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How to choose a sleeping bag for a hiking

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Everyone who bought a sleeping bag, faced with the problem of choice. A lot of indicators, different prices and it is not quite clear what to believe, but now you can learn in detail how best to choose a sleeping bag, what aspects to pay attention to and why exactly on them.

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In almost any hike involving at least one overnight stay without our usual hotels, shelters and hostels, the traveler will need a sleeping bag. This is one of the key elements of equipment. It comes in handy not only when camping with tents, but also anywhere you are not sure of a comfortable overnight stay – in a Nepalese lodge, a Carpathian crib, a mountain Moroccan shelter and even just when you are stuck on a layover at the airport or train station.

Как выбрать спальник

Knowing how to choose the right sleeping bag for your conditions is very important. Why? It would seem that what is so complicated about a sleeping bag? But nowadays there are a huge number of sleeping bags, very different in working temperature of use, materials used, weight, construction, price. If you go to any good travel store, you will see dozens of different options for your choice. Eyes will run wild. Which one to buy? Of course, you will ask for help from a consultant. But what to ask? Will he be able to spend with you, at least half an hour? It’s better to come to the store as prepared as possible.

What’s the best way to choose a sleeping bag

Let’s first understand what a modern sleeping bag is, what designs exist, what are the most important selection criteria.

Here are the main points by which it is convenient to navigate, and which you will meet in the catalogs of sellers and manufacturers. Let’s try to understand what they mean.

Seasonality of using the sleeping bag

As a rule, we are referring to the seasons of the Central European climate suitable for the use of this model. It usually refers to summer, winter and the off-season. If the description says “three-season” it means “spring, summer, fall”. In my opinion, this is the most uninformative division for a beginner. Seasons are conditional, everything is very fuzzy, the specifics are minimal. Even in mid-latitudes there are places with “non-standard” climate, large fluctuations in temperature. And then there are the mountains! If you go to the mountains, forget about the flat classification of the seasons. In summer on Elbrus in the area of classic overnight stay at 4100 may easily be -10-15 degrees.

So seasonality is a very approximate characteristic.

Temperature range. Test EN 13537

This is the most objective characteristic. Why? The fact is that most of the serious manufacturers in the Old and New World not so long ago (since 2005) began to test products according to a single standard EN 13537. What does it mean for the consumer? You can be sure that a comparison of the operating temperatures indicated on the product will be quite objective. Earlier on there had been a multitude of tests and it did not make much sense to compare all these figures on sleeping bags of different manufacturers. The reference to this test also obliges the manufacturer to indicate some obligatory parameters on their products. These are the weight without the packing bag, the internal dimensions and the packing dimensions.

As far as temperature is concerned, the sleeping bag must be marked with 3 basic numbers.

Стандарт EN13537 спальных мешковEN13537

Sleeping bag form-factor

This is a basic design feature that is usually easy to recognize on external inspection.

  1. Cocoon. Sometimes, such bags are also called “mummies” because of their characteristic appearance. This is the most common form-factor. Structurally, it is the most anatomical. As a rule, the cocoon has a protracted hood, expansion at the shoulders and narrowing to the legs. Most models have a special thermo-collar separating the head area, preventing cold air from getting inside. In the more expensive models, the shape can be quite complex, resulting in a bag maximum repeat the outline of the human body. This minimizes its weight and size and increases the ability to retain heat. Most sleeping bags cocoon are not unzipped to their full length, the zipper usually takes two-thirds of the length of the bag. But there are designs that can be fully unzipped or have a very short zipper or even no zipper at all. The latter solutions are used on minimalist models. To get in or get out of such a sleeping bag is quite difficult, in the heat in them uncomfortable, but increases the reliability and reduces the weight. Спальный мешок коконСпальник кокон
  2. Blanket. This is a transitional option between a sleeping bag and a camping blanket. By unzipping the circular zipper, the bag actually turns into a large blanket that can cover two people. Most models do not have a hood. As a rule, this summer or demi-seasonal models. Compared to the cocoon, a bag-blanket is more cumbersome and cold. Therefore, this form factor is not widespread in hiking, but is very good in autotourism and dacha vacation. Occasionally we find a warm sleeping bag-blanket with a hood and a thermal collar.
    Спальный мешок одеялоСпальник одеяло
  3. Quilt. Still not a common form factor in the Old World. In North America, on the contrary, it has quite a few adherents. The classic quilt is a bag without a zipper and, in fact, without a back. It is used exclusively in conjunction with a mat, both inflatable and self-inflatable. Together with the mat, the bag forms a common structure, connected by elastic straps. The idea is simple. The back material of the sleeping bag, when we lie on the mat, is actually not used. It is abolished in the blanket. Thus, the bag becomes relatively lighter and structurally simpler – no zipper is needed. Accordingly, the blanket is also usually cheaper than a normal sleeping bag. The main disadvantages are difficult ventilation in warm weather, heat loss at the joints with the mat, and difficulty getting in and out.
    Спальный мешок квилт
  4. Elephant foot. It is a shortened sleeping bag. Not widely used, but until recently, it was widely used by many climbers. The main idea is to save weight by maximizing the use of hiking equipment. In mountaineering, as you know, every gram counts. Almost every climber uses down jacket during daytime, and at night it lays idle. In a shortened bag (up to the waist or underarms) a person sleeps in his warm jacket. This saves weight and space in the backpack.
    слоновая нога спальник

