Best Sleeping Bag Buying Guide:
To truly appreciate the great outdoors and the beauty it has to offer, you’re going to need a good night’s sleep. How do you achieve that? You need the best sleeping bag possible – one that’s totally suited to your trip and individual needs. But with so many options around, we’re more than used to hearing just ‘which one should I buy?’
So, we’ve put together this buying guide to help you along the way before you get totally immersed in reviews.
We can tell you the best suitable for cold weather, the top camping equipment needed for festivals and so much more before you delve in and buy yours. Keep reading and you’ll soon find the best all-round kit for you.
Key factors when looking for the best all-round sleeping bag
If you’re a complete beginner when it comes to sleeping outdoors, know there are a few factors you need to consider before you decide on the best option for you.
Sleeping Bag Seasons & Temperature Ratings
Here at Planet Camping, we’ve met some pretty passionate campers in our time – with some of you camping throughout the year, rain or shine. When you’re camping, and where, actually impacts a lot of what type you need. While if you’re simply camping the summer months away you’ll be fine with a season 1, you might need something a little warmer if you’re looking for travel specific models to keep you warm throughout the year.
- Season 1
Camping in the Summer and indoor sleepovers for the kids.
- Season 2
Camping at the end of Spring and throughout early Autumn.
- Season 3
Camping in the colder Spring/Autumn months – perfect for mild nights that feel a little nippy.
- Season 4
Camping in the Winter when it’s super cold and you’re expecting frost or even snow!
So now you know which season rating you need to look for in your ideal sleeping bag! It’s simple when you break it down. That isn’t where your shopping decisions end though – before you buy one you need to look into the right insulation for your trip. See our guide to the different insulation types below.
When it comes to finding warm bags, you want to look at products with the best synthetic insulation, best down insulation or water-repellent down insulation. Sounds confusing, right? Read more about each in the ‘Insulation’ section below and we’ll explain exactly what you need to look for in your hunt for the ideal warm bag.
Sleeping bag Insulation Types
For those really cold camping trips you’re probably assuming you need a sleeping bag liner, but you’ll be surprised at just how warm some of our best product lines can be on their own.
To find the ultimate warmth, you obviously need to consider the temperature ratings described above, but the insulation you choose also makes a huge difference. So what are your options? We’d recommend the following camping insulation types:
We’ve got everything from manmade synthetics to natural down made from duck or geese feathers here - keep reading our buying guide for more information on each option.
Down Filled Sleeping Bags
Sleeping bags with down insulation are great because they’re the most lightweight option.
Is it a little more expensive? Sure, you’ll definitely find down models a little pricier than synthetic alternatives, but there are perks to shelling out a little more for the best down solution for sleeping. Down insulation is known for its durable, breathable qualities and instantly recognisable too with its plump, fluffy style. The fluffy style isn’t just to look good either, it’s this that traps air and retains more heat while you’re sleeping. It keeps its shape over time too, which means it maintains its key insulation qualities for years.
In short, it’s going to last you longer than a synthetic bag and retain more heat, so this might be the best option for you if you’re a regular camper, planning on many trips over a range of seasons in the next few years.
Down is the best option for cold but dry conditions. On the other hand, it’s not as good in wet weather, so if you’re heading out no matter rain or shine – synthetic insulation could be the best option for you.
Synthetic - Allergy Free
Synthetic is so efficient in wet weather because it is known to retain around 50% of their heat, even when damp. Generally made from a puffy polyester material, it doesn’t absorb water in the same way as duck or goose feathers might, so it’s a great if the forecast isn’t looking so good (and let’s face it, the Great British weather isn’t always kind when it knows we’re headed for the outdoors for a few days).
On top of this, it’s hypoallergenic – which makes it perfect for those who are allergic to the bird feathers in down insulation. If the temperature rating is right, then it’s still bound to keep you warm when the temperature drops overnight too, and at a lower price than the best down sleeping bag on the market. Care-wise, they’re the easiest to look after as well.
The downside? Even the best synthetic sleeping bag insulation is going to be heavier and bulkier than the duck and goose feather alternatives. While this is fine if you’re driving to a campsite or don’t have far to walk, we’d recommend that keen trekkers should spend a little more on the lightweight down options.
Water-repellent insulation takes things a step further than the stuff found in a normal synthetic bag. As the name suggests, this is going to be the best option if you know you’re destined for a few days of terrible weather.
But the surprising fact is that many of these water-repellent sleeping bags actually have down insulation – so it is possible to get the lightweight, warmth of down with water-repellent qualities. Quite often these come with a nylon or polyester outer shell which has been finished with a durable water repellent coating to ensure that the duck or goose feathers don’t get damp – this means that they can continue to retain heat without being affected.
As you can imagine though, these bags come with an even bigger price tag than the normal down sleeping bags. We’d only recommend these if you’re feeling flush and you’re a regular camper who needs something which is built to last in some extreme conditions.
