Camping is a wonderful adventure, but many people are wary of sleeping on the ground. Can a sleeping bag help you get through the night comfortably? I dove in with some testing and research to find out if sleeping bags are comfortable and how you can optimize them for better results.
Sleeping bags are comfortable for most people. However, it’s important to choose one with the right shape and temperature rating for the weather conditions. To make your sleeping bag even comfier, you should set up your sleeping area correctly and add accessories like pillows or a plush mat.
Of course, there’s a lot that goes into choosing the right sleeping bag and making it as comfortable as possible. Read on to discover the different shapes, materials, and temperature ratings for sleeping bags, and learn how to set up camp correctly for a great night’s sleep.
Table of Contents
What Is A Sleeping Bag?
To gain a comprehensive understanding of sleeping bags, it’s important to have a set definition of the product. A sleeping bag is a fabric sack that you sleep inside of while camping. They usually have down or synthetic padding sewn into them to provide additional warmth and comfort.
Unlike a quilt, a sleeping bag is closed on three sides to trap heat inside on cold nights. They zip up and down so you can get in and out easily. Sleeping bags can be made with almost any fabric, though synthetics like polyester and nylon are the most popular.
Sleeping bags are rated by the temperature or season, and there are many different styles. Some are made to be as light as possible but provide the bare minimum in comfort. Others are heavier but focus more on comfort. The one you want ultimately depends on what kind of camper you are and what matters most to you on your trip.
Is It Comfortable To Sleep In A Sleeping Bag?
Generally speaking, there’s a reason why sleeping bags are the gold standard of camping—they’re easy to use and comfortable to sleep on. But the experience you have will depend on many factors, including which type of bag you purchase and the accessories you have.
The truth is, the bag itself is only half the equation. Your environment will also determine if your sleeping bag is comfy. The type of clothes you wear to bed will play a role, as will the temperature inside your tent. The ground you sleep on will also factor in significantly, because some terrain is much more comfortable than other terrain.
Managing Your Expectations
Your mindset is also vital to your comfort level, and it’s important to leverage your expectations against reality. If you’re accustomed to sleeping on a plush pillowtop mattress every night, a sleeping bag might not cut the mustard at first. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a chance. Over time, it will get better.
Camping outside is a lot different than sleeping indoors. Physically, many consider it to be less comfortable. However, this element of personal sacrifice is simply a part of the magical experience of existing in nature. And even if your sleeping bag isn’t the same as an actual mattress, you’ll eventually grow to love it because it contributes so much to the camping adventure.
If At First You Don’t Succeed
When you’re first starting out, it’s smart to give your body a few days to acclimate to the sleeping bag. You may toss and turn as you grow used to stretching out on the ground, and you may wake up a few times during the night. However, you should eventually be able to sleep through the night without issues and wake up rested the following day.
If several nights go by and you still experience pain or sleeplessness, you may have the wrong type of sleeping bag. Your body might be incompatible with the material, or you might have chosen a bag that’s too heavy or light for the temperature outside. In that case, return your current bag to the store and try out something more suited to the conditions and climate where you are.
You might not get your sleeping bag right the first time, but that’s okay! Experiment with different materials, accessories, and arrangements. Run through the whole gamut before you give up, and make sure to keep an open mind. Eventually, you’ll find something that works for you.
Why Your Sleeping Bag Is Uncomfortable
As you begin to use your sleeping bag, it’s almost inevitable you’ll run into problems. Often, these issues go beyond simply getting used to your new bed. Instead, they have to do with your body and the product you’ve chosen. Discomfort can arise for a number of reasons, but you’ll find the most common ones explained below.
Your Temperature Is Off
If you wake up sweating inside your sleeping bag, you won’t get a good night’s rest. And if you wake up freezing, you’ll be just as miserable. Your sleeping bag is what sets you up for good temperature regulation. Thicker, more insulted bags will keep you warmer. Thinner, less insulated bags will keep you cool.
