When you are going camping this year, your best investment should be in your sleeping bag. It’s easy to misjudge how cold it can get outdoors here in Ireland at night, and trying to nod off when you can’t get properly warm is an absolute nightmare – excuse the pun. In our guide, we’ve rounded up some of the best sleeping bags available right now, at prices to suit all budgets, to ensure you stay comfortable, cosy and ready to make the most of your outdoor adventures.
I would argue that your sleeping bag is your most significant bit of gear you can have when out camping, only really up there with your footwear – both you’ll spend a long time in, and if they aren’t fit for purpose, then both will make for a long and unpleasant camping experience.
Sleeping bags are primarily categorised as either synthetic material or down (the light plumage in between a bird’s skin and its feathers). While down sleeping bags take a bit more maintenance (you need to keep it dry and store it uncompressed, for example), this natural material delivers a massive bang for your buck and is relatively lightweight. You’ll find plenty more buying advice and info further down the page.
Our Top 10 Tents for Camping in Ireland
VANGO NITESTAR ALPHA 350
Vango Cocoon Unisex Outdoor Sleeping Bag
VANGO COBRA 400 SLEEPING BAG
Trespass Echotec Sleeping Bag
Trespass Chief DLX 3 Season Down Sleeping Bag
Rab Ascent 900 Hydrophobic Down Sleeping Bag
Berghaus Transition 300 Sleeping Bag
Kelty Cosmic Down 20°
Marmot Trestles Elite Eco 20
How To Choose The Best Sleeping Bag For Camping In Ireland
Finding the best sleeping bag for your needs will depend on several factors, the main factors being the warmth of the sleeping bag and how lightweight you need it to be. As a rule of thumb, the greater the bag’s warmth rating, the heavier it generally is. However, some of the latest and more technically advanced sleeping bags can be extraordinarily lightweight and warm.
However, unless you want to spend loads of cash, there’s going to have to be a compromise; an example is that lighter weight materials will generally wear out faster and need more maintenance to keep them in good shape after regular use. While a winter sleeping bag (for Ireland) should be comfortable well below zero, spring and summer bags can have a zero and up comfort rating. However, please consider that it’s usually easier to sort being too warm rather than too cold while camping.
Most camping Sleeping bags don’t need to be super-light, especially if you’re driving near your campsite for a night or two. They only need to be lighter when you’re wild camping or hiking a long distance to your campsite; in these situations shaving, those extra ounces off will pay dividends. If you are wild camping or hiking with your sleeping bag, then it’s worth looking at the size your sleeping bag packs down to – you’ll need something that fits comfortably into your rucksack, with all your other gear. Synthetic sleeping bags being the bulkiest but often the cheapest, and goose down are generally the most expensive but compress down the best.
WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR SLEEPING BAGS MADE OF?
Despite massive leaps in technology in recent years, sleeping bags tend to rely less on this and more on the materials’ quality. That said, there is a range of outer shells, heat-capturing trickery and down treatments that increase their efficiency.
When looking at lists of “the best” sleeping bags, I think it’s best to stick to well-known manufacturers like Vango, Patagonia, North Face, Thermarest, Rab, Mountain Equipment, Mountain Hardware and Mammut.
These recognisable brands have wide ranges of sleeping bags to choose from, so you can find the ideal sizing and spec for your budget, but they also have ethical and environmentally solid credentials.
SYNTHETIC Vs DOWN Sleeping Bags
Sleeping bags are split broadly into two main groups: synthetic Sleeping Bags and Down Sleeping bags.
For the most part, Synthetic Sleeping bags are more heavyweight than a down sleeping bag with the same warmth rating. They are also generally bulkier to pack but are better in damp or wet conditions. Artificial down materials like Thinsulate will insulate you even in the wettest conditions.
Down sleeping bags are more often lighter and offer a much higher warmth value. However, they also come with a much higher chance of catching hypothermia if they get wet (it never happen here in Ireland). Why? Well, Down materials absorb the water, clump together and therefore provide little to no insulation when wet through.
Down sleeping bag manufacturers have developed several treatments and waterproof coatings to try to resist the damp issues. These can only be partially effective, with the treatments often losing their effectiveness over the years or regular use.
When looking at down sleeping bags, pay close attention to the baffle’s construction. The better sleeping bags will use irregular shaping tactics to avoid clumping of the down together at one end and prevent cold spots from forming between the pockets.
The construction keeps a sharp eye out for the down quality (cheaper types will include duck), the fill power, and ethical down. The fill power is how much ‘loft’ (fluffiness) you’ll get from 1 gram of down. The higher quality of the down, the more it will fluff up, giving you more excellent insulation per gram.
Manufacturers use many materials to balance weight, warmth and durability, so it’s worth checking out a few.
It is worth noting for balance that synthetic fill bags also suffer from de-lofting over time, which will reduce their heat retention.
Sleeping Bag TEMPERATURE RATINGS what do they mean?
As with most of the manufacturers’ sales info, you should be wary of taking everything literally, particularly the temperature ratings. The stats they provide, much like your cars MPG, usually are produced in a lab and are therefore should be taken as a guideline – real-world variables will affect your sleeping bag’s temperature performance.
Most sleeping bags from recognised brands will state an EN rating. This is a European standard (EN13537) covering the four temperature ranges of the upper limit, comfort, lower limit, and extreme (a survival only rating and not to be followed for everyday use).
As someone who is not “average size”, you should check the fit of a sleeping bag before you buy if you can, as, like a suit or dress, different lengths and chest size options usually are available. The better the fit (you want it to be snug but not tight), the warmer you’ll be. Don’t be tricked into thinking you’ll be wearing more than just base layers in a sleeping bag, either, as extra clothing changes the bag’s fit and sometimes makes it colder. If it’s nippy out, lay your jacket on top.