One idea of roughing it might be staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Marriott. For me at home, I sleep on a Tempur-Pedic pillow, on a nice firm mattress, with a fan blowing crisp breezes and soothing white noise - in other words, I like to be spoiled in my sleep.
So how do I fare in the woods? Well, it's no Marriott, but as long as the cacophony of snoring from fellow hikers isn't too bad, it's not as bad as say a motel whose only selling point to advertise is that it is "American Owned". Here's a long how-to:
Getting Prepared - Setting the stage for a good night's sleep
When It's Cold Outside - Dealing with a three-dog night
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings - Understand sleeping bag rating numbers
Down vs Synthetics - Choose between plastic or feathers
So Which One For Me? - Choose the finalist
Camping Mattress Selection - Choose a sleeping partner, I mean, pad
Sleeping Gear Tips and Care - Take care . . . of your gear
A zillion-dollar sleeping bag won't help if you start out with a crappy campsite and bad preparation. A few pointers:
1) Look for as level a spot as possible to pitch your tent - even a slight slope will be uncomfortable once you lay down. If your choice is rough ground or sloping ground, take the rough - your mattress will absorb most of the rough spots, but there's not much you can do for the slope;
2) If you do end up having to sleep on a slope, sleep parallel with it, with your head at the higher end. Avoid having your head downhill whenever possible;
3) Clean yourself up as best you can before you crawl in your bag: dirtiness = stickiness = sleeplessness. See here for more info on personal cleanliness;
4) Sleep close enough to water to hear it running for a soothing melody, but not so close where flooding is a danger or you're in the only path animals use to come to drink;
5) Open up any vents in the tent to allow air to circulate and minimize clamminess, even in cold weather (see our rental tents and our videos on our tents);
6) and, hey, boys - you might sleep thru the night at home just fine without a pee run, but the extra water during the day, the early bedtime, and the harder surface underneath you is hell on bladders when you're camping. You can either lie there awake from the pain, or lie awake after getting up into the cold or wet night outside your tent to take care of business. Or, be lazy and smart and take a pee bottle to use at night - just don't forget which is which . . . . Sorry gals, don't know what to tell ya about any equivalent solution.
There's more about this in the next section . . . .
Temperature ratings in sleeping bags are only intended as general guidelines, not absolutes. A sleeping bag's temperature or "comfort" rating identifies the most extreme temperature the bag is designed to accommodate. For example, when you hear a bag described as a "+20" or "20-degree" bag, it’s suggesting that most users should remain comfortable as long as the air temperature stays above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The sleeping bag industry is working to develop standards for temperature ratings (EN Ratings), but not all brands participate. Some of the problems with coming up with manufacturing standards come from the wide variety of materials used (down, many different types of synthetic material, etc.) and construction techniques. These variables combined with variations in bag lengths and girths make for almost endless combinations. So, one company's 20-degree bag might have the insulation effect as another company's 30-degree bag, so take the rating with the proverbial grain of salt. However, if you see two bags, both of which are similarly "EN-Rated", then in theory anyway they should be comparably warm to the temperature ratings.
But the manufacturers' variables pale in comparison to the users'. A sleeping bag is an insulator- it will keep hot things hot and cold things cold. Ultimately, the user determines whether they sleep warm or cold within in a bag. Sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping and holding a layer of "dead" (non-circulating) air next to your body. This air, which is warmed by your body heat, forms a barrier between you and colder air or cold surfaces.
Here are a few of the user variables and how they can affect the warmth retention capability of the sleeping bag:
Our bottom line? If you camp in a wide range of temperatures, but only want one bag, we believe a majority of trips for most of the year can be handled with a bag in the 25- to 30-degree range. But December - February in higher elevations probably warrants a 0-degree bag. In summer, just unzip the 30-degree bag as needed to stay cool. But that's the great thing about renting - watch the weather forecast or call a nearby ranger station for their suggestions, and rent accordingly - get exactly what you need! We have bags rated from -20' to +50'. See all of our sleeping bags for rent. For more information, watch our video on our sleeping bag selection.
Down vs Synthetics
Once you've decided on a temperature rating, another decision awaits you - down or synthetic insulation material. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. See our video that compares down to synthetic sleeping bags.
Down is the wispy, fluffy undercoating found just beneath the outer feathers of geese and ducks. This natural fiber is an extraordinary insulator. Goose down is preferred to down from ducks; sorry, ducks. Synthetic materials, in comparison, are basically just hollow plastic threads, usually in one long strand.
