A Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag?

Sleeping outside under the stars is only enjoyable if you have the right sleeping bag. You won’t get a blissful night’s sleep in a bag that leaves you freezing. This post aims to provide you insightful information, a guide to help you choose a sleeping bag fitting your needs and outdoor activities.

The right sleeping bag depends on the type of camping you do and what season you typically camp in. Sleeping bags come in different shapes, colors, seasons, insulation, material, and more—all of which we’ll discuss here. 

Let’s start with the basics: backpacking vs. camping sleeping bags. 

Backpacking Sleeping Bag vs. Camping Sleeping Bag

There’s a difference between the two types of bags. Camping sleeping bags have more room to move around instead of backpacking sleeping bags that are lighter and more snug fit. But a gender-specific sleeping bag may be more to your liking.

Different Shapes Serve Different Functions

The shape you choose for your sleeping bag will help determine how efficient it is at keeping you warm. 

Below are the most common shapes for sleeping bags:

  • Semi-Rectangular: these sleeping bags are usually barrel-shaped. They are a cross between the mummy shape and the rectangular shape. They have more room than a mummy-shaped bag but less room than a rectangular sleeping bag.
  • Mummy: these are great for backpacking because they are lighter, warmer, and easier to carry. The mummy-shaped sleeping bags are well suited for freezing temperatures. Because they are form-fitting, they reduce the amount of air around the body, so heat doesn’t escape.
  • Rectangular: these sleeping bags provide the most room inside. In some instances, you can zip two sleeping bags together to make a double one.
Choose a Sleeping Bag - Most Common Shapes of Sleeping Bags

Buying a sleeping bag that has a snug fit will provide the best warmth. There’s less chance for heat to escape. The type of insulation in your sleeping bag will also determine how warm it is.

Gender-Specific Sleeping Bags

Not only are there different shapes to choose from, but you can also opt for gender-specific sleeping bags. 

  • Women’s sleeping bags are specifically designed to conform to a woman’s body. They are generally shorter and more narrow at the shoulders yet broader at the hips than an average unisex bag.
  • Children’s sleeping bags are simply smaller versions of adult bags. They come in a wide range of colors and prints.
  • Men’s/Adult sleeping bags come in regular lengths and tall. Tall sleeping bags are designed for people six feet tall and taller.

If you are buying a gender-specific sleeping bag, measure your shoulders and hips’ circumference to ensure you get the right size.

Insulation/Material

There are two standard types of insulation used in sleeping bags: down and synthetic. There’s quite a difference between the two and price has a lot to do with that.

  • Down-filled sleeping bags are filled with either duck or goose feathers. Duck down is less expensive than goose down, but keep in mind that the fill-power is also a determining factor.
  • Fill-power is a measurement of down in cubic inches per ounce; the higher the fill-power, the thicker and warmer the bag.
  • Synthetic insulation is a filling made from polyester fibers and is generally heavier than a down bag. These sleeping bags don’t compress down as well as down-filled bags.
Choose a Sleeping Bag - Down Feathers and Polyester Fabrics

If the price is an issue and you really want a down-filled sleeping bag, you can opt for a low-fill power duck down sleeping bag, which is cheaper.

The Temperature Rating Guide

The temperature ratings you find on sleeping bags are just a general guide. The numbers indicate the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep you warm. 

There are three main temperature ratings for seasonal sleeping bags:

  • Summer sleeping bags are suitable for temperatures 32°F (0°C) and higher. They pack down well and are very lightweight.
  • Three-Season sleeping bags are for temperatures between 5°F (-15°C) to 30°F (-1°C). These sleeping bags usually have added features such as hoods and draft collars.
  • Winter sleeping bags are for temperatures 5°F (-15°C) and lower. These sleeping bags are well insulated with hoods, zipper draft tubes, and draft collars.

These ratings are based on the average sleeper. There are many variables when choosing the right sleeping bag to consider, such as the shape of the sleeping bag, your metabolism, and the altitude you use the sleeping bag in. 

