If you camp or backpack, chances are you’ll need a sleeping bag. If you start camping and backpacking more often, upgrading your sleeping bag can go a long ways for helping you hit the trail refreshed. But how does one pick a sleeping bag?
When I first heard there were women-specific sleeping bags, I had an eye roll of Liz Lemon proportions. Really? This is as bad as women-specific pens (yes, they exist). However, due to the way women have body fat distributed, we are far more likely to have our extremities get cold while sleeping compared to men, so a good women’s specific bag will have more fill in the feet and torso area to make up for this. Some women-specific bags even have little hand pockets to shove your hands into if they get cold! Most women’s specific bags also account for the fact that women typically have wider hips but narrower shoulders compared to men, and will be a different shape to keep you warmer in these areas. Now of course, ladies don’t need a women’s specific bag if they don’t want one. If your current bag keeps you happy, why not? I personally like having the extra-warmth for my tootsies, and my bag is perfect for my height. Taller women can sometimes struggle to find a women’s specific bag that is long-enough.
The next choice is what filling you want for your bag. There are two options, down or ‘synthetic’ filling. There are pros and cons to both, and I own one of each. Down is lightweight and compresses easily, which is wonderful for backpacking. When I purchased my down bag, an REI Joule 30, I laughed when I picked it up as it was so light! Down filling also provides more warmth. The cons are that they are typically much more expensive compared to synthetic, and most down bags are not great when wet (some have been treated to still provide warmth when wet, but at a price). Obviously, down uses animal feathers, so there is an ethical issue for some with that. Some companies do make an effort to treat their birds better than others, so research if your conscience is unsure.
Synthetic filled bags can be had extremely cheaply. They are great for those festival camp outs where who knows what kinds of stains and spills will be happening in your tent. If a $30 bag gets ruined, it won’t be the end of the world like it would with a $200 bag. Their biggest downside is that they are very bulky and take up way more space, but if car camping that won’t be a major issue. My first time backpacking my synthetic sleeping bag took up a huge amount of space in my pack, my second time with a down bag I had what felt like gallons more space (scroll up to see a side-by-side comparison at the header). Obviously a synthetic bag is vegan and animal-friendly.
Sleeping bags can have different amounts of filling to provide different levels of warmth. Bags are given a rating for what temperature you can comfortably be in the bag at. Typically, if you only camp in warmer climates and the summer, a ‘summer’ bag, usually rated to be comfortable at 35* or warmer, will be just fine. A three-season bag is a bit warmer, usually between 10*-35* comfortably, for spring and fall camping. A fluffy behemoth of a bag rated for temperatures around 10* or colder will be usable for snow and winter camping. The more filling, typically the greater cost. As I mentioned in my post on sleeping set-ups, sleeping bags can be used with liners for added warmth if you don’t want to shell out for another bag.
Lastly, with any bag you have to be a little careful about storage–to not permanently compress the filling the bag must be stored ‘lofted.’ To be honest, my synthetic bag has been in its stuff sack when not in use for about 20 years, so not a ton to do about that now, but hey, it still works alright. My down bag came with its own stuff sack and loft sack, but if buying secondhand you might need to find a loft bag yourself. A mesh laundry bag should suffice. Stuff sacks, if not included, can be purchased separately.
Sometimes brands will advertise that their male and female versions of bags are compatible and can be zipped together to additional warmth. Truth be told, it often doesn’t matter what brands, two bags from any brand can often easily be zipped together.
Lastly, if using a down bag be sure to unstuff it as soon as your tent is up and ‘fluff’ it–like one would fluff a pillow–to get some air in there right away. That will help your bag keep you toasty warm at night.
I hope you found this post helpful!