Updated: Jan 24, 2019
As mentioned in Part One, in my humble opinion there are a couple of considerations that are consistent when camping off the bike…
Things to consider when camping off the bike :
Fit for purpose – does it do what it is supposed to do?
Cost – can you afford it? If you spend a lot will you get the use out of it and therefore value for money?
Volume / Weight – can you carry it?
So you have decided that you will be camping. You have the shelter and you have a sleeping mat underneath your sleeping bag. Now you need to decide what sleeping bag to use. There are two main categories of sleeping bag – synthetic or down. Each has it’s own advantages, but on this a little later…
Sleeping Bags - Key Features :
Temperature Rating :
Unlike sleeping pads sleeping bags do not have an R-rating, but they can usually be found with a temperature rating, either on the stuff sack or on a label attached to the bag. The ratings applied to a sleeping bag have either been estimated by the manufacturer; using experience and knowledge of construction, build quality and materials. Or, the higher quality brands usually, have field tested the sleeping bag in controlled conditions to provide accurate temperature values to the consumer.
In the example above this would be found on the stuff sack of the sleeping bag in most cases. This bag would be comfortable down to 5oC / 41oF, but could also be used down to 0oC / 32oF. However, this would be at the lowest range of expected use. If there were extreme conditions, where this bag could be used to save a persons life, it has been tested to provide some relief down to -15oC / 5oF.
Obviously the lower the range of use the greater the insulation and warmth provided by the sleeping bag in colder conditions.
Weight / Volume :
Sleeping bags can provide great warmth, but this can come at the cost of volume, possibly more so than weight. Sleeping bags can weigh next to nothing, a few hundred grams, but will they meet the purpose you intend and the conditions you experience? Once you are cold overnight it can be extremely uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous if riding a motorcycle (or hiking) when extremely cold and having a lack of attention / focus.
How long do you want the bag? When you get in are you totally covered? Does the hood / top extend far enough or too far? When extended do you touch the inside of the tent / shelter?
Can your shoulders fit in the bag? When you roll over in the bag do you roll easily or do you get scrunched up and twisted? When testing in a shop – get the bag out of the stuff sack and get into it, fully clothed. (Be considerate and take your shoes off). Test to see if you can roll over in the bag. If this is possible fully clothed it will work in the tent.
Cold sleeper / warm sleeper :
Choose a bag that suits you individually, you don’t want to be too cold or too hot to sleep.
As well the fill of the sleeping bag one should consider the material used for the bag itself. It must allow for moisture vapour from the body (perspiration) to pass through as well as feeling good next to the skin.
Hood and collar :
A lot of heat is lost through the head, so having a hood that is both roomy and fitted will significantly increase the warmth of the bag. In many sleeping bags there is also a neck yoke (collar) that can also be utilized to tighten the bag around the shoulders and neck reducing the loss of heat. Though be aware this can be quite disconcerting when first used and one is unable to immediately undo the neck when half asleep…..
Some bags have a footbox that allows for normal foot positions while asleep. Feet can crush the insulation so a footbox allows for a more natural foot position and helps keep the “tootsie’s” warmer.
Zipper and Draft Tube :
Do you know which side of the sleeping bag you prefer your zip to be? Righties generally prefer a left-hand opening bag, and vice versa. A draft tube is the name of the insulated tube that runs behind the zip preventing heat loss through the zip, or a draft coming in. It is surprising how a cool draft along the spine can ruin a decent nights sleep.
Types of sleeping bags :
Synthetic bags :
As the name suggests, are made from synthetic fibres, usually a polyester thread. There are a range of different fibres available and these provide a range of quality and costs to the consumer.
✔ What’s good?
Easy to clean
Retains heat when wet
✖ What’s not so good?
The loft (fill) can wear out over time
Down bags :
These are filled with the small undercoating feathers from geese, duck or other water birds. The cost of the down filled bag will vary depending on the quality of the down used to fill them, not all down is the same. So if you do consider the purchase of a down filled bag compare like with like.
✔ What’s good?
✖ What’s not so good?
Can be expensive
Not as easy to clean
Does not retain heat when wet
Takes longer to dry
It is important to ensure the down sleeping bag remains dry, as once wet it provides very little warmth and this can have a drastic impact in poor conditions. But providing the sleeping bag is in a waterproof stuff sack and then inside a pannier (on the motorbike), unless you drown the bike in a river crossing or leave the sleeping bag out in the rain, you should be “good to go”.
Often one is asked “what is the best product?” This is hard to answer specifically as every person is different. The simplest answer is the product that meets your needs, your budget and your adventure. If you can tick all three boxes I reckon you would have what you are looking for…. Good luck!