How to Choose a Sleeping Bag - Outdoor Sports Center

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

A great sleeping bag will reward you with a great nights sleep for the next days adventure when you are out backpacking or camping. 
There are alot of sleeping bags out there to choose from, and many things to consider when choosing a sleeping bag. It's easy to get overwhelmed wondering which one is right for you. Were here to help! There is never one sleeping bag that does everything perfectly, but Outdoor Sports Center has the experience and selection to help you find a great match for your next adventure.

Three Deciding Factors

: When trying to choose a bag that is going to keep you comfortable the temperature rating is one of the biggest factors. For sleepers that run cold, a good general rule of thumb is to look for a rating at least 10-20⁰F lower than the temperatures outside. Always try to think of the temperature ratings as a general guideline given how many different things contribute to your actual warmth. You are always better using the temperature ratings as a guide, they are by no means a guarantee.

: The shape of a sleeping bag can also effect your comfort at night. A sleeping bag that is too tight won't give you a good night's sleep, and a bag that is too roomy may be comfortable but won't keep you as warm as it should. Keep in mind that a good sleeping bag will see a lot of use, so finding one with a shape that fits well and keeps weight low will keep you warm and rested without being a burden to carry.

: Length is going to be the easiest part of figuring out which bag is for you. You're looking for a sleeping bag that has enough volume to trap your heat, without going overboard. The easiest way to choose the right size sleeping bag is to pick one that is only a small amount longer than your height.  If you choose one that is too big, your body heat will get lost in the extra space.

Temperature Ratings 

Bag Type

Temperature Rating


+35º and higher


+10º to +35º

Cold Weather

-10º to +10º


-10º and lower


Temperature Variables

  • Sleeping Pad: One of the biggest ways you lose your body heat is through the ground, even more than through air. A sleeping pad will not only provide added comfort by keeping you off the ground, but it also adds a significant amount of warmth. Sleeping Pads are rated by R-Value; the higher the R-Value, the better the insulation from the cold ground.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner: Sleeping bag liners are a great way to provide supplemental warmth, creating up to 15ºF of extra warmth. An added benefit is the protection from the skin oils that they offer, keeping your bag cleaner. 
  • Metabolism: Everyone has a different rate at which the burn food for energy and release body heat. Your individual metabolic rate will directly influence how warm you are in your bag, and varies based on your nourishment. 
  • Food & Hydration: Making sure you have the proper nourishment will keep you metabolism up and helps you stay warm throughout the night. 
  • Clothing: When companies rate their sleeping bags, the standardized test used calls for long underwear and a hat. So, keep in mind that you can get a lot more range out of your sleeping bag depending on what you wear to bed.
  • Tent: An enclosed space that traps dead air is always going to keep you warmer. If you sleep in a tent with mesh walls or out in the open air, your sleeping bag isn't going to be as effective. The more protected you are from the elements, the more your body is going to heat up the space around you.
  • Gender: Generally speaking men sleep warmer than women. Even though this is not a universal truth, most manufacturers will insulate women's specific bags more than men's.



Mummy Bags
: Mummy bags are the shape you see most often in the outdoor industry. The mummy shape is your best choice for colder weather and backpacking. Their close-to-body fit is much more efficient at trapping body heat than a rectangular bag, keeping you warmer. Another advantage is the shape uses much less material, making a lighter and easier to carry bag.



Rectangular Bags
: Rectangular bags will always be your best choice for the warmer weather as the shape naturally releases trapped body heat. The downside is that they are bulkier so if you intend to use them for backpacking, they are not the best choice. For general camping, they are a great choice.



Semi-rectangular Bags: Semi-rectangular bags are a good fit for people with a larger body type or move around in their sleep too much for the mummy type bags, but still want the heat retaining benefits of a mummy type shape. Semi-rectangular bags offer more width in the hips and shoulders than a traditional mummy bag.

Fill Material

Down is the best natural insulator and has the highest warmth to weight ratio. It is a popular choice because it is very light, highly compressible, breathable, and lasts a long time. Down quality is determined by fill power; which rates the down by how much volume the down produces per ounce. Fill ratings range from as low as 400 fill power all the way up to 900 fill power.

Synthetics are nonallergenic and will keep you warm when wet. They are a great choice in wet climates because they can shed water and dry very quickly. The warmth to weight ratio is not as good as down, but it usually costs less than down too.


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