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Old 09-12-11, 11:55 AM   #1
Malachi292
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Advice on sleeping bags...

I'm slowly but surely putting together the equipment I need for self-supported touring. I've camped on and off for years so I'm pretty familiar with camping in general but I've never done it from a bike, which changes some things.

I was wondering what you all do for sleeping bags. The night time temperature can vary quite dramatically from one place to the next depending on the time of year, altitude, and a whole host of other factors.

So what temperature do you target for your sleeping bag? Do you have just one?
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Old 09-12-11, 12:09 PM   #2
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I have just one. It's strictly speaking a three season bag rated to about -5C, as far as I remember. I don't tour at times/altitudes that would require anything more heavy-duty than that. It's light enough to be bearable in warmish weather.
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Old 09-12-11, 01:40 PM   #3
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Get a bag rated for the coldest you can imagine, then use a liner inside it. When it's warm, you can just unzip the bag and sleep in the liner. Using variations on that you can control the temperature pretty well.


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Old 09-12-11, 02:54 PM   #4
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i believe my bag is rated to 30 degrees F most of the summer I just slept on top of it then by the time I got to to higher elevations and i would need to get inside the bag some nights I wished It was a warmer bag but that would mean heavier and bulkier
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Old 09-12-11, 03:05 PM   #5
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You might check REI. I have a Mojave rated at 15F that weighs about 2 pounds and packs down to nothing.
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Old 09-12-11, 03:05 PM   #6
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I took a bag that was rated to -5C or something like that and found it unbearably hot. I would get a lighter bag and just wear clothes to bed if it was cold. If one is expecting cooler temps it's likely you'll have some cool-weather riding gear... I have merino tights that can be either long-johns or riding pants, so it's possible to just sleep in clothes if it does get cooler than expected.
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Old 09-12-11, 03:21 PM   #7
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Don't get caught into the idea that you need to have a bag for the absolute lowest temperature you might encounter. If you try to prepare for a mini ice age hitting on tour, then you're going to end up carrying far more than you will ever possibly use.

Better is to find a bag that works comfortably for the temperatures you actually expect to encounter on a regular basis. If it gets cold, zip up your tent, put on your jacket, and if all else fails, you can be a little cold for the night.

I have two bags; a four pound 15 degree bag, and a 1.5 pound, 40 degree bag. For shorter tours, or where the weather is very predictable I don't even think about the heavier bag. In an enclosed tent, with an insulating jacket, I've never wanted for a warmer bag.

If a mini ice age does hit, the Sabertooth Tigers will get you before the cold does.
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Old 09-12-11, 03:25 PM   #8
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My summer "bag" is a flannel sheet or lightweight syn, depending on expected temps. My winter bag is 25F down, good to about 35F. Add 10 dg to whatever the bag is rated at. A liner is highly recommended to protect the bag, esp if down. And/or, use your clothing to compensate for temps below the bag's effectiveness. I've slept with my gloves on and a wool watch cap occasionally. I cut off the hoods to reduce bulk.
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Old 09-12-11, 04:39 PM   #9
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I got a 32 degree down bag, and was never cold when it was zipped up. However one thing I would think about is mummy or non-mummy. I bought mummy, and I regretted it. It's probably warmer but I like to splay my legs out when I sleep, and the mummy bag doesn't allow for that. I found it a little uncomfortable because of that. Depending on your sleeping style the mummy may suit you, or it may not. My next sleeping bag will be non-mummy for sure.
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Old 09-12-11, 04:58 PM   #10
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0'C down mummy bag , wool or fleece mummy liner(I prefer wool but it is heavy), outer rain cover. This combo can pretty much cover anything except exteme winter cold. Mix and/or add to match night time temps.
Plus always keep one of those space blankets in your gear.
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Old 09-12-11, 06:30 PM   #11
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20F bag and a flannel sheet works for me. I have both a mummy bag and a rectangular bag. I give up an extra pound for the latter, but it is more comfortable (by far). The mummy bag works just great until I hit the Rockies, then I have to climb into it...I purchased the mummy bag first and found I hated it...so it's the rectangular bag for me. My flannel sheet works for me at the lower than Rockies altitudes most of the time. I sleep on top of the bag and sometimes just on top of my thermarest...leaving the sleeping bag in its compression sack on the bike.

