Rather you’ll be sleeping on the ground or suspended in the air in a hammock a good quality sleeping bag is a must for any camping trip.
Let me tell you I have spent many nights cold on the ground shivering. Just waiting for the sun to come up. I cannot stress enough how important a quality sleeping bag is.
How do you choose a quality sleeping bag?
Glad you asked.
Below I’ll cover a number of things you should consider when choosing a sleeping bag for a camping trip. I’ll also cover care for your sleeping bag, and finally, offer a few suggestions for quality sleeping bags on the market today.
Sleeping Bag Comparison Chart
|Sleeping Bag||Quality||Our Rating|
|Coleman North Rim||A|
|Wenzel Blue Jay||B+-|
Sleeping Bag Buying Guide
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
The first thing you need to know about sleeping bag temperature ratings is they should not be taken as Gospel. There is no standard for temperature ratings among manufacturers. When you see a bag that says it’s a 25-degree bag.
That means that a person under the best conditions (you have on warm clothing, using a sleeping pad, etc.) should stay warm as long as the air temperature does not dip below 25 degrees.
However, there is a lot of problems with that. Different shaped bags can affect temperature ratings, as well as using a sleeping pad, and if you are dressed appropriately. Instead, you should use the temperature rating as more of a guide.
A good way to keep from freezing in a sleeping bag is to use a temperature buffer when selecting a bag. Consider the coldest temperatures you will encounter during your trip and subtract 10 - 15 degrees. Choose a bag with that rating to ensure you stay warm on your next trip.
Sleeping Bag Insulation: Down Vs Synthetic
When it comes to choosing sleeping bag insulation you really get two choices. Down, made from clusters of duck or goose feather, and synthetic. Down insulations tend to be on the expensive side but has a much better warmth-to-weight ratio and compresses better. This is great if you have to carry your sleeping bag on your back.
However, most campers will be driving to their camping site. For this type of camping weight really isn’t much of an issue so synthetic is a fine choice. Synthetic insulation also tends to be cheaper but is bulkier and weighs more than a down bag.
One of the great things about synthetic insulation is that it will still retain heat even when wet. It also happens to be quick drying. But let’s face it, even if the bag stays warm when wet. You’re going to be miserable if you have to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Best to be vigilant and not let your bag get wet.
Sleeping Bag Shapes
Sleeping bags work by holding a layer of “dead” air next to your body. Your body heats this dead air and bag forms a barrier between it and the cold air. Thus keeping you warm. The less space there is to heat the faster you warm up. This is why it is important to pick a shape that fits your camping conditions.
Most sleeping bags today come in a rectangle shape. This is great for comfort as it allows you to move around more freely. Also, most rectangle sleeping bags have a full-length zipper down one side allowing you to use the bag as more of a blanket or kick your feet out if you are used to sleeping that way.
A few caveats with rectangle sleeping bags are that they offer little protection for your head so you will need to dress accordingly and they are more spacious. Because they’re more spacious it will take more time and energy for the bag to work it’s magic to trap your body heat inside. This style of sleeping bag is best used during warmer months.
Mummy style sleeping bags trim away a lot of the excess material that rectangle sleeping bags have and therefore better conform to your body. Because there is less space to heat, mummy style sleeping bags are considered to be the warmest style of sleeping bag.
However, because of the restrictive space, a lot of campers have trouble getting comfortable in these bags. If you will be at higher elevations or just camping in colder temperatures a mummy style sleeping bag is worth picking up.
Sleeping Bag Features To Look For
Shell and Lining
The outer shell of a sleeping bag is generally made from either ripstop nylon or polyester. This is due to both materials being ultra durable. Most synthetic sleeping bags will be coated with a durable water repellent (DWR) on their outer shell. This will cause water to bead up and roll off the bag.
However, this does not make the bag waterproof by any stretch of the imagination and you should still do your due diligence in making sure the bag does not get wet. The lining of the sleeping bag is designed to wick away moisture, therefore it does not have a DWR coating.
As the name implies this is a pocket built into the sleeping bag for you to store items. Things like glasses, your phone, or a book can all be stored in a stash pocket.
One thing I like to keep in a stash pocket is either a flashlight or a headlamp. If you have to get out of your tent in the middle of the night for some reason like going to the bathroom. Having a light source close at hand makes things easier.
Sleeping Pad Sleeve
If you move around a lot at night this feature is something worth looking into. On some bags, the insulation on the bottom of the sleeping bag has been replaced with a sleeve for your sleeping pad. The end result means no rolling off your sleeping pad in the middle of the night.