A summary of the best insulation
- Best heat retention
- More lightweight and less bulky than synthetic options
- Breathable – suitable for a wider range of temperatures
- Extremely durable
- Small pack size
- Not water-resistant (unless specially bought) and dries out slowly
- Heat insulation lost when damp
- Harder to clean
- Not suitable for people with allergies
- Most expensive option
Best for cold but dry camping environments, water repellent coating makes it the best all-round sleeping bag, but expensive for camping beginners.
- Keeps insulation qualities when wet
- Dries more quickly than down
- Easier to clean than down filled
- Cheapest option
- Doesn’t last as long as down
- Less efficient insulation
- Heavier than down
- Less compact
Best for warmer and wet camping environments – a good summer one when you can’t guarantee a dry stay in the great outdoors. Recommended for people with allergies or those looking for a cheaper option – especially great for people heading to a festival for the first time this summer.
Sleeping Bag Shapes
So you’ve decided what temperature rating you need and which insulation type you prefer – but what’s the best bag shape for you? They come in many different shapes, sizes and weights these days, and people can often lose sight of the most important factors when choosing a product that will best suit their circumstances.
It’s not all about looks when it comes to camping sleeping bags, each shape is that way for a reason and will, yet again, impact on how warm you are throughout your outdoor stay.
So what are your options?
Of course it’s fairly obvious whether you need a double or a kids bag, but how about the rest of the options? What separates mummy bags from a square bag or pod bag?
Here’s the guide low-down on shape.
Mummy Sleeping Bags
You’ve probably seen these guys about – mummy bags are one of the best shapes options out there. Why? Well, mummy bags are renowned for performing well in every season – there really is something for everyone here. Whether you’re looking for summer, winter or even expedition kit for sub-zero temperatures then mummies will always perform well.
Designed to provide optimum warmth, by hugging close to your body, its shape gets smaller towards your feet - reducing the amount of space for heat to escape. This makes it ideal for camping in harsh temperatures. If you’re off on an extreme trek, highly insulated bags are an investment - you can be sure to get value for money when looking at our options.
So what’s not so great about the mummy design? The rest comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer square or pod sleeping bags (or even double bags) because they allow you more room to move around, but that will reduce the heat retained as you sleep. We’d only recommend alternatives if you’re camping during the summer months in the UK or in warmer climates.
Rectangle Sleeping Bags
The rectangle bag is one of the most popular because it’s just that bit roomier. This style isn’t so close to your body, so you have more space to wriggle about, and the square shaped bag can even be opened up as a blanket or throw.
This is great for spring, summer and autumn, but what about the winter? Although it is widely rumoured that square bags aren’t as warm, many manufacturers are upping their game as far as insulation goes, so you’ll be alright in the UK winter too. Just stick to mummy versions for extreme sub-zero temperature camping.
You do need to consider that these aren’t so compact and lightweight though. More room means more fabric, which means more weight to carry about. If you’re just heading out for a short trip, with a car to drop stuff off at the campsite, square sleeping bags are just fine and they’re usually a cheap option too – but still go for mummy style bags for trekking.
Double Sleeping Bags
Heading out for a couples camping weekend? Then you should be considering the double sleeping option. One of the best ways to stay warm is by sharing body heat, and this shape doesn’t disrupt your normal sleep pattern if you’re used to sleeping together.
As you’ll see from other double bag reviews, these are ideal for UK camping during the summer or autumn months, or in places with similar climates. However, if you’re headed for extremely cold temperatures, we’d always suggest checking out the mummy bag section, as that’s how you’re going to stay warmest. You can always cuddle up afterwards!
Pod Sleeping Bags
Pod sleeping bags are the perfect middle ground between mummy and square – they still fit fairly close to your body to retain heat, but give you a little more room than a mummy bag. This makes them popular for parents buying kids sleeping bags for their children, as it keeps the little ones warm even when they’re wiggling about.
They’re not just for kids though – here at Planet Camping, we stock plenty of adult pod sleeping options too. The Gelert Curve Bag/Pod is one of the newest on the market, coming with an easy roll-up design and built-in stuff sac. Ideal for festivals and summer camping, these vibrant, affordable designs are contemporary while also offering the cosy comfort that is necessary for an outdoor trip. These are ideal for sleepovers too.
Just bear in mind that, yet again, these won’t provide quite the same warmth as a mummy bag, and they’re not as lightweight or compact either. Make sure you buy based on the trip you’re planning, using the advice provided in this sleeping bag buying guide.
Best Sleeping Bag For Festivals
When searching for the best festival sleeping bag, you’ll find a 2 season one more than efficient to keep you warm, and then the rest is up to you!
Bargain, pod bags are ideal for the festival season, and a great addition to your festival packs with their quirky design and built-in stuff sac. We know, we’ve not exactly sold them as the best all-round sleeping bag for extreme conditions, but they really are perfect for your festival gear list.
