We all wish our outdoor gear lasted longer. After all, a camping or trekking setup can easily cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The most undervalued item in your bag may be the one you rely on the most. It can be hard to get excited about sleeping bags when you have gadgets and gadgets galore in your bag. What if there was a way to ensure that your trusty sleeping bag is still with you on your travels ten years from now?
Sleeping bag liners are one of the most overlooked and underrated camping gear, so much so that many backpackers and campers go years without ever using one. For most, however, once they start using sleeping bag liners, there is no turning back. So what makes these unassuming items worth their weight in gold?
It adds extra insulation
Many campers tend to own just one sleeping bag and rely on it every time they go camping. They are often three-season sleeping bags, given that they have the widest temperature range. If you’re heading out in colder temperatures than your pack is designed for, a sleeping bag liner can add up to 32°C to your setup. The warmest sleeping bag liners, like this one from From the sea to the summit, can often be used as stand-alone summer sleeping bags. Consider how much warmth you need to add when buying a sleeping bag liner, because all those extra degrees come with a bit of bulk.
It helps keep your sleeping bag clean
Although it is possible to wash your sleeping bag after each trip, most of the time it is enough to open it, air it out and store it in its bag until the next time. Washing a sleeping bag takes space and time, and if you camp frequently, you just won’t want to do it. After all, you don’t wash your bedding after every night in bed, do you? But you also don’t tend to go to bed in the same state as when you climb into your sleeping bag.
After eight hours of hitting the trails, you might be covered in sweat, mud, and who knows what else. A quick wash in the stream might help, but you’ll still be far from clean. If you use a sleeping bag liner to keep your sleeping bag clean, most people choose a silk liner, like this one from western mountaineering, for its comfort, breathability and lightness. Your sleeping bag liner will protect your sleeping bag from dirt and extend its life so you don’t have to replace your gear as regularly. When you get home, throw your liner in the wash with your clothes as usual – check the label first!
It’s hygienic in cabins and hostels
Mountain huts and hostels are a mainstay for hikers and travelers around the world. Because of this, you can guarantee that the bed you’re sleeping in has been used by hundreds of hikers in the past, all in a condition similar to what you feel when you crash into it. Even if the sheets were freshly laundered, you’re still in a bed that has mileage. A sleeping bag is not only recommended, but many mountain huts in the United States insist that guests use them.
The same way your sleeping bag liner protects your sleeping bag from you, it can protect you from the bed you’re about to sleep in. It can help you avoid collecting unwanted snags – like bugs – and act as a barrier between you and other people who have used the bed in the past. Travelers will often use cotton liners, like this one from REI. Cotton liners are quite light, breathable and affordable. In warmer hostels you can just use a liner and avoid contact with the duvet.
Choose the right sleeping bag
Sleeping bag liners are usually made from cotton, silk, or a synthetic material like polyester.
Cotton liners are the cheapest on the market and are breathable and easy to wash. However, they only add a few degrees of insulation at most and they are bulkier than silk. Cotton liners tend to be preferred by budget travelers and campers, but they’re a great choice if you want an easy-to-wash liner. On the trail, they’ll soak up sweat and stains with ease, and you can’t wash them on the road and expect them to dry quickly.
Silk liners bring a touch of class and elegance to your camping setup. These feel great against your skin, breathe efficiently, are compact, and make comfortable stand-alone sleeping bags in hostels or on hot summer nights. Silk liners often cost twice the price of cotton liners – if not more – and aren’t as durable either.
Synthetic liners vary wildly from model to model, but they tend to offer the most insulation. Fleece liners can comfortably add up to 32° of extra warmth to your setup. It can turn your summer sleeping bag into a three season bag, which means you don’t have to go out and buy another kit. On the other end of the spectrum, lightweight polyester liners breathe well and keep you cool on a hot night, especially if you use them without a sleeping bag. Lightweight synthetic liners can be similar in weight and temperature to silk, but more insulated liners will be heavier and bulkier, so you won’t want to carry them around if you don’t need them.
In the same way that sleeping bags are square or mummy shaped, so are sleeping bag liners. The general rule here is that it’s best to get a liner that matches the shape of your bag. With the wrong shape liner, you may feel too restricted or with a load of fabric scraps around you. If you’re just looking for a liner to use in a hostel or cabin, a square liner will make you feel like you’re in your own bed at home.