A pillow pocket is simply an empty pocket that allows you to stuff an inflatable camp pillow or clothes in the pocket to make a makeshift pillow in your bag. The great thing about this is that much like the sleeping pad sleeve you don’t have to worry about losing your pillow in the middle of the night.
Sleeping Bag Accessories
Now that you know what to look for in a sleeping bag, and a few additional features to be on the lookout for. There are a few accessories you should consider picking up for your sleeping bag as well. Especially if you want to get the most out of your investment.
Sleeping Bag Liner
The first thing you should pick up for your sleeping bag is a liner. Liners are great because they will help to keep the bag clean and free of debris while camping. But they also act an additional insulator. Keeping you warm in cooler temperatures
If you’re planning to go camping in the summer and you’re a warm sleeper you may consider ditching the sleeping bag and just using the liner.
If you need a good way to transport your bag, a stuff sack is a great choice. Sometimes a sleeping bag will comes with one. But not always. Thankfully stuff sacks are pretty cheap and can be picked up for a few bucks.
If you want to prolong the life of your sleeping bag, I recommend picking up a storage sack to keep it in. When a sleeping bag is stored away in a stuff sack or is compressed for long periods of time, the insulation can become damaged and will not work as well to keep you warm.
The best way to store a sleeping bag when not in use is to place it in a storage sack and hang it up in a closet.
How To Care For A Sleeping Bag
Most synthetic sleeping bags have an average lifespan of 5 years or so before it comes time to replace it. Down, on the other hand, can last you upwards of 15 years with proper care.
However, if you don’t take care of your sleeping bag it doesn’t matter how long the lifespan is as you will no doubt end up having to replace it early.
Below I have assembled a few tips to help you get the most out of your new sleeping bag.
Storing Your Sleeping Bag
As mentioned above the best way to store your sleeping bag when not in use is to hang it up. Keeping it compressed or in a stuff sack can damage the insulation in the bag. Making it harder for you to get warm.
Also, do not use a watertight sack to store your sleeping bag in as it can lead to condensation build up that can turn into mildew or mold and ruin your bag. THis should go without saying, b never put your bag away wet.
Instead you should keep your sleeping bag in a laundry style cotton storage sack. Cotton is great for wicking away moisture. Most bags actually come with a storage sack. But if yours didn’t you can pick one up for a few bucks.
Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag
When possible you should try to spot clean your bag rather than throwing it in a washing machine. By spot cleaning the bag you will preserve the life of bag because it will not be exposed to the harsh conditions created by washing machines.
Washing and Drying Your Sleeping Bag
Sometimes you just need to wash the entire bag. If you do need to wash the entire bag, make sure to use a gentle cycle. Due note that most down bags will need to be washed by hand. You may wash a down bag in a tub full of warm water.
Before putting your bag away you need to make sure it is completely dry. The best way to dry your bag is to air dry it. However, if that is not an option for you, or you don’t have the time you can put the bag in the dryer on low.
Best Sleeping Bag Reviews
|Sleeping Bag||Quality||Our Rating|
|Coleman North Rim||A|
|Wenzel Blue Jay||B+-|
Coleman North Rim Review
The Coleman North Rim is a mummy style sleeping bag that is designed for use down to 0 degrees. However, that is more of a survival rate and is pretty comfortable down to 10 degrees or so.
The bag is pretty heavy at 4.6lbs and is fairly bulky. If you are looking for a decent winter backpacking bag, keep looking. This bag will suit car campers just fine though.
The bag is made from 100% polyester to help keep it water resistant and has a diamond ripstop shell for added protection. However, I still recommend a sleeping pad underneath as sharp rocks can potentially tear the bag.
Overall this is a pretty decent bag made for winter car camping and comes in at a great price.
- 5 Year Limited Warranty
- Decent Construction
- Heavy and Bulky
- Maximum user height is 6 foot
- Bag is rated for 0 degress but performs best at 10 – 15 degrees
Kelty Callisto Review
Kelty is a brand know to experienced campers and hikers as a high-end brand. However, they have produced some gear suitable for the newbie camper. The Callisto is a classic rectangle style sleeping bag that is actually quite roomy for all you side sleepers or ones who thrash about in the night.
The bag is insulated with Kelty’s CloudLoft synthetic material that will keep you warm. Even when wet, unlike down insulation. This particular bag is rated for 30 degrees and performs fairly well as a 3 season bag but is best used in above freezing temperatures.
When camping in milder temperatures the bag can be unzipped and used as more of a blanket than a sleeping bag. You can even zipper two of them together for more room. When it comes to quality this bag is a great bang for your buck and is definitely a great option for the beginning or experienced car camper.
