It’s all in the bag
  |  First Published: October 2003

When you’re camping in the great outdoors under the stars you need to be not only protected from the elements, but you need to be comfortable and warm. Sleeping bags are a great way to keep your body temperature at the right level without having to take your entire household supply of blankets with you. There are several quality brands of sleeping bags on the market these days and the range just keeps getting bigger.

When sleeping bags were first developed they were designed for the intrepid trekker trying to conquer some snow-capped mountain. These days you can pick up a sleeping bag at Krazys or some of the other $2.00 shops. Mind you, the quality is well below that of a sleeping bag from a camping store, so beware.

Most quality sleeping bags come with a temperature grading. If you’re sleeping out in the tropics a 10-degree polyfill bag is more than adequate. However, if you’re down at the Snowy you’ll need a bag with a –10-degree rating. The bag also needs to be made of a mixture of feather and down or one of the newer fibre fills that have been specially developed for the sleeping bag market.

Style, weight, temperature rating and bulk requirements should all influence your final decision when it comes to buying sleeping bags.

Temperature rating

Temperature rating should be your first consideration. Normally the naked body can sleep comfortably in the outside air of normal humidity at a temperature of 28-29 degrees. This is the guide by which most manufacturers assess the rating for sleeping bags, as the 28-29 degree comfort zone is the temperature that’s most conducive to sound sleep. It’s only a rough guide however. A person who sleeps ‘warm’ may lower the temperature rating of a sleeping bag by 5 degrees and still sleep comfortably, but a person who normally sleeps ‘cold’ may need to increase the rating of the bag to get a good night’s sleep.

By using an inner sheet or liner, you can increase the temperature inside the bag by two degrees. Thermal underwear or pyjamas can add another three degrees. If you’re sleeping fully clothed in normal clothing, bed socks and a beanie, you can add another five degrees.

Bear in mind that the temperature rating can be affected by the amount of exercise you have done that day, the amount of food you have eaten, the amount of alcohol you have consumed and so forth.

If you find that once you’ve purchased a bag it is too hot inside you can always undo the zipper to let some of the hot air out. Feeling too hot is a common problem when you buy a sleeping bag to cover all seasons, but you can usually find a comfortable balance. If, on the other hand, you buy the cheapest bag on the market you’ll probably need to add a few blankets to top up the warmth in Winter.

An ideal Summer weight sleeping bag is rated at between +11 and +20 degrees. Mid-season (Spring and Autumn) ratings are generally between +1 and +10 degrees, and Winter bags should range between 0 and -10 degrees. You can use a mid-season bag for Winter if you add a liner and thermals or Winter weight pyjamas.

Size and style

The optimum size and style of sleeping bag depends on the height and shape of the individual user (we’re not all six feet tall, and not all as thin as Twiggy). Some sleeping bags can be joined together to form a double bag whilst others are designed solely for one person and come in some bizarre shapes. There is even a shape called the ‘mummy’ bag. These are tapered towards the feet so that you are heating and using only a small foot area. This style of sleeping bag is said to be the most thermal efficient for one person to sleep in. They are also one of the lightest on the market.

Regular style bags are the most common and are ideal for car and general camping requirements. They are more comfortable in design and can usually be opened right up to be used as a quilt, and can zip together with another bag to be used as a double.

Jumbo bags are also available for campers who want more room to move about. However, always remember that these bags are rated differently from most sleeping bags. The manufacturers assume that a larger person will be using them so the thermal rating might not be high enough for the individual. Jumbo bags are also generally heavier and bulkier, but they’re perfect for joining together with another jumbo bag to make a great queen-sized sleeping bag – just the thing for camping out on cool Spring evenings.

Hooded sleeping bags are definitely designed for one person and are best for use in cold mountain territory. A cocoon for one really is great when the outside temperature is near freezing. This style of bag is really good if you need support to contain your pillow or if you sleep very ‘cold’.

Pillows are another thing to consider, but sleeping bags do come in a stuff sack, which you can fill with unused clothing to make a makeshift pillow.

The right bag for you

Deciding on the style, weight and thermal capacity that’s best for you out of all the sleeping bags on the market is a daunting task. Out of all the camping equipment I purchase, this is one item I’d never attempt to buy without help from the staff at my local camping store. They are the professionals and know their products better than anyone, so be guided by their advice.

1) Snug as a bug in a bag. Good quality sleeping bags come in an amazing range of colours.

2) A hooded bag keeps a pillow in place and protects your head. This style of bag is designed for one person comfort.

3) Some of the vast array of bags on display at our local camping store.

4) Sleeping bags can be used on top of air beds, or on top of a ground sheet. They vary in size from large to compact to a teeny-weeny bag that fits in the palm of your hand.

5) Travel liners and sleeping bag liners are the same thing and add comfort to your sleeping zone. They come in a range of fabrics, from cotton to silk, so luxury doesn’t have to be compromised.

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