Sleeping bags are an important item to take with you when you travel. Strictly speaking, they aren’t essential (yes, you can live without one), but they do make sleeping outdoors a lot more comfortable. The market is flooded with so many different types, styles and materials, selecting the right one can be daunting if you don’t know where to begin.
I’ll start with the obvious; sleeping bags aren’t cheap. If you regularly enjoy the great outdoors, you will have many opportunities to make use of your sleeping bag, giving you excellent value for money. If you aren’t a camper, or are only purchasing one to supplement your Bug Out Bag (BOB), you might baulk at the price of a good quality sleeping bag.
To a degree, price will influence your selection, but it should not be your only criteria. Think of your sleeping bag as disaster insurance. If you have to leave your home, do you really want to be exposed to the elements while you sleep? No? Me neither. In Australia, you can expect to spend $100 to $200 on a decent sleeping bag. If you read through the catalogues that clutter your mailbox every week, or regularly check on-line, you should be able to save money by purchasing a good quality sleeping bag while it is on sale.
There are a number of factors to consider when selecting your sleeping bag.
- Price: Set a budget. I am fairly confident you don’t need a $500 sleeping bag.
- Material: Your sleeping bag must have a breathable lining, and a water resistant outer layer. Sleeping bags in transit have a horrible tendency to absorb any liquid they accidentally touch; providing you with a cold, wet, uncomfortable night’s sleep.
- Temperature rating: Sleeping bags are rated from arctic through to tropical. You need to consider the climate of the area you will be sleeping in. A bag that is retains too much heat will be impossible to sleep in. But a bag with too little insulation will not keep you warm; you will shiver until sunrise (travel light, freeze all night, as the adults used to say). If you live in a subtropical area like I do, think carefully before purchasing a sleeping bag rated for arctic conditions.
- Size: You need to be able to fit into the sleeping bag and zip it shut. Take the measurement around the largest part of your body (chest + shoulders + arms, or hips), and add a few inches. This is the smallest size sleeping bag you are permitted to buy. Anything smaller will fit like a sausage skin, or won’t zip up at all. A small sleeping bag is a useless sleeping bag. I am, and have always been, very broad across the chest and shoulders. In my youth I believed the advice of a lazy and unscrupulous sales assistant who told me all sleeping bags were the same size, and were designed to fit all adults. Unfortunately, when I took the sleeping bag on my next camping trip, it was a complete disaster. I could only do it up if my arms weren’t inside. Lesson learned.
- Method of carry: Your sleeping bag needs some way of attaching to your backpack. During an evacuation, you need both hands free to work. Also, there is a risk you may put your sleeping bag down to do something then forget to pick it up again before you leave. Time consuming to backtrack and retrieve. Too expensive to leave behind.
- Shape: This is a personal preference. Some people love the mummy shaped sleeping bags, but I am not one of them. I prefer the traditional rectangle shape. These allow freedom of movement while you sleep, and provide somewhere to stash small valuables.
- Hoods: Some people like them, some don’t. I like them because they can be stuffed with a jumper and tied shut, turning them into a pillow.
- Weight: As with all you gear, the physical weight of this item is an important consideration. Most sleeping bags weigh between 750 grams to 2 kilograms. Choose wisely; kilos are killers.
Just like any piece of equipment, you need to do your research before heading off to the camping store to part with your hard-earned cash. Make a list of your specific requirements, go on-line to find the brand and model that meets your needs, then find a local store that sells that particular sleeping bag. Never settle for “only what you see on the shelf”. If your local camping store doesn’t sell the item you are looking for, or won’t order it in for you, there are plenty of on-line stores that will cater to your needs. As I stated in the beginning; there are a plethora of different styles and types of sleeping bags available, hopefully this has made selecting the right one a little easier for you.
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