Your sleeping bag provides necessary comfort, and protection from the elements when camping and hiking, so choosing the right sleeping bag is important. What makes a good sleeping bag? There are several things to look for when making the purchase of a sleeping bag.
The first thing you need to consider is what type of camping you are planning to do. If you are a vehicle camper then weight is no problem, and you probably won't camp in adverse weather conditions. You will probably be camping in late spring, summer, or early fall. If you are a back country camper or backpacker, weight does make a big difference, and you probably will be camping in harsher conditions, and possibly all seasons.
The next thing you should consider is what the sleeping bag is rated for. The rating can vary among manufacturers and the type of fill or loft used. If you are a vehicle camper you probably won't need a bag that is rated less than 30 degrees F. If you camp in the back country, and camp in colder weather, earlier in the spring, or later in the fall you will need a bag that is rated 0 degrees F or lower. Summer sleeping bags are rated around 40 degrees F or higher, three-season bags are rated around 20 degrees F, and winter sleeping bags are rated 0 degrees F and lower. Remember the lower the rating the warmer the bag.
Insulating material is the next thing to consider. Do you want to go with down or synthetic? Down compresses well and is light, but it is expensive, and if it gets wet it loses its insulating properties. Also it is hard to dry out once it gets wet. However it is the best natural insulator with a higher weight to warmth ratio than synthetic. Down is the preferred choice for backpackers to travel light in dry conditions. Synthetic usually costs less than down, and the new synthetics come close to down as for efficiency. Synthetic still works when it gets wet and it dries faster than down. That is why synthetic is the choice for kayakers, boaters, and other campers in wet conditions. Synthetics are heavier and take up more space when packed though.
Another thing to look at is the shell material of the sleeping bag. The shell is the outer layer of the bag. There is a variety of materials used for the shell. Most sleeping bag shells are made of nylon microfiber, polyester, and ripstop nylon. The ripstop nylon has reinforcing threads to prevent ripping, and makes it a more durable material. The higher the thread count makes the material more wind and water resistant. Most nylon used by sleeping bag manufacturers is coated with DWR (durable water repellent) and provides some measure of water and wind resistance.
Look at the size and shape of the bag, and consider your body shape, body length, and your sleeping habits. If you move a lot in your sleep, and like to curl up, make sure you have the room to move. Your environment also has to come into consideration, if you sleep in a camper you don't need as much sleeping bag as you would sleeping in a tent in adverse weather temperatures. So choose a sleeping bag that is big enough for comfort, but not so big that it adds weight, or has an abundance of dead air space that will make it hard to keep warm. Also a sleeping bag that is too small will be uncomfortable and not as warm because the insulating material becomes too compacted to insulate properly.
Rectangular sleeping bags are more comfortable for the person who tends to curl up, and toss and turn. But they are not as warm because of the large opening at the top. For colder weather you can get a draft collar which cinches around the neck to keep warm air in and cold air out. Also rectangular sleeping bags can be zipped together to form a double bag for two people.
This rectangular sleeping bag is a Chinook Alaskan 9.5, -50 degrees F, it is a rugged over-sized multi-season system bag. A perfect choice for any cold-weather hunting or camping trip, and it features the practical 3-in-1 multi-season system.
Semi rectangular sleeping bags are warmer, because they have a tapered foot, contoured hood, and additional room in the torso for comfort. This semi rectangular bag is a Browning Camping McKinley, Long 0 degrees F. It is a heavy duty over-sized hooded semi rectangular bag. It uses a 2-layer offset construction to eliminate cold spots. The McKinley series uses Techloft insulation that consists of multi-hole staple-length microdenier fibers that have a siliconized finish for maximum insulation, loft, and compactness. It will keep you warmer on those colder nights when you prefer more wiggle room than you get with a mummy bag.
Mummy Sleeping bags are cut wider at the shoulders and they taper down to the feet. You have less wiggle room, but mummy bags are considered the most efficient for weight to warmth ratio. The mummy sleeping is the preferred sleeping bag for most backpackers. This is a Chinook Polar Extreme Goose Down -40 degrees F mummy bag. The Chinook Ploar Extreme features Pyrenean 600+Fill Power goose down, ergonomic head gasket and foot box, waterproof/anti-slip HiTex botton fabric, oversized draft tubes and neck collar for added protection in the most extreme conditions. The Chinook SnugHood design gives the best fit around the facial area providing extra comfort while reducing bulk when the draw cord is fully tightened. It may also be zipped together with other compatible bags to create a double bag.
Don't forget the kids. If you want your little campers to enjoy camping, make sure to chose the right sleeping bag for them too. Pictured above is the Chinook Nomad Jr. 1.5 19 degrees F, and the Slumberjack Kids Sleeping Bag, Lil' Timber +10 degrees F.