Spring Gear: Sleep Systems


Whether you’re taking a siesta or snoozing all night, your sleep system can make or break an extended foray into the outdoors. Warmth, versatility, comfort, ease-of-use, and overall functionality requirements will be different for base-camping in the mountains or breaking camp in the tropics, but examining some extreme options might help you find a system that covers all those bases.

Questions to ask before you buy:

How important is your system’s weight? a) not b) moderately c) very
In how many seasons do you want to use this system? a) all of them b) three c) two
Are you typically hot or cold while sleeping? a) cold b) neither c) hot


Down vs. synthetic is one of the first considerations for picking a sleeping bag, but, with advantages and disadvantages to both, it’s not always an easy choice. Down tends to be lighter and pack tighter, but also costs more and doesn’t insulate if it gets wet. Synthetic bags-normally high-lofting polyester-blended fibers-are much more affordable and easier to care for than down bags. They will insulate when wet, but are typically heavier, and their insulating ability breaks down over time.

Beyond the standard options-rectangular or mummy-when it comes to shape, women’s-specific sleeping bags are often shorter in length, wider through the hip, and narrower through the shoulder than unisex or standard bags. A closer fit means less bag to carry and also less air to warm inside the bag itself, but, especially when car camping makes weight-savings passe, some campers prefer a roomier bag or even a bag that sleeps two soundly.

As sleep system technology advances, innovative cribs have gained credibility. Where all-weather hammocks and double-wide bags once elicited curious stares, they’ve created niches. And, as the camping public continues to grow, so too will options and design specs that add versatility, style, and comfort.

There’s no such thing as an all-arounder when it comes to sleep systems, but you can add or remove made-to-match options such as liners, sleeping pads, bivy sacs, and even sheets or pillows to optimize weight or warmth for conditions as varied as a tropical night or a mid-winter Alaskan dawn. Some systems that require matching pieces can add unnecessarily repetitive features and weight-or demand higher prices for proprietary replacement parts-so con-sider accessories and upgrade options along with price-point and versatility as you shop.

Temperature rating
Fit, draft protection, size, insulation material, and density all play a part in the expected temperatures in which a sleep system will be comfortable. Warmth usually equates to increased weight and cost, so narrowing down the conditions in which you realistically expect to camp can help you choose the right bag for your needs. Keep in mind that temperature ratings aren’t standard and that liners, layering, your bag’s age, how you store it, and even your metabolism play a part in a warm night’s sleep.

Therm-a-Rest Alpine Down Blanket

Therm-a-Rest Alpine 2°C (35°F) Down Fitted Sheet, and Mattress Blanket
Therm-a-rest merges their proven sleeping pads with a system of sheets and blankets that drops unnecessary weight due to zippers and under-you insulation, and takes advantage of your sleeping pad’s inherent warmth and the footloose comfort of a blanket-style bed. The combo 700-fill goose down blanket, 1 lb., 5 oz.; polyester sheet, 6 oz.; and compatible mattresses ranging from ultralight to ultra-luxe, offer 3-season warmth and 5-star sleeping comfort. (from $200; cascadedesigns.com)

MegaFlip 35/50 - Titanium

Mountain Hardwear MegaFlip 35°/50°
There’s room for two in this semi-rectangular doublewide sleepsack that flips over to offer insulated coverage for variable conditions-one side is rated for 35-degree temps and the other, for 45. Full-length zippers allow for opposite side venting, two interior chest pockets store accessories, and super-compressible synthetic fill packs this two-in-one bag into a relatively compact 9-inch, 5 lb., 3 oz., package. ($175; mountainhardwear.com)

Brooks Elephant

Brooks-Range Mountaineering Elephant Foot
The key to saving weight is carrying multi-purpose gear, right? That’s the theory behind this 3/4-length bottom-half bag system that pairs with your upper-body insulating layer-like a down jacket or anorak-for full-body insulation. High-quality goose down is light (15 oz.), compressible, and rated to alpine temps down to 15 degrees. ($250; brooks-range.com)

Big Agnes Bag

Big Agnes Slavonia 30° bag and Dual Core sleeping pad
The shtick: Your insulated pad slips into the bottom pocket of any Big Agnes bag, ensuring you won’t roll off your mat and also eliminating weight by foregoing unnecessary fill between you and the mat. The real news: a 97-percent-recycled fill insulates every Big Agnes Classic Women’s Series synthetic bag. ($130, $90; bigagnes.com)


ENO OneLink DoubleNest Sleeping System

Fit for two, this 4 lb., 8 oz., bug- and rain-proof swinging system includes a woven nylon hammock, a rip-stop rain-proof DryFly, and a no-see-um-proof bug net for a sleep system that’s made for tropical temps and soggy campsites. Add-on options include a below-the net quilt that, along with your own sleeping bag, make this system appropriate for cooler temps, too. Trees not included. ($210; eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com)

Last modified: June 24, 2013

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