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  Home : Sleeping Bags : Sleeping Bag Shopping Tips

Sleeping Bag Shopping Tips
Back to the Sleeping Bags page.

Selecting The Right Sleeping Bag.

Ever since we began making sleeping bags, we've learned there are three questions that should be asked when helping a consumer make a purchasing decision.

First: For what activity will the bag be used? Backpacking? Hunting? Family Camping? Scouting? Fast packing? Since different activities require different standards, Slumberjack sleeping bags are categorized by activity and by price.
Second: In what weather conditions will the bag be used? What seasons? What areas of the country? What kind of terrain? Mountains? Deserts? Wet areas? From a far-away mountain range to the local state park, in what kind of temperatures will the bag be asked to perform? Check the temperature ratings of the bags to match them with your expected use. Remember, though, that minimum temperature ratings are given as guidelines only, not absolute temperature parameters. After all, what is comfortable to one person might not be comfortable to another. And don't forget that a strong north wind can blow the ratings right off the chart!
Third: Who will be using the bag? Man? Woman? Adult? Child? Large? Small? Petite? Husky? When it comes to sleeping bags, one size does not fit all. Slumberjack sleeping bags are intended to offer a fit as personal as any item of clothing. So the best way to help your customer select the right size is to have them get in, try it on and see how they feel. This method of measurement works better than any ruler ever invented.

What are the different shapes of sleeping bags?

Mummy: Takes up less room and weighs the least. They're also smaller in size than rectangular bags, therefore decreasing the amount of space around the body. The less space that needs to be warmed by body heat, the warmer the bag will be.
Barrel: A rectangular shape tapered slightly at the foot to help decrease overall size. The barrel shape is slightly more portable and compactible than a full rectangular shape.
Rectangular: Bags that offer the user the greatest flexibility and interior room. Once unzipped, they can be used as comforters, blankets, and for other outdoor or indoor uses. Hooded rectangulars provide the added warmth of a hood to the comfort of a rectangular.

How does a sleeping bag keep me warm?

Warmth in a sleeping bag is a direct result of keeping the warmth generated by your body inside the bag, while keeping the cold air outside.
Three factors that affect warmth...
1. Insulation - Since air is a poor conductor of heat, the trapped air within the insulation acts like a thermal barrier between you and the cold air outside the bag by not letting your body heat escape from the bag. The insulation traps air and keeps it from moving around, hence the phrase "dead air". The more dead air you can trap, the more you will be insulated from the cold, and the warmer your bag will be.
2. Construction - How the sleeping bag is stitched or sewn also has a lot to do with the heat integrity of the bag. For example, if the outer liner material is stitched through the insulation to the inner liner material, this construction will not perform as efficiently as if the outer material is quilted to the insulation. This means the stitch lines don't go all the way through and thus, will not allow heat to escape through stitch holes.
3. Environment - The use of a sleeping mat or pad can improve the thermal performance of your sleeping bag by as much as 10° F, not to mention the added benefit when using a tent or bivy shelter. The advertised temperature ratings are only guidelines and assume the use of a ground pad and the user being inside a shelter.

The body loses heat three ways...
1. Convection takes place when warm air moves away from the body through openings in the bag and by air movement in large gaps between the body and the bag. 2. Radiation is the process of radiant energy leaving the body and passing through the material of the bag. 3. Conduction is the transfer of body heat through still air and through the materials that make up the insulator.

You're not buying a matress, you're buying a sleeping bag.

We're tempted to select a sleeping bag like we pick produce - by hugging and squeezing whatever bags are hanging on the rack in our local sporting goods store. "Ooooh, this one feels plump and cushiony," we think. That's only natural because we're used to thinking "cushiony" when it comes to sleeping on things.

But you don't sleep on a sleeping bag, you sleep in one. The cushioning you're looking for should come from your sleeping pad, not your bag. (more on pads later.) The comfort your bag provides comes from the fact that it keeps you uniformly warm, dry, and that the material is comfortable to the touch - comfortable and durable enough to sleep in all night long, night after night, year after year.

