* EN standards rate sleeping bags by temperature
* Usually categorized as winter/alpine, summer, or three-season
* Find the right balance of lightness and warmth
Most sleeping bags on the market today are rated for temperature according to the international EN testing standards. This is good news because it means you can reliably compare sleeping bags from different brands and see which ones meet your camping or backpacking needs.
The EN rating system assigns each sleeping bag a comfort rating and a lower-temperature limit rating. Sleeping bags are then usually grouped into three broad categories. Using American measurements, the categories are first the -40 to +4-degree bags, then +5 to 29-degree, and finally 30 to 55-degree Fahrenheit bags.
For alpine or winter camping, you’ll definitely want to pick a sleeping bag where the EN number is safely below the minimum temperature forecast for your destination. For example, if you’re headed on a cross-country skiing trip where there’s a chance of temperatures falling to 0-degrees, you’ll want a bag whose EN comfort rating is somewhere below 0, and with a minimum limit at least 20-degrees below. It’s always easier (and safer!) to partially unzip your sleeping bag if you’re too warm than to try and huddle in all your parkas if you’re too cold.
Conversely, summer backpackers may find it much easier to carry a lighter, 30 to 55-degree sleeping bag, since these are commonly slim enough to roll up and fit inside a small backpack. These kinds of lightweight sleeping bags are especially useful if you’re doing low-elevation climbing in Mediterranean or tropical areas.
Finally, the popular “three-season,” sleeping bag, rated for +5 to 29 degrees, is ideal for expeditions where it may get cool but not cold, such as camping in the high desert in late spring or early fall. This kind of sleeping bag is generally good for coastal mountain ranges and mid-latitude summer trips.
Keep in mind: Sleeping in a tent or enclosure usually adds about 10 degrees of warmth to the sleeping bag’s EN rating, and using a sleeping pad also adds a few degrees.
Ranging from glacial to tropical, here are some of the best sleeping bags for seasonal camping.
FOR WINTER CAMPING: Marmot CWM
The Marmot CWM sleeping bag is a mummy-style bag designed for harsh winter conditions and alpine camping. Rated to -40 degrees, this down-filled sleeping bag is probably the right choice if you plan on setting your time machine back to the ice age. Or if you’re camping in the rockies during ski season.
FOR WINTER CAMPING: Puma Super MF
The Puma Super MF Sleeping Bag by Western Mountaineering is rated for -25 degrees and comes packed with dense, comfortable down filling. It also features a light, breathable but watertight shell.
FOR THREE-SEASON CAMPING: Kelty Cosmic Sleeping Bag
The Kelty Cosmic 20-degree sleeping bag is water-resistant and comes with its own stuff sack included. A good mix of portability and comfort, this is one of the top-rated three season bags.
FOR THREE-SEASON CAMPING: Sierra Designs FrontCountry Sleeping Bag
This 27-degree bag from Sierra Designs is roomy enough to be used with standard queen-sized pillows. Plus, its lightweight construction makes it easy to carry on a casual trip.
FOR SUMMER CAMPING: North Face Dolomite
A warm weather option from The North Face, the Dolomite sleeping bag comes with synthetic filling and is very compact, making it ideal for summer outings where you don’t want to be weighed down.
FOR SUMMER CAMPING: Basin and Range La Sal
The La Sal Sleeping Bag from Basin and Range is very efficient choice for warmer weather camping. With real down filling and an ultralight shell, it’s easy to pack and remains comfortable on warm summer nights under the stars.
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