Planning on packing your bag and driving to a campsite with the family for the weekend? Camping is not only a great bonding experience for young children but it also teaches them how to deal with situations related to nature and the outdoors. One of the main pieces of outdoor gear you will need to have with you during a camping trip is a sleeping bag. Dealing with changing temperatures, campfires and forest bugs can be a nightmare, but a sleeping bag can be your best ally in all these situations.
When it comes to how to choose a sleeping bag, it is not a matter of what kind of brand or size you get. It is about insulation. Down is one of the oldest insulations around and arguably the best. Down sleeping bag models offer the best ratio of warmth-to-packability, which makes them a favourite among campers.
How does a sleeping bag keep you warm?
Down sleeping bags are filled with a combination of clusters and feathers. The feathers provide a little extra structure so the down clusters can fully loft under the weight of the shell materials. The bag keeps you warm by trapping air and keeping it from circulating. The trapped air around the body is warmed by the body’s heat.
A down filled sleeping bag offers the best size-to-heat ration, which is much better than bags filled with synthetic insulation for example. It also tends to warm up quicker and conform better to your body. This results in less cold spots and a more comfortable night at camp.
Down sleeping bags allow moisture to escape from your body while sleeping. This is very helpful when it comes to keeping you warm and dry during those cold nights out in the great outdoors.
Down insulation is a lot more compressible than synthetic fill. This makes it easier to transport and helps save significant space in your suitcase or backpack.
Thanks to its natural lofting properties, down insulation is very light. For a given temperature rating, the amount of down insulation needed is less than synthetic fill. This is a great benefit for backpackers as for them every kilogram matters big time.
Down is extremely durable. It has the ability to withstand hundreds of compression, wide swings in temperatures, use and tear. Properly washing it will help ensure it keeps its high quality 20-30 years after you’ve bought it.
Understanding Loft Rating
The fluffier a cluster of down is, the more air and heat it can trap. In other words, the higher the ‘loft’ of the sleeping bag, the better its warmth-to-weight ratio. A bag filled with high loft down will be more compressible than a similar temperature bag with a lower loft/fil-power. However, a high loft down doesn’t always mean it will be warmer. It generally means you need to use less of it than a lower-rated down to achieve the same warmth. For example, a 600+ loft can be as warm as an 850+loft bag, but it won’t be as light or compressible.
Which type of down is best?
This is a tough question to answer. Many types of down can result in great sleeping bags. Plus, the design of the bag also plays an important role in maximising warmth and comfort. A sleeping bag that has an 850+ loft down will be lighter and more compact than a similar bag that uses 750+ loft down. It is the perfect option for ultralight campers. A bag that has enough 650+ loft down can achieve the same EN temperature rating as an 850+ loft, but you will have to carry around more bulk and weight. So, it will be up to you to decide how much you want your sleeping bag to weigh. Sometimes carrying a few extra grams isn’t the end of the world. This is especially true if your van or 4WD will be carrying the load.
Besides loft rating, you will also need to consider the construction of the bag. Does it allow the down to fully loft? Do the baffles keep the insulation where it is supposed to be? Insulation placement can make a huge difference too. The baffles in down sleeping bags are designed to control where the down is placed and to prevent it from shifting around and creating cold spots. Bags that have vertical baffles in the torso and horizontal baffles in the lower half keep the insulation where it’s needed as the user rolls around in the middle of the night.
The type of baffle also matters. Overlapping baffles, box baffles, sewn-through construction, etc. are all suitable for different temperatures. Side block baffles are useful for stopping down from moving from the front of the bag to the back while draft tubes along the zippers protect you from cold gusts of wind. Directional lofting also plays a role in the quality of a down sleeping bag. This means the shell and lining fabrics should be cut in way that encourages the direction of the down lofts. The bag should be designed in a way that the down lofts into the bag towards the sleeper. This will allow the down to loft as much as possible, thus trapping more heat.
When purchasing a down product, keep an eye out for RDS Certification. This certification is a safeguard for the humane treatment of the geese and ducks that provide down. It requires third-party audits of all aspects of animal rearing and handling through to the finished item and the correct labelling product.