There are a huge range of sleeping bags available, and along with your tent, having the right sleeping bag is the most crucial part of getting a good night’s sleep when camping. Yes, even more important than the airbed in my opinion! When you’re traveling with the whole family then sleep is super important, as we all know what a nightmare a cranky child is when they’ve had a restless night. No one is having fun the next day then. The number one rule of family camping should always be to have fun, so here are my tips on how to pick the right sleeping bag for you to help that happen!
Family Sleeping Bag Rating – Temperature
What kind of camping are you planning on doing and what will the temperature be for your trip? Staying in an insulated yurt or a cabin in the summer is going to be very different from an autumn tent trip on the cliff tops or a summer trip to the south of spain! Check the weather and if traveling too far in advance for an accurate forecast, have a look at the average temperatures for that time of year and area to get a rough idea. If you’re going somewhere it’s likely to be chilly then you need a warmer sleeping bag.
If you’re someone who goes camping a lot and is likely to be camping at different times of the year, then consider a three-season bag which will cover you for spring, summer and autumn – but if you’re really adventurous and going camping in the winter, you’ll still need a specific cold-weather sleeping bag.
You also want to consider your personal preference. I’m a warm sleeper and often sleep in very little and only put socks on in the dead of winter, whilst my husband tends to wear pyjamas and socks all year round (crazy!).
Once you’ve established your temperature needs, you need to look at the rating on your bag. Every sleeping bag manufacturer will provide more details for their specific bag and should give a rating and a temperature range that they’re suitable for.
Family Sleeping Bag Material
Different materials will bring different benefits, from the feel of the bag, the warmth, the ease of cleaning and how fast it dries. Sleeping bags have an outer shell and an inner filling and both need to be considered.
Down – Down sleeping bags provide the most insulation. They are warm and cosy, compress easily so can be carried in very small packages, but still fluff up well as soon as they’re unrolled. For dry environments they offer comfort and warmth – but if they get wet, they don’t hold insulation very well and can be hard to dry.
Synthetic – Synthetic bags are usually cheaper than down filled bags. They don’t compress as well, aren’t as warm and aren’t as soft and comfortable in dry conditions. However, they have much better insulation properties when wet, so are more suitable for wet or humid environments. Synthetic bags can be machine washed and dried – so can easily be cleaned, even mid camping trip if the campsite has a laundry room.
Nylon, Polyester and Taffeta – These are the three most common lining fabrics. They are synthetic fabrics which are breathable (meaning they don’t over heat) and comfortable. The highest quality of the three is taffeta, with nylon and polyester being on the more budget range.
Fleece – Fleece based linings are great for lower temperatures. They’re soft and comfortable, but could overheat in the summer. Fleece linings are usually only seen in square sleeping bags because of this, as there’s not enough airflow for people to move and cool down in a mummy sleeping bag, and the additional fleece lining is not needed.
Silk – Silk is the most expensive of the linings and is seen in mummy shape sleeping bags. It is soft, supple, comfortable, breathable and will give you a great night’s sleep, but it can be easily damaged and is hard to repair, so it doesn’t win any prizes for durability.
If you’re going on a casual camping trip with the family – especially a growing family such as children or teenagers who aren’t going to use the sleeping bag for that many trips, I’d recommend a synthetic nylon, polyester or taffeta bag. Budget friendly and very flexible for casual camping.
Family Sleeping Bag Shape
As if there wasn’t already enough to think about, sleeping bags also come in two main shapes – square or mummy.
Square Sleeping Bags – These are your standard rectangular (misleading name or what?) sleeping bag. The type you’re probably the most familiar with. Square sleeping bags come in various widths, with doubles and even kings being available for a more roomy multiple fit. They give plenty of space for your feet to move and are generally a loose fit around you, like having a blanket on you at home.
Mummy Sleeping Bags – these are tapered at the bottom so wrap you up like a mummy. The tight space means the warm air is kept inside close to your body and sleeping bags for colder climates are likely to be mummy shaped. These are excellent for keeping warm, but some people may find them constrictive or uncomfortable. Children especially who are not used to a tight blanket might find mummy sleeping bags claustrophobic, although on the other side, some like to be tucked in as tight as possible and this might offer comfort to them.
There are a few other variations of sleeping bag that are unique to certain manufacturer’s and have different pros and cons, but they’re still likely to follow either the square or mummy shapes.
Family Sleeping Bag Size
If you’re heading off camping with the family you’re going to need some different size sleeping bags. Sleeping bags tend to come in sizes for larger adults, adults, youth (teenagers), children and toddlers. You want a sleeping bag that is snug and comfortable – getting one that is too large can mean a lot of lost heat. There are even sleeping bags which can be expanded to grow with your child, making them a good value for money option as they can last through a growth spurt.
You might find that children and toddlers sleep better in with you, in which case getting a double or king size sleeping bag would be best and you can all snuggle in together. Just remember to follow safe sleeping practices at all times!
Babies and Camping
I have a 16 month old who is still in a cot. Getting a tent that will take a travel cot will make your life much easier, and traditional camping sleeping bags aren’t suitable for infants. If a full size travel cot is too large for your tent, consider a small travel bassinet. The down side is the smaller the cot, the easier it is to climb out of for adventurous toddlers, so you’ll want to pay attention to security too!
Setting up the tent with our toddler chilling out!
You’re most likely already using a sleeping sack or sleeping bag for babies on a daily basis as the current guidelines are to limit blankets for infants. You’ll need to increase the tog of the sleeping bag and keep temperatures firmly in mind. You’ll really only want to go camping with an infant in warmer climates and the younger the child, the more susceptible they are to both the cold and to overheating. Having a cot in the tent will give you the best safety and peace of mind, but remember I’m in no way equipped to offer medical advice, so I’d have a word with your health visitor about camping with your child and the best way for them to dress and sleep and always follow up to date safe sleeping practices.
I hope that this guide has helped ease you into the world of sleeping bags and has helped you think about what the best sleeping bag for each member of your family would be!