Backpacking Sleeping Bag
A modern backpacking sleeping bag is lighter, warmer and more compressible than older models. Lightweight 3-season bags weigh in at less than 2 pounds.
Are you still sleeping in the bag that you took to scout camp? Does your back ache just thinking about lugging that old relic in your attic for 10 miles? If so, I have good news, technology has some welcome surprises for you.
What Type of Bag?
To begin, we will discuss the two major differences in the materials used to fill and provide insulation: down and synthetic polymers.
Down is lighter than synthetic, but only slightly so. Advances in technology are allowing synthetic to nearly match down in weight. Down is more compressible than synthetic. This is important because ultra light backpackers tend to carry smaller backpacks. Pound for pound, down is warmer than synthetic when dry. However, synthetic evens the score in its ability to provide insulation and stay warm when wet. Down fails this test miserably. Further, once wet, synthetic materials will dry out much more quickly than down.
There are a variety of styles of backpacking sleeping bags currently available. The lightweight champion is called a mummy. As the name suggests, this model fits tightly from head to toe. Many hikers sleep quite well in them. If you happen to be a bit claustrophobic, variations exist.
Many hikers are more comfortable with a bit more room. Men tend to desire a little more shoulder room while women are frequently more comfortable with a little more hip room. There are a variety of readily available models in styles to accommodate these preferences.
Backpacking sleeping bags are rated by temperature. Generally you will want to purchase one rated approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than your expected low temperature. For example, if the coldest temperature you are likely to encounter is 40 degrees, you should be fairly comfortable sleeping at a rating of 30 degrees. The extra few degrees will allow some buffer should conditions turn a bit colder than you anticipated. Also, if you tend to sleep very cold, decreasing the temperature rating of your bag can provide the extra warmth you need. Conversely, if you tend to sleep very hot, you may be able to opt for a higher temperature rating, resulting in less weight.
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There are methods to increase night time warmth other than using a lower temperature rated backpacking sleeping bag. You can add a bag liner, which will increase the warmth rating by as much as 15 degrees. Try filling a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and placing it near your feet before going to sleep. Before retiring for the night, eat a high calorie snack and drink something warm. Also, be sure to urinate when you need to rather than trying to hold it all night. Your body will waste precious heat keeping its fluids warm. Of course, you can add clothing for extra warmth as well. Start with a hat, gloves and wool socks.
Two hikers in one tent will increase warmth as well. Just having someone else breathing in the tent increases the temperature. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are ALL full of hot air. You can use this to your advantage on the trail. You will want to have insulation between your backpacking sleeping bag and the ground to prevent loss of heat by conduction. We will explore these options when we discuss sleeping-pads.
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