Selecting a Sleeping Bag

If you want to stay warm on a cold night then you might want to pick the right sleeping bag.  Sleeping bags should probably be one of the first pieces of equipment you buy. Generally, they are not real expensive but since you spend about one-third of your time in your sleeping bag on a typical backpacking trek, you'll want to make the investment wisely.  There are three major characteristics of sleeping bags: temperature rating, insulation material and shape.

My basic criteria for choosing a sleeping bag would be:

So, what should you pay for a sleeping bag?  A sleeping bag may be had for as little as $40 - $50.  You can pay a lot more, but it probably isn't necessary for normal backpacking activity and certainly not for some of the trips we have planned at present.  Local stores offer fine selections, but prices can vary immensely so be prepared to spend some time doing price comparisons.  A few good sources to look at include (but certainly not limited to):

Don't buy on impulse.  Stores often have special prices on last year models, floor models, and returned-for-repair items (look for ones with a guarantee).  Some examples from Fall 2008 catalogs are shown below.

Source Brand Model (Rating-F) Weight Condition Price
Campmor Slumberjack Minaret (60) 1lb. 11oz. New $39.97 (Sale)
Campmor The North Face Beeline (30) 1lb. 6oz. New $219.97 (Sale)
Campmor Kelty Tundra (15) 4lbs. 1oz. New $49.99 (Sale)
Campmor Kelty Light Year (0) 3lbs. 4oz. New $209.99 (Sale)
Outdoor Outlet Kelty Light Top (55) 2lbs. 15oz. New $49.99
Outdoor Outlet Mountain Hard Wear Phantom (32) 1lb. 5oz. New $244.99
Outdoor Outlet Kelty Light Year (25) 3lbs. 2oz. New $159.99

Now, a few hints on packing your bag.  During storage (non-use), sleeping bags should not be stuffed in sacks because the lengthy period of constriction can reduce the "loft," which in turn reduces its insulating qualities and rating.  When in use, stuff the bag into the smallest stuff sack it will fit.  Sadly, most manufactures bags are terribly inadequate for this purpose so you might want to invest in some compression sacks which use webbing and straps on the exterior to help compress the bag further once stuffed inside.  This is particularly important for internal frame packs because the bag generally goes inside the lower zipper opening.  If too bulky, it will displace other gear.  Size is not as crucial for external frame packs since they can be strapped on the outside bottom or top of the frame.  I recommend too, that you line your stuff sack with a plastic bag before inserting the sleeping bag.  A "goose neck" closure on the opening will keep the water out.  External plastic bags work well but they tend to get snagged and torn too easily.  Also, never use your sleeping bag stuff-sack as a bear bag; the food smell may transferred from the stuff-sack to the sleeping bag and you could easily become a bear lollipop!