Choosing the right sleeping bag is one of the keys to enjoying a successful camping trip. A big part of this comes down to choosing a model with the right rating for your needs. What do you need to know to make a good decision here? The following points are some of the main issues that you need to know about when shopping for a new sleeping bag.
Understand the Seasonal Ratings
You may notice that some sleeping bags are rated according to season. This seems simple enough. If you want to go camping in summer, then it would probably make sense that you choose a summer-rated bag, right?
Yet, this subject gets a bit more complicated if you plan to camp at a high altitude or at different times of the year, so it is important that you fully understand the different situations in which each type of sleeping bag can be safely used.
- A summer sleeping bag is to be used in temperatures of 32°F (0°C) and above. It should be used only at low altitudes, as it can be a lot colder up higher, even during the summer months
- A three-season bag can be used all year round except in winter. It will keep you comfortable if the temperature is between 20°F (-6°C) and 32°F (0°C). In terms of high-altitude destinations, you will want to do some research, to find out what sort of temperature you can expect when you go there
- The other option is typically called a winter or cold weather sleeping bag. This model is designed to keep you warm even in the most challenging conditions. It will be your best choice if you plan on going camping at temperatures of below 20°F (-6°C).
Of course, the temperature in each season can vary greatly depending upon where you go. Bearing this in mind, you shouldn’t make your choice purely based on the season you plan to use it in. You also need to consider the expected temperature in the places where you will be camping.
What are the EN Ratings?
You might also notice that some sleeping bags come with an EN rating on them. This is the Europeans Norm rating, but you will see it quoted on bags in different parts of the world these days.
This is the most reliable and regulated sleeping bag rating system. It involves a range of studies to understand how effective it is at keeping someone using it warm in varying conditions.
The rating given out is governed by the ISO 23537-1:2016 regulations. There are typically three temperature ranges stated on the bag’s color-coded label.
The Comfort Range covers temperatures in which an average woman should be comfortable using this sleeping bag. She shouldn’t feel cold and should be able to maintain a relaxed posture while using it.
The next set of figures tell you the item’s Transition Range. This is when an average man is likely to find himself curled up and trying to stay warm in this bag. However, you wouldn’t expect him to be shivering or in danger of freezing.
The Extreme Range covers the very cold temperatures at which you can expect to feel a “strong sensation of cold.” You will be at risk of hypothermia if you try to use this sleeping bag at temperatures as low as this, so it is really only for emergency use when the weather is so cold.
What to Take Into Account
As we have seen, there are a number of factors that you need to take into account when choosing a sleeping bag. These cover the season and the altitude and the location, which will help you to work out your exact needs.
Having said that, we are all different. A bag that keeps someone else perfectly comfortable might be too warm or not warm enough for you. Therefore, you need to take into account whether you tend to need to wrap up more than other people or not.
If you plan on camping in different places during the year then this makes the decision a bit more complicated. You might need to buy more than one sleeping bag if you are going to radically different places such as Alaska and Hawaii. Otherwise, you should look for something that suits you on all of your travels.
Don’t forget that the size and the shape of the sleeping bag are also important. Will you fit in snugly? Or will you have too much empty space inside it?
If in doubt, it always makes sense to choose a rating that is slightly warmer than you think you need. It is a lot easier to find ways of staying cool in a warm bag than to try and warm up inside one that is too thin.