You've picked out your tent, and now you need to get the right sleeping gear. In this guide we'll take you through what you'll need to consider when selecting a sleeping bag, and different options that can add a little comfort to your night, such as mats, airbeds and camp beds.
Everybody has a different temperature when they sleep, some may sleep warmer than others, and men and women have different needs. However, using this guide's points on most sleeping bags, you'll be able to pick something that is right for you and the time of year you go camping.
Sleeping bags differ in many ways from size, comfort rating, season rating to different types of insulation. There are 3 different shapes of sleeping bag: Square, Mummy and Sleeping Pod.
Square sleeping bags are the most basic of sleeping bags. These give you room to move your feet if you don't like to feel constricted in your sleep. Square sleeping bags, in some cases, can be doubled up (or come in double size) if you wish to sleep next to your partner.
Mummy shaped sleeping bags are tapered at the bottom to help keep warm air inside and close to your body, without circulating and cooling down. They can range from single season use right up to thick expedition sleeping bags, designed for use in sub-zero temperatures.
Sleeping Pods are exclusive to GO Outdoors. They are half as wide as they are long, letting you move freely inside, making them ideal for people who like to toss and turn in their sleep. Perfect for sleepovers or summer use.
When choosing your sleeping bag, consider what time of year you're heading out camping and whether or not your more susceptible to the cold. We'd recommend comparing different bags' season and comfort ratings, which can give you a great indication of when the bag should be used, and what sort of temperatures you will find most comfortable when sleeping.
Most sleeping bags are rated by season to help buy the right sleeping bag for the time of year you are camping.
Lightweight, compact and ideal for use in hot summer months (June-August) or when camping abroad in hotter countries.
Ideal for use in late spring to early autumn, your typical family camping sleeping bag.
For use in early spring to late autumn, and perhaps a mild winter evening. These bags are generally the sort of sleeping bag recommended for school trips and expeditions such as Duke of Edinburgh.
Thick bags, often down insulated 4 season sleeping bags are made for use in winter when temperatures can drop below zero.
These sleeping bags, also known as expedition bags are for high mountain use and for extreme cold temperatures.
Comfort ratings offer the best chance of being able to judge if a sleeping bag is right for your own personal body temperature. Sleeping bags generally offer a comfort rating and an extreme rating. If you find that you're more susceptible to the cold, choose a higher comfort rating. Extreme ratings are a measure of survival temperature, but this is purely a guide. Everybody sleeps differently, and the difference between men's and women's body temperatures at night can be quite significant. You know better than anybody how much your feel the cold, and these comfort ratings offer a guide to help when choosing.
You may notice that some sleeping bags will mention whether they have a left hand or right hand zip. While this may seem a trivial feature, it's actually quite awkward to zip up a sleeping bag if the zip is on the wrong side.
Left Hand Zip for Right Handed People
Right Hand Zip for Left Handed People
On some square sleeping bags, a pair of opposite handed bags can be zipped together to create a double sleeping bag.
This is generally not an important factor for family campers, however if you are backpacking or just travelling light, and need your sleeping bag to attach to your rucksack for long periods of time, it's worth noting the pack size (how small the sleeping bag is when packed away) and the weight. For thicker sleeping bags a compression sack can reduce the volume of your packed bag.
Down Sleeping Bags are much like down jackets - this type of insulation is generally used in 4 or 5 season sleeping bags, when you need very effective insulation to keep you warm in extreme temperatures. Down sleeping bags can be very warm, and aren't particularly needed for standard summer camping unless you're sensitive to cold.
More technical sleeping bags may have a female variant to them, these help to offer a better fit and insulation for the female figure. They are usually narrower at the shoulders to help trap warm air more effectively and keep air from getting in, while offering more room for a curved body shape.
Since excess space in a bag means that air can circulate and keep you from being as warm as possible, a child's sleeping bag is much shorter in length, helping to keep them insulated far better than if they were to sleep in an adult bag.
Synthetic sleeping bags are much more common, ranging from the cheapest through to more expensive bags - they use synthetic insulation to help keep the colder air from reaching your body. These bags can handle water better than down, sometimes keeping their temperature even when damp, and can be used in varying temperatures depending on the rating of the sleeping bag.
So you've chosen your sleeping bag, now what will you sleep on? This is where we really start to get into what type of camper you are. Are you looking for the cheapest option for a festival? A lightweight option for backpacking? Or a touch of luxury for that summer holiday? At GO Outdoors, we stock a large selection for various needs, and in this section we'll give you a little overview of each.
Roll Mats are the basic sleeping accessory we all know, a simple roll of foam to put a layer of insulation and comfort between you and the ground when sleeping. They may not look like much, but they make all the difference under your sleeping bag. Easily added to the bottom of your pack and lightweight.
A thin layer of inflation between you and the ground, unscrew the plug and the mat starts to inflate itself, leaving you to put in the final bit of effort and you have a sturdy, comfortable mattress. These mats come in a variety of styles and prices ranging from the super lightweight thermarests at the higher end, through to slightly heavier general use mats. A great choice for somebody looking for a little more comfort than a standard roll mat.
The family camping (and even festival) favourite for those looking for a bit of extra comfort. These airbeds or inflatable mattresses come in single or double variety, there's even more luxury airbeds that are double thickness. Airbeds require a pump to inflate them, but can offer unrivalled comfort for camping sleeping. These can be heavier and certainly not a recommendation for backpacking.
Softness doesn't always equate to comfort – just look at the Three Bears' story! Airbeds can be great but might not necessarily offer much in the way of support. A camp bed will give you a sturdier surface to sleep on, therefore more support, while still offering a fine level of sleeping comfort. Their weight and size doesn't make them a fantastic choice for backpackers, however for weekend or longer camping when transporting your gear via car, these can be great. They're also ideal for a spare bed at home.
The following items are by no means essential, but can add some extra use to your camping trip, whether prolonging the life of your sleeping bag or adding some extra comfort to your night's sleep.
You'd be surprised how many people forget a pillow. If you're not one for wrapping a towel around your clothes and using that as a pillow, or taking some spare pillows from home (they can be quite bulky) then camping pillows can be a great answer. Ranging from small, soft pillows, to inflatable or self-inflating pillows which can save you even more space, these added extras can give you that little bit of comfort that could separate a good night's sleep from a bad one.
Sleeping bag liners are a useful addition, these liners can prolong the life of your sleeping bag due to keeping the inside clean which means it has to be washed much less. A liner can also help to keep you warmer in colder climates, or be used on it's own in very hot climates. Liners are available in silk or cotton, a great little addition for any camper.
Sleeping Bags can be quite bulky if you're keen to save space in your pack, compressions sacks can be used to reduce the overall volume of your sleeping bag by around a third. These sacks are a good way of adding an extra water resistant layer for down sleeping bags as well to help keep the integrity of the down insulation in tact.