Special Features and Accessories

Sleeping bags come with several additional features and accessories to further tailor your bag for what you specifically need: 

  • Hoods are a feature present with most sleeping bags to keep your head warm, but they are not found on rectangular sleeping bags.
  • Zippered Pockets are stashed pockets that are usually small and located near the top of your sleeping bag. They are handy to have if you need to grab something quickly in the middle of the night, such as a headlamp or a convenient place for your iPod so you can listen to music.
  • Draft Tube and Collar are tubes that run along the zipper inside to block cold air from coming in. The draft collar serves a similar purpose and wraps around your neck.
  • Pillow Pockets are on the inside and allow you to store a pillow or clothes.
  • Left or right zipper. Yes, you can choose a sleeping bag with a left or right zipper. If you are right-handed, choose a left-sided zipper and vice versa. If you want to zip sleeping bags together, make sure they are the same brand and type with the same kind of zipper. Choose one left and one right-sided zippered sleeping bag.
  • Liners are for frigid temperatures. Adding a liner to your sleeping bag provides extra warmth. These are sold separately.
  • Sleeping pads provide additional insulation and can sometimes be slipped into a sleeping pad sleeve on a sleeping bag. Another option available is sleeping bags with pad loops that connect to your sleeping pad.

These features and accessories are more commonly found in winter sleeping bags designed to withstand freezing temperatures.

Watch the video below, which highlight the key features to take into account to choose the right sleeping bag:

How to Get the Best Sleeping Bag Fit?

If it’s possible, try on the sleeping bag before you buy it. You want a sleeping bag that fits you yet gives you enough room to move around. You want to make sure that you don’t have too much extra space around you for fear of losing heat. 

Be cautious about buying a sleeping bag that is too short or too long. A too-short bag won’t allow you to draw the hood tight in cold temperatures. A sleeping bag that is too long may leave you sleeping with cold feet.

If you are unsure what temperature rating to choose for your sleeping bag, always opt for a bag with a temperature rating lower than the weather you expect to encounter.

In other words, if you are planning to go camping during the summertime, don’t buy a sleeping bag with a summer rating. Instead, choose a sleeping bag with a three-season temperature rating. If it gets too hot, you can always open the sleeping bag to cool down. 

Final Thoughts

When buying a new sleeping bag, remember to buy a sleeping bag for the type of camping you do. 

If you’re unsure what seasons you might camp in, buy a winter bag just in case. Make sure it has everything you need. Depending on the insulation type, you should be able to pack it away or attach it to your backpack easily.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

4 thoughts on “A Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Sleeping Bag?”

  1. Having the right equipment is key to any successful venture. I hadn’t thought about the different types of sleeping bags before, but that is likely because I don’t anticipate needing a sleeping bag for camping any time soon.

    Good to know about these differences when it comes to sleeping bags. If I ever decide to buy a sleeping one day, I will pick up a sleeping bag with more room to sleep comfortably. Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • A sleeping bag is not just for outdoor activities, like backpacking or camping. I find that having a sleeping bag or two does come in handy when you have friends over and not enough beds for them to sleep in. You can take out your sleeping bags and make improvised beds in your living room!

      Reply
  2. Hey Sonia,

    I grew up in Mexico City, where camping is not really a thing. Luckily, my parents sent my brother and me to summer camp in Canada most of the years. I loved it there. The first year I went with a rectangular sleeping bag that didn’t fit too well into my bag. After that, I took a mummy-shaped bag with polyester filling, which took a lot of packing space, but at least it kept me warm at night while we were camping in the forest.

    I now know to go for a down-filled sleeping bag if I want to be sure it will pack well. No more angry sleeping bag-stuffing for me!

    Reply
    • If you are looking for a sleeping bag that packs down to the smallest size, then choosing down feathers as the filling is the way to go for sure! Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Reply

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