The right sleeping bag is more than the difference between a night of good night sleep and bad; it’s the difference between a good night sleep, a light rucksack and in an emergency, the difference between life and death.
Over the years, I’ve met so many people that have decided they want a night in the great outdoors, bought a tent, a sleeping matt and a sleeping bag from their local sports shop and started walking. Nine times out of ten, it starts raining, the tent starts leaking, the sleeping bag is wet, cold and more importantly, now heavy because its full of water, and what should be an enjoyable time in the countryside, is fast turning into an utter nightmare.
UK Sleeping Bags
In this guide, we’re looking look at what makes a great sleeping bag for camping trips in the UK. Remember, this is for the UK, and realistically, it’s from April to November in the countryside where temperatures range from -5 to plus 25. We’re not looking at sleeping bags that you can use in the French Alps where you’re glacier walking in mid-winter.
Typically, with any sleeping bag, you have several choices to make before you buy the right kit for your needs. Below we have outlined the ten options that you have to decide to buy the right sleeping bag for your needs.
Shape and Length
The most popular and best sleeping bags are mummy-shaped sleeping bags. Narrow in the shoulder and hips, they tend to fit snugly around your body. Even more so if you tighten it around yourself with the cord at the top, if you want to use it in hot weather, you can unzip it. If you prefer a roomier sleeping bag, you can purchase a semi-rectangular sleeping bag. These can be big enough to fit two people.
The next thing you should consider is the length of the sleeping bag. Most bags are either regular or long, but you can find shorter and longer bags if you look. Some manufacturers list bags according to height. A six-foot bag, for example, will fit someone up to the height of six foot.
Sleeping Bag Seasons
Sleeping bags are designed based on a set criterion of warmth and therefore in what season in the UK you can use them in. Sleeping bags are rated, usually by the EN (European Norm), for comfort rating and lower limit rating. You should find the ratings listed on the bag.
The comfort rating tells you how low the temperature can go outside the bag before you begin to feel uncomfortably cold and the lower limit rating tells you how high the temperature can go outside down before a warm sleeper begins to feel uncomfortably hot. These figures are based on the presumption you’re wearing a layer of clothes and are lying on a sleeping pad.
Typically, there are four seasons as per below;
- Season One – This type of sleeping bag is specifically designed for warm summer nights. The great advantage of one season sleeping bag, they are incredibly light and can be condensed down into a small ball and carried in your rucksack.
- Season Two – This type of sleeping bag is designed for Spring and Autumn, where the temperatures have started to reduce down to around 10 degrees. They can also be used for those that are more susceptible to the cold and may prefer a slightly warmer sleeping bag.
- Season Three – This type of sleeping bag is designed for winter, early spring and late Autumn in the UK
- Season Four – This sleeping bag has been designed for winter, and specifically temperatures below freezing.
Sleeping Bag Construction
A sleeping bag is made up of three parts: an outer shell, insulation and lining.
- The Outer Shell – needs to be waterproof and breathable to make sure it stays dry in the wettest of weather. Sometimes, it’s not rain that you must look out for. Summer morning grass can be soaked with dew, and if you roll onto the side of the tent in your sleep, you can get your bag soaking wet.
- Insulation – There are two types of sleeping bag insulation; down insulation and synthetic insulation.
- Down Sleeping – bags use a layer of feathers inside to trap the heat and leave you warm in even the coldest of weather. They’re great and very effective in the cold. That said, we would recommend not buying one as not only will you be too warm, but they are too expensive.
- Synthetic Sleeping Bags – In the UK, unless you’re planning on winter camping, a synthetic sleeping bag will be just fine for your needs. A synthetic sleeping bag will not insulate as well as the down bag above, but they do keep you dry and if they get wet, are faster to dry.
- Lining – The lining of the inside of the bag not only needs to be soft but breathable. The aim is to keep you warm throughout the night and to let any sweat evaporate.
Male or Female Design
In the past, buying a sleeping bag has been a case of one-size-fits-all, however, while the cheaper, synthetic, more mass-made variants, there is still the one size fits all, but if you look up the range slightly, there is the option to have a female variant to them.
Typically, the difference comes down to the narrower shoulders and body shape that help to trap the warm air inside the sleeping bag.
Left Hand / Right Hand Zip
You may notice across the range of sleeping bags that some are designed with a left-hand zip, while others on the right. Often people think that this is to help you join two sleeping bags together if you’re sleeping with someone else. While this might be the case, this was not the intended design.
The left/right-hand zip is to help you un-zip your sleeping bag, while you’re inside it, depending on whether your left or right-handed. If you’ve ever tried to un-zip a right-handed zipped sleeping bag, being right-handed, you’ll notice it’s a complicated process. Remember, Left Hand Zip for Right Handed People, Right Hand Zip for Left-Handed People.
NOTE – Make sure your sleeping bag comes with a zip cover to prevent irritation against your skin as you sleep.
Baffles are built into your sleeping bag to stop the down or synthetic filling from moving around too much. Without your sleeping bag being designed with baffles, the filling inside your sleeping bag would clump together in on end, defeating the object of a sleeping bag in the first place.
Baffles create a chamber that holds the filling in one place, so its evenly distributed and therefore keeps you warm. Across the sleeping bag market, there are two types of construction – sewn-through and box baffled.
A sewn-through design is both cheaper a lighter that the box baffling design mainly because the box design uses lightweight materials that are placed between the outer shell and the liner to form a box. The box helps to maximise warmth but at the same time noticeably more expensive and heavier.
Did you know you can lose up to 80% of your body warmth through your head? As a consequence, you need to make sure your sleeping bag comes with a hood that allows you to pull it around your head and tighten the front drawcord. On point, make sure the tent is long enough for you to be able to stretch your legs out, while your hood is on your head and the draw closed.
Some are cushioned enough as a pillow and others have a pocket that you can stuff clothing in to create a pillow.
An inner pocket to keep your valuables safe and close to you while you sleep is especially useful for wallets and phones that could be stolen, if left if your rucksack.
Sleeping Bags can be quite bulky if you’re keen to save space in your pack, compressions sacks can be used to reduce the overall volume of your sleeping bag by around a third. These sacks are a good way of adding an extra water-resistant layer for down sleeping bags as well to help keep the integrity of the down insulation intact.
Caring for Your Sleeping Bag
If you go for an expensive sleeping bag, you need to care for it well. The first tip is to buy the right sleeping bag for the right weather. You can’t expect a down sleeping bag to last if you keep getting it soaking wet.
- If you do get a bag wet, let it dry it out before you use it again.
- If you are on a long hike that may mean putting it out in the sun for a few hours.
- Deal with any tears as soon as possible. If all the bag’s filling comes out, you’ll be left with just a thin blanket.
- Spot wash your sleeping bag as much as possible. Only wash it in a machine if it becomes unmanageably dirty.
- Don’t put it in a tumble dryer.