Choosing a Sleeping Bag for an Adventure

If you are going on an adventure, taking part in a multi-day race or basically going on a one night jolly in the wilds somewhere, a sleeping bag is going to be an essential item.

Choosing a sleeping bag one would think is easy… Go to a shop, find one that fits into your budget, purchase and use.

The reality is, the above is far from the truth.

ASK INITIAL QUESTIONS

A good sleeping bag is not cheap and going cheap is most certainly not a good idea. So, from the off, accept that you will need to dedicate a good portion of your hard earned cash.

One sleeping bag will not work in all situations, however, if one is clever, one can make a sleeping bag adapt to other situations and therefore it is possible to increase the range of use and temperatures that a sleeping bag will work in.

Sleeping bags mainly use two fillings: Down or synthetic such as Primaloft.

  • Down: Is lighter and the weight to warmth ratio is higher. It packs smaller and can be compressed to a very tiny package if required. Down however cannot get wet. If it gets wet it all sticks together and will offer no warmth at all. Down is expensive and one should make sure that if purchasing down that it is ethically sourced.
  • Primaloft: A synthetic product, it is heavier and packs larger than down. It’s a cheaper product than down and importantly it can get wet and still retains warmth.

The first questions one should ask are:

  1. Am I using the sleeping bag in a dry or wet climate?
  2. Is the weight of the bag really important. Normally the answer here is, if you are carrying it, yes, the weight is important.
  3. Do I need the sleeping bag to pack as small as possible?
  4. Do I need the bag to work in one or more situations? Another way of looking at this is, do I need to compromise on points 1-3 to get value for money.

Ask some personal questions:

  1. Do I sleep warm?
  2. Do I like to be warm and if not warm, am I miserable?
  3. Am I prepared to be a little cold to be as light as possible?
  4. Do I need a full-length zip, half-zip or am I happy to have no zip?

Consider other factors:

  1. If you are tall, wide, have big shoulders etcetera, etcetera then some sleeping bags will just not work for you as they will be too small.
  2. If you are small/ petite an off-the-shelf sleeping bag actually could be too big for you, this is not a huge problem, but if you wanted the bag to be as small and light as possible, you could go custom made.

Sleeping bags have a ‘Comfort Rating’ as follows:

Upper limit – the highest temperature the average male can expect to have a comfortable night’s sleep at without too much sweating.

*Comfort – the temperature at which the average adult woman can expect to have a comfortable sleep. *This is the ideal for most people choosing

Lower limit – the temperature at which the average adult male can expect to have a good night’s sleep in a curled position.

Extreme – the lowest temperature at which the average adult woman can survive. This rating comes with caution and additional consideration should be given if you plan to sleep in temperatures this low.

Layering:

Irrespective of what sleeping bag you choose. Layering for me is a key consideration when choosing a sleeping bag and this is one key factor that helps make a sleeping bag stretch over a multitude of uses and temperatures. (See the image below.)

  1. Sleeping alone.
  2. Sleeping bag, T-Shirt and shorts.
  3. Sleeping bag, L/S top and long leggings.
  4. Sleeping bag, L/S top, long leggings and Jacket (down or primaloft).
  5. Sleeping bag, L/S top, long leggings, Jacket (down or primaloft) and over-trousers (down or primaloft).

Note – By wearing a hat/ Buff/ balaclava or combination of all three, you will retain a great deal of body heat – remember this!

With the above diagram, you suddenly see how one sleeping bag can cover at least 5 temperature ranges and still provide comfort.

From a personal perspective, I prefer a sleeping bag that is probably not quite warm enough as stand alone for my chosen environment. Why? 

  1. Should the weather be warm, I know my sleeping bag will be fine on it’s own and if it has a zip, I can regulate even more.
  2. I know that I can get warm by incorporating layers.

How do I know what layers I will need and what about additional weight?

The answer to the above is actually part of the process and in some ways, part of the fun of what works for you. Let’s take two scenarios, Desert and Himalayas:

Desert:

Multi-day desert races such as Marathon des Sables, require runners to carry all they need for the duration of the event. Therefore, weight is critical. However, desert temperatures can vary greatly. Some evenings can be mild and even hot. Other nights you can be blasted by wind and sand and the temperature drops to zero or below. So, the sleeping system needs to potentially cover a range of temperatures, let’s say 10 degrees. If you purchase a sleeping bag that is warm at say zero, it is going to be way too hot at 10 degrees. The sleeping bag will also be heavier and pack larger. By contrast, if you had a sleeping bag that was good for say 5 degrees, not only will it be lighter, pack smaller but importantly it will be more comfortable in warmer temperatures. You then make the bag warmer, should you need by adding layers… hat, T, shorts, longer leggings and then finally jacket. A question is often raised about the need for a jacket? I personally think it is essential – they are perfect in the morning and evening when sitting around and importantly, they are that extra important layer if you get a cold night. From my drawing sample, you would be looking at 1 to 4.

