A good sleeping bag can make the difference between a great camping trip and a miserable one – ask anybody that’s tried to camp with a summer sleeping bag in the winter months!
Sleeping bag guide: how to choose the best
Buying the best sleeping bag isn’t quite as simple as we may like to think and there’s plenty to think about when choosing the best sleeping bag for camping, trekking or festivals.
Finding the perfect nighttime companion may actually mean choosing two or even three different sleeping bags for the best results throughout the year. The options really are endless and although a single sleeping bag may be the best option from a budget standpoint, different bags for different conditions is often the best way forward.
From season and temperature ratings to insulation options and shapes and sizes, we’ll highlight everything that you need to know about the best sleeping bags.
Sleeping bag season ratings
The season rating is the most popular method of sleeping bag categorisation, quickly filtering the best bags for the best seasons.
In the UK, the temperature fluctuates at rates that are often hard to believe. Snowstorms one week followed by sizzling sunshine the next isn’t exactly unheard of. To stay comfortable when camping, a couple of different season sleeping bags will be worth their weight in gold.
Let’s take a look at each of the different ratings (1-4) with a brief summary of each.
Season 1 – Summer and indoor use
The season 1 sleeping bags are the best for summer and indoor use, offering minimal insulation to keep users cool.
These are typically much lighter and keep us cooler during warm nights or when staying indoors. If you’re looking for the best sleeping bag for roughing it on the living room floor, camping throughout the height of summer or heading to a festival, it’s this one that you should opt for.
- Budget-friendly sleeping bag
- Lightweight and compact
- Full-length 2-way zip
- Pillow pocket included
- Only for use in warm summer evenings
- Comfort rating: 9°C
- Extreme rating: -9°C
- Weight: 0.74kg
- Dimensions: 215 x 80 x 50cm
Season 2 – Late spring and early Autumn use
The season 2 sleeping bags are designed for the late spring and early autumns that we typically find in the UK.
These bags are great for when it’s starting to get a little colder at night or if you’re the type of person to feel the cold in the evening. For a sleeping bag to use either side of the summer months (or throughout if you’re on a budget), these will be a great choice for you.
- Well priced sleeping bag
- Wind draft tube
- Tapered mummy design
- Stuff sack included
- Heavy for a 2 Season bag
- Comfort rating: 5°C
- Extreme rating: -15°C
- Weight: 1.62kg
- Dimensions: 220 x 80 x 50cm
Season 3 – Autumn and Winter use (No frost)
The season 3 sleeping bags are typically reserved for the winter nights starting from around late August to early spring.
These are the best sleeping bags for mild winter camping where you aren’t expecting to deal with snowstorms and frost in the mornings. If you really feel the cold in the evenings, these may be a good replacement for a typical season 2 bag for camping on either side of the summer months.
If you’re looking for a single sleeping bag that’s great for most situations, season 3 bags are the way to go.
- Cost-effective sleeping bag
- Extra large (220cm) length
- Mummy design
- Stuff sack included
- Garish colour choice
- Bulky pack size
- Comfort rating: 2°C
- Extreme rating: -19°C
- Weight: 1.93kg
- Dimensions: 220 x 80 x 50cm
- Pack size: 42cm x 26cm
Season 4 – Winter use (Frost and/or snow)
The season 4 sleeping bags are typically reserved for the coldest conditions in the heart of winter.
These sleeping bags are used when camping with forecasts of snow, negative nightly temperatures and frost when awakening. Season 4 sleeping bags are typically heavier and thicker, often with down feathers instead of synthetic stuffing.
- Well priced 4 season sleeping bag
- Lightweight synthetic insulation
- Comfy mummy design
- Insulated baffles
- May struggle when colder than -1°C
- Comfort rating: -1°C
- Extreme rating: -26°C
- Weight: 1.125kg
- Dimensions: 215 x 80 x 50cm
Sleeping bag temperature ratings
Alongside the season ratings, sleeping bags also come with a pair of temperature ratings.
