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HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG FOR BACKPACKING

There are literally hundreds of sleeping bags for backpacking to choose from. Moreover it’s probably one of the hardest choices to make when deciding which one is right for you. This is the one piece of gear that can make a trip great, or make the trip miserable and thus ending a promising adventure early.

It’s a piece of critical gear that has to compliment your trail lifestyle. Remember, proper sleep helps your body recover and ensures you can enjoy the next day’s hike.

First ask yourself 3 questions: Where am I going? (trail location) How long will I be there? (days, weeks, months) And. Is weight important to me? After you determin how often and where you be using your sleeping bag you can start working backwards. Am I a cold sleeper? Am I a warm sleeper? Body Mass, Female and Male should be considered also. Tall, and or short also. You don’t want to buy a bag for the absolutely coldest night, but on average. You can always wear extra clothes.

OUR TOP 5 SUGGESTED LIGHTWEIGHT BAGS TO CONSIDER

The first and arguably most important factor to consider when purchasing a sleeping bag is the type of insulation. Backpacking sleeping bags are available with two primary types of insulation: down feathers or synthetic fibers.

Generally, down bags perform better in dry locations because they weigh less and pack smaller than synthetic bags of equivalent warmth. When down feathers get wet, however, they clump and lose their ability to insulate more than synthetic fibers. For this reason, we recommend synthetics for wet climates or inexperienced users less adept at keeping their sleeping bag dry. Another critical factor is price. Down can cost several times more than a comparable synthetic option. This drawback is somewhat negated, however, by the longevity of down which can maintain its loft better after repeated packing and unpacking.

However, gear companies and technology are now making some pretty lightweight Synthetic bags. Outdoor Vitals is one of them.

The Rating systems for sleeping bags can be a little confusing also. The EN rating (European Norm 13537—a standardized test designed to measure sleeping bag warmth) has been the guide for a long time. The ratings are based on laying on a 1 inch mattress pad and 1 layer of clothing on.

Results from EN testing provide us with three numbers:Comfort Limit: based on a standard woman having a comfortable night’s sleep
Lower Limit: the lowest temperature a standard man can sleep comfortably
Extreme Rating: a survival rating for a standard woman

(Note that women generally sleep colder than men. Most women’s specific sleeping pads and women’s sleeping bags are slightly warmer than their standard counterparts.)

You want to look for a comfort between worse case scenario and comfort. Most bags now will indicate what the normal temp rating will be in normal temp conditions regarding the r-value of the bag. A 20 degree down bag might not mean you can sleep comfortably when the overall average temp is 20 degrees.

When it comes to choosing a Down Bag remember that its NOT the Down, but the “FIL” of the Down. Not all down is created equal. To quantify the differences, down used in the outdoor recreation world is assigned a fill power (often abbreviated “FP”), which is a quality or loft rating that indicates how much insulation a given amount of down provides. Higher fill power indicates more insulation for a given weight; resulting in a higher overall warmth-to-weight ratio. In addition to fill power, fill weight has an important impact on a sleeping bag’s warmth. Fill weight is simply the physical weight of down in a bag.

Of course the new kid on the block is the Quilt Bag. Which is a combination between traditional sleeping bag and a blanket. Quilts have come a long way and really should be considered IF you don’t like feeling like a STUFF TORTILLA when sleeping in your tent. Check out our TOP SUGGESTED SLEEPING BAGS AND QUILTS POST.

The big choice you have to make will be balancing your budget with a lightweight sleeping bag. The lower rated bags have more fil, the more fil the heavier the bag. If it’s Goose Down fil then you are probably going to drop some money. Remember the third question: Is weight important to you? A 20 degree Goose Down Sleeping bag and is lightweight could run over $500.00 easily.

In the end it comes down to your trail lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to return a sleeping bag that you don’t like. The other important consideration is how it packs. The smaller you can pack it, the better overall your pack weight will be. Compression Sacks will be the key in packing your Sleeping Bag no matter what kind you buy.

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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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