When the first sleeping bag was customised way back in 1876 by Welshman Pryce Jones, it was designed to ensure that Russian troops had more comfortable sleep. The bag was like a folding blanket and was a big hit, making him a very successful exporter. This later evolved, through fasteners, belts, zips, textures and different materials to acquire the multi-layered look it currently has.
The key drivers today while choosing the right sleeping bag, as in the late 1800's when it was first discovered, are getting the shape, outer material and inner filler right. The shape is important because it determines the efficiency of the bag in terms of trapping heat. It also shapes how bulky it would be and what kind of sleeping space it would generate when opened up. The outer covering should ideally be resistant to wind and water. It should also allow the fabric to breathe, be tough as in, be tear-resistant and be durable. The inside filling is what brings the comfort element to the sleeping bag. It should be light, taking the shape of the body and be warm and cozy. When washed, it should dry easily and get back into shape effortlessly.
Different styles and shapes to choose from
'Cuddly' mummy style: Has a tapered cut that increases heat-trapping efficiency. This allows you to choose a lighter and less bulky bag and still get comparable insulation. These are your best choice for colder, high-elevation conditions.
'Boxy' rectangular shape: These are heavier and bulkier due to their lack of tapered ends. They are not great with heat insulation but provide ample room to change sleeping positions. They can also be unzipped and used as a blanket.
Semirectangular shapes: They are a cross between the mummy and rectangular styles and are roomier and less bulky. So this could be your middle-of-the-road option.
The inner is as important as the outer
Good shell materials are those which are windproof and highly water-resistant. They must allow the texture to breathe. Mostly, bags use microfiber which is a tightly woven polyester or nylon. Tafetta is also used in a nylon and polyster blend that though convenient could be a little less durable.
For the filler, most reputed brands use down which is a fluffy undercoating found beneath the outer feathers of geese and ducks. It provides maximum warmth to weight ratio, is lightweight, can be compacted into small sizes and enjoys effective insulation, making it warmer and longer lasting. Where cost is concerned, this option could be more expensive as compared to the synthetic variants. Additionally, it could take longer to dry. The synthetic fillers are usually made of plastic threads which are hollow, reducing their weight and enabling them to trap more air. These however dry faster, are non allergic and more affordable too. The healthier choice would be to use bags that have down as fillers.
A good sleeping bag will snugly fit your entire body and if fully closed properly, only leave your mouth and nose exposed to outside air. By pulling the draw string on the hood of the bag, the air will be trapped inside, serving as a good insulator.
While a sleeping bag is a sleeping bag, ideally, your choice should be determined based on the nature of use. If you need it just as a sleeping pad or temporary mattress to sleep in a dormitory, hostel room or guest room then you need a more durable and comfortable style, even if it be pricier. But if it is for the occasional camping that you need then you can opt for a lighter, easy-to-wash/drip dry.
Tips on choosing the right bag
- Select a bag with a temperature rating slightly lower than the temperature you expect to experience. If you expect temperatures in the 20's, you should choose a +10Â° bag. If confronted with warmer temperature, you could unzip and let the air in
- Check for all raw materials used and make sure you are not allergic to any
- Be clear about the size you want. Opened up, the bag should serve as the length for your body and should have enough space for accommodating your shoulder, hip, and feet height.
- Most importantly, when folded, the bag should fit into your backpack easily and not create conflict with other odds n ends. It should be easily expandable
- Choose a bag which has a high quality waterproof zipper. This will make your life easier when opening and folding up the bag and prevent heat loss through unwelcome gaps.
- Having a bag with a hood is a good idea. Whether you use it or not, you have the choice of opening it up and placing your head snugly inside. It protects you from cold and from snores of fellow travellers
- If you choose a bag with pillow pockets you will be able to keep your cell phone, ipad, ipod and wallet safe. Some bags have folded pockets that double up as pillows