Under Construction

Contents: Insulation | Temperature | Cleaning


  • Down: Goose-down fills are very light, compressible, durable and breathable.
    There are also various quality leves for down. The area where the birds live, the season when the down is picked, the mixture of feathers and down all affect it's quality.
  • Synthetic: Synthetic fills excel in damp, cold conditions (they don't lose their insulating properties when wet, and dry quickly). They are slightly heavier and less compressible than down.

Car camping bags even with synthetic insulation tend to be too big to fit into a backpack and too heavy for backpacking. Many are cotton or wool which are not recommended for backpacking bags. (Wool is good for clothing, however)

Prior to 2005 there was no standard for temperature ratings of sleeping bags. Most listed what is a lower limit not a comfort temperature.
Consequently many experts recommended a bag rated at least 10 or 15 degrees lower than the lowest nighttime temperature you will encounter. Plus there are many individual differences, Metabolism, Women generally feel colder than men, What you ate or drank, your state of exhaustion and type of sleeping pad can also affect you comfort level.

The 2005 European EN 13537 confort rating normalizes the temperatures at which a sleeping bag can be used.
EN13537 requires a full-size mannequin with heaters and temperature sensors dressed in one layer of long underwear and a hat placed in the bag inside a climate-controlled chamber.

  • Upper Limit -- the temperature at which a standard man can sleep without excessive perspiration. It is established with the hood and zippers open and with the arms outside of the bag.
  • Comfort -- the temperature at which a standard woman can expect to sleep comfortably in a relaxed position.
  • Lower Limit -- the temperature at which a standard man can sleep for eight hours in a curled position without waking.
  • Extreme -- the minimum temperature at which a standard woman can remain for six hours without risk of death from hypothermia (though frostbite is still possible).
Upper limit is usually not shown on labels.

As of the summer 2010 Marmot. REI, The North Face, and Mountain Hardware, were implementing the new ratings, but others are still lagging.

In "Issues Concerning the EN 13537 Sleeping Bag Standard " at OutdoorInsustry.org, Elizabeth McCullough, Ph.D., at Kansas State expresses some concern about the standard.

of loft
30 1.8
10 2.3
0 2.8
-10 3.2
-20 3.7
-30 4.2
-40 5.2
Warmth is generally a function of thickness of insulation:
Accumulated body oils, sweat and dirt can rob your sleeping bag of its insulating power. Keep them away from your bag by sleeping in clean, long underwear, socks and a hat.

Liners: (also called travel sheets)
Typically made of cotton or polyester, liners add very little weight to your pack
and keep your bag clean and sweet-smelling.
Plus, they add about 5° F to 15° F to your bag's comfort rating.

My silk liner will add about 10° and weighs 6 oz.
My poly liner will add 10-15° and weighs 9 oz.
A 40° marmot down mummy is 1 lb 3 oz
A 30° marmot down mummy is 1 lb 7 oz
My Slumberjack Denali Adventure retangular down bag is a 45° bag and weighs 2 lb, 12 oz

A vapor barrier (coated nylon) liner may add even more warmth and keep you hydrated,
but can become clammy in warm weather.
In cold conditions it keeps body moisture from condensing inside your bag.
See: Lighweight Warm Backpacking Sleeping Bag
40 years ago people recommended dry cleaning down with stoddard's solvent (naphtha), but as dry cleaners moved to harsher fluids that removed essencial oils from the down and soaps improved there has been a shift to washing with mild soap such as Woolite or Ivory Snow or one of the specalized cleaners such as Nikwax Down Wash.
However the Slumberjack I got in 2006 still recommended dry cleaning with a mild stoddard's solvent.
Use a front-loading washer or a commercial washing machine, cool/warm water, gentle cycle. Rince several times to get soap out. A sleeping bag can be hard on the machine and vice versa because the machine agitates roughly with a large bulky item.
The best way is hand washing in a bathtub, but it takes a lot of rinsing to get the soap out.
Air drying is the safest. Dry on low heat if using a dryer. Add a couple of clean tennis balls when the bag is nearly dry. This will help break up any clumps of insulation and restore the loft.

Synthetic bags can be washed the same way.

Spot cleaning the shell with a paste of laundry detergent, water and a toothbrush is advised before washing the whole thing. This is especially true around the hood and collar where hair and skin oils tend to accumulate. By holding the shell or liner fabric away from the insulation, you can wash and rinse the area without getting the inside wet.

You can keep the bag cleaner by applying a water repellent product to the surface. See: How to Wash a Sleeping Bag | eHow.com
and Caring for Your Sleeping Bag: Expert Advice from REI

When you arrive home from a trip, first air out the bag inside-out for a couple days to make sure it's dry. Then store in a large cotton storage sack

Rainy Pass Repair - (888) Rip-Stop - Partner with REI
# 4415 Stone Way North
# Seattle, WA 98103

Temperature Standards - Sleeping bag guide - Mammut
How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Backpacking: Expert Advice from REI
Backpacker Magazine - Gear Finder: Sleeping Bags
Guide to Sleeping Bags - Trailspace.com
Appalachian Mountain Club's Equipped: Sleeping Bag Warmth Update: European Norm rating system becoming industry standard
How to choose a sleeping bag - The British Mountaineering Council 2011

last updated 28 Feb 2012