We've selected the best sleeping bags for every kind of adventure
A down sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of kit in your adventure arsenal. So it's important that you get the right one to fit your needs. But there are a lot of things to consider before buying. And making the wrong choice can be a major drag on your adventures.
We've broken down things to think about step by step to help guide your decision. And also put forward our top picks depending on your needs
There are also a few cheeky top tips thrown in too. So let's get to it.
The best down sleeping bag buying guide
Down vs Synthetic
This is important to consider when choosing the best sleeping bag. In short, natural down sleeping bags compress better for ease of packing and have better longevity than synthetic-filled bags. They also have a better warmth-to-weight ratio. But, synthetics are often lighter (although less compressible) and tend to dry out much quicker after becoming wet.
Where does down come from?
Down is the fluffy plumage found underneath the outer feathers on waterfowl such as geese and ducks. These tiny feathers act as insulation keeping the birds warm even in very cold temperatures. It’s also perfect for keeping us from freezing whilst camping on the side of a snow-capped mountain.
How does down filling work?
Down sleeping bags are often classified by a unit of rating known as Loft. Loft refers to the quality of the down and its ability to create tiny air pockets within the individual filled compartments of a sleeping bag.
Choosing high-quality down and supporting ethically sourced down
Sometimes cheaper sleeping bags are filled with a blend of down and feathers or filler. This may reduce weight but it will also reduce the warmth of the bag. For the best insulating value look for sleeping bags that are filled with 100% duck or goose down.
You should also check whether a down sleeping bag has been filled using unethically sourced down. Inhumane practices like force-feeding and live-plucking are used by some producers to reduce costs. Check whether a company uses traceable down and complies with the Responsible Down Standard before making your purchase.
Responsible down is harvested from birds slaughtered for meat, from moulting birds, or collected from nests after shedding.
What is hydrophobic down?
Hydrophobic Down was created specifically to perform in damp conditions. To achieve this, traditional down insulation is treated with a durable water repellent that enables the down to dry quicker and stay resistant to water for longer.
Why buy second hand down sleeping bags?
To maximise sustainability consider buying a second hand down sleeping bag. Check websites like Shpock, Gumtree, and Facebook marketplace at the start of spring and the end of summer when fellow campers are likely to be clearing out unused kit. Be sure to ask the bag’s age, and whether it has been damaged/repaired, to determine whether it is likely to perform as-new.
How to read temperature ratings on down sleeping bags
It’s important to note that the lower limits on sleeping bag temperature ratings are not the same as a comfort rating. The lower limit advises the temperature at which the bag would keep you alive. It does not recommend using the bag at/under those conditions.
The comfort rating suggests at what temperature you will be comfortable using the bag when camping.
Choosing a season/temperature rating
Before buying a down sleeping bag it’s important to identify when you plan to camp out, and how frequently you will use it. If you plan to climb Mount Everest you’ll need a different sleeping bag versus going camping with friends over the summer.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. All down sleeping bags are given a temperature rating and suggest which seasons they are best suited to.
Choosing the right shape sleeping bag
Much like buying a pair of trousers, you need to buy the right length and width sleeping bag for your body.
Mummy bags come in standard widths and are usually a snug fit. Slim cut mummy bags are efficient when it comes to retaining heat and great for saving weight. But if you feel you might need a bit of extra room and your camping conditions allow for it, consider a different shape.
Brands now offer a range of different design features for mummy bags including shark foot compartments and additional width and length options.
Rectangular sleeping bags are better suited to temperate camping environments where cold weather conditions aren’t a concern. If you’re planning to use your down sleeping bag during the summer months and only occasionally, a rectangular bag will offer a less restrictive sleep experience.
Double sleeping bags are best suited to warm-weather tent camping and caravanning as they don’t offer the best warmth. They also don't tend to come in lightweight, packable designs.
Finding the right weight down sleeping bag
As well as choosing the temperature rating of the down filling, it’s important to consider the physical weight of the compressed bag. For car camping trips this isn’t necessary, but, if you will be using your sleeping bag for multi-day trips the difference between 0.5kg and 1kg will be noticeable after a day on the trail. Look for the best warmth-to-weight ratio for the best option here.
The benefits of a sleeping bag liner
A sleeping bag liner can add valuable warmth to your current sleeping bag, acting as an extra layer of insulation. It traps another layer of air between your body and the bag which helps keep you warm. For frequent campers, it can also act as a hygienic way to keep your sleeping bag smelling fresh as liners are washable and can be cleaned with ease after every trip.
When buying a down sleeping bag for your adventures there are some key things to consider; temperature rating, filling material, durability, design, and overall weight.
Also, keep in mind that the functionality you require for one trip may differ to another so if you don’t have the budget for multiple bags, look for a multi-purpose sleeping bag that offers maximum warmth-to-weight.
Ready to get out there? Check out our complete guide to wild camping for our top tips including which sleeping pad is right for you.
Down sleeping bag FAQs
How are sleeping bags constructed?
Sleeping bags are made from natural down or synthetic insulation packed between an outer shell and an inner lining. The quality of the insulation and the design of the construction both contribute to how successful the sleeping bag is at preserving your body heat.
Which sleeping bags are the warmest?
Down sleeping bags are the warmest because the natural fibres of the feathers trap heat better than synthetic fillings.
What is the difference between cheap and expensive down sleeping bags?
The main difference between down sleeping bags at opposite ends of the price scale is the quality of the materials used for both the filling and outer shell. Premium bags use down with better loft capacity and have differential cut construction panels that preserve heat whilst being lightweight.
How can I wash my down sleeping bag?
You should follow manufacturers instructions if your sleeping bag contains hydrophobic down. However as a guide for all standard bags:
– fill your bath or a large trough with enough water to cover the sleeping bag (150mm)
– add a mild soap or natural detergent
– push down on the bag to fully soak it with water
– soak for 1-4 hours
– drain the water and add more
– repeat until you've thoroughly rinsed the bag
– press as much water as you can out of the bag
– hang to dry and re-shape whilst wet
How do you store a sleeping bag?
Ensure the bag is clean and dry and store it in a large, breathable cotton or mesh stuff sack in a well-ventilated place.