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Getting the Most from Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags are a delightfully straightforward piece of kit. You unpack them, get in and sleep. Usually. We are just spelling out here some simple points, well known to most outdoor people, about how to get the best use from your bag. These are general comments, not really aimed at extreme expeditions: if you're walking to the North Pole, we assume you're setting off with a good knowledge about your kit.

In Use

  • Shelter and Ground Insulation. We have put these first and lumped them together because both are factors outside your bag and yet they often have the biggest effect on your night's sleep. The value of shelter is obvious, even if it's just a bivvy bag. As for ground insulation you need to select it for the conditions you expect, just as you do with your sleeping bag (please don't ask us—we don't sell ground mats and there is plenty of information available).
  • Clothing & Liners. Liners will add to the warmth of your bag and help to keep it clean by protecting it from the invisible sweat and oils which come off your body. Clothing can serve the same purpose, with the huge advantage for the weight conscious that you are not adding extra weight to your load—you're already wearing your ordinary clothes, and if you're prepared to put on all your spares in cold conditions, you can increase the capabilities of your bag. Thermals or underwear are the standard minimum we advise, even for the lighter bags. Above that you can plan it to suit yourself, right up to wearing down gear inside your bag (make sure you have the width you need). Thermals or underwear are the standard minimum we advise, even for the lighter bags. But you can go a lot further and extend the performance of the bag far beyond its normal limits by wearing down clothing inside or using PHD’s Filler bag
  • Head & Feet. Further to the comments above, it is worth adding extra warmth to head and feet if you are pushing the limits of your bag, particularly if you know you are liable to cold feet. Socks and a wool hat will normally do, while down boots bring a new level of comfort in really cold conditions.
  • Start warm. Make sure you're warm when you get into your bag. Common advice, and worth following when it's possible. Of course sometimes it isn't, times when your sleeping bag is your only chance of warming up. Then you just have to pile in and shiver your way to warmth.
  • Storage inside your bag. At low temperatures that nice warm environment you create inside your sleeping bag is the ideal place to store cold-sensitive items (basically anything with batteries). And if you fill your waterbottle(s) with hot/warm water, it will not only give a quick boost to the warmth of your bag at the start of the night, it will also provide you with some unfrozen water in the morning.
  • You. You are the heat engine: your sleeping bag just stops that heat escaping too quickly. Food and liquid are needed to keep the engine working even at night, so you will be warmer in your bag if you make sure to supply the fuel for your own metabolism.

Care of your bag

  • Store it loose and dry
  • If it gets wet, dry it as soon and as thoroughly as possible
  • If it gets dirty and starts to lose insulation, clean it

More information about care and cleaning.