5 Sleeping Bag Mistakes To Avoid Making
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
The lure of the Himalayas is unbelievable. The cascading cliffs, fleecy white peaks of snow and unadulterated mountain air are reasons enough to pull even the maddest city slicker to their folds. So anyone who has ever attempted a decent trek in the mountains will vouch for the importance of sleeping bags.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
What are sleeping bags if not essentially lightweight quilts with good insulation properties and forming a portable bedding for everyone on the mountains. They are quite possibly the lifeline of a trekker/mountaineer. “Sadly not everyone knows how to pick the right sleeping bag, use it correctly and maintain it for longevity,” frets Pranav, “the etiquette enumeration on sleeping bag begins with picking the right one.” And here trekkers make several mistakes. Choosing the wrong sleeping bag due to under or over estimation of its utility may render it as a liability, than an asset, in the mountains.
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Mistake 1: Not knowing what temperature rating your sleeping bag needs to be
You could be a trekker planning a two day hike to the nearest crest, a backpacker exploring the pretty hamlets nestled on mountain ridges in the Himalayas or a hard-core summiteer on a multi-day expedition with a vision to scale that 7000 meter formidable peak. But your insulating needs will be as different as chalk and cheese.
“Trekkers often overlook a critical aspect of sleeping bags here, it is the temperature rating, the EN rating,” elaborates Pranav.
It stands for European Norm (EN) testing protocol and is the most dependable and objective internationally accepted standard available. Here there are two sub ratings. The ratings suggest the lowest temperature at which an average person will sleep comfortably. Depending on your intended usage and the air temperatures outside your tent during the trek, you can choose the rating that fits your needs best. If this estimation is wrong you could end up feeling very cold, risking your immune system and indeed the overall outcome of the trek.
Mistake 2: Choosing the wrong insulation type
When it comes to sleeping bags one can choose between Down or Synthetic insulation. Down is considered an exceptional insulator, is light, compressible, soft, long-lasting and breathable and therefore makes carrying around much easier. Pranav is quick to point out, “On long treks every gram counts and no trekker would want to carry additional amount of weight for the same insulation.” Therefore down insulation works quite better than synthetic fills when trekking or mountaineering alpine style (all resources and material carried by one’s own self and low reliance or porters.) Down also performs well in severely cold, dry conditions.
A lot of trekkers make the mistake of saving a few bucks and opting for the cheaper synthetic.
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Synthetic insulation, usually utilising polyester is definitely less expensive than down and also dries much faster. They even insulate when wet and are a good choice for budget backpacking or low altitude damp conditions, like those around the Western Ghats but on long haul high altitude severely cold treks, down does much better.
Mistake 3: Incorrectly choosing the shape and size of a sleeping bag
“Often during the time of purchase, a lot of buyers tend to ignore the weight and shape characteristics of sleeping bags,” says Pranav, “And this can result in your night ending up uncomfortable and your sleep troubled, leaving you fatigued earlier than expected on the next day.”
It is critical to measure the shoulder and hip girth in the sleeping bag specifications information. If one chooses a bag which is too roomy, it might end up being less warm. On the other hand a tightly snug fitting sleeping bag won’t give the restless sleepers amongst you enough comfort by restricting movement within the sleeping bag.
Mistake 4: Not keeping the sleeping bag dry
This is a cardinal sin and robs you of the fluffy warmth that a good sleeping bag should provide at night. A sleeping bag can get soiled due to various reasons. “Spilling water or beverages on sleeping bags and not cleaning up can be potentially dangerous as the sweetness could attract insects and the dampness can drastically reduce insulation,” warns Pranav.
Not keeping a durable, waterproof fabric such as a mat under the sleeping bag and using it directly on the ground is also not recommended. Besides this, sleeping with dirty clothes on inside the bag and not covering your sleeping bag in a waterproof cover is also a highly undesirable habit and frowned upon by the trekking community.
Mistake 5: Not cleaning and storing the sleeping bag when not in use
What can be more annoying than a bacteria laden sleeping bag that smells like moulds? “Damp and dirty sleeping bags can attract all kinds of bacteria and fungi, causing you allergies or even infections, not to forget the unpleasant odor of dampness,” apprises Pranav. A lot of trekkers out there simply use their sleeping bags day in and day out without ever getting it dry cleaned or showing it the sun. And those who sometimes do wash it, often do not make sure the sleeping bag is completely dry which produces flat spots in the bag and reduces its thermal insulation properties. One should store it either in a hanging state in a closed moisture free closet or flat under a bed or on a rack without putting weight on it. Following these will help increase the sleeping bag’s longevity and prevents the microfibers from getting damaged, thereby retaining its lofting characteristics.
Sleeping bags are easy and light enough to be carried, robust to withstand varying degrees of cold and are usually moderately water resistant. Avoid these mistakes and they are perhaps a trekker’s best friend. Being mindful of the way we treat them and the way we choose them can go a long way in making your experience comfortable. Especially when you hit the sack after a long day of exhausting trek.
If you know of any other mistakes trekkers make with sleeping bags do mention below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.