To enjoy a blissful night’s slumber in the woods, you need the proper gear. That starts with selecting the right sleeping bag. The good news for car camping is that you don’t have to fret about weight or having to fit your bag in a pack, so you can go as plush or roomy as you’d like.
What’s the difference between a camping and a backpacking sleeping bag? In general, camping bags offer plenty of room to move around in, while backpacking bags are light and snug. If you’ll be using one bag for both activities, choose a backpacking style because you need it to be lightweight if you’re going to carry it in a pack. Read How to Choose Sleeping Bags for Backpacking to learn more about bags for the backcountry.
Understanding Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Because you can always unzip a bag that feels too warm, you should pick a sleeping bag with a lower temperature rating than the lowest nighttime temperature you expect where you plan to camp. If you will use your bag into the colder months of the year, look at bags that can handle lower temperatures:
|Bag Type||Temperature Rating (°F)|
|Summer Season||+30° and higher|
|3-Season||+15° to +30°|
|Winter||+15° and lower|
All this said, be aware that temperature ratings, which are based on an “average sleeper,” mainly allow you to compare bags to one other. A wide range of other factors affect how you’ll really feel once you’re outdoors: your sleeping pad, what you wear sleeping, humidity and wind, your metabolism and more.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag Shape
In general, campers want bags that offer ample room to stretch out and roll over, which is why so many camping bags have a simple rectangular design. It’s hard to predict if you feel a bag is roomy enough without zipping yourself inside a bag. Sleeping bags come in three basic shapes:
- Rectangular: These bags allow plenty of room for both legs and arms to stretch out; some can be completely unzipped and used like a comforter.
- Semirectangular: Also known as a “modified mummy” or “barrel” shape, this designation covers a variety of shapes, all of which offer a compromise between warmth and roominess.
- Mummy: In order to boost warmth and cut weight, this bag style has a snug fit—you roll over with your bag rather than inside of it.
- Double bags: Bags made for two are the best bet for couples who plan to sleep together. Another option is to choose rectangular bags designed for zipping together—the bags need to be the same model and brand. A few bags also can be zipped together if one person chooses a right-hand zip and the other a left-hand zip.
- Kid-size sleeping bags: These are simply shorter, smaller and more affordable variations of adult sleeping bags.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag Insulation Type
The big choice here is whether you want a bag that’s insulated with down fill or synthetic fill. Below is a rundown on the benefits of each insulation:
Insulation Type Key Benefit Synthetic Insulation Affordable
Continues to insulate when damp
Down Insulation Lightweight
Performs well in cold, dry weather
Often has a water-resistant treatment to protect it in damp conditions
Compresses small for easy packing
Is durable—it retains loft and warmth well over the years
A note about ethical down: Most brands take steps to monitor the treatment of ducks and geese that provide down. You can identify a bag from one of those manufacturers when you see it labeled as either RDS (Responsible Down Standard) or TDS (global Traceable Down Standard).