These ratings are great for quantifying just how comfortable that you will be when crawling into bed for the night.
Sleeping bag comfort ratings
The comfort rating of a sleeping bag, given in degrees celsius, is the optimal temperature at which a user feel comfortable when sleeping in the “rolled-up” position.
If the temperature is lower than the comfort rating of the sleeping bag, users are likely to be uncomfortable when sleeping. The average female does feel the cold more than the average male and as the comfort rating is a middle-ground for both, a couple of degrees leeway should be accounted for either way.
For example, sleeping in a bag with a comfort rating of 5 degrees in 2-degree temperature may be uncomfortable for females and more comfortable for males, despite using the same equipment.
Sleeping bag extreme ratings
The extreme rating of a sleeping bag is the absolute minimum temperature limit which offers the user protection from frostbite or other temperature-related issues.
This rating is often referred to as the survival rating and informs the users of the minimum temperature that they can expect to withstand if they find themselves in that situation. For casual campers or adventure-goers, this isn’t a value that you’ll have to worry about!
Sleeping bag insulation
When choosing a sleeping bag, the next decision to make comes in the form of the insulation choice.
Sleeping bag insulation comes in two basic forms, the first being the man-made synthetic option and the second being the feathered down option.
Synthetic sleeping bags
The synthetic sleeping bag is, without doubt, the most popular insulation option with the majority of the typical sleeping bag manufactured with this approach.
There’s a huge number of benefits to a synthetic bag including their cheaper price point, ease of cleaning and performance when wet, to name just a few.
However, the synthetic bags are typically not quite as effective as the down alternative for retaining heat, resulting in a poorer quality insulator. Additionally, these bags are heavier and bulkier thanks to the requirement of additional material to compensate for the lesser capabilities.
Down sleeping bags
The down sleeping bag is the main alternative to the popular synthetic options, thanks to its natural ability to trap and retain more heat.
The down sleeping bags come with their own set of advantages over the synthetics with thinner and lighter constructions offering the same comfort, easier compression and a longer lifespan.
However, there are a number of disadvantages to the down sleeping bags with their expensive price tag, poor performance when wet and special cleaning processes required.
Sleeping bag shapes and sizes
Sleeping bags come in a handful of different shapes and sizes, each of which come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Regular sleeping bags
Regular sleeping bags offer users a simple rectangular design with a zipper around two connecting sides.
These bags offer an impressive amount of room compared to mummy sleeping bags but are worse than the mummy sleeping bags for retaining heat. Due to this reasoning, the rectangular bags are best suited to indoor and summer camping where keeping warm is less of an issue.
Although regular sleeping bags were once the most common and popular outdoor sleeping companion, these have been overtaken by the mummy bags.
Mummy sleeping bags
Mummy sleeping bags tapered to the shape of the body, much in the same way that ancient Egyptian mummies were preserved, hence the name.
Mummy bags are great for retaining heat thanks to their tapering design and insulated hood, ideal for camping in the colder months. These sleeping bags are lighter than the rectangular bags and occupy less space when packing – perfect for backpacking.
Long length sleeping bags
A long length sleeping bag is the best choice sleeping bag for those taller campers among us with a 6ft+ guideline for optimum comfort.
A typical sleeping bag comes with the dimensions of 200 x 80 x 50cm is just marginally smaller than the long length sleeping bags offering 20cm of additional length at 220 x 80 x 50cm. These are available in both regular and mummy styles, often differing from the standard sleeping bag with an (L) notation.
Double sleeping bags
Double sleeping bags, as the name suggests, are made for two people and typically measure 193 x 137cm.
These bags are most commonly used by couples and come with both synthetic and down insulation options. These typically have divided opinions with some couples swearing by the double sleeping bags for sharing body heat whereas others much prefer single sleeping bags for optimum comfort.
Key sleeping bag features
Aside from the above choices to be made when looking to purchase a sleeping bag, there’s a handful of other key features that are worth knowing about or looking for when shopping around.
Baffles are the name given to the compartments in the interior of the sleeping bags, helping to ensure that the insulation remains distributed evenly.
