Gear Review: Sleeping Bag Selection

Fully-loaded rider

If you're in the market for a new sleeping bag for an upcoming tour, the wide array of options available can be really intimidating. A sleeping bag is an important peice of equipment to have along if you plan on camping, of course, but not worth getting hung up on for days on end. To help you make your ultimate decision, here are three factors I take into consideration when looking at sleeping bags.

Temperature. First and foremost, I want to know what temperature rating I'm looking for in a bag, which narrows the pool of options down significantly. Looking at my tour, I try and guess the coldest possible weather I may encounter, and get an appropriate bag. Most bicycle tourists are probably going to be looking at either a summer bag, rated for 35 degrees F+, or a three-season bag, rated from around 10 to 35 degrees F. Keep in mind that this rating refers to an "average" person wearing a light base layer with a full length sleeping pad. Other factors that can affect the warmth of the bag include your sleeping environment. Tents and bivy sacks add a few degrees of warmth, and the body heat of a tent companion adds even more. For colder than expected temperatures, you can also add layers of clothing for enhanced warmth.

Tent with bags

Shape/Style. Once you've got the temperature rating nailed down, it's time to check out some different shapes and styles. Traditional bags tend to be rectangular in shape, and are ideal for people who like to move around a lot in their bag. There are also semi-contoured bags that offer a slightly more snug fit, but still give you room to move around. Lastly, mummy bags, which offer great warmth for a smaller size, but don't allow for a great deal of movement inside the bag.

Material. At this point, you have narrowed the options down significantly, and you're into the finer details. When looking at material options for a given temerature rating and style, you are mostly considering weight and price. At the high end of the spectrum are 800-fill down bags. These are high on price and comfort, lightweight, and will pack down into a small stuff sack. Lower grades of down sleeping bags (650-fill) can bring the price down, but will increase weight and stuffed size. Synthetic bags are a great way to bring the price way down, and still provide a lot of comfort. The only difference is that you will be adding a pound or two of weight, and it won't stuff down into a bag as readily.

Photos by Josh Tack

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2 responses so far ↓

Brad Kay - Dec 28, 2011 at 10:25 AM

You forgot to mention that a person needs to keep in mind the relative likelyhood of the bag getting wet. A synthetic bag will retain its loft when wet much better than a down bag, and so if there is a high possibility of your bag getting wet this should be a big consideration. Packing size is not such a huge concern when the bag is going to be on top of your rear rack, IMO, so if I am touring in wetter climates I will choose the synthetic bag over the down bag.

Bruce Graybeard - Dec 28, 2011 at 12:12 PM

I agree with Brad . A high quality synthetic bag with a compression sack is not that much bigger than a good down bag . They also will dry out much faster with less fuss if they do get wet.

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