Helping You Find the Right Gear for Your Adventure
You’ve been on the trail all day, and have another long day planned for tomorrow. After refueling with a good meal, quality rest is key, and your camp bedding is critical. Sleeping bags and pads work in tandem to ensure your overnight comfort. Remember that sleeping bag temperature ratings assume you are inside a tent with a sleeping pad underneath the bag. Many folks underestimate the importance of the pad in that equation, so put some thought into the pad as well as the bag.
Sleeping bags vary in insulation type, shape, and temperature rating. Down-filled bags are light and lofty, packing the most insulation into the least weight. Synthetic insulations are naturally water-resistant, for a little more weight and bulk. Some folks recommend synthetics for beginners as an introductory bag that, in the event a water bottle spills in the tent, will still insulate. Down bags, on the other hand, are now available in water-resistant down; they tend to outlast their synthetic siblings, making them a frequent recommendation for more experienced backpackers seeking ultralight comfort. Regarding shape, mummy shaped bags weigh the least, rectangular bags offer the most room, and semi-rectangular bags offer a compromise between the two.
There is nothing more enjoyable than sleeping under the stars in the summertime, but temperatures still drop at night, so pick a bag rated for the temperatures you will most likely encounter. For camping in the middle summer months, we recommend a 40-degree bag. On the hottest nights, you can fall asleep on top of the bag, and climb inside when the air cools. When your camping season extends beyond the warmest month and into Spring and Fall, we recommend a 15 or 20 degree bag to extend your overnight comfort when you wake to morning dew or frost.
Folks who become efficient campers in the Spring and Fall seasons may challenge themselves to camp when the ponds freeze and the snow falls. There is no such thing as a 4-season sleeping bag, so be prepared with a true winter bag, rated below (perhaps well below) 15 degrees. Winter bags are mummy shaped for maximum insulation, often with neck gaskets for minimal heat loss as you move inside the bag. If you will be out for many overnights in freezing temperatures, you may benefit from a longer bag, so you can place hot water bottles, boots and other items inside the bag with you to protect them from freezing.
Remember the temperature rating of your bag includes using sleeping pad underneath. The ground rarely gets warmer than 50 degrees, which is half of your body temperature and without a pad, a lot of body heat would be lost into the ground. A sleeping pad forms an insulating layer between you and the ground so less heat escapes your body through the bottom of the bag. Pads come in a range of thicknesses and insulating capabilities, from ultra plush camp beds to minimalist foam mats, with some highly efficient insulators that pack very small separating the two extremes. Most folks find the middle of the range adequate. Rule of thumb: go as thick and comfortable as you are willing to carry on your longest trip.