How (and Where) to Buy a Sleeping Bag
By James Ryan
Whenever I'm asked about sleeping bags from would-be campers, I'm often reminded of a time in my life when I knew very little about wilderness camping. One memory in particular that comes to mind would be from late-August of 2007 when I decided to take my 10-year old son up to Algonquin Provincial Park on what would’ve been our second annual father-son canoe trip. All I can say is that it was without a doubt one of the most uncomfortable, albeit memorable, experiences of my entire life.
[I even lost part of my finger on that trip, but that's another story for another time.]
Despite being warm and sunny throughout the day, the evening temperatures had dropped down to near freezing, which was surprisingly uncharacteristic for that time of year. Unfortunately, it hadn't even occurred to me to check the weather forecast for the over-nights or to even bring what I would consider to be cold-weather clothing. The day predictions were so hot, that that’s all I really paid attention to – rookie mistake!
Another unpleasant revelation that evening was that our cheap, department-store sleeping bags were clearly no match for the cold night air, so we were forced to wear all of our available clothing (even the dirty stuff) which we packed for the entire trip, but it still wasn’t good enough. As it turns out, cotton is not a very good heat insulator, especially if you’ve been sweating in it all day long. We got very little sleep on that trip, and by the end of it all, I had the worst sore back imaginable.
Being a young dad with two athletic kids to look after, I didn't have a lot of disposable income at the time to spend on quality camping gear, so I did what most people would have probably done in my situation and cheaped out, figuring that all camping gear was pretty much the same. Well, I figured wrong.
In hindsight, if there was one piece of camping equipment that could have easily transformed our entire adventure and made things far more enjoyable for the both of us, it would have been to have high-quality sleeping bags. Back-country camping is most certainly a working vacation, therefore, getting a good night’s sleep is always a top priority.
So what should you look for in a quality bag? For starters, it's good to ask yourself the following questions:
• What style of bag are you looking for?
• What time of year do you plan to go camping?
• What type of insulation do you want?
The style of bag you choose can make a huge difference in terms of overall warmth. The rectangular bag for example, is exactly as it sounds – a big 'ol rectangle. It provides a lot of extra room (less restrictive), particularly in the footbox area, which personally I prefer. And if you plan on zipping two bags together for snuggle-time with your significant other, then you can't beat a rectangle, which also turns into a much larger square, with the zippers all located on the outside edges. Next to freezing your butt off, there's nothing more annoying than sleeping on a zipper.
The mummy bags on the other hand, are the most thermally efficient bags on the market, as their snug-fitting design creates less dead-air space, and provides an insulated hood area for added warmth. They also typically pack smaller and lighter when compared to an equivalent rectangular bag. Some mummy bags can also be zipped together, but due to their shape, only connect in the middle sections, leaving the footboxes separate from each other, and the zipper running down the centre between two would-be snugglers.
The second most important consideration when buying a sleeping bag would be the time of year that you plan on going camping. In Canada, for example, where we deal with fairly drastic weather changes between the summer and winter months, it's important to decide WHEN you plan on spending most of your time outdoors.
To check out our selection of quality sleeping bags click HERE