A sleeping bag's temperature rating identifies the lowest temperature at which a bag is intended to keep the average sleeper warm. When a bag is described as a "20 degree bag," it means that most users should remain comfortable if the air temperature drops no lower than 20°F. These ratings assume that the sleeper is wearing a layer of long underwear and using a sleeping pad under the bag.
Metabolism varies from person to person, and sleeping bag temperature ratings vary from one manufacturer to the next. Use these ratings as a guide only—not a guarantee.
Besides the sleeping bag itself, these factors influence your warmth and comfort:
Select a bag with a temperature rating a bit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. If you're headed for near-freezing temperatures, then choose a 20°F bag instead of a 35°F bag. If temperatures remain higher than expected, you can easily vent the bag to provide more air circulation.
Sleeping bags are typically categorized like this:
|Bag Type||Temperature Rating (°F)|
|Summer Season||+35° and higher|
|3-Season Bag||+10° to +35°|
|Cold Weather||-10° to +10°|
|Winter/Extreme||-10° and lower|
Note: Most camping bags feature a temperature rating between +15°F and +50°F.
Shop REI's selection of sleeping bags (to narrow search, click on "family & car camping" under the Best Use option in left column).
Sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping and holding a layer of "dead" (non-circulating) air next to your body. Your body heat warms this dead air, and the bag forms a barrier between it and the colder ground or outside air. The less air space there is to heat, the faster you warm up and stay warm. Camping bags are roomier than backpacking bags for greater comfort, with the tradeoff being less efficient warming of this dead space.
Most campers choose bags with synthetic insulation (versus goose-down insulation) for its strong overall performance and friendly price tag. Typically made of polyester, a synthetic fill offers the following advantages:
Goose-down insulation is offered in a few camping bags. It provides a more durable and compressible alternative to synthetic fill but features a slightly higher pricetag. Water-resistant down, such as DriDown™, is an emerging insulation option that combines goose down with a treatment that protects the down feathers from moisture.
The outer shell of a camping bag is typically made of a ripstop nylon or polyester for durability. Many synthetic-fill bags feature a shell fabric treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. DWR is the stuff that allows water to bead up rather than soak through the fabric. Linings, on the other hand, promote the dispersal of body moisture, so DWR is not used here.
Tip: To tell if a shell has a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment, rub a wet cloth across the surface of a bag. If the water beads up, then it has DWR.
Most camping bags are designed with a rectangular shape for maximum comfort and roominess. If you choose 2 bags with compatible zippers, it's easy to mate them and create a double bed (see zipper compatibility details below). You can lay 2 bags on a queen-size air mattress for the utmost in outdoor sleeping comfort.
Optionally, semirectangular bags (or barrel-shaped bags) can be used for both camping and backpacking. Their tapered design offers greater warmth and efficiency than rectangular bags, but is still plenty roomy for a comfortable night's sleep. They are popular with larger-frame backpackers or restless sleepers who don't like the tight fit of a mummy bag.
These bags are specifically designed and engineered to match a woman's contours. When compared to standard bags, women-specific bags are distinguished by the following characteristics:
When the kids get a good night's sleep, so do you. Consider these child-friendly features when shopping for kids' bags:
Once you've landed on a temperature rating, insulation and shape, consider these points.
Zipper compatibility: Some bags can be zipped together to create a double bed. You can mate any 2 sleeping bags IF:
Double-wide bags: Designed to comfortably sleep 2 people, roomy double-wide bags can be combined with an air mattress (or foam sleeping pad) for a cozy night's sleep. Most models zip apart to create 2 individual bags.
Hood: Camping in cooler temperatures? You'll lose a lot of heat through your head. Consider a semirectangular bag with a built-in hood. When cinched with a drawcord, the hood prevents heat from radiating away. Some hoods offer a pillow pocket that you can stuff with clothing to create a pillow.
Stash pocket: This keeps small items, such as an MP3 player, watch or glasses, close at hand.
Sleeping pad sleeve: On some bags, the underside insulation has been replaced with a sleeve to fit a sleeping pad. The result: no more rolling off the sleep pad in the middle of the night!
Pillow: Most of us need one for comfortable sleep. Some bags include a "pillow pocket" which allows you to stuff your clothes inside to create a pillow. You can also purchase a camp-specific pillow or, if you have room, simply bring your own pillow from home.
Sleeping bag liner: Slip a soft sleeping bag liner (sold separately) inside your bag to minimize wear and keep the bag clean. Layering in a liner adds 8° to 15°F of warmth, allowing a single bag to serve you in a wider variety of temperatures. Camping in very warm weather? Skip the bag and just sleep in the liner.
Stuff sack: Many bags come with a stuff sack (sold separately) to easily transport your bag. New or replacement stuff sacks are now sized by volume (liters) in addition to length x width dimensions.
You can prolong the life of any sleeping bag by hanging it in your garage or storing it loosely in a cotton storage sack—and not rolled up tight in a stuff sack. This long-term storage prevents the insulation from getting permanently compressed, which reduces its insulating properties.
For more info, see the REI Expert Advice article, Caring for Your Sleeping Bag.
By Kelly Huffman
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Last updated: 10/16/2013
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