Down is a more expensive, but has a longer lifespan - a well-maintained sleeping bag can easily last 20 years. It offers excellent insulation for surprisingly little weight, and can be compacted into very small sizes. Its biggest drawback is if it ever gets wet, it's pretty useless as an insulator until it dries - which can take awhile, as in days if it's cold. So cost, maintenance and cleaning are its major issues.
Synthetic insulation materials are improving every year for warmth and compressibility. Comparable temperature-rated bags filled with synthetic materials are nearly always significantly cheaper than down, are easier to clean and are safer to use in wet conditions. They won't last as long as a down bag, but who keeps anything for 20 years anyway? Down or synthetics - either will rip wide open if caught on a nice little thorn bush, so keep it inside your bag when backpacking.
Because of its value, ease in keeping clean, and better performance if wet, we've selected synthetic as the insulation material for most of the bags we offer for rent.
When making your final sleeping bag selection from us or other source, consider all factors, including temperature rating, insulation type, bag style, length and weight.
1) Rating. The temperature rating we've already discussed above. We offer a full range for comfort between below-zero freeze-outs to warm summer nights. We mostly only offer bags with synthetic insulation, but if you buy one, consider down bags for the absolute in lightest weight and maximum compressibility- as long as you're normally in dry conditions. Otherwise, the new synthetics are a better value and have very few drawbacks.
2) Style. Bags come in two basic shapes, with a number of hybrid versions. "Mummies" are slim, close-fitting bags designed to save weight and retain heat as efficiently as possible. They start narrow at the feet, get wider toward the shoulder, then taper to an insulated, fitted hood. Nearly all lightweight backpacking bags are mummy-shaped. "Rectangular" bags are usually for car-camping use where heat-retention and weight are less of an issue. Mummies are better for cold weather, but can feel confining to some campers. Rectangular bags have room to toss and turn a bit, but let a lot of body heat escape since most don't have hoods. Most of the ones we have are mummy bags.
Another hybrid option is to take two sleeping bags and mate them together to create a "cocoon" for two. You can pull this off with two bags that have similar sized zippers, with one a "right-hand" zipper and the other a "left-hand" zipper. (A bag with a right-hand zipper means the bag opens and closes to your right when you are lying in the bag on your back. Note that in cold weather this setup will be less efficient at retaining heat, no matter how cozy you get. We also have a sleeping bag for two for rent.
3) Length. For most sleeping bag makers, 6' is the arbitrary cutoff between a "regular" and "long" style bag. For women's bags, the cutoff is often around 5'5". Your bag should be snug, but not too tight or short; go with the longer version if you are on the fringes of the regular size. You can always use some of your clothes to take up dead space in the bag if it's too long, or tie off some of the excess space around your feet. We also offer shorter versions of bags for children. Learn more about renting a kid-sized sleeping bag. Or see all of our various bag sizes and styles for rent.
4) Weight. Finally, consider weight in your decision. As a general rule (exceptions apply of course), remember that synthetic bags will be heavier than their similarly temperature-rated down bags; the colder the temperature rating, the heavier the bag will be; rectangular bags weigh more than mummies; and long versions of bags will weigh more than regular-length versions. But the total difference between a light one and heavy one is maybe 2 pounds – not much unless you're on a long trip. Bag weights are usually included in the product description text.
For more information, watch our video on our sleeping bag selection.
Camping Mattress Selection
Lots of people have sleeping bags; a lot fewer have a sleeping mattress - the latter folks are really missing out on at least half of the comfort formula. Sleeping pads keep you comfortable when you're sleeping on hard, uneven ground and provide an important layer of insulation between you and the ground. Sleeping pads insulate the same way that sleeping bags and clothing layers do, by trapping a layer of non-circulating air between your body and the ground. Your body warms this air and it becomes a important barrier against heat loss to the ground.
Like bags, your selection of a mattress requires you to factor size, weight, comfort and outside temperature. We offer for rent a broad selection of ThermaRest and other brand camping mattresses. Nearly all are self-inflating pads - open-cell foam pads wrapped in air-tight, waterproof nylon shells. They roll up small and tight for carrying, and then inflate by themselves as the name suggests (although you will end up blowing more air into it for additional firmness). We have pads of different width, thickness and lengths to choose from. See the category and product descriptions for more details on which one is best for you.
Hike with your sleeping pads in tough sacks to protect them from sharp objects in your pack or protruding from the sides of the trail, or, strap the sleeping pad vertically along your pack in its nylon bag to limit the pad getting caught on sharp objects.
For more information, watch our video on our sleeping mattress pads.
When we send you sleeping gear for rent, we'll send along additional tips and instructions to help out. For more suggestions on trip preparation, what gear and essentials to take, and other helpful reference information, check out our advice pages.
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