The story goes that Freydis Eiriksdottir, the daughter of Viking Erik the Red, invented the first sleeping bag on her journey to North America in 1000, made from one of the sails of her ship. Of course, sleeping bags have come a long way since she sailed around the world, and the manufacturers have paid close attention to the needs of consumers, producing sleeping bags for every camping, hiking, mountain climbing, canoeing, fishing and hunting adventure.
If you are going camping and need a sleeping bag, don’t just pick the first one you see. Selecting the best one depends on the intended use and how often you plan to use it. Since sleeping bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes and some were made for lower temperatures and retain heat better than others it is important to know which one works best for you. Choosing the proper sleeping bag for your camping style will prevent a lot of aggravation.
The two most common types of sleeping bags are rectangular and mummy or cocoon style. While rectangular shaped ones are probably the most popular style, experienced campers and adventure seekers favor the cocoon designs. The cocoon is a form fitting style that is smaller and lightweight, but still offers the same temperature rating as comparable rectangular sleeping bags. Mummy sleeping bags are roomy, solid, include many technical elements, and are available in a variety of insulation and fabrics. Rectangular sleeping bags give more room to move around and can usually be zipped together with other rectangular bags if needed. The mummy bag conforms more closely to the body than a rectangular bag where heat escapes from the top more quickly. Some semi-rectangular bags come with a contoured hood making up for the heat loss. Common dimensions for rectangle sleeping bags are: 28″ x 60″ (children), 33″ x 75″ (adult), 33″ x 80″ (tall adult), and 39″ x 80″ (big and tall adult).
Sleeping bags are either synthetic-filled or down-filled. Goose down bags are light weight and perfect for backpacking and on your biking trip. Renowned for its superior insulation, goose down is one of the premier sleeping bag materials made to keep the warmth in and keep the cold out. Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper than down and usually non-allergenic. They are easier to take care of especially if spill is sponged off immediately. Sleeping bag fill will come in both short and long fibers. Many new synthetics use a “hollow fiber” method that keeps sleeping bags light and allows for good compression when packing, while still offering excellent warmth. Long fibers found in sleeping bags with synthetic fill are more stable and will be less likely to shift during use. Short fibers on the other hand, both down fill and synthetic, can shift during use, affecting your sleeping bag’s loft and inviting cold air in.
Temperature ratings are a good prediction of the ability of your sleeping bag to protect you from cold. Summer weight bags keep you warm in temperatures 35 degrees or higher. 3-season bags keep you warm in temperatures of 10 degrees to 35 degrees. Cold weather sleeping bags keep you warm in minus 10 degrees to plus 10 degrees. Winter/Extreme bags keep you warm in minus 10 degrees and below.
In the middle of cold nights your sleeping bag will be your lifesaver. It is also a good idea to have a pad or a mattress underneath your bag to keep it off the ground.
How you care for your sleeping bag is very important and will make it last longer. Wash a synthetic bag in a front-loading washing machine with detergent. Dry it in a dryer on low heat, not to melt the fibers.
Down sleeping bags on the other hand require special care. Wash it by hand with mild detergent. The best way to dry a down sleeping bag is to lay it out flat.
Make sure your down sleeping bag is completely dry before putting it away to prevent mildew, and clumping. If you use a dryer to dry it use very low heat. It takes a long time to dry a down sleeping bag, but must never turn up the heat or you will ruin your bag.
Wherever you travel the most important camping accessory in your outdoor gear is your sleeping bag. Hope this helps you choose a warm, snug one for a good nights sleep the next time you go camping.