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"There are im­por­tant de­ci­sions to be made

when ven­tur­ing out­doors and none more im­por­tant than choos­ing the right

sleep­ing bag"

With­out a doubt the best per­son to an­swer this ques­tion is the per­son who will be sleep­ing in the bag and knows what en­vi­ron­ment they will be go­ing into - this is not a one size fits all call. A top end bag for alpine con­di­tions has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent set of char­ac­ter­is­tics to a bag that will be used for tramp­ing or light weight travel in sum­mer. Warmth, weight, size and fea­tures are all at­tributes that need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion and com­pro­mised in the fi­nal de­ci­sion clearly cho­sen around the fi­nal end use. There was a time when sleep­ing bags could be eas­ily placed into one of three or four cat­e­gories and of­ten the only vari­ance was price. How­ever due to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in this area there is a great cross-over of pur­pose and prod­uct and those cat­e­gory lines have be­come blurred, but in gen­eral you can look at bags fall­ing into th­ese cat­e­gories:

Alpine bags are in­tended for ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments, as the ti­tle would sug­gest - above the snow­line but ob­vi­ously not ex­clu­sively. The re­quire­ments are they need to be light­weight and warm – pre­dom­i­nantly a mummy shape (we’ll look at why later). The fab­ric needs to be light­weight and durable, his­tor­i­cally they were down but this is not now al­ways the case, but there is still the need for a high warmth to weight ra­tio and of late they will of­ten in­clude wa­ter-re­sis­tant shell fab­rics, as a wet bag in th­ese en­vi­ron­ments could be fa­tal. The next group, let’s term them tramp­ing bags, th­ese bags still need to be as light as pos­si­ble but there is more em­pha­sis placed on com­fort with ad­di­tional fea­tures to make them more user friendly. As th­ese are un­der more pres­sure in terms of cost, a cor­ner that is of­ten cut is in not us­ing such high-tech fab­rics and ma­te­ri­als. Gen­er­ally th­ese bags come in tapered form rather than mummy.

Travel bag: here the em­pha­sis is re­ally on size and weight – gen­er­ally not used out­side, th­ese bags have less tech­ni­cal fea­tures and of­ten warmth is not re­ally a ma­jor fac­tor ei­ther – ease of use, weight and size are paramount.

Ev­ery­thing Bag: th­ese are for com­fort, heav­ier and ro­bust, ideal for sleep-overs, camp­ing or when­ever ex­tra bed­ding is needed. Com­fort, func­tion, wash­able and durable are the key aspects whereas weight, size and shape are not a pri­or­ity but con­struc­tion and price are.


As stated sleep­ing bags are a bal­anc­ing act of com­fort and per­for­mance and cost. The big­ger the bag the more room in­side and more com­fort­able. But the more room there is the more your body has to heat, there­fore what you gain in ‘wig­gle room’ you re­duced in ther­mal ef­fi­ciency. So ba­si­cally there are three main shapes:

Tapered – the most com­mon as it is a good com­pro­mise. As you would ex­pect it is tapered at the foot to keep down on dead space. Nor­mally you can still fully un­zip to cre­ate a blan­ket, but the shape is a good half way mea­sure in terms of com­fort and ther­mal ef­fi­ciency.

Mummy - like a mummy in a cof­fin (sar­coph­a­gus) it’s a snug fit and will keep dead air to a min­i­mum, it is the most ef­fec­tive shape but for some not the most com­fort­able be­cause of the lack of leg room. Typ­i­cally comes with a half zip and a hood.

rec­tan­gle - for com­fort, not hugely ef­fec­tive in terms of warmth but a lot more leg room to spread out and eas­ily turned into a blan­ket with the full zip around. You can get rec­tan­gle bags of re­ally good qual­ity as many pre­fer the com­fort of the shape how­ever they are the ones you see at the ware­house with Bat­man and Spi­der­man on them!


In­su­lat­ing has come on in leaps and bounds over the last ten years – geese gave their all for many years to keep the ad­ven­turer warm and dry but tech­nol­ogy has caught up (I am guess­ing the geese would be happy about that). There seems to be a huge range of in­su­la­tion op­tions, mix­tures and new ideas, too many to out­line here but th­ese are the main ba­sic types.

Syn­thetic in­su­la­tion

Syn­thetic in­su­la­tion (ver­sus down in­su­la­tion) has a solid over­all per­for­mance and is of­ten a lost less ex­pen­sive. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally made of polyester, syn­thetic key ad­van­tages are: it is not as ex­pen­sive as other prod­ucts and is quick-dry­ing and in­su­lates even if it gets wet. But, syn­thetic in­su­la­tion doesn't pack down as small as down, which can be a dis­ad­van­tage if trav­el­ling.

Goose-Down in­su­la­tion

It is seen a lit­tle more old school but pro­vides a more durable and com­press­ible al­ter­na­tive to syn­thetic fill but what you lose in weight you gain in price.