Realistically, if your bag is only to be used in the summer months for festivals, then pods are more than warm enough, as are square and mummy types – so just pick what you’d prefer. You could even check out our sleeping bag suit section for a funky, wearable alternative – that’s bound to make you stand out at the next big festival camping event.
One essential to add to your festival camping kit though is a good camping mat. No matter how much the Great British weather decides to bless us with sunshine during the festival season, that ground is still going to get cold overnight, and a camping mat will always help.
General Sleeping Bag Care Tips
For a one to last you years to come you need to look after it properly, and there are a few general care tips you can follow to ensure it stands the test of time.
1. Look after the insulation
By sitting or lying on the sleeping bag when you’re not using it properly, you’re actually squashing and compressing its insulation which – you guessed it- isn’t so hot (get it?!) for the heat retention. The insulation’s ability to trap air influences the season rating hugely, so by crushing the insulation you could be reducing your kit from a 3 season bag to a 2 person bag.
2. Wear clothes!
It’s nothing personal, it’s just that a bag is better protected from body oils if there’s a layer between you and the sleeping bag. By making sure you’re wearing socks, for example, you can wash the bag less and simply air it out to get rid of that outdoor smell!
3. Open it up as soon as you set up camp
Insulation captures air in your bag, and that’s what keeps you extra warm during a night in the great outdoors. The sooner your sleeping bag is out of its stuff sac, the sooner it can begin to catch the air – and the warmer you’ll be when trying to get to sleep.
Washing Sleeping Bags At Home
Depending on how often you’re using them, the best bags on the market can last you for up to a decade – but obviously that means washing them and caring for them in the right way.
Cleaning your bag is surprisingly easy, if you know how. So how do you get started when it comes to washing these at home? And how do you find out how to wash them in washing machines? We’ve got a few tips.
1. Close it all up
As with all of your clothes, when cleaning sleeping bags it’s always best to do up all the zips before you put them in the washing machine. Not only are you guaranteed a more thorough clean (this ensures that all the body oils are removed from the interior) but you’re also less likely to experience tears or wear from the washing machine itself.
2. ALWAYS read the label
The majority of products can be cleaned in a washing machine on a cool, gentle setting, but there are exceptions to the rule.
You should always follow the advice stated on the label (even if it’s different to what you’re reading here). At the end of the day, manufacturers always know what’s best for their products. It might tell you to hand wash, or to use a gentle detergent – all of these suggestions will help maintain your sleeping bag so that it stays in the best state possible for years of happy use!
TOP TIP: Why not wash your sleeping bag in cold water on a gentle cycle, then set it to an extra rinse afterwards to fully remove all detergent?
3. Use the right detergent
So we touched on this point above, but we really can’t stress it enough. If you’re trying to clean down sleeping bag kit then you want to use a product that leaves the essential oils in the duck or goose feathers, because these promote insulation.
You can get specialist down insulation cleaning products, so this might be the best route if you’ve spent a lot of money on a down sleeping bag. However, you’ll often find a mild detergent does the job too. As we said before, always check the label before washing at home.
4. Dry sleeping bags thoroughly
However you decide to dry it out after cleaning at home, you need to make sure it’s thoroughly dry before you put it back in that stuff sac.
So how do you dry a wet sleeping bag?
If you have the room and warmth to dry it out naturally then this is always going to be best, but many bags can also be tumble dried at a low heat to start the drying process. If you do decide to use a tumble drier, especially when you are cleaning down sleeping bags, you need to check on it regularly (perhaps every 30 minutes) and remove it to shake the feathers around.
Sleeping bag buying guide terminology
‘WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?’ We hear you say. We know that all this information comes along with some strange terms, especially if you’re a bit of a newbie when it comes to outdoor and festival camping.
Here’s our chart of exactly what all the strange terms you may be reading about mean – simply get in touch with our team if you think we’ve missed any!
Sleeping bag hood
The hood is at the top of the sleeping bag, to keep you as warm as possible in cooler temperatures. Feeling really cold? Just pull the hood cords tight and get toasty.
Don’t be baffled – these are the compartments that make up the sleeping bag, holding all that handy insulation in place.
Draft collar (also known as the neck or shoulder baffle).
This refers to a tube around the neck area, to keep that breeze out and the warmth in. These are often attached to an adjustable draw cord.
Insulated draft tubes
These are located around the zipper to prevent cold air from getting through the zips of your bag.
The inner lining is the fabric on the inside – it’s often made from either nylon, polyester or cotton.
Outer lining is the fabric on the outside of the bag, this can be waterproof depending on the product you decide to buy.
These are usually located near the top of the bag, giving users somewhere to store their valuable whiles they sleep.
The stuff sac is the bag sold with the sleeping bag, allowing you to transport it around in a compact way.
By now you should have a much clearer understanding of the best sleeping bag option for your next trip! Simply take our advice from the sections above and you’ll be prepared for your exciting outdoor trip in no time.