Camping sleeping system: How to buy a sleeping bag

Mar 07, 2018 BY Luke Rees

At the end of a long day in the great outdoors, nothing beats getting into a warm, dry and comfy bed. So choosing the right camping sleeping system can make or break a trip. With that in mind we have put together this guide about how to buy a sleeping bag.

Camping sleeping system How to buy a sleeping bag flickr CC image by tuyddatygl

Camping sleeping system

Whether you wake up after a night camping feeling refreshed and ready for another day of fun outdoors depends on how well you sleep. From your tent to your sleeping mat, and pillow to your fellow campers there are a lot of factors that can help or hinder a great night’s sleep.

But by far the most important factor is your choice of sleeping bag. Get it right and the world is a wonderful place. Get it wrong and suddenly everything can descend into an irritable, exhausted and miserable state of affairs.

So for this article we will focus on tips to buy a sleeping bag. We’ll cover other elements of your camping sleeping system in future articles.

How to buy a sleeping bag

To get a good night’s sleep you need the right kind of sleeping bag for your particular environment. And with hundreds on the market, navigating your way through the endless facts and jargon can be both confusing and intimidating.

Camping sleeping system How to buy a sleeping bag flickr CC image by advencap

But don’t worry we are here to help!


There are no right or wrong choices when you buy a sleeping bag, just inappropriate ones for the situation. So before diving headlong into a myriad of facts and figures, the first thing to consider is temperature.

Simply put, a warm sleeping bag equates to a happy camper, but a cold one translates to a wretched disposition. However, warmer sleeping bags cost more, plus they are heavier and bulkier. So if you are carrying your gear you want to buy the right one.

To get it right, work out the lowest temperature you are likely to experience, and then choose a bag that will perform to this temperature. You may even want to go a little lower to make absolutely sure of the coziness factor.

Camping sleeping system How to buy a sleeping bag flickr CC image by Paxson Woelber

Seasonal ratings

Whilst temperature ratings are beneficial, most outfitters tend towards using seasonal ratings to provide the best guideline for potential buyers. This is because the temperature ranges can be too large to be meaningful, also different manufacturers use different ratings, and individuals themselves feel the cold in different ways.

There are five categories of seasonal ratings. Although please note, you also get sleeping bags that fall across more than one. For example, 2-3 season sleeping bags are fairly common.

  • One season sleeping bags: These are basic summer bags designed for use indoors or in nice warm weather.
  • Two season sleeping bags: A more general purpose sleeping bag that works from late spring to early autumn – as long as the weather is still fairly nice.
  • Three season sleeping bags: These are suitable from spring to autumn and are generally rated for use down to zero degrees or just below.
  • Four season sleeping bags: Warm sleeping bags that are for use in low temperatures and harsh conditions, ideal for winter use. You can check out the best winter sleeping bags here.
  • Four season plus or Five season sleeping bags: These are specialist sleeping bags for polar or alpine expedition use in extremely low temperatures.

It is also worth considering a sleeping bag liner. Not only do they stop the main bag needing to be washed as often, but they can add a ‘season’ to your sleeping bag rating. So by using a liner you will have a more flexible camping sleeping system.

Camping sleeping system How to buy a sleeping bag flickr CC image by jalexartis

Your physical characteristics

To buy a sleeping bag that is right for you is not just a case of choosing the right season. Remember to consider your own physical characteristics.

There are a whole host of factors that will influence you, from your gender to body type and age to weight. In general females, slim and older people are more susceptible to the cold than others. Whereas if you tend to be like a furness at night you will probably feel the cold less.

Immediate environmental factors

And don’t forget to consider the climate and altitude when choosing your camping sleeping system. Spring in the high latitudes is much cooler than spring in mid or low latitudes. And a wooded environment stays warmer at night than a desert.

Furthermore, for every 100m above sea level the temperature drops on average by 0.65°C. Everywhere is different, and local conditions can even create a temperature inversion, but as a rule the higher you are camping the colder it will be. So if you are camping at over 1000m you will require a warmer sleeping bag.

Camping sleeping system How to buy a sleeping bag flickr CC image by JesseLeeRoper

Also think about where you will be sleeping. Nights in tents are colder than in a mountain hut, but two skin tents are warmer than a single sheet, and one sheet is warmer than sleeping out in the open. Also will you be joining sleeping bags and sharing body heat?

Down or Synthetic?

The next issue to consider when you buy a sleeping bag is the filling. Should you go for down or synthetic? While both have their benefits, both also have their downsides. So an understanding of their individual properties is key to making an appropriate purchasing decision.

Basically down has the best warmth to weight ratio, is light, compresses really well, and is long lasting. On the flip side, it is expensive, provides no insulation when wet and takes ages to dry out.

Synthetic bags are essentially the opposite – they are cheaper, provide good insulation even when wet, are easier to dry and clean. But they are heavier, harder to compress, not quite as warm and don’t last as long.

Review of Snugpak Travelpak 3 sleeping bag with mosquito net

Recent advances in synthetic insulation has made them lighter, better lasting and easier to compress. However these types of synthetic insulation make for expensive camping sleeping systems. But it is well worth investing if you will be getting a lot of use from them.

Zips, mummies, pockets, hoods and baffles

When you buy a sleeping bag you will also want to consider it’s other features. The first is the shape of the bag. Mummy shaped bags are very popular as they provide more efficient insulation whilst saving on space, but many people find rectangular bags more comfy as they are easier to move around in.

Zipping options are also worth considering as most bags come in left or right handed options. Right handed people should go for a zip on the left and vice versa. Remember only a left and a right handed sleeping bags will zip together – unless you go down the rectangular hoodless bag route.

Most mummy shaped sleeping bags come with a hood. Some of these include useful extras such as built in inflatable pillow, or a mosquito net. There also some sleeping bags that come equipped with a pocket to store your torch, or your phone and/or valuables if required.

Review of Snugpak Travelpak 3 sleeping bag compression pack

Other design features that could influence your decision include the integration of shoulder baffles which increase warmth. Finally, consider whether you want to buy a sleeping bag that comes in a compression sack, as this helps with packing and keeps bulk to a minimum when not in use.

Part of a camping sleeping system

And don’t forget the sleeping bag is just part of the camping sleeping system. How warm you will be has as much to do with what lies underneath the sleeping bag as the actual bag itself.

Even the most expensive and fanciest of sleeping bags will be cold without insulation from the ground. So make sure you have a sleeping mat – they are not just for comfort but also warmth. You can pick up good deals on all aspects of the camping sleeping system with these outdoor discount codes.

Remember the four factors

In the end, to buy a sleeping bag isn’t as complicated as the plethora of jargon and stats can lead you to believe. Focus on the four factors of temperature, environment, design and insulation, and you will have gone a long way to ensuring a blissful night’s rest under the stars.

We hope you found this guide to buying a sleeping bag useful. Be sure to check out our other camping articles.


Camping, Hiking, Mountaineering, Multi Activity, Overlanding, Trekking, Walking
Sleeping bags

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