Last edited by Gus Riley; 09-13-11 at 08:58 AM.
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Old 09-13-11, 04:46 AM   #12
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This is my sleeping system called a MSS. You can mix and match the bags and or the bivy cover to suit the weather you expect to encounter. With the bivy you can lay down just about anywhere and stay warm and dry without a tent if need be. The whole system is quite heavy though.

http://www.tennierindustries.com/rfi-mss.html

Anyone using a military sleep system on bike?
They are quite pricey new but I got mine army surplus for $200 in the digital camo. The older woodland bags I see around for $75 to $100


Also a nice surplus item of survival surplus equipment is the lightweight military poncho and poncho liner. they can be used a number of different ways as a tent a sleeping bag or rain gear. the liner is an amazing warm blanket for its thickness.
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Old 09-13-11, 08:06 AM   #13
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Thanks to everyone for all your replies. Plenty of good ideas for me to ponder upon. Thanks.
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Old 09-13-11, 10:36 AM   #14
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Of the type I like big agnes has them , the mattress an insulated air mat,
it is the bottom of the bag , slides in a pocket, or a zip connected, to the top.

You can turn over inside the bag, rather than turning over the whole mummy cocoon .
bottom of bag insulation is compressed, by your body weight, as it is.

so insulated air mat, as the bottom, takes care of 2 things at once..
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Old 09-13-11, 11:08 AM   #15
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My Ajungilak Kompact 3 season is rated to -5C and was just about perfect for N Europe late summer/fall. Its a bit too warm for those clammy S Europe summer nights.
The big problem for cycle tourists is where you transit through many climate zones, from lowland summer to high altitude and spring/fall. One bag just isnt flexible enough.
I think some kind of modular bag system is needed but nothing too complex or zippy. Maybe a summer synthetic bag with one or two down tops that can tie on. Insulation underneath is not so useful and you should have a good matress.
My matress system includes a 3/4 inflatable and a 1/3 length foam mat. I can use the foam to sit outside and if/when the inflatable develops a leak, I still have a fall-back.
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Old 09-13-11, 12:26 PM   #16
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I also backpack, canoe camp, and car camp, so I have 4 sleeping bags. The one I carry most commonly is a 30 degree down bag (which, given that I sleep cold, is a 40 degree bag for me). On most summer nights, I don't zip it up all the way (and I tend to avoid touring in high summer). The bag only weighs a pound and collapses down to a very small package (but it also cost $300 8 years ago). If it's going to colder, I take a 20 degree down bag, which ends up being much bulkier because it wasn't so expensive.
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Old 09-13-11, 12:44 PM   #17
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Add another tip.
If you are not using a tent, just the bivy sack, really scrutinize your sleeping spot.
Make sure there are no ant nests nearby!!!!
I flopped down in southern Illinois at dusk, woke up about 2am being chewed to bits by some large ants. spent the rest of the night under a picnic table gazebo rubbing zinc oxide over all the nasty formic acid wounds.
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Old 09-13-11, 01:41 PM   #18
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Make sure there are no ant nests nearby!!!!
The bivy works great in conjunction with a hammock and the ants have a bit harder time walking down the line to get you. When I first got the MSS I tried it out in a hammock around zero F and found it as warm as toast using the full system. After about 3 hours my back side was feeling cool from the compression of the insulation. I added my cheep walmart foam pad inside the hammock and that did the trick. The next day I trimmed the pad to a shape that tapered to fit the hammock and it still works fine as a ground pad. I was never a fan of mummy bags and never thought I could sleep in a hammock and I surprised myself two fold at how well the two work together. These hammocks squeeze and support so well you don’t feel the need to toss and turn. The same rain fly I use with my tent works with the hammock top line when I want to use it. There are not trees every place you go so if you didn’t want to pack a tent and go hammock and bivy you would have to pick your site careful. and rig the rain fly as a tent. The weight offset of the tent would more than outweigh the MSS and hammock. The hammock is really light and a rope always come in handy. I rig mine with one rope and run it to the other tree as a top line. That way if you need a length of climbing rope it's all one piece.

