Sleep In The Dirt

4 Tips to Finding Your Perfect Sleeping Bag

Dirtbag Dan

A good sleeping bag is the difference between a restful night and a sufferfest when you’re camping. Finding your perfect sleeping bag can be overwhelming. There are a lot of options out there, and a lot of variables to consider! Let’s help narrow it down with these 4 helpful tips.

1. The Perfect Sleeping Bag Temperature

Every person has their own comfort level when it comes to warmth and their sleeping bag. While the best thing to do is to see what works best for you, here are a few things to keep in mind when finding the perfect sleeping bag:

Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating Standards

Most modern sleeping bag companies use testing methods overseen by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to determine sleeping bag temperature ratings. This means that two bags rated at the same temperature should keep you similarly warm, even across brands.

Get Down To Your Skivvies!

Sleeping bags don’t make you warm, they keep you warm. They act as insulators by trapping your body’s heat. You can help your bag insulate you by stripping down to base layers before you get in.

On a cold night, it can be tempting to hop in your bag with all your layers on, but this can lead to sweating eventually making you colder. It also prevents your body heat from warming the bag, ending up with a warm core, but cold hands and feet because your body heat is in your layers instead of the bag as a whole. ISO testing standards assume the sleeper will be wearing only base layers and a hat for optimal performance.

Women’s Sleeping Bags Vs. Men’s Sleeping Bag: What’s the Difference?

Anatomically speaking, biological women generally sleep a bit colder than men. For this reason, the temperature rating for a women’s specific sleeping bag is determined by the ISO “Comfort Rating”. This is warmer than the ISO “Lower Limit Rating”, which is used to produce the rating for men’s and unisex sleeping bags.

When in Doubt, Warmer is Better

If you’re on the fence between two temperature ratings, it’s often recommended to go with the warmer option. You can always unzip your bag to cool down, but there’s little you can do to make yourself warmer.

The Big Agnes Advantage
Most of Big Agnes sleeping bags have two zipper heads to allow venting from the bottom or even stick your feet out if you get too warm. The Big Agnes Park and Camp Robber Series sleeping bags feature a quilt-like upper layer that can zip off completely for maximum breeziness!

2. The Best Sleeping Bag Insulations

Another consideration in finding your perfect sleeping bag is the type of insulation used. There are two main types: Down and Synthetic.

Down Sleeping Bags

Maximum Packability, Minimum Weight
At a given temperature rating, down fill sleeping bags will be lighter and more packable than synthetic fill sleeping bags. When looking at down sleeping bags, consider the fill power – most sleeping bags fall between 550 and 850. Down relies on loft to keep you warm. As the fill power rating rises, you get a higher quality, loftier fill that provides better insulation value for a given weight. Between two sleeping bags at the same temperature rating, the one with the higher fill power will be lighter and pack smaller. Sleeping bags listed as “Ultralight” or “UL” usually feature 800+ fill power down as insulation.

The Big Agnes Advantage
Sleeping bags that use traditional down fill can be vulnerable to water. Down relies on loft to trap air and insulate it. When down gets wet this loft collapses losing much of its insulation value. Fortunately, modern technology makes this much less of an issue! All Big Agnes down sleeping bags use hydrophobic Downtek™ Water Repellent Down which performs up to 27 times better when exposed to water than untreated down.

Synthetic Sleeping Bags

  • Better When Soaked
    Even though modern down fill is not as vulnerable to water as it once was, synthetic is your best bet if you expect to get thoroughly wet. Synthetic insulation doesn’t lose its loft and insulation value even when it’s dripping wet. Plus, it dries out more quickly than down.
  • Best Value
    Synthetic insulation is less expensive to produce. So, at a given temperature rating, synthetic fill sleeping bags generally cost less than comparable down bags.
  • Sustainability
    If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly option, synthetic is the way to go. Synthetic fill is made without the use of animal byproducts, thus often making them vegan-friendly.

    The Big Agnes Advantage

    Our synthetic sleeping bags use Fireline™ insulation, a proprietary insulation developed by Big Agnes. This comes in four varieties, including Fireline™ MAX and ECO, which use 50% and 100% post-consumer polyester material, respectively!

3. The Perfect Sleeping Bag Shape

Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on your intended use, you’ll want to go one way or the other to find the ideal sleeping bag for you!