- CloudLoft Synthetic material keeps you warm even when wet
- Works well as a 3 season bag
- Limited lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects
- Pretty heavy – best uses are for car camping
- On the smaller side
The bag is rated for weather between 20 and 40 degrees and does an excellent job of actually keeping you warm.
The thermolock system this bag comes with ensures that you don’t lose heat through the zipper and also comes equipped with Tricot lining as well as fiberlock technology to keep the insulation from shifting.
This helps to preserve the life of the bag. The one caveat of this bag is the fact that it’s the smallest bag on this list. Rated for people who are no taller than 5 foot 11. As mentioned previously it is a great bag to get kids when you are ready to take them camping.
The zipper is also snag proof to prevent it getting caught in the material. There have been plenty of times a good sleeping bag was ripped open because of a cheap zipper. However, with the Brazos, I don’t think that will be a problem.
Overall this is a great starter bag for anyone looking to get started spending time in the outdoors. Or as an early spring, or early fall bag as well.
- Fairly Warm
- Very Affordable
- On the smaller side
- Not as comfortable as higher end bags
Wenzel Blue Jay Review
The Wenzel Blue Jay is a rectangular sleeping bag that is 81 inches long and 38 inches wide. Making it pretty comfortable for most people.
This bag is fairly heavy at 7 pounds, it should be used exclusively for car camping. Not to mention there are a few reports that it doesn’t compress very well.
5 of those 7 pounds is the bag's insulation. That is non-allergenic Insul-Therm. The bag also features a cotton flannel plaid liner to help you stay warm. This bag is surprisingly warm for a non-mummy style sleeping bag
With a self-repairing zipper, you can ensure the zipper never gets snagged in case you want to open the whole bag up and use it as more of a blanket. Which is perfect for warmer nights.
Overall this is a great bag with a great price to performance ratio that will make any camper happy to have.
- Plenty of insulation for cooler nights
- Fits larger individuals
- Can be used as a blanket
- Doesn’t compress well
Teton Sports Leef Sleeping Bag Review
When it comes to sleeping bags, ultralight sleeping bags seem to be all the rage. This is mostly due to the popularity of backpacking. However, one bag that is ultralight but doesn’t sacrifice warmer materials is the Teton Sports Leef 0 degree bag.
The Teton Sports Leef is made with microfiber polarlite insulation that will keep you warm down to 10 degrees or so. This bag is a mummy style bag but is surprisingly roomy with a length of 87 inches and a 34-inch width at its widest point.
If you are looking for a mummy style bag that will keep you warm but not restrict movement the Teton Sports Leef is a good choice.
The bag also features a full-length zipper, that is able to be zipped up from the inside. Anyone who has ever tried to zip up a sleeping bag when the zipper is on the outside knows how much of a pain it can be.
This bag also features Teton’s body mapping technology which places more insulation around the areas that are prone to cold and the hood on the bag cinches down pretty evenly on your face.
While the bag can be compressed to a decent size in a stuff sack, the bag still weighs a little over 4 pounds. Making it more of a camping sleeping bag rather than a backpacking one. However, if you backpack occasionally this bag will work just fine.
- Limited lifetime warranty
- great price to performance ratio
- Warm and comfortable
- Pretty heavy for a backpacking sleeping bag
- Temperature rating is a survival rating and not a comfort rating
Long gone are the days of simply walking into a store, picking up a sleeping bag and heading out on your next wilderness adventure. Now we have all sorts of materials, advances in technology, and various shapes for sleeping bags.
But fear not. Choosing a quality sleeping bag is still a relatively easy task once you know exactly what you’re looking for. Generally speaking, sleeping bags come with one of 2 types of insulation.
Either synthetic or down. Synthetic is the popular choice because it’s lightweight, and will retain heat even when wet. Though sleeping in a wet sleeping bag would suck no matter what material it is made from.
Beyond that sleeping bags come in a few shapes. The traditional rectangle or mummy shape. Mummy sleeping bags conform to your body and use less material. This means less space to keep warm and is better for colder camping trips.
However, because they conform to the body and have less material they tend to be more restrictive than their rectangle counterparts. Make sure to take your sleeping bag for a test drive before taking it out and finding out it doesn’t fit your needs.
There is no best sleeping bag, only what works best for you. The bags listed above are bags I would consider great for car camping, as most are rather bulky. When it comes to price to performance, these bags shine pretty brightly.
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As always thanks for reading and the remember adventure...is waiting.