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Sleeping Bags for Hill Walkers

August 3rd, 2009

hill-walker-bear-sleeping-bag.jpgA warm night’s rest is crucial for enjoyable backpacking so your choice of sleeping bag is very important. All sleeping bags are rated for different temperatures but these should only be taken as a rough guide as there is no standard. People differ too: warm sleepers can often use a bag at lower than the rated temperatures while cold sleepers would be wise to go for a bag rated for colder temperatures than they expect to encounter.

How the fill is held in place affects the warmth as well as the type and amount. Sewn-through constructions where the tubes that hold the fill in place are sewn together at the edges are fine for summer but not for colder conditions as heat can escape through the stitch lines. Better for three season use, and essential for winter, are constructions that keep the inner and outer sections of the bag apart.

There are two sorts of insulating fill: down from geese or ducks, and synthetic fibres. Down is lightweight, easily compressed (important for fitting in the pack), and has a good warmth to weight ratio. The disadvantages are cost and a relative lack of water resistance, though this last is not as great of a problem as many people think. Synthetic fibres dry quickly and keep some of their warmth when wet. But they are bulkier and heavier than down for the same warmth. They are also less durable, a factor that more than offsets the lower cost. My view is that down bags are best for backpackers as long as you always use a tent and carry them in waterproof stuff sacks. Bags with water resistant breathable outers (they are never waterproof as the seams cannot be sealed) help in resisting condensation but are not essential.

Pile bags also exist made by Buffalo. They are warm when wet and quick drying but also heavy and bulky. If you regularly sleep out without a tent, a Pretax nylon covered pile bag is a good choice.

Weights of bags vary enormously but those for summer use need weigh no more than 2.1 pounds (900 grams) for down filled bags and 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) for synthetics, three season bags no more than 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) for down and 4.1 pounds (1.8 kg) for synthetics and winter bags no more than 3 pounds (1.6 kg) for down and 5.1 pounds (2.3kg) for synthetics. There are many bags well below these weights so it is worth choosing carefully. Weights of pile bags range from around one pound (450 grams) for the lightest warm weather versions to 6.1 pounds (2.7 kg) for double winter weight models.

Do not go for the warmest bag if you want to use it year round. A -30 degree Celsius (-22 F) rated bag will be far too hot in summer even when completely unzipped. If you only have one bag, a three season one rated to around -5 degrees C (23 F) is the best choice as it should not be too warm in summer and you can wear clothes in it during really cold temperatures. Another option is to use a summer weight bag with a three season one in extreme cold.

Whatever the fill, except in the warmest weather some form of insulation is needed under a sleeping bag. This can be a closed cell foam mat, or for more comfort you can use a self-inflating Therm-A-Rest mat.

Sleeping Bags and Accessories

Along with the sleeping bags there are a number of small accessories that make life in camp more comfortable. I always carry a small repair kit containing stove spares, a tent pole repair sleeve, sticky backed nylon patches, a needle and thread, elastic bands, and lengths of cord. I also carry a toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper, and a toilet trowel. Options include candles, mosquito coils, and paperback books for reading when sitting out a storm.


Amy Weber is a freelance writer and article supplier for DailyArticle.com, a source of some surprisingly inexpensive but original articles on hill walking, sleeping bags, camping gear, and other topics for those who are patient enough to browse through the full selection.


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