—By Gideon Valor—Editing and notes by Dad!DFO861January 1980
1. INTRODUCTION: CHOOSING A SLEEPING BAG DEPENDS LARGELY ON WHAT KIND OF CAMPING you can plan to do, & how much you can afford to invest. There are many designs & styles to choose from, as well as materials, covering fabrics & construction methods.
2. AS THIS WILL PROBABLY BE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECES OF CAMPING EQUIPMENT that you & your family will have to invest in (you will be spending one-third of your time in it!) We suggest that you carefully consider the circumstances & conditions in which you find yourself, & shop around to find the model that is best suited to your needs. Following is some advice & tips that we hope will help you in making the right choice, & will acquaint you better with the various choices that are available.
3. TYPES OF INSULATION: (a) DOWN: DOWN-FILLED SLEEPING BAGS ARE THE BEST QUALITY, & offer the most warmth for the lightest weight. (Down is the feathering from the breast of various waterfowl such as ducks, geese‚ etc.) They can offer adequate warmth in sub zero temperatures, & are the kinds used in mountain expeditions. However, they are also quite expensive, & are really only necessary in extremely cold situations.—Amen!
4. IF YOU GET A DOWN BAG‚ make sure that the outer fabric cover is of a rip-stop material so that a hole will not enlarge & cause you to lose down. Also, check to see that the weave of the fabric is tight to prevent down getting out here, too.
5. (b) SYNTHETICS: THE BEST & WARMEST OF THE SYNTHETIC-FILLED BAGS IS DACRON. The main advantage of synthetic material is that it will not rot or mildew, can be dry cleaned & is much cheaper. Of course, their insulating quality is not as good. For the majority of people who have the use of a car, trailer or camper, however, a good synthetic insulated bag is adequate.—Amen!
6. (c) KAPOK—A NATURAL PLANT FIBER made of the seedpods of trees from Indonesia—ranks a poor third. It is usually found in the cheapest of sleeping bags, & is of poor quality.
7. SHAPES & SIZES: (a) RECTANGULAR: THIS IS THE MOST POPULAR OF THE THREE basic shapes, as it is the roomiest. They come in a variety of sizes, from 183-204 cm long & 86-127 cm wide, plus smaller ones for children. They are fairly bulky & are best for those who will be able to use some sort of vehicle. They are good for people who like lots of room to toss & turn. They also come in mated pairs where two bags can be joined to form one. They can also be unzipped all around to form a comforter for a normal bed (down ones are ideal for this). However, most of this shape are synthetic.
8. (b) BARREL–SHAPED: COMFORTABLE FOR PEOPLE WHO SLEEP ON THEIR BACK or curled up in the foetal position. They bulge in the middle & are more comfortable than the mummy bag. They are more compact than the rectangular bag (tapered at the top & bottom) but are not as versatile. In both the rectangular & barrel bags there is usually no hood‚ something which is important if you are in extremely cold weather, as much as 25% of your body heat is lost via the head.-Right!
9. MUMMY BAGS: THEY ARE DESIGNED FOR MAXIMUM WARMTH & compact size. They tend to often be too cramped & confining, although the newer ones have more room. They are usually down-filled, have a hood & are ideal for backpackers.
10. TIPS ON BUYING: ALWAYS READ ALL THE LITERATURE ON THE BRAND OF BAG that you are considering getting, & don't just take the word of the salesman. Don't be afraid to take your shoes off & crawl around inside, to see if it is roomy enough. Reputable manufacturers of sleeping bags do not make poorly constructed sleeping bags.
11. IN PRINCIPLE, DARK COLOURS ARE THE BEST as they don't show the dirt. Always check the zipper to see that it is sturdy. Nylon zippers are the best. The zipper should also come all the way down to you feet, thus allowing you to air it out. If it opens from both ends that will allow better circulation in warm weather.
12. QUALITY: AVOID WATERPROOF OR NYLON BAGS which trap the moisture & are the reason that you wake up with your back feeling damp, chilly & clammy. You need a porous bag which permits body moisture to evaporate into the air. Never buy a bag that is 100% airtight or waterproof, because your bag will become damp & maybe moldy inside. Try to blow through the material to see if air will pass through.—Needs a tent!