Multi-bed (group) sleeping bags. They are not mass-produced, sewn to order, and are limitedly used by speleologists and for difficult winter (ski) hikes. They allow significant savings in the weight of group gear, but are impractical for normal, non-sports use.

Material for the insulation and the sleeping bag itself

How your sleeping bag will keep you warm, how much it will weigh and how much space it will take when folded in a backpack, and how long it is able to last – depends directly on the materials. First of all, the insulation material. There are two main types – down and synthetic insulators.

Synthetic sleeping bags

There are a large number of materials and many manufacturers. Most of them position their product as “the best synthetic analogue of down,” and it is hardly possible to say that one material is significantly better than another. Of course, we have in mind the leading players in the market. Let’s briefly analyze what the quality of the insulation depends on. The thickness of the fibers in a good material should be different – thin fibers provide good insulation, thick – volume recovery, unkinkability. Hollow channels in the fibers. A large number of them (usually 1 to 7) provides weight reduction and improves protective properties. Elasticity of the fibers also contributes to maintaining the volumetric shape of the product. Siliconization of the fibers allows to repel moisture. I will list some brands of insulation worthy of your trust. The cheaper ones are HolloFiber, ThermoFill, QualoFil, Warm-Loft. Among expensive – Primaloft, Thinsulate (made of very thin fibers and because of that crumples quickly), Polarguard, Thermolight Extreme.

The main advantages of sleeping bags with synthetic insulation are comfort in high humidity (dries well, keeps warm when wet), ease of repair and care (easy to wash, after a tear the insulation stays inside), relatively low price.

Down sleeping bags

Despite all the efforts of the modern chemical and textile industry, there are still probably no mass-produced samples of synthetic insulators that can compare with good down in two main characteristics – thermal conductivity and compressibility in the folded position (affecting the size of the compression bag in which it is transported). Waterfowl down still has an unsurpassed set of consumer characteristics, but also its drawbacks. Quality goose down is considered to be the best in terms of its characteristics in mass production. Duck down is somewhere in second place. What will be the main characteristic when choosing a down sleeping bag? In addition to weight and temperature range, the quality is indicated by such a characteristic as Fill Power, or FP for short. It is measured in units and looks on the product usually as FP 650, FP 800+, etc. This indicator gives an idea of how many cubic inches one ounce of down can take. Accordingly, the higher the figure, the better the down. The 650-th down is considered to be already quite high quality and is usually used in urban clothing and budget series of equipment. Down with FP 800, and more units (now up to 900-950) are used in products in the premium segment and cost accordingly. It hardly makes sense to buy a sleeping bag made of uncertified down. Better then to pay attention to synthetic insulators.