Mummy Styles

Often dubbed “Traditional Mummy” sleeping bags, these old-school, low-volume backpacking sleeping bags keep your pack size and weight down. Because of their shape, this style insulates you more efficiently! The snug fit that Traditional Mummy bags offer means it takes less time for your body to heat up and get to a comfortable temperature than a roomier, rectangular shaped bag.

The Big Agnes Advantage
As the Mother of Comfort, we offer a few different types of Mummy-style sleeping bags to help you get the most luxurious sleeping situation for your needs!

  • Expandable Mummy
    The Big Agnes Torchlight series sleeping bags feature an additional expandable panel on either side, giving you 5-10” of extra width where you need it! These innovative sleeping bags keep the snug, traditional mummy feeling where you want it, and can be expanded wherever you like a little extra room.
  • Sidewinder Mummy
    The Big Agnes Sidewinder series is built specifically for the 74% of people who identify as side-sleepers. These models feature a center zipper, as well as reinforced padding on the hips and feet to keep side-sleepers comfortable throughout the night. Add a pillow barn that lets your pillow move with you from side to side, and you’re in side-sleeper heaven!

Rectangular Styles

Traditionally, these bedroll-style sleeping bags were best used when comfort is the priority, rather than weight or packed size. They’ve come a long way since the days of rolling up your kit and putting it on the back of your horse! Today, you can find lightweight rectangle sleeping bags perfect for overnights in the backcountry.

Perfect for the claustrophobic, or people who enjoy extra room, these sleeping bags are meant to provide premium comfort, and leave plenty of room for your feet. They often are configured to allow you to unzip the sleeping bag partially or fully for maximum customizability.

The Big Agnes Advantage
Over 20 years ago, we debuted the Big Agnes Sleep System, and have been perfecting it ever since. This proprietary design features an insulated upper sleeping bag combined with a sleeve meant to attach to your sleeping pad. When down is compressed, it loses its loft and therefore it’s insulation value. That’s why we remove the insulation from the back of the sleeping bag (where you would be lying on top of it), in favor of the cushion and insulation of an Air Chamber sleeping pad. This design functions just like your bed at home with a comforter, letting you move around without the bag moving with you.

Our latest iteration of this system is the 3N1 Series, new for 2022! This system uses a quilt-like outer bag that attaches to your pad and a mummy-style inner bag. Use them together for colder nights or separately for warmer temperatures.

Other Styles

  • Doublewide Sleeping Bags
    Doublewide sleeping bags share many features with rectangular bags, but in a double-wide, two-person size. These are also ideal for solo sleepers who prefer the “Starfish” position.

    The Big Agnes Advantage

    Big Agnes Doublewide sleeping bags feature our Big Agnes System for an ultra-comfortable backcountry nest for you and your plus one!  Additionally, all of our bags (With the exception of the Sidewinder Series) can be zipped together with each other for a doublewide bed when you want it, and a single bag for solo trips. Pick up a Men’s/Unisex (left zipper) sleeping bag and pair with a Women’s (right zipper) sleeping bag.
  • Quilts
    For the true minimalist, gram-counting, ultralight dorks out there, quilts pack small and light. However, your temperature options may be more limited than other sleeping bags. Quilts make great blankets for by the fire or add warmth when combined with other sleeping bags.

    The Big Agnes Advantage

    Big Agnes quilts come with the Snap Patch Accessory Pack. These are small stickers with snaps on them that match snaps built into our quilts. Apply these stickers to your sleeping pad and attach to your quilt for an ultralight backcountry bed!
  • Sleeping Bag Liners
    Use sleeping bag liners inside your sleeping bag, or on their own at very warm temperatures. Available in a variety of materials and sizes, they add warmth to your existing sleeping bag for a cold weather trip, without the price tag of a brand-new sleeping bag. As a bonus, they help keep your bag clean!

4. Get Out There!

The only full-proof way to find your perfect sleeping bag is to get outside to learn what’s best for you! Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking for the perfect sleeping bag:

  • What kind of camping do I enjoy?
  • Am I a cold or warm sleeper?
  • Do I sleep on my side?
  • Do I like a tight, mummy fit or prefer a roomier option?

This guide serves as a starting point, but there’s no substitute for experience. Consider renting a sleeping bag from a local outfitter, or borrowing a friend’s bag to find what works for you. If you’re still on the fence, check out the Big Agnes sleeping bag finder!

Whatever you choose, have fun out there and happy trails!

Dirtbag Dan 🤠

p.s. check out these great articles for more information!

 

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