Hiking Sleeping Bags

Hiking Sleeping Bags - Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Like most things when it comes to hiking, a sleeping bag needs to be small, compact, but comfortable and ultimately warm. It seems like a lot to ask, but with ongoing technological advances, you can most certainly have your cake and eat it too!

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What are the different types of Hiking Sleeping Bags?

Just like camping sleeping bags, hiking sleeping bags come in all shapes, sizes and temperature ratings and can be filled with natural fibres such as down or have a synthetic fill.

Rectangular Sleeping Bags: Rectangular sleeping bags are the most traditional shape; they tend to be seen as room and have space to roll over or stretch out.

Mummy Sleeping Bags: These shaped sleeping bags are shaped exactly as they sound, like a mummy of Egypt. They are wider at the shoulders and taper down to the feet and all tend to have hoods. They are snug but do offer limited movement if you are a restless sleeper.

How do I choose a hiking sleeping bag?

The first step is to choose what activity you are buying your sleeping bag for. Is it an overnighter, a multi-day hike, and where are you going considering the temperatures and climates? Once you have the answers to these questions selecting a sleeping bag becomes a bit easier.

Backpacking or Multi-Day Hiking sleeping bags to tend to be a little on the pricy side, mainly due to the technical specifications required of a sleeping bag for such a technical activity, and as a hiking sleeping bag, they must tick the boxes of the “Big 3” – Weight, Compressibility and Warmth.

Try to get the lightest sleeping bag you can afford while keeping you warm and giving you a comfortable nights’ rest. Low denier shells (sleeping bag outer fabric) with a high fill power down will give you the greatest weight and compressibility savings but will come at a premium price. At Bundy Outdoors we recommend the Nemo Sleeping Bag range.

Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings

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.

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, as women tend to sleep colder than men) 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 because men tend to sleep warmer than women) 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 is down fill power?

Fill power determines the “fluffiness” of down feathers. And if you have ever slept under a down filled doona, you know what we mean by fluffy. You wake up in the morning and your bed resembles the Michelin man! Its lofty and squishy like a giant marshmallow of warmth. And in terms of fill power of a sleeping bag or even a down puffer jacket it’s no different. Fill power reflects the ability fluff up trapping more air (warm air) and provides a better warmth to weight ratio.

Why is weight a deciding factor in selecting a hiking sleeping bag?

Any experienced hiker will tell you; hiking is a game of grams not kilos. And literally every gram counts. It sounds melodramatic, but something that is 500g might not seem like much but add a second item that is 250g and another that is 300g and you soon find your self carrying over 1kg adding that to the rest of your gear. And the additional 1kg carried up hill and down dale might as well be 100kg at the end of a 20km day trek. As you expend energy over time things feel heavier. So, where you can make weight savings in your hiking gear, you do.

As a rule of thumb, look for a hiking sleeping bag that is around 1-1.5kg

The takeaway on hiking sleeping bags

When choosing a hiking sleeping bag, look at the temperature ratings. Select one based on the location/s you are going, keeping in mind the comfort rating and choose one that has an “extreme rating” a little lower than you anticipate on your trip – not too much though. Then also factor in weight and size.