Campsaver Outdoor Gear
Sleeping Bag Tips
  • What's Best for You ?
  • Attributes to Look For
  • Cleaning Your Bag
  • Sleeping Pads
  • Shop for Lightweight Sleeping Bags

    What Sleeping Bag is Best for You ?

    To determine what's best for you, consider the following:

    In what conditions will you be using your sleeping bag  ? How much are you willing to invest ? What comfort level are you willing to accept ? How long do you want it to last ? Are weight and compactness important ?

    There are several basic decisions which must be made. What kind of bag fill do you need ? What kind of shell material do you need ? What bag design do you need ?


  • Fill Materials
  • Shell Materials
  • Types of Sleeping Bags



    For consistently wet or damp weather conditions, consider a bag with either synthetic fill--which insulates well when wet--or a goose down bag encased in a microfiber or gore-dryloft shell--and be careful to keep it dry--down doesn't insulate when wet.

    Synthetics like lite-loft, primaloft, polarguard, hollofil, microloft, etc. are superior for wet conditions. They retain a great deal of their insulating ability when wet, so in damp environments like the US Pacific Northwest, a synthetic bag may be the best choice. They're relatively easy to clean, resistant to mildew and rot, and they dry faster than down. In most cases they are cheaper. That's about the extent of their advantages over down !

    Many of the newer synthetic bags are made of the new Polarguard 3D. It is softer and lighter and just as durable as its older Polarguard siblings, and reviews say that it is more compressable than other synthetics.

    Goose Down is lighter, more compressable, warmer by weight, and much more durable and long-lived (like 300%). With the invent of dryloft and microfiber shells as coverings for down bags, down is a consideration even in damp environs. You can also further encase a down bag in a gore-tex bivy sack for greater waterproofing.

    In the winter, some folks prefer synthetic bags for long-duration outings. The reason is that in extreme cold, your body releases moisture as you sleep, so the down bag gets wet from the inside even though well protected from the outside. One way to prevent that is to use a vapor-barrier lining which keeps the moisture away from the down.

    In my opinion, even though down is more expensive (much more so in high-end bags), it is a better long-term investment since it could last 3 times longer, if properly cared for. At the same time, the comfort level, lighter weight, and ease of packing can't be beat. How's that for an objective view ?

    However, having got that bias off my chest, I, as one who lives in the damp Pacific Northwest USA, desire to have a nice, lightweight synthetic bag. The newer Polarguard 3D looks pretty good.



    Gore-Tex is out as a shell material because it just didn't breathe well enough to allow body moisture to escape. It also didn't fare well when washing time came around - gtx-down bags had a penchant to delaminate - I got a brand-spankin-new Feathered Friends Swallow when my old gtx Swallow delaminated. Gore stood behind it but now knows better. No more gtx shells.

    There's nylon (a tight weave), polyester, microfiber (a tightly woven material), and various flavors of Gore Dryloft and Dryloft look-alikes.

    The nylon shells used by most bag makers have a coating of DWR (Durable Water Repellent) which will provide some measure of water resistance and the tight weave of the nylon provides a good measure of wind resistance, as well. Ripstop nylon adds reinforcing threads to provide a more durable material whereas nylon taffeta is silky smooth to the touch but not nearly as durable as ripstop. There is also polyester ripstop and polyester taffeta which are heavier than their nylon counterparts.

    The microfiber shells offer a better water resistance and are windproof. The microfiber shells have good breathability and are lighter than Dryloft but less water resistant. The most water resistant shell material is Dryloft. In addition to being the most weather resistant, Dryloft also provides good breathability. Dryloft is the most costly, followed by microfiber and plain nylon and polyester.

    Your choice should be based upon your intended application. In three season use inside a tent in generally mild conditions, you should be able to do well with the less expensive nylon shell. In wetter or wilder conditions consider the microfiber or Dryloft.



    Mummy bags are the de-facto standard for backpackers. The narrow, tapered design is efficient and lightweight. It also heats up fast and packs small. On the downside, mummies don't provide a lot of room for maneuvering.

    A semi-rectangular (or modified mummy) bag provides a solution if you are one who must have the additional space to toss and turn, get dressed in bed, store your gear with you at night, and so on. These bags provide more room thru the middle but generally still have the mummy hood and tapered toe box. These bags are a good choice for larger packers and for milder weather where thermal efficiency is less critical.

