Sleeping Bags

The purpose of a sleeping bag is to keep the user warm by trapping body heat. The comfort ratings developed for sleeping bags which are used by most manufacturers are developed for the average person using EN/ISO (EN 13537) standards developed in 2002 and is still the only international rating sytem set by a standardised labratory test.

No camping or touring situation is the same: It is important to understand the conditions of your camping, touring or hiking situation to effectively prepare for your trip. Season, weather, and location all play a vital role in the quality of your sleep as does your personal sleeping habits and whether you are a "cold sleeper" or a "hot sleeper".

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Understanding Sleeping Bags

The entire sleeping setup can be the difference between an undisturbed and a disgruntled night’s sleep. Sleeping in a smaller, enclosed space such as a Swag will allow body heat to fill up the space at a faster rate and keep it balanced throughout the night. Sleeping in a larger space such as a tent will mean cold air will linger throughout the night.

A restful sleep can be determined by the current physical state of the user. Someone who is hungry will be colder through the night as the body consumes more energy to stay warm. Similarly as individuals how we feel, what we eat, when we eat, hydration and clothing worn when inside a sleeping bag and perhaps how we fit in a sleeping bag all have a dramatic effect on how warm we sleep.

As people respond differently to various conditions. A smaller sized person may end up being be a colder sleeper as there is more free space within the sleeping bag where cold air can linger. A larger sized person inside a well fitted sleeping bag will rapidly trap body heat within the bag.

How are sleeping bag's temperature ratings set?

EN/ISO Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings (EN 13537)

You will soon work out that not all sleeping bag manufaturers have the huge range of sleeping bags at various temperature ratings, however most manufaturers' sleeping bags are all tested using the same protocols, if they are not tested using the same EN/ISO ratings, most manufactuers will provide a Comfort Rating and and Extreme Rating for a buyers reference. For the most part, manufatuers will provide a tiered system temperature ratings for the sleeping bag and often it's the "extreme" limit of the sleeping bag that is advertised in the name. Some manufaturers may only provide the Comfort and Extreme ratings.

Be sure to check all of the details of the sleeping bag to make sure you get the right one for the right occasion.

The EN/ISO EN 13537 testing protocols were developed in Europe in 2002 and are the standard for sleeping bag ratings. The ratings from these protocols allow users to compare bags that test to this standard and safely choose a sleeping bag that suits their needs/requirements.

Comfort Range: The comfort limit, is based on the 'average' women (yes a woman) having a comfortable sleep. Usually taking into consideration a base layer of some description (t-shirt and shorts/pants) and the person being relaxed and comfortable and not feeling the cold.

Transition Range: This is usually the 'lower limit' of the transition range which is the lower limit where the average man (yep, man) can still have a nights sleep but is in a situation of fighting against the cold, he may be curled up but in thermal equalibrium and not shivering. That means that somewhere whithin this range is likely to be the performance limit of the sleeping bag. For example the comfort rating of a sleeping bag may be 0°C and the extreme limit may be -5°C, therefore the Transition Range may be somewhere around -2°C to -3°C.

Extreme Range: As per the EN/ISO standard language, this is the range in which the user will experience a strong sensation of cold, and there is a health risk of hypothermia (in certain conditions). A sleeping bag should only be used in this rage as an 'emergency' or survival situation.

It is important to remember these are just ranges and summer sleeping bags and winter sleeping bags are not created equal with the Extreme Range for a summer sleeping bag being hugely different than that of a winter sleeping bag and similary the differences will be vast between a winter sleeping bag and a mountaineering sleeping bag as an example.

Each person will have individual results based on their own personal body composition, clothing etc. But nevertheless the standards and ranges, give you a great baseline performance level for a sleeping bag.

What should you wear inside a sleeping bag?

Appropriate layering of thermal clothing and blankets or sleeping bag liners can allow sleeping bags to become more versatile in various conditions and climates. The feet and head are control points for body temperature, meaning wearing thermal socks and a beanie can bring your body to a comfortable sleeping temperature in colder conditions. At the end of the day, it is up to the individual user what they choose to wear and when, but clean comfortable clothing is always recommended.

Should or Can you use a blanket or sleeping bag liner?

A sleeping bag liner can be used to provide additional warmth and also helps to keep your sleeping bag cleaner for longer, and long term a sleeping bag liner may help to increase the life of your sleeping bag overall. If you choose to use a blanket, be sure to put the blanket on the inside of the sleeping bag. All sleeping bag’s internal fill are designed to “swell” regardless if you are using a down sleeping bag or a synthetically filled sleeping bag. The fibres swell and trap heat between and around the fibres. If a blanket or something heavy is applied to the outside of the sleeping bag, it prevents the fibres from expanding and trapping heat, meaning the sleeping bag cannot perform as it should, and the user may become uncomfortable especially in cold or extreme climate conditions.

Users who choose to sleep directly outdoors with minimal shelter such as a tarp or awning will experience more discomfort.

With the above indicators, discretion and careful consideration must be used when selecting a suitable sleeping bag, and it may even be a necessity that two sleeping bags are purchased (summer sleeping bag and winter sleeping bag) depending on your requirements or what they are being used for. Additionally sleeping bag liners can be purchased in several varieties, such as fleece, silk, cotton or a combination of silk and cotton which can be easily washed, and swapped out as the seasons change.