How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

a man drinking coffee while in a sleeping bag out backpacking

There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag for your next camping, backpacking, or hunting trip. With so many features to consider including the shape and size, selecting the right temperature rating, and more, it can be hard to know where to begin your search for the best sleeping bag. To help, our Camping Experts break down all the basics of how to choose a sleeping bag for your next adventure.

Type of Sleeping Bags

There are three main types of sleeping bags: rectangular, mummy, and semi-rectangular. Each provides different benefits depending on your adventure.

Rectangular Sleeping Bags

Rectangular sleeping bags provide plenty of room to move, making them great for kids or when camping, but the added room also allows more heat to escape too.

Mummy Sleeping Bag

Mummy sleeping bags are popular among backpackers or hunters because they provide the greatest warmth and are typically more lightweight. These allow very little additional space to move around in order to maximize warmth retention.

Semi-Rectangular Sleeping Bags

Semi-rectangular sleeping bags are a good compromise between comfort and warmth. They offer a bit more room to move compared to the mummy shape, yet don’t allow as much heat to escape as the rectangular shape.

What Size Sleeping Bag Do You Need?

a man putting the sleeping bags in a tent

When choosing a sleeping bag, size is a key factor. You want to make sure the sleeping bag is big enough to fit your height and width. There are a few different length options including petite, regular, and long. Which length you purchase depends on your height. Use the chart below to help narrow down how long your sleeping bag should be.

Sleeping Bag Size Chart

Sleeping Bag SizeCamper Height
PetiteUp to 5’ 5”
Up to 6’ 1”
6’ 1” to 6’ 5”

Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating

a man wearing a jacket and sitting in his sleeping bag

A sleeping bag's temperature rating indicates the lowest temperature it is designed to withstand while still keeping you warm. It’s best to choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter because if you end up getting too warm you can always open up the bag to release heat.

Most sleeping bags offer a temperature rating that’s comparable between brands. This is known as an “ISO” or “EN” rating. With this rating system, you may see two temperature ratings: comfort and limit.

  • Comfort Rating: The comfort rating suggests how comfortable the average or colder sleeper would be at that indicated temperature.
  • Limit Rating: The limit rating tells the lowest temperature at which a warm sleeper would be comfortable.

Seasonal Weather Considerations

Keeping in mind when you plan to do most of your camping and backpacking is an important factor in selecting the right temperature rating. Below are the general temperature ratings to look for based on the season:

  • Summer: 40+ °F
  • Spring & Fall: 40 °F to 15 °F
  • Winter: 15 °F to -20 °F

Sleeping Bag Insulation

There are two different types of insulation to choose between—down or synthetic.

  • Down fill is lightweight and packs down small, making it a popular choice while backpacking. Down fill also retains heat very well and is the most efficient fill type when it comes to warmth-to-weight ratio.
  • Synthetic fill retains heat when wet, making it a great choice if you anticipate sleeping in cold, wet conditions.

Additional Sleeping Bag Features

a camper zipping up his sleeping bag

There are several other features to consider when choosing your next sleeping bag. Depending on if you’re camping or backpacking, you may value some features over others. 

  • Sleeping Bag Shell: This is the material that the exterior of the sleeping bag is made from. They are usually made from durable materials like polyester or nylon for long-lasting use. 
  • Durable Water Repellent (DWR) Finish: This is a finish that’s applied to the shell of the sleeping bag to help water roll off rather than be absorbed. This keeps you feeling drier for longer.
  • Multiple Zippers: This design is to help provide versatile ventilation when needed.
  • Zipper Guard: Reduces the potential of the zipper to get snagged on the fabric.
  • Footbox: This is a part of the sleeping bag that offers a bit more room for your feet and a place for warm water bottles if needed.
  • Hood & Draft Collar: These features help prevent heat loss from your head to keep you warmer for extended periods of time.

Loaded with these technologies and features, choosing the right sleeping bag is an investment in warmth, comfort, and protection during your next adventure. If you have additional questions about sleeping bags or other camping gear, be sure to stop into your local SCHEELS to speak with a Camping Expert!