You got your hiking gear ready and packed up. One of the things that will ensure that you will rest along your backpacking trip is your sleeping bag. Here are the criteria to choose the best backpacking sleeping bags for you and your company.
Why hiking sleeping bags and not sleeping bags in general? Well, they are different and each category serves a different purpose. You do want to know where to spend your money best, right?
So, here it goes.
Seasonality and temperature related
In general we would categorize sleeping bags into 3 main categories. These are the summer ones, the 3-season ones and the special ones for cold weather. The proper choice will make the difference between resting properly during sleep time and not freezing or not boiling up.
In a few words, you need to sleep and make sure you will get a good one, otherwise you will have lots of issues to confront during your trips.
1. Summer and 2-season sleeping bags
Temperature: Approximately 30°F plus
A summer sleeping bag is a tricky one. This as depending on where you plan to sleep, temperatures may change during night time. So, you may camp someplace hot and when sun leaves the stage things may get really cold. On the other hand this depends on the altitude and local climate conditions and humidity. We had such sleeping bags while climbing up in mid-July with a very hot weather, but at night time it was freezing cold (at 1500mt). Thus, you need to plan ahead and find about the conditions during night time.
Such sleeping bags are usually extremely light and they range not to just summer ones but to 2 season ones. So, in case you might start “boiling”, you just unzip it and use it as a blanket.
You can cope with sudden cold by wearing some extra layers of clothes and a cap.
2. Three season sleeping bags
Temperature: 30°F to 20°F
This is the category where most of the sleeping bags exist in. They are suitable for spring, fall and even alpine trips. In summer time you just unzip them and that is all. You will definitely find a huge variety to choose from.
3. Cold weather sleeping bags
Temperature: 20°F and below
Actually the term “cold” means relatively nothing when it comes to each person standards and tolerance level. Yet, when on a mountain a temperature under 20°F can be considered as the beginning of extreme cold since it is closer to zero.
However it doesn’t stop here. If you plan to sleep in extreme sub-zero temperatures then you need to search for specialized sleeping bags, especially suitable for such temperatures. This is a must when you also plan to stay in snow for days. “Good old” cold weather ones won’t do for extremities.
What is the EN rating system and why you need to know
It applies mostly to Europe and relates to standardized temperature ratings. After all you need to have an official way to know which sleeping bag is good for which case. So, in order to bypass all the marketing zargon out there, this rating provides you with an important information.
They key numbers are the EN comfort rating and the EN lower limit.
The first relates to the temperature where an average woman can sleep in comfort. Why women? Because they sleep colder than men so such an indicator is important.
The second relates to the temperature where an average man can sleep of 8 hours without waking up. Think of it for a while. It makes sense. Resting is achieved in this way.
There are a few other references like the EN Upper Limit and EN Extreme.
You can check all references here.
But how you choose the sleeping bag with the correct EN for you?
The complete answer relates to this sentence: It depends on each body and health status, age and more. We don’t think that there is an accurate reply on such question and you need to do your homework and ask other campers, hikers, etc.
For example a chill night with lots of humidity is different from just a chill night. Just make sure you have extra layers of cloth with you in order to be able to adjust your temperature accordingly.
Even the quality of your sleeping pad can affect your sleeping experience by adding/removing cold/heat depending. In short there is a R-value factor which translates to the pad ability to insulate you from cold ground and keep you warm.
So, the pad plays a great role and you must not neglect it. Many have suffered from cold ground by having an improper pad.
Choosing one with Down or Synthetic Insulation?
Down insulation is made from goose or duck plumage – the lofty, fluffy stuff underneath the feathers. Not only sleeping bags but midlayers, camping bags and lots of other equipment that include insulation use down.
There is a debate but bottom line is that synthetic is cheaper, yet down is far superior as an insulator and is also lighter. However, a synthetic insulator will perform better in wet conditions than down, since synthetic has better hydrophobic reaction.
If your budget is not high enough and most of your trips are made in wet conditions go for a synthetic one.
Another factor is the fill weight. Simply put: More is better.
An important factor is the fill power of down and has to do with the down quality. It relates to warmth and it is influenced by how much loft the down clusters have. The grade ranges from 500 to 900 (top quality and usually top price too). A lower grade usually equals to increased weight.
When it comes to hydrophobic properties, this is where down feathers lose lots of ground. When they get wet they largely lack to insulation, while synthetic insulation will produce heavier items to carry around and is not as warm as the down one, but it performs better when wet.
So, again, all depend on the conditions of your travel.
Technology in insulation materials (especially in down) has made progress and down is mixed with some polymers so to increase water hydrophobic levels, but still some work is needed towards that sector.
Shape and length of Sleeping Bag
This has to do with your comfort. If you shift and turn a lot in your sleep then you need a bag that has more room at shoulders and leg area. Otherwise you may feel like you are strapped inside a tight cocoon.
However, such “comfort” doesn’t come without a down slide. More space means more air circulating inside the bag, which can end up to a not so warm bag.
There is a variety in lengths and ways that bags close. Women have their own category and special sleeping bag shapes too.
Costs follow the simple rule of: The larger, the pricier (and heavier).
How much weight is proper enough?
A sleeping bag alone is not the heaviest part of your gear, but when you sum up all that equipment, every pound counts. Sleeping bags weight varies between 1 and 3 pounds depending on the insulation (down vs. synthetic), length.
So, the sum of all along with the needs of the trip, shows the direction.
Can I squeeze it?
Down ones can be compressed so much that they can almost end flat like pancakes. Usually synthetic ones (especially cheap ones) compress less.
The cut of the sleeping bag also plays a role on the compression level and if you want to squeeze it as much as possible, better take a special compression stuff sack.
However, we do know that the best way to store away your sleeping bag when you don’t use it, is not in a compressed manner but by having it hanged or stored flat or otherwise, loosely rolled, uncompressed, and away from direct sunlight. Almost the same is valid for sleeping pads.
In that way insulation caps won’t be damaged.
We hoped you liked this article about choosing the best backpacking sleeping bags.
Feel free to share and also read our other articles for our trips and adventures.