Wa­ter-re­sis­tant Down in­su­la­tion

Down is mea­sured by fill power; it is a lit­tle com­pli­cated but ba­si­cally fill power is a mea­sure of the loft or "fluffi­ness" of a down prod­uct

that is loosely re­lated to the in­su­lat­ing value of the down. The higher the fill power the more air, a mea­sure of the down, can trap, and there­fore the more in­su­lat­ing abil­ity an ounce of the down will have. The down­side of down is that it loses its in­su­lat­ing power when it gets wet. To help al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem, some sleep­ing bags fea­ture down that has been treated to pro­tect the feath­ers from mois­ture. Oth­ers have tried a com­bi­na­tion of Syn­thetic and down so once again we come back to the same ques­tions and an­swer – what will it be used for? – will it be get­ting wet?


When you start to look at the ar­ray of con­struc­tion types, how sleep­ing bags are put to­gether it is mind bog­gling, there are baf­fles that run ver­ti­cally, baf­fles that run hor­i­zon­tally to hold down in place, there are foot boxes and neck warm­ers there are pock­ets and hoods and cuffs and bed styles, the list is end­less. But when mak­ing the choice of what sleep­ing bag is right for you sim­ply be sen­si­ble, costs does not al­ways mean it’s the best and don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read on the ticket or what the sales per­son tells you. Make sen­si­ble thought­ful de­ci­sions keep­ing the end use in mind. Most outer layer of sleep­ing bags are made of the same type of light weight fab­ric, cheaper bags might use a heav­ier ma­te­rial. Some more ex­treme bags will have a wa­ter re­sis­tant cover and some and a tear proof bot­tom layer. But what­ever you choose make sure you choose it is for the right con­di­tions.


Al­ways keep you sleep­ing bag as dry as pos­si­ble – if you have a hard or soft shell jacket that is dry, keep your sleep­ing bag wrapped in that while it is in the tent to keep it from ab­sorb­ing the con­den­sa­tion. Use your jacket and a plas­tic sealed wrap. If it is re­ally cold fluff your bag in ad­vance of us­ing it, roll it out and puff it up – give your­self plenty of ‘in bag time’ be­fore try­ing to sleep. Get a larger bag so you can use it as a warmer draw for your essentials while you are sleep­ing – plac­ing clothes etc around your feet will keep them warm for the morn­ing. Get a sleep­ing mat, cold ground or cir­cu­lat­ing air with­draws body heat no mat­ter how good the qual­ity of your sleep­ing bag is. Re­duce this con­duc­tive heat loss by us­ing a good in­su­lat­ing mat. Cre­ate a pil­low by putting clothes in a pil­low case or stuff bag. Air your bag ev­ery morn­ing where pos­si­ble, it is im­por­tant to air the sleep­ing bag for at least 10 min­utes. If you have sun­shine, this is per­fect. It will dry out any per­spi­ra­tion, con­den­sa­tion or dew that may be on the bag Con­sider a bag liner – there is a range on the mar­ket or get your mum to make you one out of a sheet. Silk­body do a great range (this is not a paid pro­mo­tion!)


Don’t just throw it in the wash­ing ma­chine or send it to the dry clean­ers, read the la­bel first. Dry clean­ing so­lu­tion is petroleum­based and will ul­ti­mately de­stroy your sleep­ing bag. All sleep­ing bags come with wash­ing in­struc­tions. The best wash­ing method we have come across is out­lined below – and do not throw in a dryer af­ter­wards it can dra­mat­i­cally af­fect the bags per­for­mance.

The clean­ing Process:

1. Zip up sleep­ing bag com­pletely. 2. Fill tub with cold wa­ter and add about 1/4 cup of laun­dry soap, stir­ring un­til soap is dis­solved. It is not rec­om­mended that you use reg­u­lar de­ter­gent or any­thing con­tain­ing bleach as it may dam­age the sleep­ing bag and leave an ir­ri­tat­ing residue. 3. Place sleep­ing bag in the tub lay­ing it as flat as pos­si­ble. 4. Step into the tub with your bare feet and march up and down on the sleep­ing bag un­til it is thor­oughly sub­merged and the soapy wa­ter has worked its way through all of the fill­ing. 5. Empty the soapy wa­ter from the tub and with the sleep­ing bag still ly­ing flat, re­fill will cold wa­ter. 6. Step back in and march up and down on top of the sleep­ing bag to squeeze out the soap residue. 7. Re­peat steps 5 and 6 un­til no soap residue re­mains. 8. Drain the wa­ter from the tub and roll sleep­ing bag into a cylin­der, press­ing down as you go to squeeze out as much ex­cess wa­ter as pos­si­ble. (NEVER twist or wring the sleep­ing bag as this may cause dam­age) 9. Dry in the sun as open as pos­si­ble.


Al­ways stuff your bag rather than rolling it. Stuff­ing is eas­ier on the fab­ric and the fill.

Im­age by Alex Gen­dron

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