There is much debate whether you need a sleeping bag or a liner during the summer on the Camino de Santiago. Here I want to look at both side of that argument and help you how to choose a sleeping bag or liner; then which one and do you need it treated against bed bugs.
There are three other posts in this series:
- Choosing a Rucksack
- Choosing Rainwear
- What Footwear, boots or shoes?
- (My Packing List)
- (and what is the best camera for the Camino)
I have always used a sleeping bag on each of my Caminos to Santiago and I have only walked in the hot weather of July, August, and September, in both France and Spain on the Camino Frances and the Via Podiensis. Each time I walked it was very hot, some days in the high 30’s Celsius, (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). However, when in the mountains I was cold even in the height of summer and I was happy to have my bag. That said, a lot has changed since my first Camino in 2005; many more albergues now supply bedsheets and blankets. My last reason for using a sleeping bag is that I like some weight over my body while sleeping – maybe growing up in Scotland has me conditioned to sleeping with more than a sheet over me at night.
Shape of Sleeping Bag
There are two main shapes used for a sleeping bag; the mummy and the rectangle, (there are some slight variations on these). In colder weather the mummy bag is certainly the best as it is designed with maximum thermal efficiency, they are also usually lighter due to being slightly smaller – an important consideration on the Camino de Santiago where you want to keep your backpack as light as possible.
The rectangle sleeping bag is my favorite. I find mummy bags too restrictive while sleeping or trying to get to sleep – though after walking all day falling asleep was never an issue. Normally these bags can open up and be used as a blanket or like a duvet. (For couples walking the Camino you can also buy rectangle bags that zip two bags together)
Each of the sleeping bags types can have various extra features like a hood, a tape that covers the zip for better insulation, a stash pocket, and even loops to hold a sleeping mat – though you will not need a sleeping mat on the Camino.
Sleeping bag generally come in standard and long lengths, though this is changing all the time and more variation is available. If you are small maybe consider a children’s sleeping bag, but beware of the insulation as often children’s bags are not as thermally effective as adult bags.
Synthetic or Down Sleeping Bag?
Down sleeping bag have two type of construction: box baffle and sewn through.
The Box Baffle construction is simply bags sewn between in outer shell and the inner liner. Sewn Through bags stitch the shell and liner together. The box method leaves no possible cold spots on the sleeping bag, where that can happen in sewn through bags.
The advantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:
- Can last up to 25 years
- They don’t lose their thermal efficiency over time
- Easy to compress
- They take longer to dry; (they are water resistant not waterproof)
- Can smell, (usually the duck down)
- More expensive
- Can be allergenic
- Care required when washing
Synthetic bags have two common constructions; layered and shingles.
Layered bags often have two separate sheets; one is stitched to the shell the other to the liner. Shingle bags are like roof tiles where the cut pieces of fabric overlap within the shell and liner. Both types are as good as each other.
The shell in both types of bag are usually made from nylon or polyester with some sort of waterproof treatment – cheaper sleeping bags are treated with a water repellent which helps stop water seep into the bag. More expensive bags have a breathable waterproof shell, which is considerable more expensive.
- Will still insulate when wet and damp
- Quick to dry
- Easy to wash
- Difficult to compress
- Each compression loses thermal efficiency
- Take more space
- Less warmth for its weight
Sleeping bag linings are made from nylon and polyester which are comfortable and let body moisture evaporate.
Within the EU there is a legal standard for the thermal efficiency of sleeping bags to ensure all manufacturers adhere to a common standard. In the US there is no legal regulation, but many manufacturers and suppliers, including REI, have started using the European EN13537 temperature rating guide. However, this is still a little opaque, as tests assume the person is sleeping on a mat and wearing full length underwear. It is also worth noting, as any married person will know, that women sleep with a slightly colder body temperature than men – and almost all bags are tested to suit men.
This problem with the rating, I believe, is only an issue if you are sleeping outside in freezing weather. Most sleeping bags fall into the following categories: summer, two season, and winter. Use your time of year on the Camino as the guide, bear in mind you will likely never sleep outside – though in the winter you may be sleeping in an unheated hostel.
Liner Instead of a Sleeping Bag
From the middle of June to about the end of August a sleeping bag liner could be enough on the Camino. There are some parts of the Camino Frances which are mountainous and can be chilly, so either bank on blankets being available or take a fleece blanket which is very light. (A survival blanket is also a possibility – they are also very light) Though you will be carrying the blanket for 30+ days to use on only two nights.
Liners come in cotton or silk; the silk ones are better quality and more comfortable against the skin.
Bedbug and Sleeping Bags and Liners
I have never encountered bedbugs on the Camino, and every story I have heard so far usually starts “someone I know…” rather than it happened to them. Taking the hyperbole down a notch, there are likely bedbugs, it would be more a surprise if there were not – given the amount of people moving in and out of hostels day after day.
You can though take steps to look after yourself regarding bedbugs. In the US and the UK, you can buy pre-treated walking gear – treated with permethrin, (interestingly you cannot buy this in Canada due to it toxicity levels…).
Permethrin can be bought as a spray and be used on your sleeping bag and rucksack – both will need a while to dry well before you set off. This spray can be used on down and synthetic sleeping bag – though I have no idea of the long term effects, if any, on the person or equipment.
In France on the Le Puy Camino many Gites, hostels, will spray your rucksack before allowing you entrance to their accommodation.
Which Sleeping Bag Would I Choose?
As stated I am not a fan of liners, though many pilgrims love them. I prefer a high quality extra light summer down sleeping bag, in the rectangle shape.
Costs: a silk liner will cost about 40 UK pounds and about 50 US dollars, a good quality light sleeping bag will be about double these prices.