Gear School: How We Test Sleeping Bags

Gear School: How We Test Sleeping Bags

In the interest of providing quality, informative reviews based as much as possible on a ‘real world’ use, the Gear Institute teams focus on treating field test samples like any average hiker would treat his/her gear.

For our Spring 2013 reviews of sleeping bags, that meant the Gear Institute field test teams implemented a number of testing standards to ensure fair, unbiased results in the reviews.

The sleeping bag test crew in camp

For the sake of consistency in our ‘warmth’ and ‘comfort’ ratings, all field tests used the same sleeping pads: a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite. Regardless of the insulation type or temperature rating, whether down bags or synthetic, in comfort ranges of 10 to 20 degrees or 25 to 35 degrees, this is the model of pad all testers used.

We also ensured each bag was used by at least two testers, and frequently three or four, for a good range of evaluation results. The bags were used in variety of terrain and ecosystems, from the Olympic National Park rainforests to the deserts of southern Utah. Testers slept in high alpine camps in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, in the dry mountains of Colorado and Wyoming and in the high deserts of Utah and Arizona. Each bag got used a minimal of eight nights and some were used for 12 or more.

Sophie the dog enjoying the Sea To Summit Talus

To check durability and structural design, we machine-washed each bag twice in front-loading machines using any specific manufacturer instructions/recommendations when available. Lacking other instructions, each bag was machine washed with non-detergent cleaner (specifically, Nikwax TechWash) and tumbled dried on medium heat.

Between trips, the bags were stashed in their storage bags if provided, or stacked loosely in a gear storage space/closet if no storage bag was provided. The bags were stuffed and—when a compression bag was provided—compressed as much as possible during travel time in field use.

Our testers completed standardized evaluation forms on each bag and those results were compiled and averaged to achieve the published results.