Choosing the perfect sleeping bag: Seasons and Styles

During my first camping trip, I learned a valuable lesson – the importance of a suitable sleeping bag. While the days were warm and inviting, the chilly nights left me shivering and uncomfortable. It dawned on me that I should have paid closer attention to sleeping bag recommendations rather than impulsively grabbing the first one I saw.

So how do you choose a comfortable warm sleeping bag?

Sleeping bags come in many different styles and sizes. Some sleeping bags are designed to keep you warm during cold weather, while others provide insulation against heat loss. The most important thing to consider when choosing a sleeping bag is the season and how much space you need to move around comfortably.

What are sleeping bag season ratings?

Before you buy a sleeping bag, consider when and where you’ll be using it. Your sleeping bag choice can make or break a comfortable night’s sleep. Sleeping bags are categorized into different seasons, each designed for specific weather conditions.

  • Season 1 – Ideal for warmer summer nights when temperatures are 10°C or higher.
  • Season 2 – Suitable for cooler summer nights in late spring to early autumn with temperatures at 5°C or higher.
  • Season 3 – Designed for cooler nights, free of frost, during late autumn to mild winter nights with temperatures at 0°C or higher.
  • Season 4 – Intended for frosty or snowy conditions, with temperatures below zero and extreme cold weather at -5°C or higher.
  • Season 5 – Reserved for extreme weather and expedition camping, with temperatures plummeting to -40°C or below.

Understanding comfort levels on your sleeping bag

Apart from seasons, comfort levels are vital when choosing a sleeping bag. Your comfort level is the lowest temperature at which you won’t feel cold. 

Sleeping bags have comfort ratings or temperature ratings indicated on them. These ratings provide information about the temperature range the sleeping bags are designed to keep the average person comfortable.

A sleeping bag might have a temperature rating of 0°C (32°F); this is your comfort rating. It is intended to keep you warm and comfortable in temperatures down to the freezing point.

It’s important to note that comfort levels vary from person to person as you need to consider other factors such as metabolism, clothing and sleeping pad insulation. Even in August, I felt cold in my Season 2 bag, so I upgraded to a Season 4 for my comfort.

Therefore, the temperature and comfort level rating should be used as a guideline.

Manufacturers use standardized testing methods, like the European Norm (EN) rating system EN13537. They provide information on comfort level performance in different temperature ratings. They are showing higher and lower limits to avoid hypothermia,

Even with a season 4 sleeping bag, I feel the cold. This is because a sleeping bag will not protect you against the coldness of the ground. You will need a thermal barrier that will reflect your body heat back to you.

Place a sleeping mat under your sleeping bag. If you are using an air mattress, place it underneath the air mattress.It is essential to purchase a sleeping pad that is R rated and is the same shape as your sleeping bag.

Add additional comfort to your camping trip and avoid a cold night’s sleep. Sleeping pads and mats are not expensive. However, if you are a side sleeper, are tall, prefer a wider sleeping pad or are on a tight budget, read our article, as we can help you choose the correct sleeping pad and mat.

What insulation is in a sleeping bag?

There are two main types of insulation in a sleeping bag, down and synthetic. Some are designed to keep you warm during cold weather, while others are meant to provide insulation against heat loss.

Insulation types: Down vs. synthetic

There are two main types of insulation in sleeping bags: down and synthetic.

  • Down sleeping bag – Made from goose or duck feathers, down sleeping bags trap air effectively, retaining body heat. They are warmer but bulkier, requiring more care. They are suitable for colder seasons and wild camping.
  • Synthetic sleeping bag – These bags use artificial fibers that trap air, providing warmth without the bulk. They are lighter, easier to maintain, and ideal for campsite and car camping. Synthetic bags also dry faster.

Discovering the warmth of down sleeping bags: Feathered comfort

A down sleeping bag is like a cosy hug from nature, insulated with the warmth-trapping feathers of geese or ducks. These feathery layers act as natural sponges, locking in air and body heat to keep you snug through the night.

However, there’s a trade-off for this natural warmth:

  1. Bulk and weight – Down sleeping bags tend to be bulkier and heavier than their synthetic counterparts. So, while they excel at warmth, they might fail to win the packing efficiency contest.
  2. Extra care required – Handle with care. Drying out a wet down sleeping bag can be quite a challenge. Downs require special attention when cleaning. You cannot put them in the washing machine or bathtub; they need gentle, specialized cleaners, which can be a bit pricey.
  3. No compression sacks – Squishing a down sleeping bag into a compression bag is a no-no. It crushes the loftiness of those precious feathers, affecting their insulation abilities.

But despite these considerations, many camping enthusiasts, including myself, have a soft spot for down sleeping bags. 

