ArticlesHow to Choose

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

With the multitudes of sleeping bags hanging off of the racks, the many choices of insulation, prices ranging from $17.99 on up, and different shapes and sizes, it is difficult to make a choice. By considering just a few factors you will have the perfect sleeping bags for your needs.

Temperature Range

The perfect temperature for your bag depends on where and when you will be using it. If you plan on taking a trip to Alaska in winter, you will need a different bag than one you would take on the RAGRAI bike ride in Iowa in summer. One bag can’t do it all. Also, you need to determine the type of sleeper you are; if you sleep with the window open in winter you can use a bag with a cold temperature rating. If you sleep with a down comforter in summer, you will need a warmer sleeping bag.

30°F and Up

Most sleepers use these temperature bags only in the summer. Although, the new style Ultralight Backpackers use these bags in colder temperatures, because of their main advantage – they can be lighter when built with the right material. If you are only going to camping in the summer and not in the mountains this temperature will be a perfect fit.

15°F to 25°F

This is the perfect all around temperature for a sleeping bag. It may be a little too hot in the summer compared to a 35°F bag and not warm enough in the middle of winter, but for ¾ of the year it is a good warm temperature. If you are going to buy only one sleeping bag, than this is the temperature to look at.

0°F and below

These bags are only for those who get very cold at night or for winter campers. They are sweltering hot in the summer, but toasty when the snow is falling.


Silk or Poly-cotton liners will add 5°F to 10°F to any bag that they are put inside. They are a great way to extend the temperature rating of any bag you buy.

Insulation Materials

There are countless types of materials that manufacturers use to fill their sleeping bags. Each of these materials has advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of these, all insulations do the same thing: They trap heated air, which in turn keeps you warm.

Goose Down

Goose is the gold standard for sleeping bag insulation. It is what all synthetics try to emulate. Being a natural material, it was has a greater temperature range. The feathers contract in the warm air thus holding less heat, and they expand in colder temperatures to trap more warmed air. Down also has the greatest expectancy of life out of any insulation. It packs smaller than any synthetic. The main perceived disadvantage of down is that when it gets wet it loses all of its ability to insulate. With modern sleeping bag fabrics it is incredibly hard to get a down bag wet, so don’t let this keep you away.


These man-made fibers come in many shapes, weights and costs. Their main claim to fame is that they insulate when wet. Their main disadvantage is that they weigh more than down, and they are bulkier than down when packed. Here are the names of a few going from the most technologically advanced to the least: Polarguard Delta, Polarguard 3D, Lite Loft, Quallofil, Hollofil. While down lasts a lifetime, you can expect 6 to 8 years out of synthetic bags before they lose their loft and thusly reduce their temperature rating. Synthetics give a great deal of value for their price.


Sleeping bags come in three different shapes: Mummy, Rectangular, and Tapered. Mummy bags are tighter to fit into, but are easier to keep warm. Rectangular bags give you a lot of room to toss and turn in, but are harder to keep warm. Tapered bags are a compromise. A good rule of thumb is that you use mummy bags when you want to save weight, like for backpacking or if you expect cold. Rectangular bags for summer or when you don’t have to carry it on your back, and Tapered if you just can’t stand a mummy and a rectangular is just too much.


For general all around car camping the weight of a sleeping bag isn’t that important, but when you’re backpacking every ounce counts — look for bags the weigh around 3 pounds or less. This usually means you need to consider down or one of the better synthetics.

Extra Features

Many bags offer extra features that can add to the comfort of your nights sleeping. A pillow pocket allows you to stuff a shirt or jacket into the hood of your bag for a make shift pillow. Pockets are nice to store a watch or contacts. Draft collars keep cold air from penetrating your zipper or from drifting down from the hood. The better bags give you several size and zipper options that allow you to fit your body perfectly or to mate two bags together. There are even women’s models that are built to fit women perfectly.

Don’t Forget Your Pad

Many first-time sleeping bag buyers often forget to purchase a pad to sleep on. Not only do these pads provide comfort, but they protect you from losing warmth to the cold ground below you. All sleeping bag temperature ratings assume you have a mattress under you.

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