by Staff Writer
The most important part of camping is staying warm, and a sleeping bag is the key to sleeping comfortably outdoors. Whether you're enjoying a warm summer night in the back of your pickup truck or backpacking into the backcountry, understanding sleeping bag materials can help you choose the right sleeping bag for the conditions.
Down: A down sleeping bag will provide the most insulation, especially goose down. It takes up very little room when compressed and fluffs up nicely once unrolled. Good down usually has a fill rating of about 500 to 800 inches per ounce. Down sleeping bags are very soft and have a great warmth-to-weight ratio. Down sleeping bags, however, are not the best for wet or humid environments as down will not insulate when wet.
Synthetic: Synthetic-fill sleeping bags were designed to combine the qualities of down with better insulation qualities when the sleeping bag becomes wet. Although synthetic insulations don't compress as well as down insulation, they are machine washable and dryable. For summer camping and hiking, synthetic-fill sleeping bags are ideal.
Nylon, polyester, taffeta: These soft, smooth fabrics are the most popular sleeping-bag lining fabrics. They are breathable and comfortable, and they don't heat up as much as others when you're lying in the same spot for a while. Less expensive sleeping bags will use nylon or polyester linings, while taffeta is the highest quality of the three fabrics.
Fleece: Fleece and other brushed linings help you feel warmer when the temperature starts to dip. They feel very soft on the skin, but because fleece traps heat, they could be uncomfortable when you're sleeping in the same spot for a long period of time. Fleece and brushed linings are generally seen in rectangular sleeping bags where you'll have more room to shift positions.
Silk: Silk is soft, supple and breathable, and it won't overheat from trapping body warmth. Silk is often seen in very expensive mummy-style down sleeping bags. It tears more easily than other liners and is hard to repair, which can be a problem in a down sleeping bag.
Flannel or cotton: These fabrics are most often seen in rectangular sleeping bags. They are natural materials that are breathable, durable and lightweight. They are easy to clean and repair. Cotton and flannel both trap moisture and should be reserved for campouts in moderate to dry environments.
Nylon, polyester, taffeta: These are the most common materials used for mummy sleeping bags. They are the least durable of the synthetic materials and are best for car camping or general walk-in camping. Nylon, polyester and taffeta are low cost and extremely breathable fabrics. Use these for late spring, summer and early fall camping because temperatures will be moderate. The sleeping bags need to be water-proofed for damper conditions.
Ripstop: Ripstop is nylon or polyester that has heavier threads woven into the material. The heavier threads reinforce the shell, making it stronger and more resistant to both tears and moisture, while still remaining breathable. Ripstop is great for three-season camping where conditions won't be too damp.
DryClime, microfiber, gossamer micro: These are very tightly woven materials that are strong and moisture-resistant. They are softer than Ripstop, though, because they lack the heavier threads sewn into the material. Sleeping bags made of these fabrics are a great choice for three-season camping or even four-season camping, provided you're not camping in snow caves and your winter camping has ideal conditions.
DryLoft: This fabric has water-resistant abilities, but it is very breathable, making it very comfortable. It won't trap any moisture inside. You'll stay warm and dry on the inside and leave the wet and dampness on the outside of the sleeping bag. Look for DryLoft if four-season camping, backcountry camping or canoe camping is what you plan to do.