How To Choose A Sleeping Bag

Fish Hawk 30 Front1

There are a lot of options in sleeping bags.  While there is no one “right” bag for everyone and every condition, here are some basic questions to consider to make sure you get a good night’s sleep while camping:

Down or Synthetic?

Down – lighter, easier to compress, more expensive, will not keep you warm if it gets wet.

Synthetic – heavier, harder to compress, less expensive, will keep you “warm” when wet.

In general, you will want your budget and your climate to direct you here.  Most down sleeping bags these days are stuffed with down that has been treated – such as DriDown from Kelty or DownTek from Big Agnes – so that it is somewhat water resistant.  But it is still not a good idea to count on a down sleeping bag in a very humid climate or on a trip where you are expecting a lot of precipitation.

A synthetic bag is more than adequate for car camping, but if you are counting ounces and space in your backpack for a week-long trip a down bag will suit you better.

What degree bag do I need?

The temperature rating on sleeping bags is meant as a guide.  Each person sleeps differently so you have to take how easily you personally stay warm into account.

Most quality sleeping bags are EN rated these days.  An EN rating comes from an established standard test using an thermal mannequin and establishes 4 temperature ratings for a sleeping bag:  upper limit, comfort, lower limit, and extreme.

The EN rating system is voluntary, but most bag manufacturers782__91918.1453822462.200.200 use it to determine at least a comfort and lower limit for their bags now.  This has replaced the variable and proprietary methods they previously used so that consumers can compare apples to apples much easier.

Your climate, the time of year you wish to camp, and your general preference for hot or cold sleeping should be a guide.  In general, a 20-30 degree sleeping bag is a good investment for most 3-season camping and some 4-season camping.  You can adjust clothing and accessories – such as a sleeping bag liner to add warmth – with the forecast.

Alternatively, if you wish to camp year round with regularity in a variety of conditions, the purchase of one -20 to 10 degree bag and an additional 30-40 degree bag may be worthwhile.


Sleeping bags are often constructed in “Regular” and “Long”.  You may also find them in “Extra Long”, “Petite” and sometimes the combination of ““Wide” thrown in with any of the lengths.

There is no standard for what these lengths mean, but all bags will list a “fits up to” height in their product specifications.  We still suggest climbing in to get the best fit.

Mummy?  Rectangle?  Quilt?

Your personal preference for room and features should dictate the shape of your sleepwear.

An old-school rectangle sleeping bag usually will have excess fabric (weight) that does not help insulate but does allow room to kick your feet around.

Some people find a true mummy fit of a sleeping bag to be very cozy and an economical use of space, while others feel too confined.

Many bags are built as a “relaxed mummy” these days – providing some of the thermal benefits of a mummy bag but a slightly looser fit around the body.

Because any insulation under your body gets compressed to the point it does not work very well, many bags now come with less padding on the bottom to reduce useless weight.  Another way to accomplish the same thing is to remove some extra fabric all together and use a backpacking quilt.

Made out of the same material as sleeping bags, quilts are sewn with neck snaps, foot boxes, and other features that ensure a good night’s sleep.  Tom and Jess used quilts on the AT in 2013 and liked them a lot – but they are not great for frequent turners/sleep movers who may inadvertently throw off the covers.

Read to shop?  You can check out what The Hiker Box has available online, or stop by.  If we don’t have something you want, we’ll do our best to get it.

Have more questions?  Drop us an email or give us a call.  We’re more than happy to explain more of the detailed features of bags and help you make the best choice for your needs.