Unfortunately, many people own only one sleeping bag. They go camping in varying conditions with the same bag, but the bag will have a different effect in different seasons. Using your winter sleeping bag for summer camping can make you way too warm, and using a summer bag for wintertime adventures can make you shiver.
If you camp often, consider buying multiple sleeping bags for different seasons. But keep in mind that even if you do have different sleeping bags for warm and cool weather, the temperature outside can fluctuate a lot on a single trip. This holds especially if the weather changes, so be prepared with some extra layers every time you go camping.
Your Material Doesn’t Mesh
Sleeping bags can be made with many different kinds of materials. In basic sleeping bags, the outer shells are usually made with taffeta, nylon, or polyester. You’ll also find rougher materials like Ripstop, Dry-Loft, or Gore-Tex are often used for camping in severe weather or more extreme conditions.
The outer and inner shells must be both durable and comfortable. Your skin will rub against the inner shell liner as you sleep, and you’ll probably wind up sitting on the outer shell during the day. So, no matter which material your bag is made from, it needs to feel good on your skin.
Different fabrics have wildly different textures, and these can cause discomfort in sensitive people. Before you buy any sleeping bag, make sure you don’t have any sensitivities to the material it’s made from. We all have different tastes, and you should accommodate your own preferences.
You Feel Restricted
Some people lie still all night long on their backs. Some sleep on their side or stomach. And still others move in their sleep, flailing around on the bed and readjusting themselves as their body works to stay comfortable. Unfortunately, sleeping bags do not have much wiggle room to work with.
Especially if you choose a backpacking or “mummy” style sleeping bag, you might feel too confined for comfort on your trip. Mummy sleeping bags zip up tight around you. Rectangular bags offer more space and less restriction, but they weigh more and aren’t as warm. You’ll need to decide whether temperature or freedom is more important to you and buy accordingly.
The Ground Is Too Hard
One of the only downsides to camping is the fact that you’ll probably have to sleep on the ground. Unless you’re using a hammock or a cot, you’ll face all the issues that normally arise from sleeping on a hard surface. It can be uncomfortable and difficult to get to sleep.
When you wake up, you could face a litany of problems. Achy joints and sore muscles can really sour the camping vibe, and your mood could be quite low due to a lack of rest. Unfortunately, a sleeping bag can’t really solve any of these problems. Even the plushest bag in the world can’t protect you thoroughly from the hardness of the ground.
Many people find that using a sleeping pad can help out a lot in situations like this. If you don’t have a pad and aren’t ready to invest in one, you can try using natural objects around you to soften the ground. Piling up leaves or pine needles usually works well. You can also set your tent on a soft spot with lots of grass.
You Don’t Have Enough Support
A good mattress supports you by keeping your body positioned correctly as you sleep. It is soft enough so that you stay comfy while being hard enough to prevent you from sinking in completely. This helps ensure that your neck, spine, and back do not fall out of alignment.
We spend thousands of dollars on mattresses that promise to provide the best support possible. On the other hand, a sleeping bag has no support at all. It is more like a blanket than a mattress, offering only a thin padding. If you aren’t careful, sleeping on the ground can easily throw you out of alignment.
It only makes sense that when you switch to a sleeping bag, you feel like something is missing. The misalignment and lack of support can cause insomnia, muscle aches, and joint pain when you wake up. It can make your sleeping bag feel about as comfortable as a bed of needles. The only way to get more support is by adding additional material beneath you as you sleep.
How To Make Your Sleeping Bag More Comfortable
There is a plethora of problems that can arise while you use a sleeping bag. Luckily, humanity has managed to solve many of them with a little bit of brainpower. When brainpower won’t do the trick, you can buy additional products to make your sleeping bag more comfortable.
Choose The Right Temperature Rating
Almost all sleeping bags are rated by the season. The season rating indicates at which temperature the sleeping bag can be used for optimal comfort, and it’s one of the most important things to think about when you buy it. You can buy bags with a season rating from 1 to 5, with 1 being usable only in hot weather and 5 for the most extremely frigid conditions.