Пуховой спальный мешокПух для спальных мешков

Down also has unsurpassed compression – compressibility characteristics. When folded, a down bag takes up almost half the space of a bag with similar characteristics, but with another type of insulation. And what are the disadvantages of down? There are at least two. Subjective: price. A good down sleeping bag costs hundreds of dollars. Not everyone can afford it. If you buy equipment for one campaign or for the occasional rare use of such a waste of money just is not good for everyone. Objective: afraid of moisture. When down gets wet, it turns from a great insulator to a sticky lump of organic material, almost unusable. To dry a down sleeping bag (which is completely soaked) in hiking conditions is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, manufacturers do not stand still and in recent years are available to buy down products that have a waterproof treatment. This significantly reduces the water vulnerability of the material. There are also sleeping bags available in membrane fabrics and fabrics that have a water repellent treatment (DWR). You can also protect your down with a bivouac bag. Another disadvantage of down sleeping bags can be considered the difficulty of maintenance, primarily cleaning. It is necessary to use special products, special washing modes or use specialized dry cleaners.

Materials of the sleeping bag itself

Most hiking designs these days are made of 100% synthetic materials. The top is usually made of thin synthetic, in the more expensive models the fabric has a Rip Stop weave, which restrains the spread of the holes formed. Especially important for down sleeping bags. One of the best materials for sleeping bags today is Pertex Quantum.

pertex quantumpertex quantum

Many hikers, who started hiking long ago, are still looking for sleeping bags with an inner lining of natural cotton. It is worth knowing that modern materials used for the inside of the bag, such as Taffeta, have hypoallergenic properties, are pleasant to the body, do not electrify. At the same time they are hygroscopic, do not stretch, durable and lightweight. When choosing a sleeping bag you should also pay attention to quality fittings. YKK zippers will not only be more reliable than most others, but also indicate the “seriousness” of the manufacturer.

What sleeping bag material to get myself

If you are going to very humid conditions, consider sleeping bags made of good synthetic materials, if very cold – down sleeping bags (for the same weight they are much warmer, and moisture at sub-zero temperatures is not so terrible, however, remember about condensation). In other cases, the choice is not so obvious. If you vote your money – the advantage is for synthetics, if you are chasing a low weight and minimum volume of equipment – choose down..

Exotic insulators. In the past century, some sleeping bags were made with insulators, which can now be attributed to the class of exotics. Fur bags. Still used occasionally in the north. If you don’t have to carry them from place to place often, probably not a bad option. Most other insulators – the notorious “sintepon”, batting, felt and so on is now hardly worth considering as an alternative to the above listed.

What else to look for when choosing a sleeping bag

Length and internal volume. Most manufacturers do not spoil us with a large number of sizes and therefore choose a sleeping bag “to your figure”, as clothing, is unlikely to work. Nevertheless, if you’re a basketball-sized man, a regular size is unlikely to suit you. And vice versa, if you are a small fragile girl, then, buying a bag of regular size, you will wear a lot of extra material, and the excessive inner volume will slightly lower the temperature of comfort. As a rule, manufacturers produce bags of standard size, it is usually called Regular and a longer version – Long. In this case there is no common standard, and different companies use different patterns for sewing their sleeping bags. So be careful when choosing a size. If your size is far from the general standards, you will need to seek manufacturers that produce an expanded size range, for example, the short (female) model exists with the well-known company Marmot, models for very fat people are available from Alexika. The company Sivera produces bags in many sizes, almost like clothes. Sleeping bags for children are also available from many well-known manufacturers. Tall and large tourists are better to consider products of the American market. Conclusion: if desired, almost every tourist can pick up a bag of the right size to avoid wearing extra and not to sleep in a cramped or short sleeping bag.

Non-slip coating. When you sleep on an uneven surface, and even on a slippery mat, there can be serious discomfort because of the constant rolling and sliding. It is convenient when the bottom of your sleeping bag is covered with non-slip elements. Unfortunately, only a few models, such as Montane, can boast of such design features so far.

Right/left zipper. What zipper to choose is a matter of taste. Very quickly you will get used to any variant. Keep in mind that two bags can be fastened to each other, if they have different zippers – one right, the other left. Not all sleeping bags can be fastened together. Be sure to check this out. If you choose a second bag, take the one you already have with you. Perhaps you will find it a “pair”. There are also bags with a central zipper. They do not zip up. There are some manufacturers who have all their sleeping bags are fastened to each other, no matter what side the zipper is on. A prime example is the Spanish manufacturer Griffon.

