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Sleeping in the Outdoors: What Makes a Sleeping Bag

According to REI, there are three key factors that you need to be aware of when you’re out going sleeping bag shopping. There’s the temperature rating, the weight/compactness, and the type of insulation that is being used. But let’s get into more detail.

The Temperature Rating of a bag indicates the lowest temperature at which the sleeping bag will keep the average human sleeping comfortable in their sleep. There are two different ratings. There is the comfort rating, which is for women, and the lower-limit rating for men. Women typically prefer sleeping colder than men typically do which s why there are two separate ratings. If the temperature rating on the EN Standard indicates that it is rate to a temperature of +20°F, that means it is made to keep you comfortable at temperatures as low as 20°F. This is why when you’re looking for a bag, according to REI, you need to choose the sleeping bag that is rated for the coldest temperature that you expect to encounter on the outing you plan on using this specific sleeping bag for. Use this chart from REI to help you make decisions on temperature rating based on the season you will be using the bag for:

Bag Type Temperature Rating (°F)
Summer Season +35° and higher
3-Season Bag +10° to +35°
Cold Weather -10° to +10°
Winter/Extreme -10° and lower


Weight, compactness, and fit are the things you need to be considering for all your gear when you’re planning what to pack for an outing. You need to make sure there is still plenty of room left in your pack. But at the same time, it is important you are not compromising to the point where your equipment is unsafe or not comfortable enough to use. You’ve got to balance out the durability, convenience, comfort, and price of the object overall. When it comes to matters of sleeping, it is important that you are able to get a good night’s sleep, especially after a day of hiking to be followed by yet another day of hiking. You want to make sure that you’re comfortable, well slept, and not experiencing any sleeping pains. It really depends on how long of a trip you’re going on and how much space you have in your pack. Now, for the actual use of the bag, there are actually different shapes that you can purchase. The most efficient shape at maintaining your body heat, according to many sources, is probably the Mummy shape. It is shaped, as the name would indicate, like a mummy wrapped in gauze. A hole just large enough for your face can be seen at the top. Some may feel that it is a bit constricting though and opt for more standard shapes. As for length, here is a chart from REI on when to choose certain bag lengths:

Men’s Women’s
Short: For people up to 5’6″ Regular: For women up to 5’6″
Regular: For people 5’7″ to 6’0″ Long: For women 5’7″ to 6’0″
Long: For people 6’1″ to 6’6″


Insulation is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of a sleeping bag. The options available to us now are down, synthetic, or even the newer water-repellent down. According to REI:

Down fills (either goose or duck) are very light, compressible, durable and breathable. While initially more expensive, they offer great long-term value. Synthetic fills excel in damp, cold conditions and have less sticker shock up front. They are slightly heavier and less compressible than down. Water-repellent down (e.g., DriDownTM) is down treated to resist moisture, the Achilles heel of regular down.

This is really important to know when making your decision because if you are going to be around any extreme conditions such as cold or moisture filled environments, you can really pick a sleeping bag that perfectly compliments your trip maximizing return on the bag itself. Now certain types are more expensive, for example down is more expensive than synthetic fill, but just as with just about any feature of the sleeping bag, you really have to be willing to know when the extra cost is worth it. Something to consider also are allergies. Also, make sure that you aren’t allergic to any of these materials or else you’ll find much too late that being wrapped up in one of these in the middle of nowhere may not be the best idea for you. As for the shelling of a sleeping bag, while, according to REI, it is typically made of ripstop nylon or polyster, top quality bags will be treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. It makes sure water just beads up on the outside of the bag instead of penetrating the surface of the bag. While this is true for the shell, the inside of the bag needs to allow for dispersal of moisture so as to allow our skin to breathe.

Other things to consider when trying out sleeping in the outdoors? If you’re trying to get a comfortable sleep, it is essential that you pack a sleeping pad! These pads come in different forms including air pads, foam pads, and self-inflating pads. Each has its pros and cons that you should read up on with this article from REI. What you need to take into consideration when looking for these sleeping pads is how much cushioning/thickness you desire for comfort, your preferred length & width for a pad, how much time & the ease with which one might take to prepare the pad for sleeping, as well as the weight & compressibility of the pad. Sleeping pads are also important in that they lift you up from the ground, meaning that you are getting more insulation. Especially at night, the ground grows cold and will cause you to lose body heat quickly. A sleeping pad is vital in helping reduce this effect.

For even more information, click through this article from REI featuring expert advice on sleeping bags for backpacking.

Just set your sleeping bag on top of your sleeping pad and you’ll be set for a comfortable sleep on the grounds of just about…anywhere. In fact, why not let DNK Presents take you on your next adventure to anywhere! Want to test out that sleeping bag that’s just been lying around your house catching dust? Join us on Eden’s Excursion in Deam Wilderness located in Bloomington, Indiana! It will be the weekend of August 1st – 2nd, 2015. For more information, an itinerary, and to signup, read more here!


Eden Ashebir

Adventure Marketing Intern

Ever been to Costa Rica? Needing an escape? Click here for more information for our first ever DNK Presents Costa Rica Adventure, January 23rd through 30th, 2016. Registration closes by October 1st, 2015 so sign up quick!

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