It’s important to choose the correct rating for the weather and temperature you’ll be experiencing. If you’re going camping in the desert, you need a bag rated at the 1 to 2 level. If you’re heading into arctic conditions, you’ll need a 5-season bag to sleep comfortably.
Consider your internal temperature as well. Some people run cooler or warmer than others, and one person may find a 2-season bag adequate while another needs a 3-season bag to stay warm. It’s smart to err on the side of buying a warmer bag, because it’s safer to feel a bit too warm than to be too cold. You can sleep on top of the bag if you get too hot.
Pick The Right Material
Choosing between taffeta, polyester, and nylon is largely a matter of personal taste. You’ll need to explore the bags in your local shop, making sure to touch them before you decide. Taffeta is considered by many to be the highest-quality, while others prefer the feel and durability of nylon. Polyester is more water-resistant, but many find it less breathable and thus less comfortable.
You’ll also need to consider the weather conditions where you are camping. If it’s going to be extremely wet or rainy, you might need to choose material like DryLoft that repels water. Though it may be more expensive, it will be much more comfortable to stay dry during a downpour. You can’t sleep well in a wet sleeping bag, and the moisture could even cause fungal infections to take root.
If you know you’re heading out on a treacherous thru-hike, choose a bag with a bit more durability. Materials like Rip-Stop nylon won’t tear if you lay them on sharp ground, so they’re a good choice if you know the terrain will get a bit dicey.
Understand The Shape
Sleeping bags come in several different shapes. The classic rectangle shape is the most comfortable in warm conditions because it allows for the most movement during sleep. If you need your space to stay comfy, a rectangle is for you. It gives you the freedom to shift and roll on your side, which is great for finicky sleepers and those that toss and turn.
The mummy shape conforms more to your body, wrapping you closer than the rectangle. It restricts air flow around you, keeping your natural heat closer and helping you stay warmer than the rectangle shape does. However, it does limit movement, so it’s better for a colder climate when you really need the warmth.
There is also the semi-rectangular shape. Choosing a semi-rectangle sleeping bag will allow you to move more and stay warmer at the same time. This configuration lies halfway between the mummy and the rectangle, and can be a very good compromise between the two. It is shaped like a rectangle on the bottom but it has a tapered shoulder to stave off the cold on chilly nights.
Purchase A Camp Pad
No matter how warm and cozy your sleeping bag might be, it won’t give you the comfort and support of a mattress. Luckily, you can enhance your sleep support by purchasing a camp pad or sleeping mat to lay down on at night. There are various types of sleeping mats to choose from, and you’ll have to do some testing to find the best one for you.
One of the most common options is a closed-cell foam mat. A closed-cell foam sleeping pad doesn’t need to be inflated at all. You just unroll it and place your sleeping bag on top of it for a better night’s rest. It’s convenient, durable, and quick to set up. However, these types of sleeping mats tend to be harder and less comfy.
Alternatively, many people go with an air-up pad for camping. This is a compressed mat that you inflate with your mouth or a pump. An air-up pad offers a very high level of cushion and comfort, and you can control how firm or soft it is by putting more or less air inside of it. The downside to these pads is that they can get punctured easily, and they may take a while to inflate.
What about a happy medium? An open-cell foam sleeping pad could check all the boxes. These pads combine the concept of an air pad with closed-cell foam. They’re also known as self-inflating pads, because they inflate on their own once you open the air valve. Air is drawn in naturally as the foam decompresses, and the pad offers lots of cushion and support.
Set It Up Right
The way you set up your sleeping area can vastly affect your comfort level. For the most optimal experience, it’s best to search out a grassy piece of ground to set your tent on. Remove any stones, branches, or other debris from the area before setting up your tent.
When searching out your ground, avoid wet or boggy areas. Flat ground is the best ground, but it might not be possible to find a flat piece. If elevation is unavoidable, make sure to set your sleeping bag so that your head is higher than your toes. This will reduce snoring and keep your circulation going strong in all the right directions.
