The big four. The four essential properties that largely determine a sleeping bag's value.
Sleeping bags are essentially a commodity. There is a spectrum of different brands and features, but most bags are similar enough that they can be boiled down to the big four.
The following list asks some critical questions to help determine what type of mobile sleeping system could be right for you.
- How much do you want to spend? How often would you use your equipment? Would you use it more for car camping, festivals, traveling, hiking, or backpacking?
- As with all products there are the ultra-elite models, and there are the low budget models. It’s a very personal decision, based on how you intend to use and enjoy your sleeping bag.
- Sleeping bags that are stored and used properly should last between 5 and 15 years.
- You can read more about pricing and how to best determine value with our post: Sleeping Bag Comparison Matrix
- Temperature rating
- What kind of climates will you primarily be using a sleeping bag for? Desert? Mountains? Forest? Beaches? All of the above? Do you typically sleep hot or cold?
- A tough question to ask, because no one knows all the places you’ll go. Take a guess at the lowest nighttime temperatures you might encounter. Determine if your run hot or cold, then pick a bag using either the EN tested lower limit of comfort limit. In general, it's unwise to use the extreme limit as a buying guide. You would likely survive the night, but you're not going to be happy about it.
- EN testing provides three temperatures that determine the rating: comfort limit, lower limit, and extreme limit. Most sleeping bag companies use the lower limit as their primary rating, but check to see if the sleeping bag has been EN tested. And find out which temperature is used for marketing.
- Temperature rating is really only a guide to compare sleeping bags between each other. It's not an exact science because there are too many variables to equalize between all people. The only true way to determine your personal rating is to go out and use the bag and see how comfortable you are when the temperature drops.
- (COMING SOON) You can read more about how temperature ratings are determined in our post: Temperature Ratings.
- Will you ever hike with a sleeping bag on your back? Will you ever need to stuff you sleeping bag in a backpack for mobility?
- If so, the weight of your system in important. Minimizing weight on your back keeps your pack lighter and allows for more comfort during the day. Conversely, carrying a heavier (or warmer) bag will keep you more comfortable through colder nights.
- If you're concerned about weight, it's all about comfort. It can be challenging to find the right weight within your budget and temperature rating needs. A good check is to compare the the warmth to weight ratio between similar systems.
- (COMING SOON) You can read more on the cost and benefit of saving weight with our post: Ultra-light vs. lightweight
- Fill type
- Will you be in primarily wet and rainy climates? Or only visit them Occasionally? Do you primarily use a tent? Do you typically camp from a motorcycle, or a small car with your family or friends? What kind of backpack do you use if you for hike in and camp?
- There are two primary types of fill: down and synthetic. The primary function is to keep you warm. The fill does this by trapping your own body heat between in tiny air pockets within the material. A very basic rule is the more loft around you, the more warmth the material will provide.
- Down is the lightest and most compressible insulator on the market. It is typically more expensive, and is used for higher quality bags.
- It should be noted that it has a natural weakness against water. If it gets soaked, the down will lose its loft and its ability to keep you warm. Some shell materials are more water resistant and can keep water away from your down. While the newer hydrophobic down is better at retaining loft when wet; all down will eventually lose loft with enough saturation.
- Advantages: elite warmth to weight ratio, extremely compressible, and a range of different specifications to fit your needs.
- Disadvantages: more expensive, weakness against water, and higher maintenance.
- Synthetic material is typically cheaper in to produce, and superior in damp conditions. However, it is significantly heavier and will take up more room when packed up.
- Advantages: water resistant, least expensive fill type, durable, and low maintenance.
- Disadvantages: bulky, heavy, and few options to meet user specifications.
- You can read more on the different aspects of fill type with our post: Fill Type: Down vs. Synthetic.
Ultimately, your sleeping bag should strike a balance between comfort and utility. Between price and value. The big four are all closely tied together, so finding harmony between them is no easy task.
We’re here to help, so if you're in the market for a new bag, take a look at our comparison matrix and decide what is most important for you. We’d love it if you chose a NoZipp Sleeping Bag. It's got a great warranty, and we’ll be sure to deliver you an awesome product. But if we’re not right for you, we understand. We just want what's best for you.
Thanks for reading!