  • Weighty comfort – For me, it is reassuring about the weight of a down sleeping bag. It adds to the comfort factor, making you feel snug as a bug.
  • Perfect for campsite and car camping – I primarily use mine for campsite and car camping adventures. Their bulkiness is fine when you’re not carrying them.

However, I must admit they’re not my go-to for wild camping, mainly due to their weight and the inability to compress them like their synthetic counterparts.

Ultimately, the choice between down and synthetic sleeping bags often comes down to your camping style and priorities. But if you savour the warmth and embrace the weight, a down sleeping bag might be your perfect camping companion.

Delving into synthetic sleeping bags: Artificial warmth

Synthetic sleeping bags are your cosy cocoon fashioned from artificial fibers that warmly embrace you. Crafted from materials like nylon, polyester, and spandex, they come packed with their own set of advantages.

Here’s why synthetic sleeping bags might be your ticket to a snug night’s sleep:

  1. Light and lean – Compared to down, synthetic sleeping bags are the featherweights of the camping world. They are ideal for a lighter load, especially during wild adventures and backpacking trips. While some campers lean towards down for these activities, I prefer synthetic sleeping bags.
  2. Weather-resistant shell – The outer layer of a synthetic sleeping bag often plays double duty as a waterproof shield, providing an added layer of defence against the elements. This makes them a sensible choice, especially if you can’t guarantee a bone-dry camping experience.
  3. Budget-friendly comfort – Synthetic sleeping bags offer comfort and season ratings without breaking the bank. But remember, it’s crucial to match the bag’s season rating with the time of year you plan to camp.
  4. Easy to care for – These sleeping bags are a breeze to keep clean. Pop them in your washing machine at a low temperature, and dry them on the line outside. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a gentle detergent, Nikwax from Amazon is ideal for cleaning sleeping bags and will help to keep them waterproofed. For a deep dive into proper care, check out our detailed article. Please read our article for more information on washing and caring for you sleeping bag.

Synthetic options are versatile and practical choices. They are all about providing comfort, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. 

What are the different types of sleeping bags?

When it comes to sleeping bags, you’ve got five main styles to choose from. These sleeping bags come in synthetic and down insulation options, catering to different seasons and your preferences.

1 – Rectangle/Envelope or Square Sleeping Bag

  • Rectangular sleeping bags are a common choice, known for their versatility. They feature a full-length zipper on the top and bottom, allowing you to fully open them up.
  • However, this spacious design can lead to heat loss, making them less ideal for winter, early spring, or late autumn camping.
  • Great for summer camping when you can use them as a blanket on warm nights.
  • Bonus: You can zip two rectangular sleeping bags together to create a double sleeping arrangement.

While we don’t use rectangular bags for our main camping trips, my son finds them perfect for summer overnight outings with the scouts. They’re easy to pack, and he has ample room to move around at night.

2 – Mummy sleeping bag

  • Mummy bags feature a tapered shape, a head-covering hood, and a ¾ length zipper. They shine in cold conditions, efficiently retaining heat.
  • However, they may feel restrictive for side sleepers or restless sleepers.
  • They are ideal for keeping warm during colder nights due to their snug fit.
  • They are great for wild or backpacking trips because they’re compact and easy to roll up.

My first sleeping bag was a mummy bag, but it didn’t work well for me. I move a lot and sleep on my side, so the limited mobility didn’t suit me. I eventually unzipped it and used it as a blanket.

3 – Barrel sleeping bag

  • Barrel sleeping bags combine elements of both rectangular and mummy bags. They have a part-rectangular shape, a full-length base zipper, and a tapered hood similar to mummy bags.
  • The hood often comes with a drawstring to keep you snug.
  • While they provide more room than mummy bags, they retain heat less efficiently.
  • Perfect for family and car camping due to their spaciousness.

Our Colemans Basalt sleeping bag is a down barrel bag from Go Outdoors or Amazon. It’s long and wide, with a thermal inner lining. Just note that its extra length might require some folding at the foot to prevent heat loss and cold feet.

4 – Double sleeping bag

  • Designed for couples, double sleeping bags allow for sharing body heat but can be restrictive and pricey.
  • They typically come in either barrel or rectangular shapes.
  • If you occasionally camp solo, you might need an additional single sleeping bag as using a double bag alone can lead to cold spots due to increased air circulation.
  • Alternatively, you can zip together two single bags if they’re of the same make and design.

5 – Pod sleeping bag

  • Pod sleeping bags feature an oval shape with side and base zippers, offering ample room and freedom of movement.
  • The tapering top design minimizes the entry of cold air, aided by a hood and draw cord.
  • These bags are a dream for side sleepers and those who appreciate space.

Berghaus Mondo Adult POD Sleeping Bag from Amazon is a synthetic season 3 sleeping bag with a baffle to prevent cold from seeping through the zipper. This extra-large bag boasts a cotton lining, making it incredibly comfortable and ideal for larger individuals or side sleepers who like to bend their legs. Turning over and moving around is a breeze in this one.

