A Guide to Selecting a Sleeping Bag - campingaustralia.com.au

Choosing the Perfect Sleeping Bag for Your Camping Needs

Written by: Lachlan Barnes



Time to read 7 min

Three things are crucial to a good night’s sleep: shelter from the elements, a sleeping mat and a good sleeping bag to keep you warm.

When it comes to selecting a sleeping bag, the vast array of options can be confusing. However, understanding the intended use of your sleeping bag makes narrowing down the selection much easier. For instance, if you’re planning to climb Mt. Everest, you’ll need a top-of-the-range goose-down sleeping bag. Conversely, if your plans involve a bit of fishing in northern Australia, a lightweight bag to keep you comfortable at night will suffice.

It’s important to realize that no sleeping bag can cover every sleeping scenario. Selecting a sleeping bag involves compromise. If you enjoy snow camping in the High Country during winter and bushwalking in the middle of the Australian summer, you’ll likely need two different sleeping bags to stay comfortable in both situations. However, if you don’t plan to camp in extremely cold conditions, you can opt for a good all-round sleeping bag that will keep you comfortable most of the year. With an all-round sleeping bag, you might have to make some compromises in temperature extremes. For example, in winter, you might need to wear extra clothing, and in summer, you might need to unzip the bag and use it as a doona.

Several crucial factors affect a sleeping bag’s performance:

The Type of Insulation

Type of sleeping bag insultation

Down Fills

The type and amount of insulation in a sleeping bag is arguably the most crucial factor in determining its warmth. Down insulation, particularly goose down, is widely considered the best for sleeping bags. Goose down is generally superior to duck down due to its higher lofting ability, which means it expands more to trap warm air. The quality of down is rated by its fill power – the higher the number, the better the insulation. Down insulation is extremely light, warm, and packs smaller than any other material, making it ideal for backpackers and those needing efficient packing.

However, down has a few disadvantages. It loses its insulating properties when wet and can be quite expensive. Despite this, with proper care and handling (and if you’re not engaging in activities where your gear is likely to get wet), down sleeping bags can last a very long time, making them a worthy investment.

Synthetic Fills

 Synthetic fills, usually made from polyester, are the other popular insulation material for sleeping bags. While synthetic technology is continually improving, synthetic fills still do not offer the same weight-to-warmth ratio as down. However, they have a significant advantage: synthetic sleeping bags retain their insulating properties even when damp, making them more reliable in wet conditions. Additionally, synthetic sleeping bags are much more affordable than their down counterparts, though they may not last as long as a well-cared-for down bag.

Sleeping Bag Construction

The construction of a sleeping bag is another crucial factor to consider. Top-of-the-range down sleeping bags often feature complex baffle structures designed to keep the down insulation evenly distributed, ensuring warmth where you need it most. Many high-quality sleeping bags also incorporate special barriers that reflect radiant heat back toward your body, enhancing their thermal efficiency.

In addition, many sleeping bags come with water-resistant outer shell fabrics. These shells can add to the overall warmth of the bag and provide some protection if you prefer sleeping under the stars. However, it’s important to note that while these water-resistant fabrics can handle light rain, they are not seam-sealed and won't keep you dry in heavy or sustained rainfall. Therefore, if you expect to encounter wet conditions, it’s advisable to use a tent or a waterproof bivy sack in conjunction with your sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Shapes

Sleeping Bag Shapes

The shape of a sleeping bag is another significant determinant of warmth and comfort. There are three main shapes to consider: mummy, tapered rectangular, and rectangular.

  • Mummy-Shaped Bags : These are the most efficient in terms of heat retention, as they minimize dead space that your body needs to heat. They are narrow and form-fitting, which helps conserve body heat. However, mummy-shaped bags offer limited wiggle room, which some people might find restrictive.
  • Tapered Rectangular Bags : These offer a compromise between mummy and rectangular shapes. They provide more space around the shoulders and narrow down towards the feet, balancing comfort and warmth efficiency. This shape is often preferred by those who find mummy bags too restrictive but still want better heat retention than rectangular bags.
  • Rectangular-Shaped Bags : These provide the most space to move around, often making them more comfortable for many sleepers. They are ideal for those who prioritize comfort and do not need the maximum heat retention that mummy bags offer.

