Knowing how people love a good gear debate (the best camping stoves, one-man tents, expedition backpacks, sleeping mattresses and touring bikes have all proved popular), here’s one to get all you gear geeks hot under the collar (or leave you shivering like those long awful nights in a tent when you’re wearing every scrap of clothing you’ve got, you’re hunkered deep in your sleeping bag and you’re still bloody cold and torturing yourself through the long hours until dawn with thoughts of the big fluffy 4-seasons down bag you left at home to save a bit of weight…).
Choosing a sleeping bag is one of the hardest expedition kit dilemmas.
In a dream gear world you would probably own:
- A tiny 1-season down bag for mid-summer use
- A 2-season down bag for summer use
- A 2-season synthetic bag for damper summer use
- A 3-season bag
- A vastly expensive 4-season down bag for those very occasional, but truly cold nights
Clearly this is not practical for most people! So it all becomes about compromise.
My favourite summer sleeping system is a lightweight option of combining a down jacket and a silk sleeping bag liner. Year round I prefer to err on the side of a light bag combined with wearing more clothes. However out on the Arctic Ocean last year I used a pile liner with a massive four-season synthetic bag on top. Rowing the Atlantic Ocean I used a sleeping bag from Tescos.
If you are looking for a sleeping bag for a microadventure rather than a long expedition I would recommend just using whatever you already have and taking along as many supplementary clothes as necessary. There is no point spending loads of money for the sake of a bit of extra warmth or weight saving if you are not really going to use the bag very often. Seriously, any old sleeping bag, plus a wooly hat, plus a few jumpers will do you fine for your first few microadventures.
But, for the gear geeks out there: what is your favourite sleeping bag? I’mm asking this question precisely because I know what a difficult one it is, dependent upon the season, the weather, the weight, bulk, price and so on. But go on, have a go.
For once I’mm also encouraging gear-geek details such as weight, season rating and price…
Let us know in the comments below.
EDIT: a brilliant reply from all-round-hive-of-information Tomo. I have summarised it:
The deciding factors are many and varied but essentially boil down to Lightweight versus Durable. Count you (the user) in to this equation as well (does the bag, the purpose and the user need to be lightweight or does the user need to be guaranteed a good night’s sleep every night to facae the challenges / arctic tempratures etc the next day). Scribbling notes on a piece of paper under both headings will sort the issue.
There are enough web pages devoted to the synthetic versus down debate.
All the usual factors add or subtract from your decision on which bag is best –
What is over and under the sleeping bag
What are you wearing inside it
Will you be able to dry / air the bag regularly
Is there a limiting factor on transporting the bag â€“ does it have to fit in / on a sack, a truck, an isocontainer, the side of a yak ??
If it proves to be inadequate for the â€œ10 year stormâ€ / worst case climate scenario â€“ how easy is it to make yourself warmer with what you have (this leads back to the lightweight / durability question), and continues to the question of if your bag â€œfailsâ€ is your life at risk.
The layered sleeping system works and is favoured by most. Layering could be as simple as wearing (or not) a set of thermals inside the bag to add a â€œseasonâ€ of warmth, or putting a 2 season synthetic (washable) inside a 3 season down bag (or vice versa depending on moisture levels) to amke a super-bag.
What does Andy think ? â€¦ http://www.andy-kirkpatrick.com/articles/view/maximising_your_bags_warmth
You can sleep in a bog filled culvert or trench for weeks on end in winter in a Buffalo 4 season inner and outer system. You cannot get anything other than said sleeping bag in an 80 litre sack. Decisions decisions.
A Canadian Army poncho liner (think techno synthetic thin duvet that can press stud together (to make a sleep bag) or apart (warm weather duvet luxury) is a good multi function warm weather option. Sleeping insideone of these and inside a tarp (see above Geographical article) adds weatherproofing to the set up.
For the middle of the road, normal usage enter in to the synthetic or down debate and exprience will educate. Ebay is always an option to buy a second hand bag â€“ add £50 to get a down bag professionally cleaned.
The boundaries of winter alpinism and the advent of arctic adventure racing (YAU, Iditarod etc) are both pushing back the boundaries of warmth against weight. There remain however few circumstances where humans require exceptionally warm bags for very prolonged periods of time. This end of the so called super bag market leads one, by a decision of life versus freezing, to specialist manufacturers. if you are operating at that end of the scale then you ought to be laid on the floor of Mountain Equipment, Rab, PHD, Western Mountaineering or similar, in your merino underwear, being measured, weighed and smothered in the finest down money can buy.
Pete Hutchinson Designs (Google PHD) offer a service across there range where you can change fill quality / quantity, outer fabrics, zip sides, hood sizes etc etc, as good as it gets (at a price) without personally ringing Mr Hutchinson himself.
A sumary ?
As with everything in the fashion / media / sponsor drive kit market, you very rarely get what you pay for in the bottom and middle of the market. Will a £20 medium tesco bag inside a £20 large tesco bag actually suffice (and save you £100 on your exped budget ???).
Alternatively, if you need a PHD Xero 1300 sack to stay alive, then buy one.