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[Updated] How To Choose The Perfect Sleeping Bag

There are situations where you’re forced to evacuate the safety of your home when things go haywire. Most of the time, you might have to stay the night at an evacuation site or, worse, by some random road.


The aftermath of a disaster can be pretty chaotic and stressful. Heck, it can literally drain the energy out of you.


With folks running around like headless chickens, catching some Zs after a tiring day is a challenge. But not when you invest in a high-quality sleep system.


Sleeping bags are every prepper’s go-to sleep system in survival situations. These comfy cocoons help cushion your body from the hard ground and help you stay warm during the night. 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?


Now there’s no way of telling when or where a disaster is going to happen, but you can always prepare for the worst by observing your area’s climate and what the expected weather is like during certain seasons.


Know the lowest possible dip in the temperature so you can select the bag with the correct temperature rating. The time of the 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. It forms 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 for a while now. They are light, warm, and are easy to pack. On the flip side, traditional down insulation doesn't do well in wet conditions. They don’t dry quickly and are likely to absorb moisture from the environment and your body, which lessens their insulating capability.


Several bag manufacturers have been treating down insulated sleeping bags with unique processes (hydrophobic down) to make them more water-resistant to remedy this.


Duck down is arguably the cheapest and most commonly used insulating material out there. Goose down is also available but is rarer and more expensive. More information on their differences here.


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 essential for comfort and warmth. A sleeping bag that’s too big will not be as effective as trapping and warming air. If you get something too small, you'll feel constricted. 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. They have less bulk than rectangle sleeping bags. They are also 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, this is the sleeping bag for you.


Temperature Ratings

Like what we mentioned earlier, a sleeping bag's temperature rating is a significant 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 metabolism can even affect the bag’s warmth, depending on 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.


Additional Sleeping Bag Features and Accessories You Should Look Into

Other than the kind of insulating material used, the type of sleeping bag, and the temperature rating, look into a sleeping bag’s key features and accessories as well. These additional details will improve your comfort and significantly increase your chances of survival. 


Sleeping Bag Baffles

Baffles are the dividing walls between the insulation. They’re the seams running across the shell of a sleeping bag that separate the insulation and keep it from shifting around. Baffles basically trap heat to keep cold spots and heat loss to a minimum.


Sleeping Bag Shells

The outer fabric of sleeping bags is commonly made of either durable polyester or nylon. It also has water repellent properties that protect the insulation inside the shell from dampness.


Sleeping Bag Hood

You lose much of your body heat through your head. So to keep in the heat, a snug-fitting hood will do the trick. A hood makes a sleeping bag warmer, especially when it has a drawcord string that allows you to pull the hood tight against your face.


Zippers

Sleeping bags have zip openings on the right and left sides, and some bags have two-way zippers. Having more than one zipper slider is actually helpful and makes it easier to open when better air circulation is needed or when you wanna adjust the ventilation.


Inner Pockets

If you want to store your small valuables in a secure place while you sleep, the inner pockets of a sleeping bag will do. You can easily fit your wallet, cellphone, and watch in the stash pockets. 


Sleeping Bag Liners

 Sleeping bag liners are made of thin cloth and shaped like a cocoon. These liners are designed to be used as a barrier between you and your sleeping bag, like a bedsheet. For colder nights outdoors, they provide an extra layer of warmth. They also improve hygiene and extend the life of your sleeping bag.


Travel Pillow

To improve your night’s sleep, you might wanna consider including a travel pillow in your go bag to complement your sleeping bag. Since space will be limited, you’ll need smaller and lighter pillows, like a travel-sized one.


Sleeping Pads

Cushioning and insulation are two of the most important functions of sleeping pads to ensure a solid night’s sleep. While it’s great to have a comfortable surface to rest on, keeping your body warm throughout the night is a sleeping pad’s primary purpose. Learn about the three basic types of pads here.


Sleeping Bag Stuff Sacks

You don’t just roll or fold your sleeping bag and shove it into your go bag. This is why stuff sacks exist. They are exactly what you need for proper care and storage, so you can comfortably fit or hook your sleeping bag onto your backpack. Plus, it saves you space.


Sleeping Bag Care and Maintenance

You spend hundreds of dollars on a sleeping bag, so it’s only right to treat it with care. With proper attention and maintenance, your sleeping bag will last for a longer time. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep your sleeping bag in tiptop shape:


Store Your Bag in a Dry Place

To guarantee your sleeping bag will stay in excellent condition for the long haul, store your bag properly in a dry place where it can spread out.


A dry closet where you can hang it up on a hook is your best option or you can just store it in a large breathable cotton or mesh bag as an alternative option.


Disinfect Your Bag

Keep your sleeping bag fresh and clean after every use by hanging it up and spraying fabric freshener or a disinfectant spray inside and out. This action will kill off any pollen or mold spores that stick to your bag.


Only Compress When Needed

Store your sleeping bag in a stuff sack only when in transport. If you compress your bag for long periods, it can damage the down feathers, and your bag will lose its loft and warmth.


Free Your Bag from Moisture

Chances are you’re gonna encounter rain when camping out after a major disaster. A wet sleeping bag will, obviously, not keep you warm at night, so always keep your bag dry for comfort and safety.


Maybe you wanna invest in a good dry bag for the wet season since they’re guaranteed to protect your sleeping bag from moisture and rain.


Sleep in Clean Clothes

We know how exhausting it is to evacuate. You’ll probably spend hours walking around and looking for an area to stay. And when it’s finally time to rest for the day, you might be tempted to just crawl inside your sleeping bag without freshening up and changing clothes, at least.


We’re here to tell you that body oil, sweat, and dirt can ruin your sleeping bag’s insulation properties and will eventually reduce your bag’s effective warmth rating over time. So, always try to clean up after a long day.


Final Thoughts

Choosing the right sleeping bag is crucial for a cozy night away from the comfort of your home. 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 section below!


Posted in  Tactical Gear   on  May 6, 2021 by  Daniel Preissman0

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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.

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