Choosing the right sleeping bag for motorcycle camping is one of the most important decision to make in order to have a good nights sleep and save storage space on your bike. Ideally, we would all have a multitude of different sleeping bags, each for a specific range of temperature, and seasons. However, this is not practical, nor economical for the average camper. Therefore it is important to choose a sleeping bag with features that will maximize its usability throughout the year and in variable conditions.
Things to consider when choosing a sleeping bag
- The season will you be using the sleeping bag in.
- The filling used in the sleeping bag.
- The size and shape of the sleeping bag.
- The features of the sleeping bag.
Temperature Ratings and Sleeping Bag Liners
Getting a sleeping bag that is warm enough to use in early spring or late fall does give you versatility, but it also means you are likely to be too warm in the summer. The best way to maximize the use of your sleeping bag is to choose a temperature rating that falls in the average of those you are likely to experience, and supplement it with a sleeping bag liner when needed. For example, choosing a sleeping bag with a rating of 10°C/50°F would be a good temperature for 3-season use, but might be inadequate for fall camping where temperatures could approach freezing at night. Using a sleeping bag liner that adds an additional 10° of warmth to the rating will allow you to adapt the sleeping bag for the colder temperature. In the heat of the summer, leaving the sleeping bag open and using the liner as coverage will leave you much cooler. Temperature readings on sleeping bags are generally accurate, but also depend on the user and whether or not they tend to sleep cold or warm.
Sleeping bags make use of either synthetic materials or down feathers to provide their warmth. The type of insulation will not determine the warmth of the sleeping bag, but it will determine the size of the sleeping bag for that specific temperature rating. The reason for this is that down has a much higher warmth to weight ratio, meaning that it will be lighter and pack much smaller than a synthetic sleeping bag of the same temperature rating. Another factor to consider is that synthetic bags are much more resistant to moisture. They will still offer some insulation when wet and will dry much faster than down, which in contrast, offers almost no insulation when wet. Therefore synthetic bags are a good option for wetter climates, where rain and tent condensation is more likely. However, with proper care and attention, down bags can perform just as well in these conditions. The main issue with synthetic sleeping bags for motorcycle camping is that they do not pack down nearly as small as down bags, and thus take much more packing space on the bike. The insulating material is the biggest factor in the price of a sleeping bag, and thus down bags are generally more expensive than synthetic bags, due to their superior warmth to weight performance.
Shape and Size
Sleeping bag come in a few different shapes and sizes. The size is simply a measurement of height, in order to determine the maximum height of a person that would fit in the bag. The shape of the sleeping bag refers to the outline of the bag when flat on the ground. Traditional rectangle sleeping bags are very common but are falling out of favour in the lightweight camping community. The newer mummy style sleeping bag is gaining popularity, easily recognizable by its hood and narrower width at the legs of the bag. The advantage of the mummy style bag is that it is less baggy on the inside which helps trap body heat and also uses less material. For this reason, mummy bags pack down smaller than rectangular sleeping bags. They do not leave the user with as much room to move on the inside, which some people find less comfortable. Barrel sleeping bags are also popular, although not as much as the other types. Their shape falls between rectangular and mummy shaped bags and resemble a traditional sleeping bag that narrows slightly at the feet and head.
Zippers – Higher quality zippers and stiffer materials around the track of the zipper help prevent catching the fabric. Many sleeping bags come with the option as to which side of the bag the zipper is on, which is more important when choosing a hooded mummy style bag. Some bags can also be paired together if they have opposite sided zippers.
Water resistance – Most sleeping bags are equipped with a light water-resistant coating, which although not waterproof, will help shed some of the condensation that can accumulate in the tent.
Storage bag – Almost every sleeping bags come with some form of storage bag. For motorcycle camping, compression bags are highly recommended as they have tightening straps that can significantly reduce the size of the bag when packed. In addition, these straps can be used to secure the sleeping bag to the motorcycle. Higher quality waterproof bags are always a good investment to protect the bag from rain and damage when travelling.
There is a new type of bag that you might have overlooked. I am side sleeper, wanted a quality down filled bag to keep me warm, and pack small. Meet the NEMO Spoon shaped bag. I have had this bag and it is awesome. Even has ‘Gills’ to let out heat without the draft, lots of other features. Should check them out if a traditional mummy is too tight, but don’t want the bulk of a traditional rectangle.