In warm weather I have used the bag as a base and just kept the bivy on top it's not the softest of sheets but works well enough.

This type sleep system comes with two stuff sacks and the small one works with any two of the three parts. So if you are packing light and its summer take the light bag and the Bivy. If it’s a chance of cold and a tent is going along forget the bivy cover and take both bags.
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Old 09-13-11, 03:22 PM   #19
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Just FYI, it's really hard to pin down which bag to get and those numbers you're quoting are the survival numbers.

a)Spending a night at -5 in a -5 bag is not fun.
b)Type of ground, ground pad and tent have an impact.
c)Bag's insulation material has an impact depending on type of climate.

Generally you'll want down since it can pack really small and is light, but if you're in a wet climate it can take days to dry.

Read more here
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Old 09-14-11, 05:28 AM   #20
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Just FYI, it's really hard to pin down which bag to get and those numbers you're quoting are the survival numbers.

a)Spending a night at -5 in a -5 bag is not fun.
b)Type of ground, ground pad and tent have an impact.
c)Bag's insulation material has an impact depending on type of climate.

Generally you'll want down since it can pack really small and is light, but if you're in a wet climate it can take days to dry.

Read more here
I totally agree with the above. There are so many factors that go into warmth and comfort. Just like wind and moisture compute into a chill factor we have all grown familiar into trusting in the weather reports, likewise they effect a sleep systems warmth as do what you wear inside the system. Each of us also has a different ability to produce heat at rest. Being inside a tent raises the rating a good deal, two people in the tent even more tent quality and ground pad quality even more.

Then to make matters more confusing there doesn’t seem to be a universal system of rating a bag and downgrading the rating due to getting moisture into the system. The US military does have some strict requirements on survival equipment and I feel good trusting what they say but really don’t know how to compare those specs to high quality outfitters specs.

When I store my system I don’t store it compressed, (not sure what others do) I have a large white canvas Navy laundry bag that allows it to expand at least 5 times the size and breath. When I bought it surplus it was all packed down and took a little time in a cool dryer to get its fluff back.

Two other points not mentioned yet is zipper quality and the flaps that block heat loss out the zipper or wind coming in, and also is there extra insulation in the foot box area. Feet normally are the first thing to get cold.
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Old 09-14-11, 08:09 AM   #21
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Personally I carry a a North face three season 15 degree down filled mummy bag.(2.14 lbs) I do a fair amount of fringe camping around where I live in Minnesota. As you might guess it can get cold here, it's not unusual to wake up with all your gear covered in frost. What I found that helps the most is a good sleeping mat to keep you off the ground. I carry an Exped self inflated mat(approx 18 oz.), it rolls up to about the size of a Nalgene water bottle for storage. These 2 things combined make my nights in a tent much more comfortable then before I had them. Also the mat is great if your a side sleeper!
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Old 09-14-11, 10:30 AM   #22
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We've use bags rated at 15 and 20 degrees. I would not want anything less warm.
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Old 09-14-11, 02:22 PM   #23
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It depends on whether you "sleep cold" or "sleep warm". I sleep cold, so I have to use a warmer sleeping bag.

Having said that, you can wear extra clothes to bed. If it's cold, wear some socks; they have to be clean socks though, the ones you wore all day are not dry enough. I wear a Headsweats (R) light beanie, it really does keep me warm. I sometimes wear a polypropylene balaclava. Backpackers carry down sleeping hats for cold weather. They are tiny and light compared to other garments.

I am a big advocate of polyester fiber-filled clothes instead of fleece: way better warmth-to-weight ratio than polyester fleece. If you have a way cold night, sleep in your fiber-filled sweater and you will be warm and happy.
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Old 09-14-11, 05:24 PM   #24
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Thank you again for all the replies.

To be clear, my question is not on what to take to deal with the cold, rather it's how do you deal with the wide range of night time temperatures you can encounter over the course of a tour.

I really like the idea of the liner along with the sleeping bag. I think that pretty well covers the bases.

Now the question is, assuming a mummy sleeping bag, what liner and of what material? Any suggestions? Certainly not cotton. Fleece probably works well. I see there's also silk liners, though they're much more expensive.
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Old 09-14-11, 05:41 PM   #25
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IMHO, silk is the way to go.
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