How to choose a sleeping bag - Great Outdoors

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag: The Ultimate Guide for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Choosing the right sleeping bag is crucial for a good night's sleep in the great outdoors. Whether you're camping in the summer or winter, the perfect sleeping bag ensures you stay warm, comfortable, and well-rested. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about selecting the ideal sleeping bag for your adventures.

Temperature Ratings: Stay Warm, Not Too Warm


Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating System


The official sleeping bag temperature ratings are determined by the ISO 23537 standard, which provides a uniform and reliable method for assessing a sleeping bag's thermal performance. These ratings include the Comfort rating, the temperature at which a standard woman can expect to sleep comfortably; the Limit rating, the lower temperature at which a standard man can sleep without waking due to cold; and the Extreme rating, the minimum temperature at which a standard woman can survive without risking hypothermia. By adhering to ISO 23537, manufacturers ensure that their sleeping bags meet consistent and comparable standards.

We use three temperature ratings to show you the comfort range for each sleeping bag. These are based on recommendations by the European Outdoor Group and are described as follows:


Comfort - The temperature at which an adult female can have a comfortable night’s sleep.


Limit - The lowest temperature at which an adult male can have a comfortable night’s sleep.


Extreme - A survival rating for an adult female; after 8 hours, hypothermia may set in.

Tip: Everyone runs at a different temperature depending on how susceptible they are to the cold, caused by several factors including gender, age, and weight. If you know you feel the cold, opt for a sleeping bag rating that offers a little more warmth. It’s easier to cool down than it is to warm up!

Insulation Types: Down vs. Synthetic

Down & Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags come with two main types of insulation: down and synthetic.

  • Down Insulation: Made from duck or goose feathers, down is lightweight, highly compressible, and offers excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. However, it loses its insulating power when wet and can be pricey.

  • Synthetic Insulation: Made from polyester fibers, synthetic insulation is more affordable and retains warmth even when wet. It’s also easier to care for, though it’s typically bulkier and heavier than down.

Bag Shapes: Mummy, Rectangular, and Semi-Rectangular


Sleeping Bag Guide - Different Shapes

The shape of your sleeping bag can affect your comfort and warmth.

  • Mummy Bags: Tapered from the shoulders to the feet, mummy bags are highly efficient at retaining heat and are lightweight, making them ideal for backpacking.

  • Rectangular Bags: Offering more room to move, rectangular bags are great for warm weather camping and those who prefer more space. They can often be unzipped to form a blanket.

  • Semi-Rectangular Bags: Also known as modified mummy bags, these offer a balance between warmth and roominess, suitable for a range of activities.

Weight and Packability: Consider Your Activity

If you're backpacking, weight and packability are crucial. Down bags usually offer the best warmth-to-weight ratio and compressibility. However, for car camping, weight and packed size might be less of a concern, allowing you to opt for a bulkier, more affordable synthetic bag.

Additional Features: Enhancing Comfort and Functionality

Look for additional features that can enhance your sleeping experience:

  • Draft Collars and Draft Tubes: Prevent cold air from entering the bag.
  • Hood: A cinchable hood helps keep your head warm.
  • Zipper Placement: Consider left or right zippers based on your preference, and look for bags with two-way zippers for ventilation.
  • Foot Box: Some bags feature a roomy foot box for extra comfort.

Trying It Out: Before You Buy

If possible, try out different sleeping bags in the store. Lie down in them, zip them up, and see how they feel. This can give you a better idea of their comfort level and fit.

Check out our range of Sleeping Bags available online and in-store!

Conclusion: Make an Informed Choice

Choosing the right sleeping bag can significantly impact your outdoor experience. By considering temperature ratings, insulation types, bag shapes, weight, and additional features, you can find a sleeping bag that meets your needs and ensures a comfortable night's sleep under the stars. Happy camping!


Q: What temperature rating should I choose for a summer camping trip?
A: For summer camping, look for a sleeping bag with a temperature rating of 30°F and above.

Q: Which is better, down or synthetic insulation?
A: Down insulation is lighter and more compressible, but synthetic insulation is better at retaining warmth when wet and is usually more affordable.

Q: How do I know what shape of sleeping bag to get?
A: Choose a mummy bag for maximum warmth and lightweight travel, a rectangular bag for more room and comfort, and a semi-rectangular bag for a balance of both.

Q: Should I use a sleeping bag liner?
A: Sleeping bag liners are an excellent addition to your camping gear, offering numerous benefits that can enhance your outdoor experience. They can act as a comfortable layer in warm weather to stay hygenic, or boost insulation on adventures. For more information on sleeping bag liners, click here.

For more outdoor tips and gear recommendations, check out Great Outdoors. Happy adventuring!