Парные спальные мешкиПарные спальники

The color of your sleeping bag. If you are not a military man or a hunter, or you do not need to hide in the woods from secret agents, choose a brighter outfit – it is harder to lose, and in case of loss (the bag when drying can be carried away by the wind, for example) to find. Also with the help of bright things you will make it easier to find your favorite rescuers in emergency situations.

Цвет спального мешка

Operation and care. Life hacks for sleeping bag owners

Packing and Storage. When you buy your sleeping bag for the first time you take it out of the packing bag, you see how neatly it was folded. Many unfortunate hikers subsequently condemn themselves to constant torment, trying every time in the campaign just the same beautiful folding it. Especially vulnerable girls)). This should not be done in any case. Just “stuff” sleeping bag “as you can” – it’s not only convenient, but also useful for him. What to do if you lost a compression bag? No problem, just pack the sleeping bag in a loosely packed backpack, taking all the free space between the other things. If you get the hang of it, it won’t take much more space than a compression bag. At home keep your sleeping bag uncompressed, it is very important! Sometimes manufacturers equip their products with a special bag for storing more volume, along with a compression bag.

Washing and care. When buying, be sure to clarify how to properly wash your sleeping bag and whether it requires additional care. The bag may be made of membrane fabric, which requires special care, or it may be treated with water repellent compound DWR, which over time will require restoration. Be especially careful with down sleeping bags.

Getting Wet. During use, keep your sleeping bag from getting wet! Try to pack it in your backpack, so that even if all the other things get wet, the bag stays dry. Even with synthetic insulation, moisture causes a dramatic decrease in insulating properties. Choose a dry place to sleep overnight, if in a tent you sleep near the wall, you should be wary of condensation. You can protect the fabric of the bag from contact with the wet wall of the tent by putting a membrane jacket or backpack.

Iphone and sleeping bag. Most sleeping bags have an interior zippered pocket for valuables. Keep this in mind, especially if you are sleeping in places where valuables can go missing and stash them inside. Delicate electronic devices in cold temperatures should stay with you overnight. Also use your sleeping bag to dry wet socks, gloves, and boot insides overnight in rough conditions. Sometimes gas cylinders are used to sleep in the bag. Uncomfortable, but necessary.

Pillow. In some models, the hood is equipped with a special pocket for a pillow. If you do not have a special inflatable pillow, you can put there soft things not used at night.

Additional ways to keep warm in a sleeping bag – mat

Тепло в спальном мешке

If you find yourself in conditions that are too cold for your sleeping bag, remember – there are additional ways to keep warm. Make the most of your clothes, but remember that it’s not the clothes that keep you warm, but the air space in them. Sometimes tourists warm themselves in the sleeping bag by taking off some amount of clothing, which squeezed it and did not allow the formation of air layers of warm air. Don’t overdress! Put a flask of warm water heated on a burner or fire in your sleeping bag, this will help the initial warmth and you will fall asleep warm. Use chemical body warmers in the right places. Don’t neglect the hood, protect your head in every way – it’s an extensive channel of heat loss. The feet are almost always the first to freeze. To avoid this, wrap them up. If you have an extra jacket or fleece, zipper it up and wrap your feet in the cocoon that formed, and then go to the sleeping bag. For extra insulation of legs and insulation from moisture shove the sleeping bag in your backpack before taking things out of it. Remember! Even the warmest sleeping bag without a mat won’t keep you warm! Efficiently use the potential of your bag you can only in combination with properly selected mat. If you have problems with that, use all available properties to insulate yourself from the ground – put some folded clothes, a backpack, a rope, a space blanket underneath you. Use dry grass, lapnik. A true hiker must be resourceful and inventive..

I hope that the information received will help you to choose correctly your future reliable assistant in your travels – a sleeping bag. Travel and enjoy life!

Author of the article: Sergey Lakhotsky

Personal experience

Kuluar teamleader Nikolay Sakovich

In my life as a hiker I have had to sleep in a variety of sleeping bags, in different conditions and temperatures.
My first camping trip was in winter, in the Crimea. Where I got my sleeping bag, I don’t remember, but I remember well the model Terra Incognita Pharaon 400. At that time the Terra Pharaohs were the hit of the season! Cheap and hearty. When the temperature outside was -10 … -15 it was simply excellent to sleep in “four hundred” models, especially if there was a living “battery” in the form of your friends-travelers 🙂
On the photo – “rookery seals” in one of the Crimean caves, near the waterfall Jur-Jur. Mountain hike in the Crimea, winter 2009.

