Well the first question you've got to ask yourself is... What are you using it for?
An F1 car won’t beat a LandRover through mud you know!
When you’re considering your next sleeping bag purchase, always try and keep in mind what style of camping you intend on doing. Whether you need a lightweight "cheapie" for Summer festivals or a super heavy duty, down Winter bag to scale Everest, pick the right tools for the job. Having said that, you need to know what’s on offer.
Temperature and Seasonal Ratings
When I’m looking at a sleeping bag the fundamental questions are always the same - Is it big enough (I’m 6 feet tall), and, will it keep me warm enough? I know that I can be too hot but hell, I know which I’d prefer when I’m camping on the highlands in Winter!
So, when I’m checking out a bags temperature ratings, what am I looking at?
To give you a bit of background, in 2005 a European labelling standard was enforced (EN 13537) ensuring that all sleeping bags were tested and labelled to meet strict standards showing a “comfort range” and an “extreme ratings”. Comfort may be the wrong word however, (there’s no necessarily a perfect state of REM sleep) and they can only be used as indicators as people have different levels of natural warmth, clothing quality, and surroundings (open air, double layer tent, sleeping pad, you get the drift).
The extreme ratings are just that. If you were to sleep in this bag overnight at this temperature or above, you won’t get frostbite and will wake up in the morning so beware, make sure you’ve got a buffer!
For winter camping across the UK you’d be silly not to use a bag rated to -8 at least. The NatureHike D280 is probably the perfect bag for intermediate winter camping across the UK (rated to -10).
If you’re more so looking at summer and late spring camping I’d consider perhaps a NatureHike Spring & Summer Sleeping Bag or NatureHike Ultralight if you’re conscious of space. If you’re a couples camper or just like the extra space, you can’t beat the NatureHike Double Sleeping bag with PILLOW in temps from 0-12C. It’s extra comfortable with it’s built in pillows and can be unzipped if it’s too hot. I’ve used it through the warmer months completely unzipped with an ultralight completely unzipped as a top sheet. You’d probably get away with it on a mild winter night with a D280 or similar thrown over the top.
The seasonal ratings are just the four seasons right? Wrong.
The seasons are actually broken down by temperature itself as Season 1 > +5C degrees, Season 2 - > 0 degrees, Season 3 - 0 to -5C, and Season 4 when you’re really going for a frosty getaway rated to -12 or lower for extreme models.
Synthetic Versus Down
The old synthetic versus down argument eh?
People can carry on about quality, natural versus synthetic, and all the rest but as with everything, horses for courses. Synthetic bags are generally cheaper, they’re easy to clean compared to down (which can hold a smell and is harder to dry when washing), they’re heaps better when wet as they don’t lose their insulating capacity completely but, and this is a legit one, they don’t retain heat as well as down, they’re bulkier than down and heavier for equivalent temperature ratings.
With a down bag you can have issues if they’re not well baffled (the little dividers that keep the down in place) and all the down shifts, or if they get wet. The insulating factor of down is all down (down, down, down hahaha!) to the small pockets of warm air captured in the feather. Get it wet however and the feathers compact, the pockets are filled, and you’re bloody cold!!!
Shapes & Sizes
Are you fat, skinny, tall or a mini? Do you roll around a lot in your sleep? Or do you lie like an Egyptian mummy? Either way, there’s something for all shapes and sizes.
Envelope bags are just that, square edged, rectangular bags, they have more room than your form fit bags and can be good for the broader shouldered or bodied types. They’re also good as the majority unzip down two sides and can be used as a throw or mat. Generally they’re synthetic and relatively cheap bags so not great from a warmth perspective, however, they serve their purpose. Whip them out for summer and spring camping, or kids sleepover parties.
Double bags generally tend to be envelope cuts as well though their are a number of hooded varieties coming onto the market as well which are pretty cool! (warm? :-P )
Mummy bags. Think cosy! Also think tight if you’re a big guy or girl. These bags generally have a really good heat rating as the tighter aperture around your neck and shoulders and reduced space around your body and limbs prevents heat leakage. Having said that, they can be a little constrictive so if you’re a bigger guy or girl, or don’t like that constricted feeling, check out a down envelope bag with a hood, throw in a good thermal bag liner and wear your long johns!!!
Features to look out for!
Baffles - so I referred to baffles earlier on in our article. Basically, they’re the stitched in seams you see on down filled bags which prevent the down relocating on you. If they start to fail you end up with clumps of down and cold spots.
Inner and Outer linings - Straightforward one this. Depending on the quality of your bag you could have all sorts of inner or outer linings, from synthetic fleeces to 100% cotton and flannelette inners, and outers of nylon ripstop or cheap polyester. Keep in mind what you’re looking for. If you want a bit of waterproofing capacity, try and go for the nylon route and check for waterproofing as some bags come with water resistant fabrics, waterproof shells or waterproof treatment that needs to be reapplied regularly.
Lefty/Righty Zips - Handy for a couple of reasons, both for matching your zip with your preference but also, in the case of having one of each, you can join bags and turn two onesies into a double!
Zip Clips - Zip clips or zip straps are the little button clip sashes across the top of some bag zippers allowing you to clip your zip shut, saving it from slipping open and letting the cold in overnight.
Hoods - Think a hoody for your sleeping bag. It helps retain heat but also for the longer bodied individuals, it extends the length of the sleeping bag a little
Draft Collars - Like the drawstring on a hoodie, this allows you to pull the bag in a little tighter around your shoulders and neck, keeping out the cold and retaining body heat through those long cold nights.
Inner Pockets - Depending on how you like to party, these can be pretty handy. If you like to put pocket warmers in the inside of your bag before you go to bed to heat it up, or want to stash your phone somewhere while you sleep, having these handy little niches available to you is, well, handy!
Storage Sacks - Depending on how big your bag is, how tight you pack your bedroll
or whether or not it’s waterproof, making sure that your sack is well stitched and sturdy is important for regular campers. If you go camping once a blue moon, you’ll be alright with the single stitched cheapie.
As always, if anyone has any questions about a particular sleeping bag or trip they've got coming up, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me either through our contact page or via social media - we're all over Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.
We're happy to help out with advice where we can if not by supplying you with the right products ourselves, we'll be happy to send you in the right direction.
Cheers! Sean Clanchy
Founder @ All Four Outdoors