How to Choose a Good Sleeping Bag

sleeping bag

Here are the components of the US military 4-Part Modular Sleep System. Be sure and get US made bags an avoid the Chinese knockoffs.


Sleeping bags are something that I have given a lot of thought too.  Currently there are many good sleeping bags on the market.  They can vary from twenty-five to several hundred dollars in cost.  But how much is a good night’s sleep worth?

The first question you need to ask yourself is what type of weather are you likely to encounter.  Now I am talking about the worst weather in your area.  Your bag needs to be able to keep you warm and comfortable under these conditions.  The second question is will you be carrying the bag.  Weight then becomes a factor.  The third question is what other shelter will you have available.  Will you be sleeping in a home, a tent or on the ground?

Personally although I have a number of sleeping bags I will probably be using the US military 4-Part Modular Sleep System.  This is a bit on the heavy side, but I am not planning to carry it far.  Being a modular unit, it covers from 50 thru – 30° F.  I have found it comfortable and it can be purchased reasonably.

sleeping bag

US military 4-Part Modular Sleep System in the stuff sack.

I like the bivy cover which is made from a waterproof, moisture-vapor-permeable material.  I have slept out in the rain in mine over on the coast and have woke up to find myself laying in a inch of water and still warm and dry.

The downside to this system is its size and weight.  The system weights about 11 pounds and consists of an inner bag and outer bag and the bivy sack, any of these can be used individually.  The fourth component is the stuff sack.

But a sleeping bags is a personal choice, here are some tips to help you choose.

Goose Down is lighter, compresses easier and is warmer by weight.  However, if it gets wet, it is useless.  In extreme cold, your body releases moisture as you sleep, so a down bag can get wet from the inside even when it is protected from the outside elements.  Because of the amounts of rain we get in some seasons I have avoided goose down.

Some of the newer insulation such as Lamilite or Polarguard 3D will still retain some warmth when wet.

sleeping bag

Avoid these type of tubes or baffles, they will cause cold spots

Check the stitching; the thread should be of good quality and the tubes should overlap so that the stitching does not go all the way through the bag wall creating cold spots.  Make sure the bag has a sturdy zipper and a draft tube along the entire length of zipper.

Consider an outer waterproof, moisture-vapor-permeable shell for your bag.  Be sure that the shell you purchase will breathe enough to allow body moisture to escape.

Whatever type of bag you choose the bottom line is take it out and use it and I mean more than once or twice.  The bag that looks and sounds so good in the store may be very uncomfortable.  The temperature ratings that are given with the bags I have found to be unreliable, a lot depends on your metabolism.  Whatever type of sleeping bag you get, don’t forget a good pad to go underneath it.

sleeping bag

This is a good example of overlapping tubes or baffles

Here is a link to a post that I wrote on The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep.  The sleep system that you choose can have a big effect on your health and moral.

One last tip, don’t forget about garage sales.  Every year I pick up a few extra sleeping bags for pennies on the dollar.  If you have extra you can always help others and you might just find one that you love.


This entry was posted in Seventy-two hour kits, Shelter and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to How to Choose a Good Sleeping Bag

  1. Common Sense says:

    As far as down goes, many modern (an much more expensive) down bags have a water repellent treatment, and are not as catastrophically effected as standard down.

    If weight is a premium, and you know how to take care of it, use down. In all other cases, synthetic is better.

    Aside from surplus US Army sleep systems, Snugpak brand sleeping bags are quite durable, warm when wet, and are one of the favourites of soldiers to purchase on their own to replace issued sleep systems.

    If you are buying surplus, stay away from older European down bags unless you have experience with that specific model. They are being sold off because they have been replaced with something much better. They are better than nothing, and will likely be durable, but the overall condition and ability to insulate when wet is not ideal for a survival situation.

    As you said, the big key is a quality bivvy bag. No matter what sleep system you buy, this is one of the keys to succes in any modern outdoor plan. Goretex or EVent brand fabrics are generally the industry standard. In fact, even if weight is critical, dropping the bivvy bag is a last resort (meaning you have gotten rid of everything else first).

    Stay warm.

    • Common Sense says:

      I forgot to mention Wiggy’s brand sleeping bags. They are made in the USA, and reputed to be of very high quality (though I have not direct experience with them). The Snugpak brand bags I mentioned are made in the UK (check their website for the specs on each model, as I believe they have outsourced some of their lower end products.

      In any case, a sleeping bag is worth spending decent money on, and will generally last you decades if it’s taken care of.