Don't Buy A Bag By The Pound.

We also assume that a larger, heavier bag is the warmer bag. Not so. So many factors contribute to the warmth of a bag - type of fill, amount of fill, the loft of the fill, the bag's shape, design, and construction. In fact, sleeping bag product engineers and designers strive to develop bags that have less bulk. It is because of the superior quality and design that a lighter, less bulky bag can be as warm as a bag that's over-stuffed with less expensive fill.

The Right Bag Is The Bag That's Right For You.

Selecting the right sleeping bag depends on how, when, and where the bag is going to be used, and type of person who'll be using it.

How is the bag going to be used? Backpacking? Hunting? Family Camping? Scouting? Will weight be an important consideration? Where are you going to use it? In the mountains? Deserts? Wet areas? And when will you use it? What seasons? Just summer? Spring through fall? In winter? Will warmth be an important consideration?

Are you looking for one bag to meet all your needs? Will flexibility be an important consideration?

And who is going to use the bag? What's their body shape and size? Are they large? Small but husky? Petite? A child? Size is always an important consideration.

Check Out Size And Shapes As If You're Buying Clothes.

Sleeping bags are most often classified by their shape.

"Mummy" style bags are so called because of their body-hugging, mummy-like shapes. And because they're body-hugging, they offer maximum warmth per ounce compared to other bag shapes, plus they usually weigh less than rectangular bag because they use less material - but not always.

Most quality mummy bags feature hood and neck closure with a drawstring that pulls the hood snug to your head. And look for a "baffled foot end" that gives your feet room but is specially quilted to keep them warm as well.

Also look for a self-repairing coil zipper and a zipper baffle which is an insulated flap that covers the zipper on the inside to help keep the warm air in, cold air out. And if you're buying bags for more than one person, consider styles that let you zip two mummy bags together with left and right-hand zippers.

Tapered with Barrel-style bags are modified mummy shapes but with more room for the shoulders, hips and feet than the typical mummy, offering a little more room to stretch while still being light in weight.

If you're really looking for room above all else, go rectangular, but you might be trading off lighter weight and some compressibility to get it. Standard rectangular bags are approximately 32" wide and 78" long, but oversized bags are available. Oversized bags can be wider and longer.

Like many mummies, most rectangular bags also zip together to effect a sleeping bag built for two.

You'd Have To Have Rocks In Your Head To Sleep On Rocks For A Bed.

You should definitely purchase an open-cell-foam, nylon-covered self-inflating sleeping pad. to go with your sleeping bag. Not only would it turn a sleeping night mare into a dream by providing cushion between you, the hard earth, and ever lurking rocks, a pad will insulate you against the cold, heat robbing ground. In fact, test have shown that self-inflating pads 1 1/2" thick can add 15-20% to your bag's temperature rating.

Construction: The Difference Is In The Details.

You can make two different bags out of the same material and one would be warmer just by how it was designed and constructed. Look for the quilting. Synthetic fibers must be quilted or baffled to prevent insulation from shifting around and bunching up leaving cold spots. Even better bags have "double-layer offset construction" which uses two layers of quilting arranged so that the seams of the outer layer do not overlap the seams of the inner layer. This arrangement prevents air from moving directly through the seams and out the bag. Double-layer offset construction creates a bag within a bag, and more loft, thickness, and therefore warmth, than a single-layer bag.

Look for neat, secured stitching that looks like it is going to hold over the long haul. Look at the cover and liner to make sure that no insulation is poking through. Test the zippers to make sure they move smoothly and easily. Feel the fabric. Make sure you'd like to sleep against the liner fabric. Check the bag for overall workmanship, fit, match, etc.

Insulation: A Question Of Degrees.

One of the most important materials in a sleeping bag is the insulation or "fill." What it's made of and how much is used can greatly affect the temperature rating of the bag under various conditions.

