How to choose a sleeping bag

How to choose a sleeping bag

  • 22 August 2018
  • |
  • First Ascent

Sleeping bags are a vital component of any outdoor enthusiast’s kit list. It doesn’t matter if you are camping, hiking or summiting the highest peak, a correctly specified sleeping bag can make or break the quality of your sleep.

First Ascent - How to choose a sleeping bag

Why is insulation essential?

The human body is designed to maintain a constant core temperature of approximately 37°C. To assist ones body in maintaining this temperature you need to provide yourself with proper insulation. The ambient air temperature generally determines what you use to keep yourself warm (extra clothing, covers such as blankets or sleeping bags and shelter such as buildings, tents or natural caverns). As the ambient air temperature falls, the ability of certain materials to keep you insulated and warm decreases rapidly and the ability of your body to maintain a constant 37°C also decreases rapidly.

Sleeping outside of our comfortable and warm homes should therefore not be taken lightly. The most common way to keep yourself warm when you go hiking and camping is to use a sleeping bag along with a mattress and/or tent. Choosing the correct sleeping bag for your adventure can be quite a daunting task with temperature ratings, fill type, shell type, shape type and weight varying greatly amongst the various models on offer.

Where are you going?

Weather can be incredibly unpredictable – especially in South Africa. One moment we have sunshine, the next cloud, rain and high winds. Besides weather changes, usual day – night temperature fluctuations can swing wildly from a hot sunny day to a frigid below zero night, even in summer. It is therefore critical to understand the environment which you will be sleeping in and the expected weather forecast.

How long are you hiking or camping for?

Seasoned adventurers understand how important it is to not carry too much weight and having to make compromises on what to take vs what to leave. Are you carrying everything with you on a multi-day hike in the Drakensberg, overnighting on your favourite trail in Cedarberg in winter or camping in one of our beautiful national parks? One item you should never compromise on is the sleeping bag you take with you. The last thing you need is to have your trip ruined by poor sleep by either being too cold (insufficient sleeping bag insulation) or too uncomfortable while trekking (sleeping bag is unnecessarily heavy).

Men vs woman

Men and women retain heat differently to one another and need different types of temperatures to keep them warm. Women tend to need more insulation than men to keep them warm, as men have more muscle, allowing them to generate heat more easily.  Men and women may therefore need to invest in different types of sleeping bags, even if they are going to the same weather conditions, with women requiring a warmer sleeping bag. Using one of our excellent thermal liners (our Thermalite liner can add up to 15⁰C warm to a sleeping bag) can also negate having to purchase a warmer sleeping bag for women.

Understanding temperature ratings

Each of our sleeping bags has a specific temperature rating that is determined primarily by the sleeping filling (down or synthetic).

Sleeping bag temperature rating




Example of a temperature rating

Comfort — Based on a 'standard woman' having a comfortable nights sleep.
Lower Limit — Based on a 'standard man' as the lowest temp. to have a comfortable nights sleep.
Extreme — The minimum temperature at which a standard female can remain for six hours without risk of death from hypothermia (though frostbite is still possible).

Ratings are based on a user wearing one long-underwear layer and a hat, and sleeping on a single 2.5 cm think foam pad.

Making your choice
Considering all of the above, you will be more clued up on what your sleeping bag preference is. Below is a range of various options to choose from.

The Ice Nino - A 
backpackers best friend in Winter

Being uncomfortable and cold can be extremely unpleasant. You certainly need an ideal travel sleeping bag for any winter activity. Whether you are sleeping on top of a mountain range, or backpacking through Europe during the colder seasons, the Ice Breaker/Nino is the best choicer for you.  From -2⁰C (comfort limit) to -18⁰C (extreme limit) the down sleeping bag has got your back. The Ice Nino is also suited towards smaller framed people.

First Ascent Ice Nino Down Sleeping Bag

The Amplify 1500 : The Multi-Purpose Sleeping Bag
Often we need a sleeping bag for more than one type of adventure or occasion. The Amplify Sleeping Bag, is the ideal companion for all seasons.  With its elastic stitching, this sleeping bag is particularly comfortable as well as cosy. Benefits include minimized heat loss as well as well as increased mobility when need be. The temperature range falls between 5⁰C (comfort limit) to -10⁰C (extreme limit). Synthetic fill also has the added advantages of being easier to clean and dries better than down.

First Ascent Amplify 1500 Sleeping Bag

The Explorer Sleeping Bag - Light and Convenient for the on-the-go lifestyle
If you are a regular traveller and always moving from one place to another, it can become tiring carting a heavy sleeping bag around with you. The Explorer Sleeping Bag is great for solving this problem. It is compact and light, making your travel movements a breeze. Temperature ranges between 5⁰C (comfort limit) and -10⁰C (extreme limit), ensuring optimal warmth as well as light for travel.

First Ascent Explorer Sleeping Bag

The Amplify Down Light Sleeping Bag - Perfect Summer Hiking Bag
A summer adventure, that allows you to sleep under the stars and take in the night sky, calls for a comfortable companion.  The Amplify down Light Sleeping bag is exceptionally lightweight at only 595g but will still keep you warm. The temperature rating ranges from a 9⁰ C, keeping you cosy under the evening sky, to a -5⁰C range if the weather decides to turn on you suddenly. 

First Ascent Amplify Down Light Sleeping Bag

It is extremely important not to underestimate the temperature of your chosen destination, as even in the summer months, the evenings can be pretty freezing. Being comfortable on your outings is extremely important, and you need to make sure you have the correct inner, as well as the best shape and filling for your sleeping bag for maximum benefits. 

See our Down Sleeping Bags here

See our Synthetic Sleeping Bags here