Svenja from bc Product Management lies warmly wrapped in her Deuter sleeping bag in a VAUDE tent.
Svenja from bc Product Management lies warmly wrapped in her Deuter sleeping bag in a VAUDE tent.

Bikepacking Sleeping Bags: Sleep Like a Mummy

There are some things to consider when buying a sleeping bag. Low weight, comfortable temperature, synthetic fibres or down. An overview of sleeping bags.

Aside from having the right camping mat, the sleeping bag is an important part of your equipment for your bikepacking tour. In this buying guide, we’ll show you how various insulation materials differ from each other, the importance of weight and what constitutes the right bikepacking sleeping bag for your needs.

Rainer and Svenja from bc ride their packed bikes along a forest path. It is sunny outside.
Rainer and Svenja from bc ride their packed bikes along a forest path. It is sunny outside.

Small, light and yet warm: Have you got high expectations for your bikepacking sleeping bag? So do we!

Christian from the bc Service Team packs up his camping mat. In the foreground is his tent, in the background is his bicycle.
Christian from the bc Service Team packs up his camping mat. In the foreground is his tent, in the background is his bicycle.

Here you can learn exactly what you need for an ideal bikepacking sleeping bag.

What Should a Sleeping Bag for Bikepacking Do?

Sleeping bags are available for every conceivable use: from van life to high mountain expeditions. We focus on sleeping bags that excel at bikepacking, but are also great for tours or camping holidays. So what makes a good sleeping bag for bikepacking?

Small Pack Size

Even with a complete bag set-up , space is limited when bikepacking. This is a particularly crucial factor if you are planning longer tours in cold and/or wet weather. The smaller the sleeping bag can be packed, the more space you have for the rest of your luggage.

Low Weight

Weight is everything for mountaineers, but for bikepacking it is not quite as important. After all, you are not bearing the load on your body, but rather on your bike. Even so, a bikepacking sleeping bag that is as light as possible affords you a big advantage: the less weight on your bike, the more fun you have. Who knows, maybe you’ll want to carry your sleeping bag around the world in your backpack.

A Suitable Temperature Range

An ultralight sleeping bag with a mini pack size is no use if you are constantly cold. The temperature range should definitely correspond to your use.

Durability

Let's face it - even with waterproof panniers, bikepacking can get pretty dirty and wet. The more often you ride in inclement weather, the more you should pay attention to the durability of your sleeping bag, even if this means accepting a somewhat higher pack size and weight.
Svenja from bc Product Management takes her sleeping bag out of her saddle bag.
Svenja from bc Product Management takes her sleeping bag out of her saddle bag.

Despite a large bag setup, space for gear is limited when bikepacking. A sleeping bag with a small pack size creates free space for additional luggage. © bc GmbH

(No) Question: Mummy or Blanket-Style Sleeping Bag

There are blanket and mummy-style sleeping bags. For outdoor applications, the mummy has decisive advantages: By leaving only a small viewing window open when needed and enclosing the head, the mummy design reduces a significant amount of heat loss through the head. For three-season or winter use and as an all-rounder, there is no way around the mummy sleeping bag. For record-chasing gram counters in the summer, the blanket sleeping bag can function as an alternative, albeit a highly-specialised one.

Down or Synthetic Fibres: A Fundamental Choice

Sleeping bags are usually filled with either down or synthetic fibres (such as Primaloft). Both insulation materials initially have the same task: to create a temperature-stable air cushion between or inside of the fibres. This air cushion insulates your body heat from ambient cold. The bigger and more stable this air cushion is, the better. That is why your sleeping bag insulates the least where you compress the filling material. You can learn more about this in the sections below:

Down

In terms of insulation performance to weight and pack size, this natural fibre is unbeatable. With the same weight and pack size, down sleeping bags are warmer than their synthetic fibre counterparts and can be packed smaller and lighter with equal insulation performance. Durable duck or even higher-quality goose down is used. The warmth of a down sleeping bag is determined by the fill amount (in grams) and the fill power (measured in CUIN: cubic inches per ounce) of the down. The same principle applies to both values: the higher, the warmer. Another indicator of quality is the ratio of down to feathers. The higher the down content, the warmer the insulation is for the same weight. Very high quality begins at upwards of 90/10 (corresponds to 90 % down, 10 % feathers). Down can absorb an extremely large amount of moisture per gram of its own weight. This ensures a very high level of comfort, as you do not feel "sweaty” while you sleep. However, down collapses when it absorbs a certain amount of moisture. As a result, it loses large parts of its insulating capacity. Perspiration, breath or condensation alone can do little to high-quality down filling, but rain is a problem in any case. Some manufacturers counter moisture sensitivity with a water-repellent finish on the down itself, similar to that used in jackets, for example. All down sleeping bags in BC’s range are filled with down that comes from animal welfare-friendly husbandry, i.e. certified with the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). With proper care, down sleeping bags last almost forever and are even more durable than those with synthetic fibre insulation.