“Smart lightweight campers have been using their clothes to boost the warmth of their sleeping bags for years and climbers do it when they have to. Yet most of us are still carrying bags much bulkier and heavier than we need.” – Peter Hutchinson Designs

Himalayas:

The principal of the desert applies to the Himalayas. But obviously, one would not use the same sleeping bag. The initial starting point will be a warmer bag that is obviously heavier and larger. Also, down would almost certainly be the choice. The layering would go from 1 to 5. The reason being that daily temperatures in the Himalayas can be say, 10/15 or even 20 degrees. In the evening, depending where you are and how high you are, the temperatures can be -20. That is a huge difference and therefore you need a system that works over a huge range – this can only come from layering! Read about my Three High Passes Trek HERE

NOTE: Both of the above systems benefit greatly from a good sleeping matt that provides a layer between you and the ground. This is an essential item in my opinion. Not only does it add a barrier, it importantly adds comfort. If you are comfortable, you will sleep better. A good nights sleep means you are fresh and recovered for the next day’s challenges.

Professional explorer, Eric Larsen commented to Outside online:

“Larsen firmly believes in layering heavily in the cold, an opinion developed after years spent sleeping in subfreezing temps. “There is no such thing as a cold night’s sleep, only not enough layers,” he says. “I layer when I’m inside the bag just as much as I do while outside the bag. When you’re climbing Everest, you’re not naked under your down suit. The more heat you can preserve in a warm layer next to your body, the better.”

url https://www.outsideonline.com/2271191/how-experts-layer-sleeping-bag

PRODUCTS

Choosing a sleeping bag is something very personal and we are all individual. A 6ft 2” guy weighing 85kg is going to need something very different than a 5ft 6” woman weighing 55kg, so, keep that in mind!

You know you! It’s ok to ask for advice and recommendations, but you need to keep the points above high in your mind.

There is a general rule with sleeping bags and down jackets, the more you spend, the better they are. But there are many options out there.

Understand that when purchasing a sleeping bag that often it is possible to choose a size, just like when purchasing clothing. For example, a Yeti Passion Three or a Western Mountaineering  Summer Lite comes in M, L and XL.

MDS two time champion, Elisabet Barnes, for many years has been offering advice and a one-stop shop – myRaceKit – for all multi-day essentials and the team at their store are able to provide excellent advice on what options are available for sleeping systems. They stock products from:

Hagolfs, OMM, Nordisk, RAB, Sea to Summit, Yeti, Western Mountaineering and Lightwave.

A UK based company PHD (Peter Hutchinson Designs) takes things one step further and can custom make a sleeping bag to your exact specifications and needs. “…a footzip, which adds 10g and allows some air circulation around the feet. Zips are an option on the Minim bags, but most competitors don’t ask for one. A short zip with draft tube adds about 55gm (2oz): a full zip and tube adds about 120gm (4oz). Zips also add to the packed size.” One of the advantages of PHD is you can get exactly what you need.

A few years ago I compared PHD, OMM and YETI at the Marathon des Sables. Read HERE

CONCLUSIONS

Sleeping bags are an essential piece of equipment. Choosing the correct one can make or break an adventure. In simple terms, a good nights sleep allows you to rest and recover for the next day’s demands.

Nobody likes being too cold, especially at night, so keep this in mind and embrace the layering system.

Understand that we are all individual, what works for one, does not work for all.

Research the race and environment you are racing and check the highest and lowest temperatures. Start looking at sleeping bags with the appropriate *comfort rating and narrow down a search from here.

Remember, not two places are the same! For example, there is a huge difference in the desert/ weather say for Morocco, Atacama and the Grand to Grand in the USA.

Also understand the specifics of your adventure and what bag best suits your needs. To clarify on this, if you are going to the desert and the Himalayas, you will need two sleeping bags as the demands are very different. However, if you are going to the desert and then going back-packing in France in summer, the same sleeping bag will almost certainly work.