    Rectangular bags are the ones many of us grew up with. They provide the least thermal efficiency, are the heaviest and bulkiest, but provide the most room for maneuvering. They typically do not have a hood which makes them great for zipping together with another like bag to make a two-person bed. These bags are best suited for car camping.


    Attributes to Look For

    • For colder weather, get a draft collar which cinches around the neck--keeps warm air in and cold out.

    • Generous draft tube along entire length of zipper.

    • For warm weather, look for ease of ventilation.

    • Full side zip so you can air out your feet during warmer weather.

    • 700-800 fill-power down lasts much longer than cheaper 550 fill power. In the long-run its probably cheaper.

    • Double side zipper so you can still use the bag if one zipper blows out.

    • There should be a velcro or snap-shut closure over the zipper, at the top of the bag to prevent the zipper from sliding in the middle of the night.


    Cleaning Your Bag

    These tips are pretty much common knowledge and practice, but I'll send them your way, anyhow, just in case!

    First off, I try to keep my bag clean and wash infrequently. There are ways to keep your bag clean:

  • Keep debris out of your tent - including snow, mud, dirt. Clean off your clothes & boots before getting into your tent as much as you can and as often as you can. Why? Because debris in your tent means debris in and on your bag.

  • I sometimes wear lightweight underwear and liner socks to bed so all the body dissipates are absorbed not by my sleeping bag. Also, some folks use a sleeping bag liner for this purpose (as well as for adding a couple degrees of warmth to the bag).

    But, a time comes when the wash needs to be done. When that happens, here's a couple of tips:

  • FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! Sounds simple, but most of us don't. There are probably cleaning instructions attached to the bag - follow them.

  • Do not wash in your home washer and dryer. Use a large front-load commercial washer. The kind most laundromats have. For two reasons: these washers have more capacity to accommodate your bag and they do not have center agitator which can damage your bag.

  • Use cleaners suggested by your bag manufacturer. Lots of good cleaners available made especially for down & synthetics. If you can't find adequate guidance and/or commercial cleaners, use a mild powder but not a liquid which can damage your bag's shell.

  • Wash in warm or cold water, but not hot, on a gentle cycle.

  • Dry in the commercial dryer. Don't bother putting tennis balls/shoes or other foreign objects in with your bag. They can actually damage the bag and they are unnecessary because the down will eventually fluff up on its own.

  • After drying your bag, lay it out or hang it up to fully dry and loft prior to storage. NEVER store your bag in a compressed bag or sack. ALWAYS store in loose way in a cotton sleeping bag storage bag or, as I do, wrap in cotton bed sheet and hang from the ceiling of your bedroom.

  • If all this is too much to handle, you can do as I have done, in the past, and send it downtown Seattle to Feathered Friends and for $20 they will do the dirty deed for you.


    Sleeping Pads

    Closed-Cell Foam Pads, on the plus side, are ultra-light, inexpensive, waterproof, and durable. On the downside, they are bulky, inconvenient to pack, and unconforming to your body and the terrain.

    Open-Cell Foam Pads, on the plus side, are ultralight, inexpensive, compresses better than Closed-Cell Foam and cushions well. However, the thing is really just a sponge. When it touches moisture it becomes a soggy sponge. Most often, the open-cell variety is encased in a nylon inflatable shell to protect it from the elements. These are the Self-Inflating Mattresses.

    Self-Inflating Mattresses, are very comfortable, have adjustable air pressure, good body heat retention, compress better than closed-cell and, and are easy to pack. They are relatively expensive, are heavier than Closed-Cell pads, and are prone to puncture (optional repair kit adds even more weight to the pack).

    In summary, Closed-Cell is lighter, cheaper, and bombproof. Self-Inflating Mattresses are more comfortable, compact, and warmer. To determine which pad is best for you, consider what your needs are. In what weather conditions are you using it (or a combination of them)? Consider importance of warmth, weight, price, bulk, durability, and general comfort. What's your priority ? You might consider a 3/4 length closed-cell for a quick minimalist over-nighter; or a full-length 1 1/2 inch self-inflating for a long-distance trail trek; or a combination of self-inflating and closed-cell during the winter--on the snow--for maximum warmth.

    Shop for Lightweight, High-Quality Sleeping Bags:

    - Ultralight Sleeping Bags

    - Lightweight Sleeping Bags