Synthetic fibre

Most synthetic fibre insulation is made from hollow fibres, which are modelled after polar bear fur. The insulating air volume is found in the fibre itself. The synthetic fibres are mostly, but not exclusively, processed in the form of mats. A relatively new development are synthetic fibres that - similar to down - are loosely processed in chambers. Synthetic fibre sleeping bags are very durable, easy to wash, largely insensitive to moisture and still warm even when wet, which should still be avoided when possible. They are also vegan due to the absence of animal products and are usually cheaper than down sleeping bags. For temperatures far below zero degrees, however, synthetic fibre sleeping bags would only work to a limited extent. The required amount of insulation would push up their pack size to 20 litres and more.

Our Tip for "Down or Synthetic Fibres?”:
If you are looking for a minimal pack size and weight or are often travelling in sub-zero temperatures, you should opt for down. If you expect a lot of moisture, like to go without a tent or want to wash the sleeping bag regularly (often the case for children), then look first at bags with modern synthetic fibres.

Comfort, Limit, Extreme: How to Read Temperature Information Correctly

There are usually three temperature values for outdoor sleeping bags (according to EN 13537): comfort temperature, limit temperature and extreme temperature. To determine these values, standardised mannequins, which are supposed to represent an average person in Central Europe in terms of height, weight and body fat, are first heated to body temperature. In a sleeping bag, lying on an insulating mat, the heat loss is then measured in a controlled climate chamber. Why all the effort? This is because temperature sensation is totally subjective and depends on external factors such as fatigue, nutrition, humidity, wind chill and much more beyond the individual. The method of measurement should approximate as closely as possible to an average temperature sensation.

The derived values can be read as follows:

Comfort Temperature: The temperature at which a woman of average build (160 centimetres, 60 kilograms) does not freeze and can sleep comfortably.
Limit or Threshold Temperature:  The temperature at which a man of average build (173 centimetres, 70 kilograms) does not freeze and can sleep comfortably.
Extreme Temperature: The temperature at which a woman of average build (160 centimetres, 60 kilograms) can survive for at least six hours in her sleeping bag. Acute frostbite is possible.
A standard mannequin lies in a VAUDE sleeping bag in a controlled climate chamber at the VAUDE Test Centre. The heat loss of the doll is being measured.
A standard mannequin lies in a VAUDE sleeping bag in a controlled climate chamber at the VAUDE Test Centre. The heat loss of the doll is being measured.

Comfort, limit and extreme temperatures of a sleeping bag are determined under controlled conditions, like those here at VAUDE's in-house test centre. © bc GmbH

Only comfort and limit values play a role in your purchasing decision. If you tend to get cold, always rely on the comfort value. If you are less sensitive to cold, look towards the limit value. The extreme value is only relevant for expeditions and Alpine excursions, where the sleeping bag literally determines survival until the arrival of an emergency rescue team. Otherwise it doesn’t mean much.

The comfort temperature is usually reached with the hood and draft collar closed. Sleeping bags with a comfort range up to about 10 °C are called summer sleeping bags, those with a comfort range up to around 10 °C three-season sleeping bags and thick bags with comfort temperatures well into the negative degree range are noted as winter sleeping bags.

Our Tip for Determining the Right Temperature Value:
Be realistic about how you use your sleeping bag and don't buy one that’s too thick and warm out of a false sense of security. This costs not only money, pack size and weight, but also comfort since it can cause excess perspiration. It is best to buy one that suits your needs and allow for a little bit of leeway. If it does get a little colder, there are ways to "tune" sleeping bags a bit more. We elaborate more on this under the following section:

Sleeping Bag Size and Fit

In the standard measurement procedure just described, close-fitting sleeping bags have their advantages: The standard mannequin has to keep less air warm in the sleeping bag. However, you differ from an inanimate dummy in a few essential ways. One of them is that you, a sentient being, move in your sleep. If your sleeping bag is so tight that you are constantly compressing its stuffing with your extremities, you lose insulation and your comfort suffers. Basically, you should allow yourself some space in the sleeping bag. An exception are sleeping bags with stretchy seams. They move with you as you sleep and allow for a snug, weight- and warmth-optimised fit, but they can't quite keep up with other designs with conventional seams in terms of pack size.
Your sleeping bag should also be a few centimetres longer than your body height. This way you avoid compressing the foot box, which would leave you with cold feet.
If you sleep with your limbs bent or move around a lot at night, allow yourself an extra bit of space in your sleeping bag. If you are a back sleeper and don't move much, you can save on pack size and weight with a narrow cut.

Our Tip for Selecting a Size and Shape:
A slightly longer and larger sleeping bag provides an extra space for storing certain items. Consider using the space for a drink bottle that can double as hot water bottle, or for stashing a change of clothes or a device charger that functions better when it’s warmed up.