A draft collar is the name given to the support around the neck, preventing heat from escaping from around the neck of the user.
These are most common on season 3 and 4 sleeping bags and often include drawcords to allow adjustability for maximum comfort.
Inner pockets, as the name hints, are interior pockets inside the sleeping bag that can be used to keep small valuables close to the body.
Alternatively, these can be used to hold hand warmers for a fantastic winter camping lifehack.
We lose most of our heat from our heads in a cold environment and by ensuring a hood is built into a sleeping bag, this can be minimised.
A drawcord can often be included, allowing the user to tighten the hood and retain as much heat as possible.
Left and right-hand zips
If you’re a fan of ergonomics, it’s best to get yourself a sleeping bag with a zip that works well with your dominant hand.
If given the option, it’s optimal to get a sleeping bag with a left-hand zip if you’re right-handed or a right-hand zip if you’re left-handed.
The outer fabric of a sleeping bag is designed to be water-resistant and durable.
Typically, this material is a form of nylon-ripstop, working well to prevent any damage whilst offering a water-resistant and breathable fabric, ideal for the majority of camping conditions.
The stuff sack is the bag that comes with a mummy sleeping bag that the bag can be stuffed into when packing away.
Unlike a regular sleeping bag, the mummy bags can’t be folded and packed away and so a stuff sack is used as a substitute. These are often given compression straps to minimise the space taken when stored or transported.
Where ventilation is of priority, a two-way zip can be a fantastic option in either half or full-length configurations.
For couples looking to join two sleeping bags together, the two-way zip is a great option and an alternative to the double sleeping bag.
A zip baffle, located behind the zip, is great for reducing the heat loss through the zipper, making a great addition to those 3 and 4 season bags.
A zip cover, as the name suggests, is a fabric flap that can be fastened to cover the zipper and prevent the zipper from coming undone during the evening.
Sleeping bag accessories
Although a sleeping bag may be a great standalone piece of equipment, there is a handful of different accessories that can be used to increase comfort.
The air bed or air mattress is a fantastic addition to a sleeping setup when camping for long periods of time.
Available in both single and double configurations, these can be the best solution for casual campers and offer a small slice of luxury when roughing it outdoors. Air beds are typically inflatable and may require a pump to inflate fully.
Sleeping mats offer a much simpler design compared to the air bed, offering a small padded boosting both comfort and insulation from the ground.
A typical sleeping mat may be self-inflatable or may not require any air before it can be used. A sleeping mat is lighter than an air mattress, but may not be as comfortable for some users.
Sleeping bag liners
A sleeping bag liner is a simple insert that can be slotted inside of the sleeping bag, much in the same way that a sheet slips onto a home bed.
These are great for adding another layer for promoted warmth as well as improved hygiene that can help to prolong the life of the bag.
A travel pillow can be the single best addition to a sleeping bag, offering improved comfort without having to bring a bulky pillow from home.
Travel pillows come in a handful of different shapes and sizes, each of which has their own benefits.
FAQ: Sleeping Bags
Looking for the answer to a burning question about the best sleeping bag for you? Check out the FAQ below and we’ll (hopefully) have an answer to your query!
The easiest way to choose a sleeping bag is to look at exactly what you’re going to use it for.
If it’s for a festival or summer camping, a season 1 sleeping bag will the best choice. If you’re planning on camping in the snow, a season 4 bag is required.
If you’re unsure or are looking for a good all-rounder, a season 3 sleeping bag is your best bet.
Each brand of sleeping bag comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
At Adventure Pending, we’re huge fans of the Berghaus equipment for the best bang for the buck. However, Deuter makes some fantastic equipment if you’re able to stretch your budget.
Air beds and sleeping mats add not only a much-needed layer of comfort but additional insulation between the sleeping bag and the ground.
Sleeping without a padded mat is, of course, possible – but we would always recommend that additional layer.
Have a question about anything to do with sleeping bags? Get in touch and we’ll be sure to get in touch as soon as we can!