March 2008 Sleeping Bag Review: Start Smart Sleeping Bag Tips

Start Smart

Size it Up

It's a sleeping bag, not shrink-wrap. Here's how to make sure it fits.

1: Try before you buy. Wear layers similar to those you sleep in, and try several bags to sample different shapes and lengths. Tradeoff: A roomy cut feels comfortable, but is less thermally efficient than a narrow design.

2: Integrate the pad. If a bag is designed to have a pad inserted in the bottom, rig it that way while in the store. Integrated pads affect interior volume and roll-around comfort.

3: Check the closures. Zip it up. Zip it down. Zip it up again. If it snags now, it will in the field. Cinch down the hood, and any draft collars. Check for comfortable fit, good seal against the face, and ease of exit.

4: Roll around. See if the bag turns with you, or if you can spin around inside it. If the bag has less insulation on the bottom than the top, you'll want to rotate freely. If the insulation is even all around, you'll want to roll with the bag.

5: Touch your toes. Cinch the hood, sit up, then pike forward toward your toes. The bag should be tall enough to allow this, so you won't have to open it just to sit up. Caution: Unnecessary length means extra weight.

Sleep Warm

6 Easy ways to kill the chill

1: Take a bottle to bed. Fill a leakproof bottle with hot water–it's like having an electric blanket. The Laken Iso 70 Thermos stays warm for hours.

2: Tank up. Your body needs fuel to produce heat. Eat a high-calorie dinner–or a snack before bed–to prep for cold nights.

3: Have a nightcap. A cup of hot cocoa or herbal tea deliver an instant warmth boost.

4: Wear a night cap. A fleece or wool hat prevents heat loss.

5: Do jumping jacks. Just before bed, five minutes of calisthenics jumpstarts your engine. Cold in the night? Do crunches in your bag.

6: Go pee. A full bladder uses precious body heat. And it's uncomfortable.

Readers Rule!

Pad problems? Here are 3 solutions from BACKPACKER readers.

Get a Grip

"To keep from sliding on the slippery sil-nylon floor of my tent, I put silicone caulk dots on the bottom of my sleeping pad."

Eric Blumensaadt, Henderson, NV

Memory Foam

"To save bulk, fold your foam pad accordion-style down to the length and width of your backpack, then weigh it down for a day (books work well). The foam will remember this position. It also makes a great backpanel for frameless packs."

Benjamin Tang, Pasadena, CA

Outside In

"To avoid sliding off your pad at night, try putting it inside your sleeping bag. It's not like those five crushed feathers and couple layers of cloth have much insulation anyway.

John Cooper, West Chester, PA