Picking a Sleeping Bag — What is Your Comfort Zone?

By: Mark Mazour

The right bag is the secret to a comfortable night in camp.

Sleeping in the backcountry is supposed to be roughing it, but the difference between roughing it and being miserable and roughing it and loving it is as simple as a comfortable sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Styles
This difference in sleeping bags is readily apparent. Two main styles are on the market, mummy and rectangular.

Insulation Types
Many different insulation types are on the market. However, the two main types are synthetic (manmade) fibers and down (primarily goose feathers). They each have their benefits, and at times, a combination of the two creates the best option.

Premier Northern Goose Down

Size and Weight
In explaining style and insulation, we've already touched on a lot of this. If space or weight is of utmost concern, a down mummy bag is the best choice. It is all a matter of how and when you will use your bag. Look at the various ratings and carry weights to determine what is best for you. Sometimes the best answer is two bags - a compact model for backpack trips and a larger rectangular model for comfortable sleeping on a cot at base camp.

The other factor to look at is length. Commonly, sleeping bags come in two lengths, regular and long. Generally, if you are six-foot-tall and under, a regular length bag will be more than adequate. However, if you are over six-feet-tall, you may want to look at a long bag for extra comfort.

Cabela's Sleeping Bags

Outershell Material
Depending on the use of your bag, you may want to look at the outershell material. If rugged field use is on your plans, you want a shell material that can stand up to it. Heavy cotton canvas works well for rectangular outfitter bags, but with its weight and stiffness, it does suit a packable bag. Then, synthetic material such as ripstop nylon or Pertex is a better choice for increased packability, while still maintaining excellent durability.

If you plan to sleep outside with your bag, you will want a shell that is at least water resistant, to protect you and your bag from light moisture. DuPont Tactel and Gore Dryloft are two materials on the Market that will give you water resistance. However, with all the stitch lines in a bag, it is hard to make it completely waterproof. If sleeping outside in inclement weather is in your plans, a weatherproof bivy sack or shelter is your best option.

Temperature Rating
This is the one measuring stick used to differentiate between bags. Bags all differ in fill weight, fill type, size, and style, but every one has a temperature rating on the tag. What does that mean to you?

The temperature rating is derived as the lowest temperature that the average person can tolerate and still remain comfortable within the bag. Most manufacturers try to maintain similar methods in establishing temperature ratings, but you should know that no standard has been fully accepted industry wide. Therefore, variances do exist from manufacturer to manufacturer.

The other variance that exists is "the people factor." Above, I mentioned this "average person." When speaking about thermal comfort, it is hard to find an average person. Rarely will you find two people in the same room that agree on a temperature that is right. A good example is in our office space; whenever I think it is finally cool enough in here, others are turning on their space heaters because they are too cold.

Some Other Things to Think About
When searching for your sleeping bag, there are several other questions to ask to help refine your bag selection.

Sleeping pads provide cushioning and insulation fomr the hard ground.