocket to hide your valuables, others are constructed using a rip stop fabric, baffle stitching, and some have a waterproof coating applied to the top of the bag. Spend some time thinking about features might help make your trip more enjoyable, and research the market to see the full range of features on bags.