Sleeping Bags: A Beginner’s Guide

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The length of your sleeping bag should be chosen according to your height.

The first time I bought a sleeping bag, it was as a complete newcomer to camping. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so simply chose the most compact sleeping bag I could afford. Whilst the compact size did prove convenient on several occasions, the sleeping bag was designed for warm weather use. This led to a number of cold, uncomfortable nights, and taught me some valuable lessons about what to look for when choosing a sleeping bag.

Temperature

Keeping your body at the right temperature is vital to ensure you enjoy a good night’s sleep. Your body temperature will depend on the air temperature and the level of insulation your sleeping bag provides. Therefore your starting point when choosing a sleeping bag should be the night temperatures you will encounter. Once established, you can choose a sleeping bag suitable for that temperature range to help you feel comfortable throughout the night.

In Europe, sleeping bags are tested for the level of insulation they provide in the European Standard test EN 13537. This test produces four temperature ratings for each sleeping bag: Upper limit, comfort, lower limit and extreme (lowest limit). When choosing a sleeping bag, the best option will be to choose one where the comfort rating is as close to the temperatures you will be likely to experience during the night. If the night temperatures will be between 8ºC and 12ºC, a sleeping bag with a 10ºC comfort rating will be ideal. For Quechua sleeping bags, the lower limit is 5ºC below the comfort level. If the temperature drops below the lower limit, the best options are either to use a different sleeping bag with a lower comfort rating or use additional sheets or blankets to stay warm.

Length

Sleeping bags are available in a range of different lengths, so you need to consider your height when choosing the right one. The minimum size should be at least as long as your height so that it can cover all of your body. However, if the sleeping bag is too large, it will take longer for your body to warm up the space inside. Therefore the ideal length sleeping bag will be one slightly longer than your height.

Compacted Size and weight

The compacted size and weight of the sleeping bag are particularly important if you are trekking or travelling. In such situations, smaller, lighter sleeping bags will represent a more convenient option. However, sleeping bags designed for warmer temperatures will generally be thinner, and therefore lighter and offering a smaller compact size. These factors are important, but you do not want to sacrifice sleeping at a comfortable temperature to obtain them. Therefore identify first the right temperature. Once established, compacted size and weight are two factors which can help you choose between the options in that temperature range.

Hood or no hood?

Sleeping bags are available with or without ‘hoods’. Hoods provide additional cushioning for the head, which is useful if you will sleep without a conventional pillow. Ultimately though you should choose the design feels more comfortable to sleep in, which will be dictated by personal preference.

Zip

Sleeping bags are available with left and right zips. However, if you are buying one purely for your own use, this is not a factor you need to concern yourself with. Left and right zips become relevant if you want to link two sleeping bags together. If this is the case, you will usually need to choose one sleeping bag with a left zip and the other with a right zip.

Summary

When choosing a sleeping bag, the first place to look is the comfort temperature and how this compares to the temperatures you will encounter. Next, identify the right length. Once established, you can consider factors such as compacted size, weight and budget to find the right sleeping bag for you.

The Quechua range is available exclusively at Decathlon.

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