Zips also play a crucial role in a sleeping bag’s versatility and warmth. Some of the lightest and warmest bags forego full-length (or any) zips to maximize insulation. However, having zips increases the bag's versatility, allowing you to adjust ventilation. Full-length or half zips let you vent the bag when you’re too warm, a common scenario in Australia's diverse climate. This adaptability makes zipped sleeping bags a practical choice for varying weather conditions.

Individual Warmth Needs

People vary significantly in how 'warm' or 'cold' they sleep. Generally, women tend to need a warmer sleeping bag due to having less body mass, but many men are also 'cold' sleepers. To accommodate these differences, women's sleeping bags often have extra down or insulation to provide additional warmth. Additionally, most sleeping bags come in women’s sizes, which are shorter, eliminating unnecessary dead space at the bottom of the bag that would otherwise need to be heated. This design ensures better thermal efficiency and comfort for those who sleep colder.

Understanding Warmth Ratings

In Australia, sleeping bags are often given warmth ratings, but it's essential to take these with a pinch of salt as everyone sleeps differently. It's also crucial to understand that these ratings often indicate survival rather than comfort levels. For example, if a bag is rated to -15°C, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be toasty at -15°C; rather, it means you will survive the night in those conditions. To avoid any discomfort, speak to a knowledgeable salesperson to clarify what the ratings refer to and choose a sleeping bag that suits your comfort needs. This is particularly important in Australia's varied climates, where conditions can change rapidly.

Sleeping Bag Care and Tips

A well-cared-for sleeping bag can last a very long time. There are a few simple things you can do. It’s always best to use a liner; to keep the bag clean and stop oils and dirt from damaging the insulation. Sleeping with a liner (silk or silk-cotton blends are best) will also keep you a bit warmer.

Try to avoid washing a down sleeping bag, as it will degrade the down. If you do decide to wash it, follow the care instructions carefully and use an appropriate detergent (or get it cleaned professionally).

Finally, don’t store your sleeping bag compressed in its stuff sack. Keeping the bag compressed is bad for the down and will affect its ability to loft. Most good quality sleeping bags will come with two storage sacks – one a stuff sack and the other a large cotton bag for storing uncompressed at home in a cupboard.


Selecting the right sleeping bag is essential for ensuring a good night's sleep while camping in Australia’s diverse and often unpredictable outdoor environments. Whether you opt for a high-end down sleeping bag or a more affordable synthetic option, understanding your specific needs and the conditions you'll be facing is key.

Down sleeping bags offer unparalleled weight-for-warmth ratios, excellent packability, and long-term durability, making them a worthwhile investment for serious campers and backpackers. On the other hand, synthetic sleeping bags provide reliable warmth at a fraction of the cost and maintain their insulating properties even when damp, making them a practical choice for those on a budget or camping in wetter conditions.

Additionally, consider factors such as the shape of the sleeping bag, the type of insulation, and the warmth rating to ensure you’re adequately prepared for your adventures. Remember that no single sleeping bag can cover all scenarios perfectly, so it’s crucial to match your gear to your specific activities and environments.

By taking the time to choose the right sleeping bag, you'll enhance your camping experience, ensuring comfort and warmth no matter where your adventures take you. Whether you're embarking on a summer bushwalk or a winter expedition, the right sleeping bag will be your trusty companion, helping you enjoy the great Australian outdoors to the fullest.

As a general guide for down sleeping bags, if you are planning on going above the snowline in Australia, look for a sleeping bag with a minimum of 650 to 700 grams of down. If you are looking for a good all-round sleeping bag for south-eastern Australia, look for something in a semi-rectangular shape, with full-length zips and around 500 grams of down. The full length zips mean that you can open it right out during the warmer months, while when it’s a bit colder you can always put on a few extra layers of clothing inside the bag. If you are only planning on camping in warm climates, you can probably get away with 350 grams of down.

Finally, don’t forget that any sleeping bag needs to be teamed with a sleeping mat to insulate you from the ground. Even the best sleeping bag will struggle to keep you warm if you’re sleeping directly on the ground.

Camping Australia carry a large range of Sleeping Bags and Bedding accessories to help ensure your nights camping are comfortable and enjoyable.