A sleeping matt is a no brainer when it comes to sleeping. It adds comfort and a barrier between you and the ground. For example, in the Himalayas when the ground is frozen and hard, why would you not put a barrier between you and basically a hard block of ice. 

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Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 4

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It was an active recovery day at the 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp. It was kicked off with a guided 3-hour walk through some of the islands most stunning volcano sections close to the Timanfaya National Park.

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Famous for it’s volcanic landscape, today everyone was able to appreciate up close how dramatic and tough these trails can be. Black lava sand, interspersed with jagged rocks but ultimately everyone was blown away with the dramatic and somewhat eerie vistas. In the early 1700’s, this area had six continuous years of volcanic eruptions that created this stunning landscape.

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Elinor Evans, a yoga expert undertaking Marathon des Sables for the first time in 2016 commented after the walk:

“It’s been a really special day in this environment. We have walked with our packs, covered some miles and in the process had a wonderful learning experience. It has been magical.”

It was a sentiment echoed by everyone in the camp and with 5-hours of running waiting for everyone tomorrow, the opportunity to walk today was welcome.

The evening discussion was all about food and hydration for multi-day racing and we discussed the different nutritional needs for someone who may be looking to compete, the mid-packer and the walker. Of course, it’s all very personal, but many similarities from all three scenarios crossed over providing all the participants with plenty of key and essential information that they can now take away and formulate their own strategies for their chosen race.

Tomorrow, Sunday, kicks off with a 5-hour run along a new coastal section that will involve some climbing, scrambling and of course a plethora of mixed terrain.

If you are interested in a multi-day training camp, our 2017 dates are set and you can view HERE

Many thanks to:

Raidlight, OMM, inov-8, Berghaus, PHD, MyRaceKit and Scott Running for the support with this camp.

Lanzarote Multi-Day Training Camp 2016 – Day 3

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The 2016 Lanzarote multi-day training camp really got underway today with a full day of activity. This morning was a 4-hour run or hike over some very specific terrain that provided every participant a full-on appreciation of what terrain they may encounter at a race such as Marathon des Sables.

Mitch Keene, on the training camp with his wife, said post run:

“It was great to experience the sort of terrain that we are likely to come across when we get to the real event. To understand what it is like to run in some deep sand. It was also great camaraderie on the run. It’s good to know that there is going to be people around you who are in the same sort of position as you are and learning from them. And then there is just some basic stuff like understanding that wearing very short socks is a bad idea when running in the sand. So really simple stuff that you think you know when you set off but don’t. The whole learning experience is phenomenal out here and I really enjoyed it.”

The morning session took a relatively flat run out over very mixed terrain (sand, rock, lava, dunes) in three groups. Elisabet Barnes leading the runners who are able to hold a faster and more consistent pace. Niandi Carmont leading the runners who will run and occasionally walk and then Marie-Paule Pierson leading a small group who intend to walk the whole event. Ian Corless moved from one group to the next.

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“It’s nice meeting people who actually want to talk to you while you are running. I have found it quite difficult taking up running again on my own and going to events on my own,” said Leon Clarance. “People are usually polite but today people were actually chatting about their own experiences and it was nice to meet some likeminded people.”

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At the coastal resort of Famara, everyone turned 180-deg and the re-traced along the coastline but this time taking in the small mountains and hills that back on to the sea in this area. At times rocky and technical, everyone had a real insight into the complex terrain that one may encounter in a multi-day event. At the summit, one or two runners experimented with foot care and treatment; a key element of successful multi-day competition.

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“It’s ben a real eye opener,” said Alan Guthrie. “I have been behind with my training and today I managed my longest session for some time in some very specific terrain that directly relates to my chosen event; Marathon des Sables. It’s been a tough session but I have loved every minute of it.”

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Post run stretching relaxed tired muscles and 2-hour break was followed with a talk and discussion called, ‘What goes in the Multi-Day Pack?’

And just when the runners thought it was time to relax and chill-out an ‘optional’ 20-30min shake out run fired everyone up for one last effort, making the day a very successful and tiring one. Evening drinks, relaxing chat and good food was extremely welcome. Tomorrow we have a structured group walk in the Timanfaya National Park in a series of volcanoes followed with a talk on nutrition and hydration.

Many thanks to MyRaceKit, Raidlight, OMM, PHD, inov-8, Scott Running and Berghaus for the support.

If you would like to take part in a multi-day training camp like this, dates have been set for 2017 and it’s possible to book HERE

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