Choosing the right down sleeping bag
Here at DownBags we've spent thousands of nights in a wide variety of down sleeping bags, temperatures and weather conditions in many parts of the world. We believe that the information available on sleeping bags should only be used as a guideline and that the best way to choose a sleeping bag is to be realistic about yourself and the uses to which your sleeping bag will be put. Below are a few thoughts based on our (and our many friends and customers') experiences.
Buy the best sleeping bag you can
OK it may seem obvious that sleeping properly is fundamental to proper physical and mental performance. But how far up your list of priorities is a good nights sleep when sleeping outdoors? Will you be in a fit state to tackle that peak or river if you're exhausted from the moment you wake up because you've had a cold and miserable night? Yes, down sleeping bags are generally more expensive than synthetic ones BUT they still offer the best performance and comfort available. A good quality down sleeping bag will last you many years, quite possibly a lifetime if cared for properly. There's more about this in the 'Down vs. Synthetic' section. There's an old saying that definitely rings true in this case – 'buy cheap, buy twice'.
Know your limits!
How warm you feel depends on many factors including gender, general health, diet and fitness. For example, extensive studies show that as the temperature drops women generally lose circulation to their hands and feet more quickly than men. That's why the EN temperature rating system will give both a men's and a women's rating for the same sleeping bag.
Do you feel the cold more than most people? If so, you may wish to compromise by buying a slightly heavier, bulkier but warmer sleeping bag and save weight, if necessary, in another area of your kit. Or if weight and pack size are a priority, perhaps you need to think about investing a bit more in a lighter bag that offers the same warmth.
Be realistic about where and when you will use your sleeping bag.
Do you really need to save 50g in weight but risk not getting a decent night's sleep? Are you prepared to suffer a little in order to save pack weight?
Do you need to buy a 4-season sleeping bag suitable for temperatures well below 0°C when you won't use it beyond the summer in the UK?
The key factor for most of us is versatility, this is why 2- and 3-season sleeping bags are popular; they are suitable for most people's needs in the UK who do not sleep outdoors in winter conditions. Many people who buy the warmest bags are doing so for a limited number specific trips or expeditions and accept the fact that the bag will generally be too warm for UK use.
What kind of weather conditions are you likely to encounter? Bear in mind that most tents allow a reasonable circulation of (possibly cold) air.
Do you have a good insulating mat to sleep on? Up to 80% of your body heat is lost to the ground so a good sleeping mat is essential. This is a critical factor – if you don't have a decent sleeping mat then a good sleeping bag is simply a waste of money.
A summary of key points
- Men sleep warmer than women
- Fit people sleep warmer than unfit people
- Younger people sleep warmer than older people
- People who have eaten well and kept well hydrated sleep warmer than those who haven't
- People with more experience can often tolerate a slightly cooler night or can find ways of staying warm
- Your sleeping mat is critical, especially at very low temperatures. An upgrade in your mat can make your sleeping bag feel instantly warmer as you lose less heat to the ground
- If you know you'll be sleeping at around say 0°C regularly then don't buy a sleeping bag with a lower limit of 0°C unless you're pretty sure from experience that you sleep warm and it will be OK. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a buffer zone of a few degrees – perhaps a bag rated to -5°C would be better? If it's only going to be 0°C on the odd occasion and you can cope with that then fine and dandy
Should I choose a left or right zip?
Phew! Hopefully one of the easier decisions to make. The zip side specified is the side the zip will be on when you're lying on your back. So a left zip will be running down your left side etc. Most right handed people prefer a left zip and vice versa. This means you can reach across your body to use the zip more easily. Of course, it's entirely up to you.