Magazine article Sunset

Choosing a Sleeping Bag. It's More Complicated Now

Magazine article Sunset

Choosing a Sleeping Bag. It's More Complicated Now

Article excerpt

Buying a sleeping bag used to be easy. Seasoned outdoorsmen counseled novices to look for snug-fitting bags "filled with as much goose down as you can carry." Today, choosing a bag isn't so simple. You have to decide among time-honored down or newcomer synthetic filler; mummy-shaped bags or rectangles; summer bags, winter bags, or systems bags. Spurred by shifring recreational patterns, by the rising cost of down, and by design innovations led by Western manufacturers, the sleeping bag world has become complicated, even controversial. Shoppers must contend with temperature ratings, new trade names, and unfamiliar terms--from radiant-heat barrier liner to overlapping V-tube baffles. 2f the jargon is confusing, so are the claims of manufacturers and users. We were surprised at the sharp disagreements among experts who responded to a draft of this report: expedition mountaineers, for example, who field-test every new wrinkle in sleepingbag design, often reported quite different conclusions (see box, page 115). Little independent laboratory testing is being done to sort out conflicting claims. Cal Magnuson, quality control and test engineer at Recreational Equipment, Inc., a Seattle-based cooperative, believes that "years of testing" lie ahead before all the variables are understood. In short, if you're in the market for a sleeping bag, be skeptical, talk to people with lots of field experience, and prepare to sift through the arguments. This article can help you get started. We offer shopping tips on page 114. How will you use your bag? Sleeping bag use falls into three broad categories: recreational, three-season backpacker-biker, and expedition/winter.

Recreational: for less rigorous activities, ranging from slumber parties to car camping, hosteling, and boating. Nationally, these bags account for more than 80 percent of all sales. Two basic types: bags that never leave the house ($30 or less, rated to 40[deg.] or 50[deg.]) and those suitable for limited outdoor use ($50 or more, rated to about 30[deg.]). Recreational bags--usually roomy rectangles filled with inexpensive polyester--weigh 4 to 6 pounds or more, show little innovation, and usually don't stand up to tough use.

Backpacker/three-season: for outdoorsmen who don't expext to contend with extremme temperatures (about 13 percent of sales). Bicycle tourers and backpackers tend to value compactability and light weight most. River-runners can use less expensive but buldier sunthetics that warm you even when wet and that dry quickly. These bags cost $100 to $150 or more, weigh 2 to 5 pounds, are usually rated to 20[deg.] or lower.

Expedition winter: for long periods of demanding use in extreme conditions (7 percent of sales). These bags are rated to 0[deg.] or lower up to 6 pounds or more. Lightweight down remains the choice of many mountaineera and skiers, but synthetics are making inroads.

System bags ($150 up) allow you to add warmth with layers, liners, and shell;for more about them, see the column at right. Which shape for you?

Snug-fitting mummy bags with pull-tight hoods reduce interior air spaces to keep you warmer. Rectangles usually unzip fully to form quilts. The shapes between these extremes are called modified mummies, modified rectangles, and barrels.

Other things being equal, mummy bags keep you the warmest, but their lack of roominess and tendency to "follow" as you toss and turn can be annoying. Rectangles are fine where weight, bulk, and high efficiency aren't important(car- camping, hosteling). The other shapes offer trade-offs: roomier than munnies, but heavier, bulkier; warmer than rectangles, but less comfortable. How reliable are temperature ratings?

Most manufacturers assign temperature ratings to sleeping bags: they represent the lowest temperature at which you can expect to be comfortable. They're imprecise guides, perhaps best used for comparisons within a given producer's line. …

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