Searching For The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag?

Anyone who's ever camped in bad weather knows that a good sleeping bag is the difference between a good night's sleep and no sleep at all. When you select a sleeping bag, there several characteristics that you have to look at: temperature rating, weight, materials and shape. Let's assume you've found a bag that meets all of your specifications-how do you know it's a good sleeping bag? When it comes to sleeping bags, it's the little details that set the best apart from those that are merely average.

For example, temperature rating is one of the most important features of a sleeping bag, but how do you know the rating is accurate? Many manufacturers post temperature ratings on their sleeping bags that don't seem quite right when you are actually trying to sleep in the bag in those temperatures. Instead of learning the hard way whether or not the rating on the bag is correct, look at the construction. Does the bag seem to be put together well? Are the stitches small, tight and secure? A bag that has gaps in the stitches or that starts unraveling halfway down the trail is guaranteed to let cold air in. The stitching between the baffles should be secure, with no loose threads. If the baffles fall apart, cold spots will form.

Also, look for extra heat-conserving features such as a zipper flap. A zipper flap is a baggy tube of material that hangs over your zipper. It keeps cold air from seeping in through the tiny cracks between the zipper teeth. To keep your head from getting cold, look for an insulated hood with lots of fill and a drawstring. A draft tube, an insulated collar that fits around your neck, will also help keep you snug. To prevent tearing, zippers should zip together smoothly without snagging on the fabric of the bag. The more solidly a sleeping back is constructed, the longer it will last and the warmer it will keep you.

If you are looking for an ultralight bag, you might think that the best bag is the lightest bag, but that may not always be the case. A poorly filled down bag may weigh less than a bag with more feathers inside, but guess which bag will keep you warmer at night? If you are buying a down bag, check the fill power number. Anything over 600 is good, but 750-775 indicates that the bag is the cream of the crop. Bags with more fill power are usually lighter, loftier and warmer. Also, make sure the bag is stuffed well-the down filling should be evenly distributed in order to create even insulation without cold spots. As with any sleeping bag, the puffier the bag is, the warmer it is. If you are buying a bag with synthetic fill, Primaloft One is the warmest and lightest on the market. Other good fill materials for synthetic bags include Thermalite and Polarguard.

Ideally, the shell material should be like a one-way street: moisture from your body can get out, but moisture from outside can't seep in. The best materials for shells are Dry-Loft, microfiber polyester, or ripstop nylon. Liner material should have some wicking properties, pulling moisture away from your skin. Silk is excellent for this, but expensive. Nylon, polyester and taffeta are good choices, too. Cotton tends to trap moisture and loses heat when wet, and is only an acceptable choice for a summer bag. For both the shell and the fill, make sure the weave of the fabric is tight and that there is no fill leaking out. The higher the thread count, the better.

As with any gear you purchase, make sure to carefully evaluate a sleeping bag before you buy it. Making a purchase online can save you money but first you may want to go to an outdoors store to see the bag you want in person -- then go click the checkout button on the website. On the other hand, looking at online reviews often gives you a tremendous amount of 3rd party advice that you'd never get talking to an in-store salesperson.

All pages on this topic:
Sleeping Bags & Pads | Searching For The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag? | Top 10: Backpacking Sleeping Bag Reviews | The Secret To Sleeping Well: The Backpacking Pad
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