For more padding or cushioning, gather leaves or pine needles underneath your tent. While this might seem superfluous, even an extra half-inch of padding can help you stave off the cold and wake up well-rested without hip or back pain.
Pick Up A Camping Pillow
Want even more support? Camping pillows are a relatively new fad, but there’s a reason why they’ve caught on with camping enthusiasts. Camping pillows provide a light and compact way to get all the head and neck support you’ve been missing in the great outdoors, ensuring your sleep stays blissful all night long.
You can choose between an inflatable pillow, a compressed foam pillow, and a mix of the two types. Which one you need will depend on your personal preferences. All three provide durable support. They also save your regular bed pillows from getting dirty, smoky, or torn apart in rough terrain or unfavorable conditions.
Alternatively, you could make a camp pillow out of some of your clothes. I don’t recommend this method, because you can easily wind up with a bad crick in your neck. It’s hard to make a comfortable pillow out of many different fabric consistencies and textures. However, it does save on money and space in your bag.
What To Look For When Buying A Sleeping Bag
Knowing how to stay comfortable in your sleeping bag isn’t just about choosing the right accessories. You need to focus on the bag as you’re buying it, examining each element that goes into its form and understanding how they affect its function.
The shape of your sleeping bag is vital to your satisfaction with the product. Do you move around a lot in your sleep? A rectangular sleeping bag will give you room to roam. If you’re camping in cooler weather or just tend to get colder than the average joe, a mummy bag will give you the most bang for your buck.
Those who camp out in colder climates but want to retain their freedom should go with a hybrid rectangular mummy shape. If you’ll be sharing your sleeping bag with a partner, you can even get a double sleeping bag. These are usually rectangular, but you should still be able to stay nice and warm snuggled up with your camping buddy.
When you buy your sleeping bag, make sure to check the temperature or season rating and know how to interpret what you see on the label. A 1-season bag is for summer, offering only minimal warmth. A 2-season bag is for cooler summer or spring nights.
A 3-season bag may be used for cold spring or fall nights where temperatures drop down further, while a bag rated for 4 seasons may be used for frosty nights with temperatures below freezing. A 5-season bag is suitable for arctic conditions and snow, and should be avoided in the absence of freezing temperatures.
When you’re shopping around for the perfect sleeping bag, take note of the terrain and conditions you’ll be experiencing on your trip. If conditions will be normal or relatively fair, you have a bit more wiggle room. Explore options like nylon, polyester, taffeta, or a mixed-fabric bag to find what works for you.
You’ll need to pay more attention to your sleeping bag material when conditions will be rough. If you’ll be laying your bag on sharper ground, it’s good to buy a bag with a Rip-Stop nylon shell or another durable type of fabric. For the rainy season, get a sleeping bag coated in waterproofing material like DryLoft.
The price of your sleeping bag will depend on the brand, the seasonal rating and design features. Generally speaking, 3 and 4-season bags cost more while 1 and 2-season bags cost less. Bags rated for use during cold winter nights require more material to manufacture, so that’s reflected in the price.
Additionally, sleeping bags that are coated in water-resistant material will also cost more, as will Rip-Stop nylon and other more durable fabrics. Consider whether you really need these additional features before you purchase them, but don’t hesitate to buy them if they are essential.
Many winter campers pay between $200 and $300 for a sleeping bag, while summertime sojourners can sleep well with a bag well under $100. Ultimately, the price you pay is a personal decision. You don’t want your bag to break the bank, but you don’t want a product that isn’t suitable for the conditions.
Sleeping bags can be very comfortable if you buy the right one for the weather and your personal sleeping preferences. Dress up your sleeping bag with accessories to sweeten the deal even further, and take a few moments to set up your sleeping area for maximum comfort. Once you learn how to arrange everything perfectly, you’ll be on your way to having a great night’s sleep no matter where you are.