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Sleeping Bag Guide: Choosing The Best Sleeping Bag For You

Sleeping Bag Guide: Choosing The Best Sleeping Bag For You

20.05.2017 | Camping Buying Guides

Contents (Click To Jump To):
1. Sleeping Bag Season Ratings
2. Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
3. Down Sleeping Bags Vs Synthetic
4. Shapes, Sizes and Weights
5. Key Features
6. Sleeping Bag Accessories


The right sleeping bag can make all the difference to a restful night’s sleep whether you are camping in the UK summer or planning a winter adventure outdoors. In this guide we will take you through all the important considerations and key features to show you how to choose the best sleeping sleeping bag for you. To get an idea of the types available, check out our range of sleeping bags.


1. Sleeping Bag Season Ratings

Sleeping bag season ratings are designed to make it easier to choose your sleeping bag. Ratings range from season 1, designed for summer camping, to season 4, designed for cold winter nights.


Season Season Rating Perfect for Example


Season 1 Summer camping.
Indoor use

Basecamp 200

Season 2

UK late spring
Early autumn

Microlite 500


Season 3 Autumn/Winter.
Mild – cold nights
Without frost.
Microlite 700
Season 4

Cold winter nights.
May be frost/snow.

Everest Down


Mountain Warehouse Sleeping Bags (Click to View)

 All Prices Correct at Time of Writing

Season 1/2 Sleeping Bag: £24.99

Season 4 Sleeping Bag: £79.99

Season 3/4 sleeping Bag: £34.99

Season 2/3 Sleeping Bag: £34.99


Sleeping Bag Ratings: The Best Sleeping Bag

2. Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings

The temperature rating is an important factor to consider when choosing a sleeping bag. The rating you choose will depend on where you will be using your sleeping bag and what temperature you are comfortable sleeping in. A sleeping bag for camping in your back garden in summer for example is going to have different requirements than one for scaling Everest.

The European advisory created a legal standard regarding temperature ratings for sleeping bags in 2005 to help standardise the comparison of sleeping bags from different manufacturers. These temperature ratings are a useful guide to deciding which bag will give you a comfortable night in the conditions in which it will be used.

The ratings should be used as a guide only. It is important to remember that temperature ratings will vary from person to person, the way you sleep and how easily you feel the cold will have a bearing on which bag you choose. Other factors, such as the clothes you choose to sleep in, if using inside a tent or out in the open and whether a ground or sleeping mat is used will also have an effect on how comfortable an experience you have. It’s advisable to choose a sleeping bag that will provide more warmth than you may think is necessary.

Temperature ratings will be expressed in comfort (lower comfort and upper comfort limits) and extreme ratings.


Comfort Ratings

The ‘comfort’ rating refers to the optimum temperature you will feel warm and comfortable sleeping in when in a rolled up position. When the bag is used in any temperatures below the ‘comfort rating’ the user is likely to feel the cold. On average women feel the cold more than men so this rating is some degrees above the ‘comfort limit’ for a man.


Extreme Ratings

The ‘extreme’ temperature rating is essentially ‘the survival temperature’. Put simply, this is the very limit at which the bag will keep you alive without frostbite, or any other temperature related ailments. It is not the lowest temperature you will be comfortable in and you should not expect regular use of the bag at this temperature.

Our Everest Down Sleeping Bag is an example of a bag with a high extreme rating. It has an extreme survival rating of -28, meaning it is a bag designed to keep you alive in tougher conditions where there may be a very real threat of hypothermia.


3. Down Sleeping Bags VS Synthetic

There are two key types of sleeping bag. Down Sleeping Bags are made with the fine under feathers from ducks or geese and Synthetic sleeping bags, which are filled with man-made insulation, mostly poly-fibres.


Mountain Warehouse Down Sleeping Bag: Choosing the Best Sleeping Bag For You

A Mountain Warehouse Down Sleeping Bag


Synthetic insulation is the most common type of insulation used in sleeping bags. A synthetic sleeping bag will be cheaper, easier to clean and require less care than a down sleeping bag. They also perform better when wet than down bags, retaining around 50% of their insulating ability when wet. For this reason synthetic bags a good choice for wet and damp climates and humid conditions.

However synthetic insulation does not retain heat like natural down. They are also bulkier and heavier than down bags as they need more filling in order to work efficiently in a similar temperature range. They are not ideal when space and weight are important considerations.

The loft (or fluffiness) of down creates thousands of tiny air pockets which means that down sleeping bags are more effective at trapping warm air and retaining heat. They are also much lighter than synthetic bags and compress to a smaller size when packed. The warmth-to-weight ratio of a down sleeping bag cannot be beaten by a synthetic bag.

In a down sleeping bag the filling is divided into compartments which aids even distribution of the filling and helps the bag retain its shape.

