Sleep Gear – How to choose

How do you know what to choose when it comes to sleeping gear when hiking? Like all decisions on what to choose, it isn’t as easy as just walking into the hiking store and buying a sleeping bag and sleeping mat, you need to ask yourself what type of hiking will I be doing? Will I be in a cold climate or warm one? Will I be camping out in a tent, under the stars, or am I staying in a hut?

The Breakdown

Once you have decided what type of hiking you are doing you can choose the sleeping gear that’s right for you. Let’s breakdown the choices and make the decision easier. We will look at different styles and fills of sleeping bags and what will work for cold climates or the warm. We will also look at different types of sleeping mats and what would suit you best for your adventure.


The Sleeping Bag

Yes there are so many to choose from! We have Mummy shaped ones! Rectangle shapes, Synthetic fill, Down fill, Dryloft? Summer season, 3- season, Winter! Loft rating! What does this all mean?

Shape of the sleeping bag

Mummy Shape– Mostly these ones are made of Down and the shape is designed to keep you toasty warm. The less air space in your bag means that the air trapped in there will heat up quickly and stay warm longer. This is more ideal for the hiker who is in the cooler climates.

Rectangle Shape– Mostly these are made of Synthetics and are designed more for the warmer climates as they don’t hug the body which means there is more air between the body and the bag. This air will take longer for the body temperature to up and keep it warm.

Bag Insulation Type

There are basically two types the Synthetic and the Down.

Synthetic– Made from polyester.

  • This is cheaper to buy.
  • Quicker drying if wet.
  • Still insulates when wet.
  • Non-allergenic.
  • Not as warm as Down.
  • Doesn’t compact as small as Down.
  • Doesn’t last as long.

Down– Can be made from Duck or Goose and be a combination of down and feathers, (more down the warmer it is).

  • Holds the warmth better than Synthetic.
  • Lighter weight and smaller compact.
  • Longer durability.
  • Cost more than Synthetic.
  • Takes longer to dry.
  • Loses it’s insulating power when wet.

What is Dryloft? Basically this is like Goretex but a much lighter version. It is designed to be waterproof and windproof while still allowing moisture to escape out of the bag meaning that the insulation will stay dry and then you will stay warmer.

Temperature Ratings

The temperature rating that the manufacturers give is just a rough guide, you know yourself if you are a hot body or not. We all regulate temperature differently so do take into account what your like personally when looking. There is an European Standard (EN13537) used to test the temperature rating on the bags. Basically they use a dummy with heaters and temperature sensors, whilst it is wearing a layer of clothes, and is put inside the bags. All tests are done in a temperature controlled room and measured from there.

There are usually a choice of 3 types of bags; Summer, 3 Season, Winter, and some even have the 4th type Extreme. All the brands will show a chart of their temperature rating for their bags. You will notice that each season will have 3 temperature gauges on them – Comfort, Lower limit and Extreme. This is what each mean, do note these ratings are based on the person to be wearing one long undergarment, beanie and sleeping on a 1″ mat and the temperature it shows is roughly what the bag would get too.

  • Comfort- This is based on an average woman’s comfort.
  • Lower limit- This is based on the average man’s comfort.
  • Extreme- This is based on the survival rating of the average woman and if she is wearing more gear.

The temperature you want to look at mainly is the middle one (lower limit) and base on the average night temperature that you will be experiencing in the place you are going.


Sleeping Mats

This again comes down to personal choice and to what comfort level you require as well as where you are travelling. A sleeping mat also has insulation so choose the right mat it can help keep you warm.

The “R” Value, this is the unit of thermal resistance of the mat. The higher the value the more you will be insulated from the cold. Good to know if you are hiking and camping in the colder climates.

Foam Mats

  • Cheap.
  • Don’t weigh much.
  • Don’t absorb water.
  • Great insulation.
  • Bulky.
  • Not overly comfortable.

Self Inflating mats

  • Open the valve and it self inflates, you can blow in more air to make it at your comfort level.
  • Far more comfortable.
  • Great insulation.
  • More compact and easier to put in your pack.
  • Heavier than the foam.
  • More expensive.
  • Chance of getting a hole.

Sizing of the Mat is a personal choice though it can also depend on the climate. Your body (between the shoulders and hips) is really the only part of you that needs to be on the mat not your legs, unless you are camping in very cold conditions then I would recommend a full length, otherwise you are carrying excess you don’t need to. Remember you pack it you carry it!



Sleeping Bag Liners

This is an item I would recommend for all travellers. They are light weight, pack small, give extra warmth, sometimes it’s all you need to sleep in and the best thing is it can help against those pesky bed bugs that are out there. The other bonus is if you use one in your sleeping bag not only does it help keep you warmer it also helps with the cleanliness of your bag. It’s easier to wash and dry a liner than a sleeping bag. Again these come in two shapes; Mummy and Rectangle. Mummy good for sleeping bags and Rectangle good for hostels, hotels etc.

Fabric Types


  • Very light and small to pack.
  • Insulates well in cold and is absorbent and breathable in the warmth.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Bed bugs cant penetrate the silk.


  • Durable.
  • Absorbent but not as breathable.
  • Heavier and more bulky.
  • Takes longer to dry.
  • Cheaper to buy.


  • Have moisture wicking and breathable.
  • Ideal for the warmer temperatures.
  • Some have stretch in them which can be less restricting.
  • Reasonably priced.
  • Not as Compact as the Silk.

There are also insulated ones on the market and the claim they can add an extra 3-4°C or 25°F of warmth. If you are planning on going to extreme cold then I would recommend you look into one of these.

Some also have Bug shield or Insect shield as built-in protection. Do be aware that a these usually wear out after so many washes.

Now you all have a better knowledge on what you need you can get going on that adventure.

Happy Hiking 👣👣👣

Keep an eye out for the next post on 

How to care for your boots and other posts like 

How to Choose Socks as well as 

Safety tips when hiking.


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