Choosing a sleeping bag can be tricky. For one thing it is challenging to get one bag to meet all of an outdoor persons needs. For another, individual considerations around materials, feel, shape, and how one sleeps, are often important.
In our experience, four criteria typically guide the choice of sleeping bag. These are:
- Use – front-country, back-country, or other?
- Type – Synthetic vs Down?
- Temperature Range – summer, 3-season, or winter?
- Individual Preference – shape, feel, features, budget, other considerations?
Front-country campers usually want more room in their sleeping bag and are not that concerned about weight or stuffed size. Meanwhile, back-country hikers are very concerned about weight and stuffed size since they have to carry the load the distance. Other types of use, such as travel in camper vans, or for use in homes, tend to line up more closely with the front-country camper type needs but each situation can have unique considerations. For example, perhaps a quilt or blanket would serve better than an actual sleeping bag. At the least, most users that are NOT back-country focused want a bag that can zip all around and be opened up like a quilt if needed.
Synthetic vs Down
In general synthetic bags offer the most warmth for the least cost while down bags offer the most warmth for the least bulk. Synthetics do have an advantage in that they will hold heat even when wet, but in our experience sleeping in a wet bag is just something you don’t want to do anyway, so best to go the extra steps of ensuring your bag remains dry regardless of insulation type.
At Revy Outdoors we are unabashed lovers of down bags – they warm up faster, they are light, compact and pack better, they offer a wider range of temperature comfort, they feel great to sleep in, and with proper care they will truly last your lifetime. Over the long run down bags are cheaper than synthetics because they maintain loft and last longer. We do stock some synthetics which we recommend for specific situations – price, heavy single season use like tree planting, over-bag needs, for kids bags, and for summer only front country use etc. – but overall we vastly prefer down bags and believe them to be the best investment you can make in outdoor gear.
Temperature ranges typically look like this:
- Summer ratings 10C to 0 C
- Three Season ratings -4C to -9C
- Winter ratings -18C to -40C
Women typically sleep about 5 degrees colder than men so we recommend that women take that into account when looking at temperature ratings unless of course the bag is a women’s specific style where the temperature rating is targeting women. Don’t be surprised though when that women’s specific bag, though smaller, actually weighs a bit more than its unisex equivalent. This is due to being filled with more down or other insulation in order to achieve the temperature rating most women need. If a women is buying a unisex bag we would recommend that she subtract 5C from the stated rating.
Temperature ratings, while scientifically generated are nonetheless based on the average human. If you know you run hot or cold when sleeping buy accordingly. Should you have any questions on this please contact us directly by phone or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help guide you.
Shape – if you like more room in a bag, choose rectangle or wedge. If buying a mummy style bag ensure it has a boxed foot section. Some styles come with expansion zippers on the side (Big Agnes Torchlight) or foot (Marmot 650 series bags) for creating more space.
Feel – linings on bags have come a long way and most feel not too bad these days. That said, we find it best to wear a set of clean, dry base-layers to sleep in as this makes the bag feel better and helps protect the bag from sweat and bacteria accumulation. Another option is liners which can also be used to add 5C to the warmth of a bag. Liners work but they can get twisted and be a bit of nuisance to manage through the night. When buying a bag it is best if you can actually lie in it at the store. Even fully clothed that will tell you more about the feel than anything else.
Features – better bags have great features which can make a big difference to your comfort. For example, draft collars at the neck ands zippers. high quality zippers that snag less, and well shaped hood sections are key, especially in bags for use below freezing. Other nifty features can be being able to unzip completely, zip two together (which you can do even with many mummy styles), pockets for valuables, etc.
Budget – As previously previously, synthetic bag options are usually less expensive out-of-the-gate and so in really tight budget situations they do make a lot of sense. Modern synthetics can be quite packable too, especially for summer and three season options. However, over the long haul, with proper care, down bags are unparalleled for overall value.
Other – the most common other consideration we see at our shop is concerns about animals. Rest assured, all our down bags are with down that is NOT live plucked, IS traceable, and the down is largely a by product of the meat industry. For those customers who simply want nothing to do with animal products, synthetic is the best way to go.
Further Advice or Help
Just call us during store hours at 250 814 2575 for further details or advice if needed.