Choosing your Sleeping Bag

Ultimate Outdoors8 min readCamping

Your main consideration when buying a sleeping bag is how warm it needs to be. Not only does the time of year be taken into consideration but also the type of person you are. For example women, the elderly and those of slim build generally feel the cold more. If you fall into one or more of these groups you may want to consider upgrading to a warmer bag.

Top Tips

As well as factors that remain constant, like age gender and build, there are other factors that affect how cold you might be including;

  • Type of accommodation
  • Humidity
  • Altitude
  • Fatigue or Hunger

These factors are more variable so rather than buying a sleeping bag to cover all eventualities it’s best to adapt your sleeping arrangements. It’s possible to boost your warmth in the following ways;

  • Wear extra clothes to bed (e.g. warm hat, extra thermals, socks, neck gaiter)
  • Use a sleeping bag liner to increase insulation
  • Insulate yourself better from the ground
  • Consume hot food or drinks before going to bed

Exercise briefly before bed to raise body temperature

How warm does my bag need to be?

The following chart will help you choose the approximate warmth rating for normal UK camping. Bags will be marked with either a Season Rating ranging from 1 to 4, or a Limit Rating in °C.

Time of Year Your Warmth Rating
Average Person Those who feel the cold*
High Summer only (June to Sept) 1 Season or Limit 10°C 2 Season or Limit 5°C
Summer (May to Oct) 2 Season or Limit 5°C 3 Season or Limit 0°C
Spring to Autumn (March to November) 3 Season or Limit 0°C 4 Season or Limit -5°C
Winter (All year-round) 4 Season or Limit -5°C Limit -10°C
*Generally women the elderly and those of slim build

Is there anything else I need to know about the different temperature ratings?

Limit Ratings
These are the most reliable ratings as the test for them was set under EN13537 legislation. Unfortunately these tests produce a range of ratings which can be confusing and irrelevant to most campers. To help you find the correct rating on a sleeping bag here are some examples of the information with the Limit Rating highlighted.

Season Ratings
As they are not as stringently tested as Limit Ratings Season Ratings are only generally used on sleeping bags for moderate and warmer UK conditions. On the plus side however they are less confusing to use.

What styles of sleeping bag are there?

There are two main styles of sleeping bag to choose from;

  • Car Camping Sleeping Bags – Roomier more comfortable sleeping bags ideal for use in moderate conditions and when travelling by car.
  • Backpacking Sleeping Bags – Compact lightweight sleeping bags available in a wide range of temperature ratings idea for travelling on foot, by bike or on public transport.

What are the common features of Car Camping Sleeping Bags?

  • Square Foot Design – Provide more space and better freedom of movement
  • Two Sided Zip – Allows the bag to be fully opened and used as a duvet
  • Natural Fibre Lining – More comfortable and less clammy in hot conditions
  • Wider Cut – Give more space and better freedom of movement

What are the common features of Backpacking Sleeping Bags?

  • Mummy Design – Tapered designs reduces weight and provides better insulation
  • Hood – Greatly increase insulation around the head on cold nights
  • High Loft Fill – High performance synthetic and down insulation are lighter and more compressible
  • Fully Baffled – Tubes of insulation along the zip and around the neck minimise heat loss

What about double sleeping bags?

Car Camping Sleeping Bags
There are three options for ‘doubling up’ when car camping;

  • Separate base and side zips – Some bags have two zips allowing a pair to be zipped side by side
  • Marrying top to bottom – When fully open some bags can be zipped one on top of the other
  • Double Sleeping Bags – Designed to accommodate two in comfortably

Backpacking Sleeping Bags

  • Left and right handed zips – Two identical bag can be zipped side by side if one has a left-handed and one a right-handed zip

What styles of sleeping bag is best for me?

Car Camping Sleeping Bags (synthetic fill) Backpacking Sleeping Bags (synthetic fill) Backpacking Sleeping Bags (down fill)
Price Inexpensive Mid Priced Most Expensive
Performance in Damp Environments Good Good Compromised
After Care Machine Washable Machine Washable Specialist Cleaning Required
Approximate Lifespan (frequent use) 2-4 years 3-6 year 5-10 year
Available Temperature Range Cover Spring to Autumn UK temperatures Cover all UK temperatures Cover all temperatures worldwide
Weight & Pack Size Best carried by car Portable on foot Easily portable on foot

Have you experience with a sleeping bag? Share your stories and photographs with us on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page now.


Join the discussion