[pct-l] Sleeping bag help, please

Eric Lee saintgimp at hotmail.com
Mon May 28 14:58:09 CDT 2012

Kit wrote:
I'm totally undecided as to what I will need for a sleeping bag.  I tend to
sleep cold, and last weekend when camping in Keno, Yukon, I was miserable in
my current synthetic bag that is rated to 32F.

Here are a few thoughts to add to what other people have already said:

There's no particular scientific rating system for sleeping bag warmth -
it's just up to the manufacturer to be honest.  A lot of them try to be as
overly-optimistic as possible without causing too many furious customers.
Take the temperature ratings with a grain of salt.  (In the last few years I
think there have been some objective testing systems released but I don't
know much about them.)  Probably the most reliable way to compare different
bags (aside from sleeping outdoors in both of them) is to lay them out flat
and look at how much loft they have (how thick they are when fluffed up).
All else being equal, the bad with the most loft is likely to be the

A down bag is a significant investment but usually gives you the best
warmth-to-weight ratio.  A bag from a reputable manufacturer is also a
significant investment but will give you a high-quality product and they
will tend to be rated more honestly.  The best manufacturers include Western
Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, and Marmot.  There are other reputable
manufacturers as well so this isn't a complete list.  The bottom line is
that you usually get what you pay for.  There aren't a lot of shortcuts
here.  If backpacking is something you intend to pursue as a hobby then an
investment here is worthwhile.  If not, then see if you have a friend who
could loan you a good bag.

For a top-of-the-line bag in the 15-20 degree range you can expect to pay at
least $300 and get a bag that weighs no more than about 2 pounds.  If you
want a specific recommendation, I'd suggest looking at the Marmot Helium
bag.  It's from a good manufacturer, rated to 15 degrees, about 2 pounds,
and I see it for sale online down to the low $300's.  There's also a women's
model available.  I use the Marmot Hydrogen which is the same design just
with less fill for a 30 degree rating and I like it because it has a decent
amount of room inside for my 6-foot body.  It's snug without being
claustrophobic.  If you have a small frame you might look at Western
Mountaineering which tends to cut their bags a little smaller.

It's possible and recommended to supplement your sleeping bag with extra
clothes, jackets, hats, and whatever else you have available on the coldest
nights.  The best strategy is not to buy a bag that will handle the coldest
possible temperatures all by itself but rather to buy one where the bag plus
all the rest of your gear will be sufficient.  I guess that takes some
practice and experience to figure out what works for you, though.

Make sure you get a bag with a good hood and that you know how to cinch it
up around your head when it's cold.  You can leave just a little hole for
your nose and have all the rest of you covered.  Some people don't like that
feeling at first but it makes a huge difference in warmth.  Trust me, you
want to use the hood.

Also pay attention to your sleeping pad.  You can have the warmest bag in
the world but if your body heat is all leaking out into the ground it
doesn't help much.  Make sure your pad provides some insulation under you.
Feel free to ask about that if you want more details.


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