How To Choose The Perfect Sleeping Bag

After a long day of hiking, the last thing you’d want to do is to toss and turn in your sleep. Catching some Z’s can make or break a camping trip, so investing in a high-quality sleep system is a must.

Sleeping bags are the focal point of every camping sleep system. These comfy cocoons help cushion your body from the hard ground and help you stay warm during the night. They are an indispensable part of any outdoor trip, especially if you’re camping during the winter, when the nights are long and temperatures can plummet to the negatives. Choosing one that fits your needs is undeniably crucial, but it can also get tricky.

Here are some important things to consider when choosing a sleeping bag.

Things To Consider When Choosing A Sleeping Bag

When And Where Are You Using It?

Not all sleeping bags are created equal, nor are they made for all seasons and climates. So the first question you should ask is: when and where am I going to use this bag?

First off, you should take note of the area’s climate and the expected weather during your trip. Know the lowest possible dip in the temperature so you can select the bag with the correct temperature rating. The time of year is also a major consideration, as bags are often classified based on the season (there are summer bags, winter bags, and two-season bags— but more on that later).

Kind of Insulating Material


Sleeping bags work by trapping air and preventing them from circulating. Once trapped, the heat from your body warms this non-circulating air, forming a barrier of warmth between your body and the much colder environment outside the bag. Sleeping bags achieve this effect by using an insulating material, usually made from either down or synthetic components.

Down Insulation

Down has traditionally been used to insulate sleeping bags. They are light, warm and are quite easy to pack. On the flip side, traditional down insulation doesn’t do well in wet conditions.  They don’t dry easily and are likely to absorb moisture from the environment and from your body, which lessens their insulating capability. To remedy this, several bag manufacturers have been treating their down with unique processes (hydrophobic down) to make it more water-resistant.

Duck down is arguably the cheapest and most commonly used insulating material out there. Goose down is also available but is rarer and more and expensive.

Synthetic Insulation

Polyester is the go-to material for synthetic insulation. Synthetic materials don’t compress as well as down and can be much heavier. They are, however, cheaper and are more resistant to moisture compared to down. It dries quickly and can still insulate even when wet, so when you’re expecting to camp out in damp weather, you might want to go for the synthetic variety.

Type of Sleeping Bag

The size and shape of your bag are important for comfort and warmth. A too-big sleeping bag will not be as effective as trapping and warming air. Get something too small and you’ll feel constricted. That being said, you gotta find something that fits just right.

Sleeping bags can be classified as rectangular, semi-rectangular or mummy.

  • Rectangular sleeping bags – as the name suggests, these bags are rectangular in shape and are built for room and comfort. If you like some ample wiggle room and don’t mind losing a bit of heat in the process, a rectangle bag is for you.
  • Mummy sleeping bags – Mummy bags fit more snugly. As a result, they are warmer but don’t offer a lot of space for you to move around. Because they have lesser bulk than rectangle sleeping bags, they are much lighter and are the usual choice for ultra-lightweight backpackers.
  • Semi-rectangular sleeping bags – these are the middle ground between the rectangle and the mummy type bags. Like mummy bags, they are tapered towards the bottom but are roomier around the shoulder. If you want the best of both worlds, these are the bags for you.

Temperature Ratings

Like what we mentioned earlier, a sleeping bag’s temperature rating is a big selection factor. Temperature ratings help you determine “how warm” the bag is by indicating the lowest temperature the bag can handle. Summer bags usually have a temperature rating of +35 F and higher, while winter bags can usually handle temps +10 F and lower. Anything in between is considered a “3-season bag”.

Then again, temperature ratings can vary from one manufacturer to another. Your own metabolism can even affect the bag’s warmth, depending if you’re a hot or cold sleeper, so it’s always best to test these bags first before purchasing them. You don’t want to end up with a sleeping bag that’s too warm. If you sweat inside the bag, it’s only going to make you colder through evaporation, so you have to pick one that’s just right.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right sleeping bag is crucial for a comfy night outdoors. You might want to prioritize price point over weight savings or vice versa or prefer synthetic over down. Whichever bag you choose, the important thing is that you stay warm and comfy at the end of the day.

Any important points we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted in  Tactical Gear   on  March 23, 2018 by  Daniel Preissman0


Subscribe to the Tactical.com Newsletter and get more awesome content like this.

About the author

Dan is a recently retired DoD engineer. His passions include kayaking, skiing, hiking and backpacking. He is always looking for that next adrenaline driven adventure.


Page [tcb_pagination_current_page] of [tcb_pagination_total_pages]