      Though it is less of a concern with synthetic models, ANY sleeping bag should be stored dry, and uncompressed. Dry them out after use, then put them in a cotton or mesh bag and hang them up somewhere- don’t keep them in a stuff sack for months as this can cause the fibers to compress over time, and will take some of the insulating capability away. It’s not a worry to keep them stored compressed in your pack while you are out, but in between uses they need to be treated well.

  2. Veteran Who Is Preparing says:

    If you can’t afford a really good sleeping bag you can use the old M-1950 Extreme Cold Weather sleeping bag (make sure it says extreme cold and NOT intermediate on the foot of the bag) and a wool blanket or poncho liner in the bag. Also, sleep on top of a sleeping mat and not directly on the frozen or wet ground. It wouldn’t hurt to put the bag inside a gortex bivy bag for added wind and rain protection. Wrapping the bag with a poncho to keep out rain only traps moisture inside making the bag damp.

    I have found that on ebay you can get the surplus modular sleep systems for under $100 fairly easily. Some just need to have gortex patch kits put on small holes and tears in the bivy cover. NEVER PUT A GORTEX ANYTHING IN THE DRYER!!!! It melts off the protective coating on the gortex fabric. After air drying it, pass a steaming iron an inch or 2 over the top of the gortex, the steam reactivates the gortex resealing gaps made during washing. If the gortex looks very faded it most likely has been put through a dryer more than once and will not repel water no matter what you do.

    • Common Sense says:

      I disagree on the gore-tex. Any gore-tex I have seen in the last ten years specifically states that it SHOULD go in the dryer. The DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the outside is properly set into modern gore-tex with heat. If your DWR has worn off, it will be from washing or wear, not heat. In this case, the options to replace it are wash in or spray on. The spray on works much better.

  3. Common Sense says:

    “Line dry your garment, or tumble dry it on a warm, gentle cycle. Once it is dry, tumble dry your garment for 20 minutes to reactivate the durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment on the outer fabric.”

    This is from the website. It does say “warm, gentle cycle”. So you are correct about not using high heat.

    • Veteran Who Is Preparing says:

      I have a lot of experience with gore-tex, the military uses it on nearly all outer wear for wet and cold weather. The soap when washing it causes gaps to open in the coating during cleaning. Heat burns off more of that layer if a person is dumb enough to put it in a dryer. I have been issued more than enough gor-tex jackets that this was done to, all of them were faded excessively so that is a good indication if buying a surplus one. Putting it in a dryer for tumbling will not work properly for resealing the protective layer unless it can open completely through the process. Most home dryers are not that big and it will be bundled which will cause areas to cover each other and one of the sides will not seal so you will have gaps in the “DWR”. Over time more gaps form and the jacket no longer repels water. The manufacturer wants it to fail over time so you have to buy a new one which keeps them in business. The military wants the gear to last as long as possible to keep you combat effective longer and reduce replacement costs. After air drying, place the gortex on a flat surface like an ironing board or table and pass the steaming iron over the top of the material several times to soften and spread the “DWR” around more evenly resealing the gaps created when washing. Overlap each pass of the iron and do not let it touch the material. As for reapplication of a wash or spray on protective layer I wouldn’t trust it. I have a feeling it is only a temporary solution, once again meant to fail over time so you have to reapply. I have a gore-tex jacket I bought over 10 years ago that is only lightly faded now and still works as good as a new one by doing what I was taught in the military for its wash and care.

      The patch kits I have used were applied by cutting a patch the size needed to cover the tear with some excess around it, I used about 1 inch all the way around. Round the corners to reduce snagging which will loosen the patch overtime and eventually ripe it off. Remove the paper backing over the adhesive, apply over the tear, and apply a little pressure to smooth-en it out and remove creases. Then put a bath towel over it and apply a steaming iron over the patch on to the towel to melt the adhesive to the gore-tex material (follow directions on package for how long to hold). After patching all holes pass the steaming iron over the material as you do after drying to reseal the material especially around the patch. Let it sit out and cool off, don’t immediately roll it up for storage. The patches I saw on military gore-tex material were applied with a heat resistant adhesive I noticed. When in doubt just follow the directions on the package for the patch kit, the steps I gave were the ones on the kits I have.

      • Common Sense says:

        I am in the military, and I have been using gore-tex for quite a long time as well. I have been “dumb enough” to put all of my goretex in both the washer and dryer. The issue with washing is using liquid detergent, don’t. Use powder. I always put my gore-tex garments in the dryer, including a bivvy bag which is over 13 years old. It still works like new. I am an infantryman, so it’s not like my gear sits on a shelf. Gore-tex is worthless if it’s dirty, it needs to be washed, there can be times where a second rinse cycle is necessary- other than that wash as per the instructions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *