Everyone needs sleep. The sleeping bag is a vital piece of kit because not only does it give you something to sleep comfortably in, but it will also keep you warm and alive overnight. There’s quite a bit of choice and a few different details to consider, so I’ll begin with the oh-so-important temperature ratings first.
When you look for a bag, the first thing you’ll want to look at is the season rating. Actually before you do that, look at the weather outside and check the forecast.
Right, seasons. In UK-ish terms (bear in mind we have quite a fluctuation in annual temperatures);
1 season – Summer or indoor use.
2 season – late spring to early autumn. Basically when it’s still warm outside (18°c +) but you might not consider a barbecue.
3 season – spring/autumn, for cooler weather but not frost/snow temperatures
4 season – hardcore mode. For frost/snow temperatures and camping outside when most people would call you stupid.
Beyond the temperature rating, there’ll usually be two temperature ratings, usually “comfort” and “extreme”. If there aren’t any, don’t buy the bag. Comfort rating is the temperature at which it will still keep you warm and therefore comfortable. Extreme rating isn’t a number you want to base your choice on, it’s like an emergency rating. This is the temperature at which your bag will stop you suffering frostbite and will just about keep you alive. The key obviously is getting a comfort rating that is correct for the weather you’re going to be out in. Obviously you want to be warm enough, but avoid getting one that’s too warm because you’ll sweat to death at night and wake up having to deal with sleeping in a puddle, and you’ll have to dip into those valuable water resources.
One of the biggest differences you’ll notice when buying a bag is packed size – summer bags are much smaller and lighter and winter ones generally leave you wondering how you’re going to carry them. My summer one for some reason isn’t very small, some can pack down to the size of a bottle of wine, but it’s a nice enough bag and I have no need to replace it just yet. My winter bag will fill a rucksack on its own.
Once you’ve figured out what temperature and season you need, you’ve then got a choice between rectangular or mummy shaped bags. The mummy one can be tightened around the head to keep the warmth in and is just much better. The rectangular one…I can’t actually think of any advantages to.
Then, there are filling types. Down and synthetic. Down bags are full of feathers, pack down smaller and lighter, are warmer, and a lot more expensive. However, they don’t cope well with getting wet, whereas synthetic ones will dry out quicker and retain heat better. Personally, I use synthetic largely because of the price, but also living in a wet country, I don’t want the potential to lose insulation. If it’s cold, I wear thermals underneath and add a liner too for extra warmth (see keeping warm).
The two bags I have are both by Snugpak and both pretty cheap. And in olive green, which is always a bonus. The summer one is a TSB (the sleeping bag), which you can see here. I use it for summer but also camping around in barracks and other accommodation during the winter. The winter bag is an Explorer, which is really good for the price but like all winter bags, it’s sadly massive once you start trying to ram it into a bag. It’s always kept me warm though and is pretty well priced. The link there is for a similar model, the Sleeper Extreme, which is comfort rated to -7°c, which puts it on a par with the Highlander Phantom 400 listed below.
As an alternative summer bag, a British army jungle bag is a superb option. A comfort rating of 7°c is ideal for much of the year. There is a Snugpak version, which is ultra compact when packed, but it isn’t as warm as advertised and I wouldn’t use it outside very warm weather. Here’s a link to an issue one that works much better.
In winter, I’d skip straight to a 4 season just in case of frost. Asking around my team and a couple of Sniperworks players, here’s some of their recommended bags –
1. The Highlander Phantom 400– figures vary but comfort rating is -7°c and is the warmest bag Highlander do. I’ve been freezing in my (summer by mistake) bag, wearing thermals, before and heard a teammate complain that even in just his boxers, it was too warm. A superb bag and very cheap too. Also, DPM, which is beautiful.
2. British Army Arctic Sleeping Bag – You won’t get a more reassuring name for a winter bag. These things are brilliantly designed, very warm and obviously proven. The downside is that the heat comes from bulk and weight, so it’s a pretty sizeable thing to lug about. Most players I asked about sleeping bags use this, so it looks like being quite a short list. Here’s the Highlander version of it, which packs a little smaller and is a bit better if you’re having to carry it. The central zip is a lot easier to use!
3.Mountain Warehouse Everest down sleeping bag – lighter, smaller, warmer. Had to include a down bag in the list somewhere. It’s a bit less “military”. Comfort at -3 to -9°c is perfect for winter use. Slightly more expensive but actually quite cheap for a down filled bag.
Of course, the bag is only half the battle when keeping warm. Read the follow up article, entitled Keeping Warm. Obviously.