Synthetic fills are basically synthetic fibers bonded into sheets. They differ in how fibers are made - some are long and continuous, some are short, most are hollow, some have many hollow sections or tunnels running through the length of the fiber. Other synthetics differ in how they're bonded together, some in a fluffy, air-trapping matrix. But they're all designed to hold and trap air. "Dead air" has high insulation properties. The more efficiently insulation can trap air, the warmer that insulation will be per pound of weight.

Compared to natural insulation like goose down, synthetic fills can maintain loft (thickness), holding more air (and therefore warmth) when wet, and they dry quickly.

Fortrel® EcoSpunTM - is certified by Scientific Certification Systems to be made from 100% recycled purified polyester including 35% post-consumer plastic bottles.

DuPont Dacron® Hollofil® 808 - is hollow to trap more air for greater warmth. It is a comfortable, cost effective synthetic fill.

DuPont Dacron® Hollofil® II - is a synthetic fiber that features four hollow tunnels that run throughout its length, trapping more air to provide even more warmth and compatibility per ounce than Hollofil® 808.

DuPont Quallofil* - features seven air-trapping tunnels that run the length of each synthetic fiber to capture and retain body heat even more effectively (per ounce) than Hollofil® II.

3M ThinsulateTM* - LifeLoft features extremely fine fibers, thermally bonded in a three-dimensional matrix. Finer fibers more efficiently block radiant heat given off by the body. ThinsulateTM* LifeLoft insulation claims one of the best warmth-to-weight ratios (Thermal Weight Efficiency) of any synthetic insulation.

Hoechst Celanese Polarguard HV® - is a high-performance insulation made of high-void, continuous-length polyester filaments that are bonded and heat-sealed into a batting of multiple layers so the fibers cannot shift, clump or seperate. Because these filaments are hollow fibers, they trap greater quantities of air than solid synthetic fibers to create a barrier that captures and retains body heat more effectively, while being 25% lighter than the original Polarguard.

DuPont Micro-Loft ** - is a microdenier insulation that provides down-like comfort, yet at equal weight, is actually warmer than down. Micro-Loft uses a patented process to combine microdenier fibers (thinner than human hair) bonded together in a unique configuration that better traps and holds air and helps block radiant heat loss. Micro-Loft can be washed in commercial front-loading washing machines.

Down - is a time-honored, expedition-proven natural insulation made of very small, extremely light down feathers found next to the skin of geese. For its weight, down has uncanny ability to trap air.

Slumberloft HQ™ is a synthetic fiber composed of a 50% hollow core polyester fiber joined with a 50% solid core polyester fiber. This combination offers great warmth and loft.

DuPont Thermolite® Extreme is a high performance insulation that blends three different fibers - fine denier fibers, thermal bonding fibers, and hollow core spring fibers. This tri-blend fiber system offers ultimate warmth and superior compactibility.

DuPont Thermolite® Extra is a high-loft, high-resilient technical insulation for extraordinary warmth. Because it is made from unique patented hollow-core, three-dimensional crimp having a helical configuration, it provides superior loft, compactness, and exceptional resiliency.

Polarguard® HV is a high-performance insulation made of high-void, continuous-length polyester filaments that are bonded into a batting of multiple layers. Because it is a continuous filament, Polarguard HV does not shift, clump, or separate.

Polarguard® 3D is a high performance insulation produced from continuous filament in the same manner but finer than Polarguard HV. This makes Polarguard 3D softer, more compressible and stronger while providing great insulating value and loft.

Polarguard® Delta continuous filament polyester is the newest member of the Polarguard family. Polarguard Delta combines a super void cross section with modified batting formation. The larger void creates higher loft with less weight, making it warmer, yet lighter.

Thermolite Quallo is a high performance fiber featuring seven air-trapping tunnels that run the length of each fiber to capture and effectively retain body heat.

Temperature Ratings. How Warm Is Warm?

Bags are typically assigned temperature or comfort ratings by manufacturers as a general way to compare relative warmth, even though these ratings are not standardized.