13. LINERS: FEW SLEEPING BAGS COME WITH LINERS. A liner is simply a bag of cotton, flannelette or some other easy-to-launder material which acts as a bed sheet in the bag. It protects the bag from perspiration & body oils. Even though synthetic bags can be dry cleaned, liners are still advisable. For down bags, they are quite important as washing a down bag considerably shortens its life span. A simple way to fasten them in is to sew snaps on to them & on to your sleeping bag. Also, you can sew loops onto the four corners of your bag & then sew strings on the corners of your liners to tie it in.—Or you can simply just slip them inside. Liners also keep you warmer‚ especially if they are of flannelette. A simple liner is made by sewing a sheet into a sleeping bag pattern.—Amen!
14. CHILDREN'S SLEEPING BAGS: ONE MUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER ECONOMISE on children's bags as there are some that would not keep a child warm on even a summer evening. Synthetic bags are usually better for children, as they can be dry cleaned in the event of bedwetting. If you do not feel inclined to get a child-size bag‚ you can always tie an adult bag two–thirds of the way down to avoid the child slipping too deeply down & possibly suffocating. Sometimes small children can fit side by side in a rectangular bag or at opposite ends, providing that it opens at both ends.
15. STORAGE & CLEANING OF SLEEPING BAGS: "If you take care of your sleeping bag, it will take care of you!" Each morning when you get up, spread it out & open & flat. The best way to store it—if you won't be using it for a while—is to lay it out or hang it full length in a dry place. Do not leave it rolled up tightly. If you can't hang it up, store it loosely in a cardboard box or drawer. If it has wool or cotton in it‚ a few moth balls are advisable (or sage leaves).
16. FOR CLEANING, CONSULT & FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURERS INSTRUCTIONS as closely as possible. Incorrect cleaning can almost destroy any sleeping bag. Almost all synthetic bags can be dry cleaned, & some can even be machine washed. Cheap ones might shrink if machine washed. If your bag has been dry cleaned, always make sure that you air it out thoroughly to make sure none of the odours of the powerful cleaning fluids remain.
17. WITH DOWN BAGS, OPINION IS DIVIDED as to whether they should be dry cleaned or hand washed (or washed in a front loading machine). In general, they should be washed as seldom as possible, as it shortens the life of the bag. If having it dry cleaned, confide it to someone who knows how to clean it properly, & avoid self-service coin- operated dry cleaners. If hand washing, use warm (not hot) water & always use a pure soap, such as Woolite‚ & not detergents‚ as they will strip the down feathers of their natural oils. After washing, ring it out by hand, taking care not to lift it up, & dry in a tumble dryer at "warm". Never put any kind of bag through the fast spin dry cycle of a washing machine!
18. AIR MATTRESSES: IF THEY ARE SLEEPING ON THE GROUND OR FLOOR, most people need the comfort of a mattress or pad underneath their sleeping bag. When properly inflated, an air-mattress makes a comfortable bed. The best are made of a blend of cotton & nylon & are impregnated with rubber. 100% rubber mattresses do have the advantages of being lighter, but are not quite as durable. Plastic mattresses should not even be considered as they are very flimsy. A mattress should be at least 90 cm wide & 190 cm long. Try if possible to get some sort of air pump, as blowing them up with lung power is a hard job & makes them wet & sticky inside. Never use them in the water or on the beach or expose them too long to the sun.—Always carry some spare patches.
19. SYNTHETIC FOAM MATTRESSES: THESE ARE BECOMING MORE POPULAR, & usually have a ridged underside & a smooth top. They come in all lengths & sizes, & one that is 8 cm thick can be very comfortable. The pores in the foam allow it to breathe so condensation is no problem. As they are more bulky to carry, these mattresses are more suitable for you if you have a car or caravan, (Doesn't need!—Only tenters!) than if you are backpacking, etc.
20. CAMP COTS: THESE ARE NOT NEEDED if you have a mattress, & can be very cumbersome if you do not have a large tent, as they take up a lot of space. If you decide to get one, make sure you test putting it together, & lie on it & wiggle around as you would if you were asleep, to see if it is sturdy‚ as there are many flimsy contraptions on the market.
21. CONCLUSION: IN CONCLUSION IT WOULD SEEM THAT ON THE WHOLE, THE RECTANGULAR SYNTHETIC INSULATED SLEEPING BAGS (with a good quality insulation such as Dacron) would be most suited for the majority of our Family. Down-filled bags are very costly, more difficult to keep clean & are really only necessary in areas where you will be experiencing extremely cold temperature. As far as mattresses go, either air mattresses or synthetic foam seem adequate, & less cumbersome that cots.—But cots are much cooler in Summer & drier & more comfortable year–round!—See "CAMP 4" in Mag. 5, and "CAMP 10 in Mag 6!—HAPPY CAMPING!