Buying your first sleeping bag

When you get into hillwalking, the notion to wild camp out on the hills may well follow suit. As you progress you’ll want to get into remote areas, and taking a tent opens up these opportunities. I wrote a general guide to light weight wild camping which lists what sort of gear you’ll need. This blog homes in on sleeping bags.

Buying your first sleeping can be a bit of a minefield. There are so many to choose from and where do you start? I have wrote this blog to help you decide which bag you need and arm you with all the information you need before purchasing you new sleeping bag.

When buying a new sleeping bag, you’ll either buy a goose down bag or synthetic bag. We’ll look at synthetic bags first.

Synthetic sleeping bags

Synthetic sleeping bags are made with man made insulation materials. They are traditionally heavier and bulkier than down sleeping bags. But inexpensive to buy compared to down bags and they still keep their insulation qualities in damp or wet conditions.

Down sleeping bags

Down sleeping bags are made with goose down feathers, making them much lighter and reducing the pack size down a lot less than synthetic bags. This means down bags are the first choice for most backpackers. However down bags are much more expensive and if the feathers get wet and clump together, they offer pretty much no insulation what so ever.

That said, manufacturers are now treating the feathers with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish on some of their bags (also known as Hydrophobic). This treatment will allow the feathers to resist water for longer and dry quicker.

Before buying a down bag, you may also want to check that the company that makes the sleeping bag get their down from ethical sources. Some horror stories have shown geese to be plucked alive for their feathers.


The picture above shows the comparison between two bags I own; a synthetic and goose down bag with a pair of crampons and a headtorch to gauge the sizes. The models are:

Synthetic: Snugpak Chrysalis 3 – weight 1600g – comfort rating -5°c  – RRP £89.95

Down: Criterion Ultralight 350 – weight 765g – comfort rating  -3°c – RRP £200.00

As you’ll see from the picture above the Chrysalis 3 is almost twice the size when packed away and more than double the weight of the Ultralight 350. But comes in at less than half price. The Ultralight 350 doesn’t have DWR treatment either. Both sleeping bags will cover early Spring right through until late Autumn (3 season).

If I knew I was going to be camping in damp and cold conditions, I would opt to take the Chrysalis 3. If however I knew it was going in dry and cold conditions, I would take the Ultralight 350.

I’m usually a fair weather camper, so I would normally take the Ultralight 350 anyway. In the colder months I know condensation can be an issue in my tent, I may also opt to take the Chrysalis 3. However I haven’t had any issues with the down feathers clumping up, even with condensation dripping on my bag. If your tent has venting, then you can use that to combat some of the condensation.


So what else to look out for?

Sleeping bags come with lots of other features to consider, like:

  • Left or right sided zip – Think what side your tent entrance is on
  • Pockets – For stashing away gear
  • Anti snag zips – So the zip doesn’t get caught in the material and jam
  • Draw-cords for collar and hood – Keeps the warmth in on cold nights
  • Stuff or compression sack and storage sack. Stuff or compression sack for whilst on the move and the storage bag is bigger for storing your bag away at home. (Don’t leave your bag constantly compressed, as you’ll flatten the insulation).


What sleeping bag should I get?

If you want to travel as fast and light as possible, then a goose down bag is the best option.

If you’re not bothered about the bulkier and heavier bag, or camp in really wet weather or perhaps you have a limited budget then a synthetic bag would be your best option.

Here are some sleeping bags to consider, all suited for 3 season:

Synthetic bags:

Snugpak Chrysalis 3 – RRP £89.95

Vango Ultralite 900 – RRP £90

Mountain Hardware Lamina 20 – RRP £145

Down bags:

Alpkit Pipedream 400 – RRP £170.00

Criterion Ultralight 350 – RRP £200.00

Tundra Pure & Dry -5 – RRP £280

Rab Ascent 700 – RRP £250

It is also worth noting that temperature/comfort ratings are for guidance only. You may run hotter or colder than others. Silk liners can be added for extra insulation and to help keep your bag clean. Adding loose fitting base layers as pyjamas can also help, although some believe sleeping in your bag naked heats the bag up quicker. I haven’t found anything to prove or debunk this. I don’t buy into the sleeping naked theory, my school of thought is, if you’re cold you add layers.

I hope this blog has gave you some guidance on what type of bag to go for. Always shop around for the best prices and read some reviews first before parting with your cash.

If you want a warmer bag still (4 season) that will cover the coldest winter months, then all the brands mentioned above make warmer bags.

Happy camping.





4 thoughts on “Buying your first sleeping bag

  1. I feel I have to add that the temperature ratings given might be for the average male. Many women sleep colder than men, thereby needing more insulation, but some companies will give a rating for women too. Females might need to look very carefully and do a bit more research on any bag they are interested in.

  2. Glad you mentioned the ethical problems with down as I think a lot of people don’t know about it. I’m actually in the (long) process of writing a post about the ethicality of some outdoor gear – not sure when it will appear though as walk reports keep popping up first!

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