The warmth of sleeping bag depends on a multiplicity of characteristics such as design, construction, materials, type of insulation, amount of insulation, and workmanship. Add to that the fact that what is warm for one person might not be warm to a person with a lower body metabolism. Body size, bag size, wind, humidity, how rested you are - even what you've eaten recently are also factors in determining if a bag will feel warm to you at a certain ambient temperature range. But in general, the temperature rating of a bag should be the temperature at which a bag will keep you comfortable for a six to eight hour period.

In cold weather you can increase the thermal effectiveness of your bag by staying dry, eating well, dressing in layers, and wearing long underwear. But don't overdress, or you'll sweat, and moisture greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the bag. Also, you can use a bag liner, or put one bag inside another. And of course, sleep in a tent or shelter that protects you from the wind and the elements.

How To Stuff A Sleeping Bag.
A Universal Mystery Revealed!

To stuff a sleeping bag, grasp the mouth of the stuff sack with your thumb on the inside, while keeping a toe or heel on one corner of the stuff sack. This will keep the sack from moving while you're stuffing the bag.

With your free hand, grab the foot of the bag and stuff it right to the bottom of the sack. Grasp the next section of the bag higher up and repeat the process. Remember, always push each section of the bag all the way down to the bottom. Otherwise, you'll end up with a loosely packed bag at the bottom, and not enough room on the top to finish stuffing. When the entire bag is in the sack, pull the drawstring closed.

Care & Cleaning

You should follow the specific instructions supplied by your bag's manufacturer, but here are some general suggestions you may find useful.

Bags filled with synthetic fill (such as polyester, Hollofil, or Quallofil) can be machine or hand washed, but never dry clean a sleeping bag that has synthetic insulation.

Hand Washing
Soak the bag in a bathtub filled with lukewarm water and mild soap. Submerge the bag fully and press water through the bag until clean. Rinse the bag thoroughly in clean lukewarm water until it rinses clean of any soap or dirt.
1. Hand wash in warm water with a mild soap, detergent or specialty bag cleaning solution (for example, McNett X-Treme™ wash).
2. Rinse thoroughly in warm water until all the soap is removed.
3. Dry by hanging over a clothesline or in a commercial front load tumble-type dryer set on "cold air only".
NOTE: To avoid damage to the washing machine and your bag, do not use agitator or plunger type machines.
Machine Washing
Use only the heavy duty, oversized, commercial tumble-type washing machines. Agitator and plunger type washing machines will damage both the sleeping bag and machine.

Set the water temperature on "cool" and the washing cycle on "gentle." Zip up the bag before washing.
1. Wash only in commercial heavy duty, front-loading, tumble-type machine set on "gentle" cycle. These are the machines usually found at laundry mats.
2. Wash in warm water with mild soap, detergent or specialty bag cleaning solution (for example, McNett X-Treme™ wash) with the bag zippered closed.
3. Dry by hanging over a clothesline or in a commercial front load tumble-type dryer set on "cold air only".

Sleeping bags made with down insulation should be:
1. Hand washed in mild soap such as Woolite® or McNett Thunder Down™ Cleaner. After washing, hang to dry, periodically shaking the bag to loosen wet down.
2. Dry cleaned by a professional familiar with down products.

Line Drying is the best method to dry your bag. Do not ring out the bag, rather press any excess water out by hand. It takes only 24 hours for most synthetic bags to dry. A commercial-type dryer can be used, but select the "air-only" setting. The bag may require more than one cycle to dry.

Properly storing your bag will help ensure it's performance for years. Don't store your bag compressed; it will lose its loft and insulating ability. To retain your bag's loft, store it in a large bag, or lay it on a shelf, or hang it up by the foot.
Before your bag is stored, allow as much time for it to air out as possible. When not in use, a sleeping bag should not be rolled up tightly or stored in its stuff sack. The best way to store your bag is...
1. Laying loosely on a shelf.
2. Hanging it by the loops at the foot of the bag in a closet.
3. Stuffing it loosely in a Slumberjack storage bag.
Outdoor Sleeping Checklist
___ Bag
___ Insulated Pad
___ Waterproof Stuff Sack
___ Compression Sack
___ Camp Pillow
___ Night Clothes & Cap
___ Storage Bag

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