Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sleeping Bags - An Important Part of Camping and Hiking

If you are planning to start hiking or camping, one thing is for certain. You will definitely need a good sleeping bag. There are many questions to ask yourself to determine which one will be just right for you.

What Sleeping Bag is Best for You?

Not all sleeping bags are created equal - nor would you want them to be! My son is an avid backpacker. He often goes out for days at a time with everything he needs on his back. Not only that, but he loves to camp in the winter with below freezing temperatures. Let's compare this to my own needs.

My idea of camping is driving up to a campground and getting my gear out of the trunk. And I only like to camp in the late spring and early fall.

What does this mean for our sleeping bag needs? For one, it means that I don't need one that is rated for cold weather. I also don't need one that is extremely light weight since I am only carrying it across the camp site.

Here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself:

In what kind of weather conditions will you be using your bag?

Is weight important?

Is a compact bag important?

How much money do you have?

The Three Main Decisions

When choosing your bag, there are three basic decisions that you need to make.

What kind of fill do you need?

What does the shell need to be made of?

What bag design suits your needs?

Fill Material

Down bags used to be considered the very best on the market. It is true - they tend to last a long time and are great for many types of camping. However, with the advent of synthetic fill, down may not be the best solution in every case.

If you live in or camp in wet or damp conditions, down simply does not work. Why? It will not keep you warm when wet. Synthetic fill, on the other hand, will. Several good synthetic fills include:

Lite loft





Polyguard 3D

In addition to their warmth when wet, they are also easy to clean, resistant to mildew, and they dry fast!

Shell Materials

Once you have determined what you want your sleeping bag fill to be, you have to determine the material for the shell. Gore Tex was the "in" material for years. However, Gore-Tex does not breathe well. This means that if you sweat while in your bag, you will find that your bag gets damp and stays that way.

Good shell materials include:

Tight-weave nylon: Nowadays, nylon shells have a coating of durable water repellent (DWR). This offers both water resistance and wind resistance. If you need a more durable shell, you might want to consider getting the ripstop version.

Polyester: Polyester has the same qualities of nylon. It is both water repellent and wind resistant and comes in a ripstop variety. The big difference is in weight. If you are looking for a lightweight bag, you will probably want to avoid polyester because it is heavier than nylon.

Microfiber: Microfiber shells are even more water resistant than either nylon or polyester. They are also windproof, not just wind resistant. Additionally, microfiber shells are extremely lightweight.

Gore Dryloft: Gore Dryloft and no name brand dryloft substitutes are the most water resistant shell made. Additionally, it is the most breathable. It also happens to be the most expensive.

If your camping experiences are more similar to mine, you will not require your bag to withstand harsh conditions or cold climates. You will also not care about the weight. In this case, you can get away with the less expensive nylon or polyester shells. If, on the other hand, you are an avid camper and hiker and plan to take on something like the Appalachian Trail, you will wan tto consider the microfiber or Dryloft.

Types Of Bags

Mummy bags are "the" bag for those that want to backpack. They pack small. They are lightweight. They heat up quickly. The downside? They don't provide a lot of room, thus the name mummy bag. You truly crawl in and that is that. There is no space for rearranging!

A similar bag that provides a big more room is the semi-rectangular or modified mummy bag. The biggest difference between this bag and the mummy bag is the middle section. The head and feet are still tapered, but the middle provides much more room for moving about. If you are not quite as worried about space in your pack or you are not hiking in cold weather, this bag would probably suit you just fine.

The final type of bag is the old fashioned rectangular bag. They are typically bulky and heavy and do not heat up well. However, they have plenty of room. Although not a good bet for backpacking, they are perfectly suited for car camping.

Other Attributes to Look For

Once you have decided on the fill, the shell, and the style of bag, there are still a few things worth considering:

You will want a full side zipper. This allows you to let your feet out during warm weather camping.

You will want a double-sided zipper. If one zipper blows out, you will still be able to use your bag. This feature will keep your bag in use much longer.

You will want some kind of closure over the zipper at the top of the bag. There is nothing worse than having your bag unzip in the middle of the night!

Look for 700-800 fill power. Although a bit more expensive, it lasts much longer.

Cleaning Your Bag

Once you buy your bag, you will want to keep it in good shape. Cleaning it properly will help the longevity of your bag.

Wash infrequently. You can keep your bag clean enough to avoid washing by keeping debris out of your tent, and cleaning mud and dirt off your clothes as much as possible before climbing into the bag.

Follow the washing instructions. Washing and/or drying your bag incorrectly will cause it to wear out much faster.

Do not use a washing machine with a center agitator. Doing so will damage your bag.

Use mild powder to wash your bag. Using a liquid can damage your shell.

Do not use hot water.

Always wash on a gentle cycle.

Dry alone. Putting in other objects can damage the bag.

Tips When Using Your Bag

Making Your Sleeping Bag As Comfortable As Possible

There is no use pretending that sleeping in a sleeping bag on the cold, hard ground is going to be as comfortable as sleeping in your own bed. However, it does not have to be torture either. Here are a few tips to help you feel the most comfortable in your bag:

Don't leave your bag in the stuff sack until bedtime. Instead, just as soon as you pitch the tent, get out the sleeping bag and fluff it up.

Use a ground insulator, like closed cell foam, beneath your bag.

Never get into your bag with dirty clothes. Change into fresh, dry clothes before sleeping.

Ways to Keep Your Sleeping Bag Dry

No one likes a wet bed. Even those that are meant to keep you insulated even when wet are not as pleasant wet as dry. Here are some suggestions to keep your bag dry, even in foul weather.

Keep your bag in a waterproof stuff sack. If your bag didn't come with one, then buy one!

Line your stuff sack with a garbage bag for extra protection.

Keep your tent well ventilated. The air flowing through the tent will keep condensation from forming.

Keep your tent seams sealed so that they don't leak in the rain.

Use a plastic ground cloth under your tent.

Don't pack your bag when it's wet.

Camping, whether high adventure or car camping, is fun, especially when you have the right equipment. So, before you head out, be sure to investigate and then invest in the correct sleeping bag!


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