Important Features and Terms

Chambers: In down sleeping bags, the down is filled into chambers to prevent all the stuffing from accumulating around the foot area. High-quality down sleeping bags are constructed in such a way that no cold gaps can form at the seams of the individual chambers. Here the seams are not "stitched through".
Draft Collar: A draft collar can be closed like a scarf in the sleeping bag and prevents heat loss from the torso even when the sleeping bag hood is open.
Outer Material: The outer material of sleeping bags is usually a light and tightly-woven synthetic fibre which – apart from certain uses – is neither waterproof nor windproof. Otherwise you would boil in your own sweat at night. However, this also means that sleeping bags without additional weather protection such as a tent or bivy sack lose a lot of their insulating capacity. You can read more about tents and bivy sacks here.
Pinch Protection: It prevents the zipper from getting stuck on the sleeping bag material.
Stretch: Stretch seams such as those used for the Deuter Exosphere increase freedom of movement in the sleeping bag and improve the insulation to fill weight ratio.
Stuff Sack: Every sleeping bag includes a stuff or compression sack which allows you to stow the sleeping bag to save space.
Two-Way Zipper: Allows you to open the sleeping bag from the bottom and wear it as a garment or to ventilate your feet.

Tip: The Meglis series sleeping bags from VAUDE have openings for your arms, stretch seams and a two-way zip closure. You can wear it in the evening at camp like a warm down suit. The sleeping bag could even be used as a substitute for the insulation jacket in your luggage.

Svenja wears the sleeping bag from the Meglis series as an enormous coat. This is amusing both for her and for Markus from VAUDE.
Svenja wears the sleeping bag from the Meglis series as an enormous coat. This is amusing both for her and for Markus from VAUDE.

More than "just" a sleeping bag: two-way zippers and stretch materials make a sleeping bag a flexible, multi-purpose piece of equipment. © bc GmbH

Sleeping Bag and Camping Mat: Your Dream Team!

The best sleeping bag in the world is useless without a good camping mat. Areas of the sleeping bag’s insulation that are flattened by your body weight cannot keep you warm. (It needs to trap warm air, remember?) Even with a sleeping bag that’s suited for -40 degrees Celsius, you will freeze on a cool summer night on bare ground. Read here on how to find the right camping mat for bikepacking.

Tip: If you have a mat that tends to get a little warmer, you can often sleep comfortably in a bag that is a little on the “colder” side.

Handling and Care

With proper care, a sleeping bag is an extremely durable piece of equipment that you can use for a long time. However, there are a few things you should be aware of. With additional tricks, you can eke out a few more degrees in the comfort zone.

On the Road

It is best to sleep in dry (long) underwear and socks in your sleeping bag. When it gets cold, even thin gloves and a hat won't hurt. This way you can "boost" the temperature range and also ensure that you don't have to wash your sleeping bag all the time.
In very cold temperatures, you should also wear a balaclava or a tube scarf over your mouth and nose. This prevents you from rolling completely in the sleeping bag and your moisture from saturating or clumping up the down.
Sleeping bag liners (preferably made of silk, Merino wool or microfibre) not only protect the sleeping bag from dirt, but can also significantly extend the temperature range.
Air out the sleeping bag as long as possible in the morning after getting up, ideally in the sun or in a light wind, before packing it up again. This is particularly important for down sleeping bags.
Stuff the sleeping bag foot end first into its stuff sack. This is not only less stressful, faster and more space-saving than rolling it, but is especially good for down sleeping bags because you don't force the down in the chambers in one direction.
Marcel from bc Marketing stuffs his sleeping bag into its stuff sack. He is kneeling in front of the entrance of his tent.
Marcel from bc Marketing stuffs his sleeping bag into its stuff sack. He is kneeling in front of the entrance of his tent.

With simple tips and tricks you can easily extend the life of your sleeping bag. There gives you an extra dose of comfort. © bc GmbH

At Home

Air the sleeping bag thoroughly after your tour before storing it.
Do not store the sleeping bag compressed for a long period of time. High-quality (down) sleeping bags are often supplied with an air-permeable storage bag. Alternatively, you can hang your sleeping bag in your closet like a long coat.
Sleeping bags are washable. Synthetic fibre sleeping bags are a little easier to handle in this case: it is best to use a liquid detergent without fabric softener or a special detergent for insulation fibres – not a down detergent – at max. 40 degrees and then spin the sleeping bag on the lowest setting. Attention: Make sure the sleeping bag has ample space in the washing machine. A large 10-kilogram drum is ideal. The sleeping bag can then be line dried, on a drying rack or at a low temperature in a tumble dryer. 

You should wash down sleeping bags as little as possible, only when necessary. In any case, you must only wash it with a special down detergent and at max. 40 degrees Celsius. The same rules apply here as with synthetic fibre bags: large drum, plenty of space, gentle spin. Afterwards, leave the down sleeping bag to dry on a drying rack for a few hours before putting it in the dryer with a few tennis balls at max. 40 degrees until it is completely dry. The tennis balls are important because they loosen down clumps and ensure that the down fluffs up again.