The greens are the same “Pharaohs.
On the plus side, they were cheap. On the downside, we often took two sleeping bags for three to lighten the weight, making them into a stitch. The zippers ended up falling apart quickly. Terra Incognita still has this model, as well as the more modern Siesta line.

My next sleeping bag was a Czech Pinguin Comfort (t°-limit -7°, t°-extreme -24°):

Excellent synthetic sleeping bag with an optimal price/quality ratio. Despite the temperature of the sleeping bag – I managed to hike with it in the winter in the Carpathians. When it was cold – I put on all my clothes and climbed waist-deep in a backpack.
Of course, this is the wrong approach, but if anything – one of the options for survival. The beauty I saw and the great desire to go to the mountains oversaw all the inconveniences at that time.
Dawn on top of Petros, (2020m, Carpathian Mountains, Chernogorsky ridge, December 2009):

Overnight on the top of Hoverla, May 2010. Here the Pinguin Comfort sleeping bag is optimal.

Nothing lasts forever, and over several years of intensive use the sleeping bag wore out. Since it had proven itself by 200%, I didn’t have to think much about choosing the next one – it was the slightly warmer Pinguin Spirit (t° limit -12°):

I still use this sleeping bag, it is perfect for the fall and spring Carpathians, took it to the big mountains in the Caucasus. In the Carpathians I actively use it from the beginning of October to mid-May. I have only positive impressions.
In the Caucasus, in the green valleys it was too hot, so I either opened it completely, or just covered it like a blanket from above. At the top, in the zone of snow and glaciers it was just great to sleep in!
With this sleeping bag:
Overnight on the slope of Sofia, Western Caucasus, July 2013.

Overnight on the top of Grof, the Carpathians, May 2014..

Summer sleeping bag

In summer I use Deuter Dream Lite 250 for hiking in Ukraine. (Weight – 1.1 kg, t ° limit +5 °). Beautiful sleeping bag, versatile and durable. Worn out for more than five years, of course, but no problems with zippers (YKK).
With this sleeping bag:
Carpathian Mountains, Svidovets Ridge, July 2012, Carpathian Mountains, an overnight stay under the top of Strymba, July 2014.

In summer he was also in the South Urals, and in Eastern Siberia (Sayany, Krasnoyarsk region).

In order to save weight I took the Deuter Dream Lite 250 in July last summer on a mountain hike in the Georgian Caucasus (lakes in Mingrelia + Svaneti). It was very comfortable in the valleys, but the overnight stays near the mountain lakes and especially on the glacier were chilly. We had to be additionally insulated, on the glacier we had to put ropes under the tent and all clothes and backpack under the rug. That’s why if you’re going to hike on the lakes of Megrelia in June-July it’s better to take something like Pinguin Comfort.

Overnight stay at Lake Toba, Megrelia, July 2016:

Overnight on the Chaalat Glacier, Svaneti, July 2016:

Sleeping bag – Deuter DreamLite 250, recommended sleeping bag – Deuter DreamLite 350 or Pinguin Comfort.

Winter sleeping bag

I don’t have it 🙂 What for? Because I have a Penguin “demise season” and a summer doiter. In combination they give excellent temperature indexes. In minus thirty it is all the same! Of course, in the end this “matryoshka” is pretty heavy (3kg) and less convenient to use, but there is only one way to look at it. After all, the outer, summer bag serves as a condenser, the dew point is in it, respectively all the moisture – also, – either in it, or on its surface. The inner warmer sleeping bag always stays dry. And the thin outer one dries out quickly. Better, of course, is to use such a condenser for several people (tent), but for that you need either self-stitching or stitching from two summer sleeping bags-blankets (for three people).

To summarize: in order to enjoy the hiking landscapes as much as possible every day, it is necessary not to forget about a good rest after a busy day of hiking. And the key to a good, sweet sleep is a good dinner, the right place for the night and carefully selected equipment. After all, a dry, warm sleeping bag in the evening is a separate pleasure 😉
I wish you all a comfortable overnight stay and great views from the tent! 🙂

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