Key points

Before you buy your sleeping bag, it is important to test it first. Don’t be embarrassed to try a sleeping bag in a shop.

  • Do you feel comfortable?
  • Do you have enough room?
  • Will you want to turn it into a double
  • Does the zipper work correctly? Is it easy to zip when inside?
  • Above all, is it the right season for your camping trip

Related questions

How to boost the warmth of a sleeping bag?

If you do not want to buy a new sleeping bag, consider a sleeping bag liner. They are a quick and easy way to increase the warmth of your sleeping bag without paying a fortune.

A sleeping bag liner is like a lightweight, snugly-fitting cloth cocoon that slips right into your sleeping bag, like slipping into an extra layer of cosy pyjamas.

  • Cleanliness and insulation – Sleeping bag liners keep the inside of your sleeping bag clean. But that’s not all; it adds an extra layer of insulation, cranking up the warmth and comfort. Think of it as your secret weapon against chilly nights.
  • Versatility for all seasons – On warmer summer nights, if it is to hot for your sleeping bag but you like to have some cover, a sleeping bag liner is an ideal solution.  
  • Material matters – Liners come in various materials like cotton, linen, or silk. Depending on your sleeping bag’s style and your budget. Prices range from £6 to £70, with basic cotton options and luxurious silk choices in the mix.

I purchased a no-frills cotton sleeping bag liner from Amazon for £14.99 a few years ago. my liners; they are ideal for sitting around the campfire on cooler nights.

Are adult sleeping bags safe for children?

Adult sleeping bags can be safely used by children aged 6 years and older. However, it’s not advisable for younger kids due to their tendency to move around during the night. If a little one snuggles down into an adult-sized bag, it can lead to discomfort or even pose a risk of suffocation.

  • Shorter and narrower – Children’s sleeping bags come in various lengths, typically ranging from 125 cm to 170 cm. These dimensions offer flexibility for sleeping bag selection for children.

Children’s sleeping bags follow their adult counterparts’ season and comfort rating standards. So you can pick the right one to keep your young camper snug and cosy on their adventures.

Why join two sleeping bags together?

Combining two sleeping bags offers a cost-effective way to transform two single sleeping bags into a spacious double sleeping arrangement. Giving you the versatility of both options without the bulk and cost of a double sleeping bag.

To successfully join them, ensure that both sleeping bags are the same type and check if they have compatible zippers. Remember that zip designs can change over time, so this may not be possible if the sleeping bags were purchased years apart.

If you have children who like to snuggle with you at night, connecting two sleeping bags provides extra space for a comfortable family sleep. As your kids outgrow this phase, you can easily return to using single sleeping bags.

It’s important to note that combining two sleeping bags, there may be heat loss through the joining zipper, so be prepared for this slight trade-off in exchange for added space and flexibility.

Testing a sleeping bag before purchasing

Testing a sleeping bag before purchase helps you make an informed decision, ensuring that the bag meets your specific needs, preferences, and comfort requirements. Don’t be worried about testing the sleeping bag in the store before purchasing.

Testing a sleeping bag before buying it is crucial for several reasons:

  • Comfort – Comfort is subjective and varies from person to person. What feels comfortable to one individual may not be the same for another. Testing a sleeping bag allows you to determine if it suits your personal preferences and sleep habits. You can assess factors like roominess, insulation, and overall feel.
  • Fit – Sleeping bags come in different sizes and shapes. It’s essential to check if the sleeping bag fits you well. Especially if you are tall or have a larger build. A proper fit ensures that the bag can effectively retain your body heat and keep you warm.
  • Warmth – Your body’s warmth retention can vary based on factors like metabolism and your camping conditions. However, this is difficult as testing a sleeping bag in a shop differs from testing outside at night.
  • Ease of use –Testing the sleeping bag allows you to evaluate its practicality. You can check if zippers work smoothly, whether you can adjust ventilation easily, and if you feel comfortable getting in and out of it.
  • Packability –Depending on your camping style, you may need a sleeping bag that packs down compactly for easy transport. Testing a sleeping bag helps you assess how easily it can be rolled up and stored in your backpack.
  • Quality assurance – By physically inspecting the sleeping bag, you can look for any defects, tears, or manufacturing issues that might not be apparent in online or store photos. This ensures you’re getting a high-quality product.
  • Sleeping style – Your preferred sleeping style (side, back, stomach) can influence the type of sleeping bag that’s most comfortable for you. Testing allows you to determine if the bag accommodates your preferred sleeping position.
  • Learn from personal experience – Camping is a personal experience, and your comfort during the trip significantly influences your enjoyment. Testing the sleeping bag in advance helps ensure a cosy and restful night’s sleep, enhancing your overall camping experience.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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