The Complete Sleeping Bag Guide

A simple-to-follow sleeping bag guide for campers, hikers, and expeditions

Jake and I have put together a sleeping bag guide, or two, to help you through the process of finding and caring for this most important accessory in your outdoor gear stash. We cover various tips such as understanding temperature rating, the types of bags available (synthetic, goose or duck down), a cleaning guide, a general care guide, and more.

Where will you use your sleeping bag?

one of the first questions you need to answer is where you’ll be using your sleeping bag. And you have four options:

  • hot climate – temperatures over 20C
  • temperate climate – temperatures up to 20C, but most commonly in a range down to -5C;
  • cold climate – temperatures down to -5C;
  • extreme cold – temperatures from -5C to -50C (I don’t recommend camping out where the temperature is any colder).

What is a warmth rating?

Warm or cold, you need to understand the temperature rating system. Choosing the right bag for your hike, or expedition can make or break your journey.

A good winter bag will keep you snug as a bug at night, even when the snow is deep and the chill bites hard and, conversely, the right type of warm weather bag will prevent you from sweating oceans in the summer. But how well do you know the rating system? How many degrees does each of the rating systems correspond to?

This guide will take you through every possible consideration from the best option for your needs, the level of insulation, fill, and temperature ratings.

Types of sleeping bags

What are the five types of sleeping bags and which is best for you? Do you wear boots in your sleeping bag? How many layers of clothes do you like, or need, to sleep in? We’ve written a guide to the mummy but not the coffin, the double, the elephant’s foot (yes, that is a type of sleeping bag and not an umbrella holder), the rectangular and more.

Key features

The sleeping bag’s key features are:

  • fill – the amount of down or synthetic filler in the bag;
  • temperature rating;
  • weight – nobody really wants to haul a huge, heavy sleeping bag.

Synthetic vs Down

Synthetic sleeping bags vs down sleeping bags: what is the difference and which should you use for your camping, or hiking trip? Each has its own merits and uses, and we put together an advice page that will help you make an informed buying decision. Synthetic vs down sleep bag guide.

Care tips for your sleeping bag

Just like a treasured pet, your sleeping bag needs a fair amount of care to keep it in top condition. Synthetic and down sleeping bags have specific care needs – get it wrong and you leave yourself at the mercy of cold and hot temperatures. This guide will walk through every consideration you need to think about – from finding the right, quality sleeping pad to storing your bag both on and off the trail. How to care for your sleeping bag.


Keeping your sleeping bag clean and odour free is simple, but using the wrong cleaning materials can damage the fill, and shell, and reduce the bag’s life. In this guide, we’ll show you the best way to wash both synthetic and down sleeping bags as well as top tips used by pros to ensure their sleeping bags stay undamaged, free of odours, and clean. How to wash a sleeping bag.

Sleeping pad advice

Do you need a sleeping pad? If so, how do you choose one and what features do you need to look for? In this section we’ll look at the construction of a sleeping pad, the key features you need and the best fit for camping, hiking and expeditions. Sleeping pad tips.

The best sleeping bags by climate

Jake and I have written a number of sleeping bag reviews. We’ve hiked and camped in climates ranging from warm all the way through to extreme cold conditions which means we know which sleeping bag is best for a given environment. Check out these reviews for a detailed view of each sleeping bag:

The best bag for extreme cold weather

An extreme cold weather sleeping bag is designed for a temperature range that can only be described as ‘far from warm’. What I mean by this is temperatures far below 0 degrees Celsius. I’ve hiked and skied in places such as Siberia, the North Pole, Greenland and Alaska, and the warmest temperatures I’ve experienced in any of those places is -18C. I’ve used various bags, all down, to keep me warm, including the Ghost Whisperer, and Thermarest Saros. But the most effective sleeping bag for features, insulation and packing size (more on that point in the review) is the Mountain Equipment Redline.

Check out our extreme cold weather sleeping bag guide for an in-depth view of this type of bag.

The best bag for cold weather

Cold weather sleeping bags sit in a range of 0 C to -5C. They are not designed for use in extremely cold climates and, as a consequence, have less fill and a lower price tag than the bags mentioned above. Jake has spent much time in the wilds: bagging Munros in the chill of a Scottish winter, trekking the Pacific Coast Trail and hiking through various parts of the USA. He’s trialled several sleeping bags and his top pick of the cold weather bags is the Rab Ascent 700.

The best bag for warm weather

This is the place where most outdoor people like to be – in a relatively warm environment. And I don’t blame them – waking every morning to the site of hoar frost clinging to your fly sheet, and having to will yourself out of your sleeping bag and into a deep chill isn’t everyone’s preference. I like the cold so I’ve left the choice of the best warm-weather sleeping bag to Jake. He’s used the Rab, Mountain Equipment, but his current go-to option is a sleeping quilt – the Thermarst Corus 20!

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