Tips on choosing the right sleeping bag

Posted on: July 18, 2019 | Bob Frye | Comments

A sleeping bag is critical to a good night's sleep.

The right sleeping bag can make or break a campout.
Photo: Pixabay

The evidence is there, in every household, hiding in plain sight in the silverware drawer.

Look at the butter knives.

At least one will be slightly bent at the tip. And how did it get that way?

Because you or someone like you used it as a screwdriver.

Hey, been there, done that, so I’m not judging. It works at times.

But then again, no one would stock their garage or tool box with butter knives in place of actual screwdrivers either.

That’s because there are situations where having the right tool makes all the difference. It just makes life so much simpler.

So it is with sleeping bags.

There’s no doubt that you can get by, in a pinch, with one sleeping bag. But it’s just as certain that there will be times when you’ll be too hot or too cold, too.

And when you’re in one of those situations, you’ll know it, right away.

Having the right sleeping bag for the right conditions makes camping a whole lot more fun.

Picking the right one requires just a bit of thought, though.

For starters, decide when you’ll be camping. If that’s going to be in summer only, a summer bag – one rated for 50 degrees or so – will be fine.

But if you plan to camp in spring and fall, too – becoming a three-season camper – a bag rated for 15 to 30 degrees is a better choice. And if you go out in winter, a zero degree bag is a necessity.

Then, too, there’s shape to consider.

Most summer bags are rectangular. They offer plenty of wiggle room.

Winter bags, by comparison, are often “mummy” shaped. They pack in a lot of insulation in a space- and weight-saving shape.

But they leave some campers feeling uncomfortably claustrophobic. In those cases, a semi-rectangular or “modified mummy” bag can offer the right compromise.

You also have to think about what’s inside your sleeping bag. That’s going to be down or some type of synthetic.

Down, or fine feathers, is lightweight yet still warm. It compresses well, making packing easier, and yet stays fluffy for years.

Its one drawback has always been that is loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. Years ago they were awesome when it was cold but dry, less so when it was cold and wet.

More modern down-filled bags minimize that risk via water-resistant shells. And they work better than they used to.

Synthetic-filled bags, by comparison, tend to be bulkier. But they’re inexpensive to buy, retain their insulating properties even when damp, and dry fast. So they’re often a good all-around choice, especially for kids, who may be a little less rigorous in taking care of their equipment.

It also pays to think about fit.

Namely, you want to be sure your sleeping bag isn’t too small. If you’re tall enough that lying in it means having your toes pressed up against the bottom of the bag all night, it’s too short. You’ll end up with cold feet and, in time, be cold all over.

Just like with your boots, get one that allows for a wee bit of wiggle room.

Finally, examine the outside of the sleeping bag. Take note of what it’s made of.

The shell on many bags is made of a rip-stop nylon. They’re particularly good in warm weather, as they feel a little cooler to the touch.

Other bags – and these are nice when it’s cool outside – have a cotton or even flannel shell. They’re heavier and and take longer to dry if you get them wet. But, hey, they’re “snugglier,” too.

In the end, you have to choose the bag that most fits who you are, when you plan to use it and how

Or, like me, you end up over time with more than one bag. Then it’s just a matter of picking the one that best fits the circumstances when you’re ready to roll outdoors.

There’s nothing wrong with a little variety, after all.


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Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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