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The sleeping bag buying guide

After a long day reaching your destination, nothing beats the feeling of snuggling into a warm, comfy sleeping bag, ready for a good night’s sleep in preparation (and anticipation) for a new day. Having the right sleeping bag can be the difference between waking up refreshed and not sleeping at all. Here we give useful advice and tips to help you choose the best bag for a good night’s sleep.

Quick sleeping bag tips

Decide what the lowest temperature is that you are likely to encounter. Choose a bag that will perform to this temperature (and ideally a little below for extra peace of mind).

Down bags provide the best warmth to weight ratio, compress smaller and will last longer than synthetic bags.

Synthetic bags tend to be cheaper and easier to clean than down bags. They also provide reasonable insulation when damp and dry out more easily than down bags.

A mummy shaped bag will provide the most efficient insulation compared to a rectangular bag which will give more space to move around in (but also to heat up).

A sleeping bag is no good if you don’t have insulation from the ground, so use a suitable mat to get the most from your bag.

Where to buy sleeping bags / What sleeping bag to buy / How to buy sleeping bag guide at Tiso

What type of sleeping bag should I buy?

WEIGHT VS WARMTH VS BULK VS COST

The above equation is the one you should consider when buying a sleeping bag. It’s important to decide which factor(s) is the most essential as this will influence the model you choose. Generally the more expensive or advanced a filling the more compact and lightweight the bag will be. Sleeping bags can be divided into the following broad categories.

TRAIL

Trail sleeping bags are ideal if you are away for only a few days at a time, or when space in your rucksack is not so important. A good trail sleeping bag should be reasonably light and not too bulky depending on what time of year it will be used. If you are away for just a few days then you can allow for a slightly bulkier bag giving increased warmth. Usually synthetic filling is used to keep cost down.

TREKKING

Trekking sleeping bags are designed for longer trips where the total weight and pack size are more critical. They will make use of down or performance synthetic fillings to reduce the weight and bulk whilst maintaining a high level of warmth to weight.

MOUNTAIN

Mountain sleeping bags may be specialist lightweight models for alpine use where the main aim is to keep bulk and weight to an absolute minimum. Equally they may be the extra warm bags required for temperatures in excess of -15°C. If you are intending to use a sleeping bag in extreme low temperatures for extended trips a vapour barrier liner will improve performance.

Which filling should I go for? Down vs synthetic

SYNTHETIC

Synthetic fillings are less expensive to produce than down and less prone to losing their insulating properties when damp. Below are four typical fillings used across the Tiso range of sleeping bags:

Hollowfibre is a collection of polyester fibres. The most basic but reasonably durable and easy to clean.

4 hole hollowfibre is based on the original Hollowfibre but with 4 holes through the centre of each polyester fibre instead of one. This gives a greater surface area to trap warm air and provides more insulation for less bulk and weight.

Quallofil 7 is again a development of Hollowfibre. This material has 7 holes through each fibre, which reduces the weight of the bag further without compromising the level of insulation given.

Microloft sometimes called MTI loft, this material is made of very thin siliconised polyester fibres in very fine layers, enabling manufacturers to build exceedingly warm bags while keeping the weight and bulk of the bag down to an absolute minimum.

DOWN

Down filled bags are warmer and lighter than the equivalent synthetic bags and are still considered best for winter and expedition use where low weight and bulk are important. Care must be taken with all down bags as if they become wet they lose a great deal of their insulating properties. Another factor with down bags is that they must be washed with great care to prevent damage. They are more expensive but generally more durable and will last longer than synthetic bags. Down comes in the following varieties:

Duck down which is less fine than goose down but considerably less expensive

Goose down which is very fine and provides approx. 25% more insulation than the equivalent weight of duck down

Hi-loft down is made from very fine goose down and provides yet more insulation by trapping more air than any other filling. Used in some expedition bags where bulk and weight are critical.

Down comes in a number of different grades/qualities. For example, 90% goose down will consist of 90% down and 10% feathers. The higher the percentage stated, the purer the down and therefore the lower the weight and bulk and the better the insulation. However, the higher the grade, the more expensive the bag.

Where to buy sleeping bags / What sleeping bag to buy / How to buy sleeping bag guide at Tiso

SHELL FABRICS

The fabrics used in sleeping bags are not designed to be waterproof but primarily to be very breathable (this prevents the user from being too uncomfortable). Shell fabrics tend to become more durable and better quality as the price of the bag increases.

