You need to sleep well at night to perform well during the day. If you’re planning on spending your nights in a sleeping bag, there are some basic things you need to consider. For example, answer me this: Would it be wise to down a couple of pints before you go to bed? What about leaving your sleeping mat at home because “the grass’ll do the trick”, or letting your girlfriend borrow your sleeping bag even though she’s three heads shorter than you? None of the above is a good idea! Cold and restless nights will follow. Promise!
In the following, we’re going to give you some advice as to what to look out for when buying and sleeping in a sleeping bag.
The right sleeping bag: Down or synthetic?
As is so often the case with outdoor gear of all kinds, choosing the right sleeping bag depends entirely on how and where you plan to use it. The advantage that synthetics have over down is that they are still able to insulate when wet because the fibres don’t clump together. With down, it’s a completely different story. Down has a tendency to clump up, causing it to lose its insulating abilities. Plus, it takes much longer for clumpy down to dry! So long in fact that you may have to take action yourself in order to restore the down’s original loft. This is absolutely crucial because it is the loftiness of down that is responsible for its heat-trapping ability.
So, are we saying you should always choose synthetic insulation over down? Not necessarily. Down is an excellent insulator and is very popular for being extremely light and packable. Plus, down adapts much better to the shape of the body, which makes it more comfortable. That being said, when you want to go light, a down sleeping bag is the only way to go.
We’re always so preoccupied with the fact that water could get in our sleeping bags from the outside that we forget that it can come in from inside as well. How’s that? Well, our bodies produce quite a bit of moisture during the night. If you sleep in a cotton shirt, for example, that shirt will eventually start to feel damp, which will in turn make you feel cold! So, in order to get the most out of your sleeping bag, you should always wear functional underwear. Sleeping naked in your sleeping bag is a pretty good way to go, too, by the way. However, this will neither contribute to nor diminish the bag’s insulating abilities. The downside to sleeping in your b-day suit is that you’ll have to wash the bag more frequently, which can have a negative effect on its lifespan. So, if you want to get more out of your sleeping bag for longer, it’s best to use a liner. Depending on the material, it will either have a cooling effect (e.g., silk) or will provide additional insulation (e.g., fleece). Plus, liners are very easy to wash.
A meal in a glass
When you’re completely knackered after a long day on the trails and decide to drink a couple of beers instead of cooking a proper meal, you could be in for a pretty restless night. When the body is drained from all-day physical activity, we not only feel fatigue but also have an increased sensitivity to cold. If you’re cold and hop in your sleeping bag for warmth, you’re putting far too much faith in the bag. Why? Well, the sleeping bag only insulates, whilst actual warmth comes from the body. The important thing is to give your body the calories back that it lost – and not in the form of “a meal in a glass”. As good as it may taste, alcohol unfortunately lowers the core temperature of the body and makes for a restless night’s sleep. In other words, it’d be better to take the time to prepare and eat a warm meal and enjoy a nice cuppa before going to bed. Your body will thank you in the morning.
Once your feet get cold, it takes a while to warm them back up. A sleeping bag’s insulation won’t really help, either. Neither will thick socks. What will help is a trusty hot water bottle! I know what you’re thinking, and no, you don’t have to bring along that red knitted hot water bottle from grandma. A plastic bottle filled with hot water will do just fine. Make sure it’s completely sealed, though ;-)…
A rude (and rather cold) awakening
Imagine waking up after a great night’s sleep to this: Clothes frozen stiff! The mountains are calling, but your the weaker part of you, or your inner pig-dog, as the Germans so cleverly call it, is stronger! In order to get your trip off on the right foot, you need to take your clothes with you when you snuggle up in your sleeping bag at night. That way, not only will they stay nice and warm, but your tootsies will too!
Gender-specific sleeping bags?
It may sound like we’re overgeneralising when we say that “women always have cold feet, and men always have broad shoulders…”, but we’re actually not in this case. There are indeed differences between men and women, and you might want to keep them in mind when purchasing gender-specific sleeping bag.
Not only does the foot of the sleeping bag tend to be thicker in women-specific models, but their proportions are specifically designed for women as well. So, it would definitely make sense for a woman to buy a women-specific sleeping bag.
Comfort rating, lower limit rating and extreme rating. Which rating is relevant?
Hopefully not the extreme rating! This indicates the lowest outside temperature in which a person can stay alive in a sleeping bag. The comfort rating indicates the lowest outside temperature in which the “average woman” (their wording – not ours!) can sleep comfortably. Their “average women” is 25 years old, 1.60 metres tall (5’2”) and weighs 60 kg (132 lbs) and is wearing functional underwear.
The lower limit rating applies to the “average man” (25 years old, 1.73 metres tall (5’6”), weighs 70 kg (154 lbs)). Unfortunately, there are certain things that these ratings don’t take into account, such as an individual’s physical and psychological constitution. And these are very important aspects to consider! After all, some people tend to sweat more than others (which causes them to lose heat), whilst others tend to move around more during the night (which makes them warmer). In sum, temperature range may be a very subjective criterion, but it can point you in the right direction when shopping for sleeping bags.
(Addition) By the way, if you tend to get warm, you can always use the zip at the foot of the bag for extra ventilation! This will definitely keep you cool and prevent you from losing heat. Unfortunately, though, not all sleeping bags are equipped with a two-way zip, so this isn’t always an option!
Because many of us tend move around whilst we sleep or like to sleep on our sides with our legs bent, manufacturer have taken it upon themselves to make sleeping bags that are specifically designed to accommodate these positions. Regardless of whether they have a particular shape or just elastic seams, both are there to help side sleepers get a good night’s sleep! Of course, the size of the sleeping bag plays an important role as well. The interior length of the bag should not correspond with your body height, but rather give you some wiggle room. So, if you’re 1.75 metres or 5’7” tall, the interior length of your sleeping bag should be around 1.85 metres. It’s always better for it be a bit larger than just right or too small.
Why so much room? If the sleeping bag is too narrow, then you’ll rub up against the sides. And, if these get smashed in, cold spots can form. So, when purchasing a sleeping bag, you should be aware of two things: how you sleep and your height.
”My neck always hurts when I sleep in a tent…”
Who says you can’t have a pillow? There are excellent travel pillows out there, but if you’d rather do without the extra bulk, you always have the option of filling up a stuff sack with clothing and using that as a pillow instead. After all, it doesn’t always have to be a perfect square!
It’s all about the mat
There are so many sleeping mats out there, and the differences between them are just as plentiful. But, we’ll talk about that at some other time. The important thing to remember is this: Regardless of how low a sleeping bag’s lower limit rating is, if the sleeping mat isn’t up to par, you’ll be cold. Trying save money or room by ditching the sleeping mat will bite you in the bum!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask our experts in customer service. They are available during the week from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. and can be reached by phone at +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or per E-Mail.
There’s a lot going on in the climbing and outdoor industry. New products are being invented, existing ones are being reworked and improved, and we, too, are learning more every day. And, of course, we would like to share this knowledge with our customers. That’s why we regularly revise the articles at base camp. So don’t be surprised if a few things change from time to time. This post was last updated on 02/01/2016.