First off, why choose a women’s sleeping bag at all? Aren’t they just the same as the men’s bags but in a softer, more feminine color? Well, hopefully not, and any outdoor gear manufacturer who tries to sell sleeping bags to today’s female climbers, mountaineers, campers and walkers better be prepared to make it highly functional as well as easy on the eye.
Sleeping bags designed specifically for women are usually smaller and slightly differently shaped. One average, women are 5 inches shorter than men, and that’s true of sleeping bags as well. Women’s bags also tend to be wider across the hips and sometimes narrower across the shoulders and at the mouth of the bag. Lower overall volume means lower weight, and while that is a fantastic bonus for anyone who plans to carry their bag long distances, it’s not the only reason to pick a bag that closely mirrors your size. A small person in a big sleeping bag has a lot of cold air to heat up before the bag starts to feel warm and cozy. A smaller bag will warm up much faster.
Of course, a sleeping bag that is too small is no good either. The fill will compress and lose insulating power especially if it’s a natural material like duck or goose down, and a tight fit can be uncomfortable. Before deciding to go for a female-specific bag, take a good look at the measurements. Whether you buy in a store or online, hop in and try a new sleeping bag for size before taking it outdoors. If you have ordered a sleeping bag over the internet and it’s not quite right, don’t put up with it- return it ASAP.
Some women’s sleeping bags also have extra fill across the hip area. Women’s hip bones tend to be more prominent than men’s, and many of us find that sleeping on a thin mat means sore hip-bones in the morning. The point of bone also pokes into the sleeping mat and gets close to the ground, creating a cold point. A little extra padding can go a long way toward increasing comfort if you tend to sleep on your side. A sleeping mat designed to be used by women can also help.
A few bags, like the Mountain Hardwear Women’s Lamina, have extra fill in the foot box too. It’s a generalization but women do tend to feel the cold more than men, and a good sleeping bag should reflect that. If you know you feel the cold more than most, don’t pay too much attention to the rating the manufacturer gives. Your own personal comfort level could easily be 3 degrees warmer. It’s better to hand over a little more money and carry a little more weight than freeze your ass off on a mountainside, get no sleep, and be so tired you can’t enjoy the awesome climbing or hiking the next day.
So, women’s sleeping bags aren’t just smaller and they’re certainly not just unisex bags in pretty colours. Plenty of thought has gone into the best ones, and for most ladies there are some very good reasons to pick a bag designed for the female form. Any good outdoor shop should carry at least a couple of women’s models- try them out and you just might notice a real difference.
Jess Spate works for Appalachian Outdoors, where you can find a bunch of high quality sleeping bags for men, women, and kids. She tends to feel the cold in winter, so carries a -10C bag when it’s only -5C out.