What do seasonal ratings mean?

At Tiso we consider that putting a temperature rating on a sleeping bag can be misleading for a number of reasons. Different manufacturers use different criteria to award their own ratings and every individual feels the cold differently too. For these reasons we give our sleeping bags a broader seasonal rating to give you an overall idea of the bags’ intended use based on typical UK conditions.

One season: basic summer bags designed for use in warm weather or indoors

Two season: general purpose bags for use from late spring into the early autumn

Three season: spring / summer / autumn bags for use to and just below freezing point

Four season: winter sleeping bags for use at low temperatures and in harsh conditions

Four seasons plus / five season: specialist bags for expedition use. These are probably too warm for most activities in the UK

What factors affect my temperature in the sleeping bag?

When using a sleeping bag, there are a number of factors that will affect how you feel the temperature. They can be divided into two categories:

PHYSICAL FACTORS

Environment, altitude and climate. Where the bag is being used is important in choosing the right model.

Insulation from the ground. Conduction through the base of the bag is a major factor when sleeping in the cold. Selection of the appropriate mat and sleeping position will make a big difference in your comfort.

Insulation from wind chill, body mass, respiration and moisture loss through breathing can affect how you feel the cold in the bag.

Where it is being used e.g. in a tent, hut, bothy (concrete floors are colder than wooden), bivi-ing or in-house

What the user is wearing e.g. lightweight base-layers, expedition weight base layers, down suit, hat, gloves, socks, scarf. Wearing warm socks and a hat in cooler weather can keep your extremities warmer and help you to stay cosier.

Features of the bag e.g. hood design, neck baffles, zip baffles, foot plug design, shape and fit.

Extended trips can lead to moisture from sweat becoming trapped in the bag reducing the insulation it can offer.

Where to buy sleeping bags / What sleeping bag to buy / How to buy sleeping bag guide at Tiso

PHYSIOLOGICAL FACTORS

Sleeping bags do not generate any heat. A sleeping bag works by retaining a layer of warm air that you generate around you; this is what keeps you warm.

Age – older people feel the cold more than young adults. Also, young children cannot self-regulate their temperature very well.

Males & females feel the cold differently – females are generally more susceptible to cold than males.

Physical fitness & condition – seasoned mountaineers can generally sleep at a colder temperature than those who camp infrequently. Also, they are more used to it.

Build of the user – a slim man at 5’6 will fit the bag differently to a large 6’ tall man and may find the bag correspondingly feels warmer or cooler.

Body mass – A light layer of body fat insulates you against cold. In addition, the larger the body, the ratio of surface area to mass reduces making it harder to lose heat.

Keeping well-nourished and hydrated during a trip makes a big difference. If you are dehydrated and hungry your body may not maintain the correct temperature.

Exhaustion reduces the body’s ability to maintain temperature regulation.

General health – there are medical conditions that may make the user more susceptible to the cold; e.g. circulatory problems can affect the perception of cold.

Where to buy sleeping bags / What sleeping bag to buy / How to buy sleeping bag guide at Tiso

What design features should I look out for?

Shape: most modern sleeping bags are mummy shaped with cowl hood and a taper towards the foot. These features allow the maximum amount of warmth to be trapped inside the bag.

Shoulder baffle: another warmth-saving feature. It allows the bag to be closed around the neck and shoulders with a draw cord (trapping more warm air) without restricting the face and head.

Zips: allow ventilation and ease of access. Most manufacturers make bags with left and right zip options allowing two (twin) bags to be zipped together. If you are right handed you are best to buy a bag with a zip on the left and vice versa as it is easier to do it up and down across your body.

Compression bags: many sleeping bags come with a compression bag which is fitted with straps to enable you to squash the bag up smaller than it would normally go. These bags are also available to buy separately.

How do I look after my sleeping bag?

Ensure it is used with the best camping mat available. Most of your heat and comfort will depend on what you sleep on.

If using your sleeping bag regularly, it is a good idea to use a liner inside the bag. This keeps the bag clean and the liner is easier to wash than the whole bag.

Sometimes it is easier to pack your rucksack with a sleeping bag that is loosely compressed (allowing you to pack things more easily around it).

Take care washing your sleeping bag especially if it’s a down bag. See our Care & Maintenance Guide for some useful advice and tips on looking after your sleeping bag.

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