The disadvantage of down is that it easily absorbs moisture when damp and when it gets wet the feather lose their fluffiness and the heat insulating properties are lost. Down sleeping bags also take much longer to dry out than synthetic bags. For these reasons duck down sleeping bags are well suited to cold but dry conditions

The unique properties of down means extra care needs to be taken when washing.

Check out our How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag Guide for instructions on how to wash a down filled sleeping bag.


Down Sleeping Bags 

Pros Cons

Excellent heat retention


Loses heat insulation ability when wet


Lightweight- better warmth to weight ratio


Takes a long time to dry out when wet


Wider comfort temperature range- making it suitable for cold and warm temperatures


More expensive


Long lifespan if looked after


Requires special cleaning


Easier to compress and packs small


Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Pros Cons

Retains insulation when damp/wet

Does not retain heat as well as down

Cheaper than down

Bulkier and heavier

Easier to clean

Dries quicker

Shorter life span


4. Shapes, Sizes & Weights

A basic sleeping bag will be rectangular or ‘envelope’ in shape with a zip around two sides. These are roomier than mummy sleeping bags and can be fully opened and used as a blanket. Rectangular sleeping bags are less effective at retaining heat than mummy bags and best for indoor use, caravanning and summer camping. They are not suitable for more extreme conditions where you expect temperatures to be low.Mummy Sleeping Bag: Sleeping Bag Guide

A Mountain Warehouse Mummy Sleeping Bag

A mummy sleeping bag, such as the Microlite 1400, tapers towards the feet and is therefore more fitted than a regular rectangular bag improving heat retention. The hood of a mummy sleeping bag also helps keep in the warmth. A mummy sleeping bag also weighs less than a rectangular bag.

Most mummy bags will be single but it is possible to buy left and right handed bags that can be zipped together to create a double bag. Our Microlite and Summit sleeping bags are good examples of this.

The packed size and weight of the bag should also be taken into consideration. This is especially important if you plan to fit your sleeping bag into a backpack or will be carrying the bag long distances.


5. Key Features

Baffles are the compartments in the sleeping bag that hold the filling so it is evenly distributed.


Inner Linings
Fine nylon or polyester is the most common materials used for lining sleeping bags. Flannel or cotton are also popular for sleeping bag linings, although lightweight and breathable cotton traps moisture so isn’t recommended for cold conditions.


Outer Fabrics
Outer shells are commonly made of nylon-ripstop is popular as it is highly durable. Dryloft is a water resistant, breathable fabric that is often used for sleeping bags.


Left & Right Hand Zips
Sleeping bags are available with the zip opening on the right and left hand sides. To make it easier to unzip when you are in it choose a bag where the zip opening is the opposite side to your leading hand. If you are right handed choose a left bag and if you are left handed choose a right bag.


Two Way Zip
A two-way zip is useful for easy opening when ventilation is required. Zips can be full length or just half way.


Zip Baffle
Heat can easily be lost through the zipped area of a sleeping bag, an insulated zip baffle (behind the zip) helps reduce heat lose.


Zip Cover
A zip cover (a piece of fabric that is normally fastened with velcro) covers the zip when the bag is fully zipped up helping to prevent the zip coming undone when asleep.


Much of your body heat is lost through your head, a shaped hood will help keep in heat. A draw cord closure allows you to pull the hood tight against your face for added warmth.


Draft Collar (or Neck/Shoulder Baffle)
An insulated draft collar (at the base of the hood) helps to stop body heat escaping from the bag and keeps out the cold around neck and shoulders. Most draft collars will have an adjustable draw-cord to tighten if necessary.


Inner Pockets
Normally found near the top of the bag. Handy for keeping valuables such as wallets and phones safely tucked away.


Stuff Sack
Mummy sleeping bags will come with a stuff sack with a draw string closure. Unlike a rectangular bag that can be folded a mummy bag should simply be stuffed into its bag. Compression straps help reduce the size of the packed bag.


6. Sleeping Bag Accessories

Although choosing the best sleeping bag for you is important, a few small additions can allow you to increase comfort and improve your night’s sleep.


Sleeping Bag Liners
Sleeping bag liners are inserted inside your sleeping bag to provide an extra layer of warmth, improve hygiene and extend the life of the sleeping bag.

A Mountain Warehouse Sleeping Bag Liner

Travel Pillow
Travel pillows are smaller and lighter than standard pillows, making them the ideal companion for any trip where space is limited.


Sleeping Mats
Sleeping mats and roll mats go under your sleeping bag and provide insulation from the ground to keep you warm when sleeping outdoors.

A Mountain Warehouse Sleeping Mat

Air Beds
Air beds will add a layer of home comfort to your sleeping bag setup.


Now you have a better idea of  how to choose the best sleeping bag for you, take a look at our full range of sleeping bags, or check out our Winter Sleeping Bags and Summer Sleeping Bags.