Traveling without a sleeping bag can only be justified in cases where you are 100% sure that you will always be able to find a “decent” accommodation (and are willing to pay for it) and in cases where you have a micro-backpack of less than 20 liters. In all other cases, which is the most usual, you have to carry a sleeping bag.
What are the basic elements of a sleeping bag? (to travel or not)
A sleeping bag is simply a cover with which we wrap to prevent the heat that our body generates from escaping. The sack does not generate additional heat. The idea is that the bag isolates us from the outside and that is achieved with the “walls” of the same, the thicker, the more insulated (but the more it will occupy and the more it will weigh).
Therefore it is very important that the shape of the bag fit our body as much as possible and there are no heat loss points (through the hole in the head or through the zippers). You should look for a bag that is your size and fits as best as possible to your body so that there is not much air to heat inside the bag. Most sacks are made with standard measurements thinking of a corpulent man between 1’70 and 1’85 meters. If you are a thin girl and you measure 1’60m, carrying a bag like that will make you go colder (and load more heavily).
In addition to this, the sacks can have a series of characteristics that are secondary: if the zipper reaches down or not, that if it can be joined to another sack, that if the design of the hood … but are elements that should not matter to us Too much when choosing a sleeping bag to travel.
The important elements of every bag, besides the weight and the volume in the case of looking for a sack to travel, is the temperature range. All other elements are accessories.
What is the temperature range of a sleeping bag?
The European legislation marks that every sack should specify 3 temperatures:
- The comfort temperature : which is the temperature at which you will sleep comfortably with that bag (within normal patterns).
- The comfort limit temperature : that’s when you’ll start to get cold.
- The extreme temperature : that is when you run the risk of hypothermia.
Now, manufacturers tend to be quite inventive. In any case, each traveler will use the bag in different conditions. It is not the same someone who takes the bag only to sleep in hotels and hostels of bad death, that someone who plans to spend several days in the mountains. Nor is it the same to travel always in summer, to travel in winter. Therefore, you should think what is the minimum temperature at which you will sleep during your trip and choose according to that temperature. My personal recommendation:
- If you go to sleep always between 4 walls (hostels, hotels, etc), you have a comfort temperature bag of 12ºC.
- If you plan to sleep in a tent but never in winter, comfort temperature of 10ºC and you’re ready.
- If you are not afraid of winter and go with your store, you will have enough with 0ºC
- Now, if you want to sleep in Iceland in January in bivouac or get a 6 thousand, buy the lowest temperature you find.
Anyway, then I will explain some tricks to increase the temperature of the bag.
To lower the temperature we all know it, right? The zipper opens and heat is lost. Simple. Never spend too much heat in a sack, if you start to sweat a lot you will spoil it.
Differential elements of a sleeping bag to travel
I have already commented before that the most important elements when choosing a sleeping bag to travel are weight and volume. Many people usually forget the volume and buy a bag just for its weight and then it takes half a backpack. There are very light bags that are not very compressible, although these factors are usually related.
A good sleeping bag to travel, in my opinion, should not weigh more than 600 grams and should not occupy more than 4 liters in the backpack.
Then there is the eternal argument between the bags of feathers or synthetics. Feather sacks usually have better temperature ranges, but have certain problems: they are more expensive, are very sensitive to moisture (lose effectiveness when wet and may even become unusable) and can lose feathers if treated a little carelessly . During a trip, we will take out and store the sack many times, we will take it a long time inside the compression sleeve, we will drag it, dirty, wet, hit … That is why, unless we need a sack for very extreme temperatures (which is not usually the case with the average traveler), a synthetic bag is better than one of feathers.
The sleeping bag is not everything in the trip
At the time of sleeping a sack is very important, but it is not everything. In the comfort of the experience there are other factors that will influence and that can help you reduce the demands that are asked to the bag (especially in terms of temperature):
- Bivouac cover : Even if you do not go to bivouac, using a cover will increase the temperature of the bag several degrees and will protect it from external agents such as humidity. There are covers of this type that weigh less than 300 grams. Another day we will talk about them in depth.
- Silk sheet : If the bivouac cover is placed on the outside of the bag, it goes inside. It allows to increase the temperature some degree, although that is not important. The fundamental thing is that it will keep the bag clean and prevent you from having to wash it. Wash only the silk cover from time to time, which by the material concerned, dries quickly and weighs less than 100 grams.
- Mats : Same as the bivouac covers, a whole world (another day I also write an article on mats if you feel like it). They isolate the body of the floor so that the cold does not reach you and, in addition, you increase the comfort, especially in the case of inflatable mats. You have some self-inflatables of 300 grams and less than 2 liters.
- Sleeping with clothes : If the clothes are dry you can sleep with clothes and increase some degrees some day that comes out especially cold. You will rest better if you change clothes, but for a couple of days nothing happens. What you should always wear if you can is a hat and some socks that protect you better.
- Other things that influence : The body is a machine and if you have eaten and drunk well and you are not too tired, it will work better or, which is the same, generate more heat that will stay in your bag. Also, do not discard a few exercises before sleeping (without moving cold air if you are in a store) or rub your body so that the body gets warm before you get into the bag. All that heat that is fired will go to the bag’s air bag to protect you. Remember to shake your bag before sleeping so that the interior settles.
By the way, some time ago there was a certain trend among travelers and ultralight campers to wear what is called “top bags” and that they are sacks (usually of feathers) to which the padding of the back is eliminated with the theory that those feathers are going to be crushed and therefore will not be effective. These top bags actually reduce weight and dimensions, but you have to know how to use them.