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Adventure Riding Sleeping Bags

Choosing the right sleeping bag for New Zealand conditions is a relatively straightforward process as the wrong options quickly rule themselves out.

Camping, tramping or Alpine Sleeping Bag?

There are three main types of sleeping bags:

Camping sleeping bags. These sleeping bags are generally designed for vehicle camping trips. The mode of transport varies but is often a large vehicle of some description therefore sleeping bag compactness is normally not the manufacturer’s priority. Mixed with the fact that comfort is a big factor the overall size of a traditional camping sleeping bag can be quite large. Additionally most traditional camping sleeping bags don't have very low temperature ratings. For these reasons a traditional camping style sleeping bag is not ideal for adventure riding in New Zealand.

Tramping sleeping bags. These sleeping bags are designed to be lightweight with a minimal packed size. Many tramping sleeping bags have a tapered or mummy style build which not only increases the ability to keep you warm, it also reduces the packed size. The temperature ratings vary with an enormous selection to find a sleeping bag that suits the type of camping you do. Tramping sleeping bags are a perfect option for adventure riding and camping in New Zealand.

Alpine sleeping bags. These sleeping bags are designed for serious users in extremely cold environments. They are designed to be both lightweight and provide excellent warmth. These are the most expensive sleeping bags on the market. They are suitable for adventure riders that venture into the colder high altitude places in New Zealand where keeping warm is paramount. Generally this type of sleeping bag is overkill for most New Zealand adventure riders.

Down vs Synthetic Sleeping Bags 

Synthetic sleeping bags do have some benefits including a lower price tag however a down filled sleeping bag is definitely the better option for adventure riding. The immediate advantage of a down filled sleeping bag is that it packs up much smaller and is much lighter than a synthetic filled sleeping bag of the same temperature rating.

When deciding between duck down or goose down fill, keep in mind that they both provide excellent insulation, warmth and pack down to about the same size. Goose clusters are generally larger than duck clusters (and typically come from older and larger birds) so as a result goose down tends to produce higher fill powers and can be slightly more durable than duck down. This is why you will often see many of the high end tramping and alpine sleeping bags using goose down.

The differences between goose down and duck down are negligible however. Both goose down and duck down are excellent fill options for an adventure riding sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings

The temperature rating of a sleeping bag indicates the lowest temperatures the sleeping bag can handle without discomfort, of putting your life in danger. The only problem is that there is no singular mandatory rating standard so many sleeping bag manufacturers will use their own rating standards. This can be confusing and in some cases misleading.

In 2005 the EN13537 standard was introduced. This is known as the European Standard. While the European Standard is optional, many of the top sleeping bag manufacturers use the European Standard. This makes life easy and helps to remove confusion.

This is the European Standard:

Upper Limit — the temperature at which a standard male can sleep without excessive perspiration. It is established with the hood and zippers open and with the arms outside of the bag.

Comfort — the temperature at which a standard female can expect to sleep comfortably in a relaxed position.

Lower Limit — the temperature at which a standard male can sleep for eight hours in a curled position without waking.

Extreme — the minimum temperature at which a standard female can remain for six hours without risk of death from hypothermia (though frostbite is still possible).

Commonly, most sleeping bag retailers will only display the Lower Limit. This is the most helpful temperature rating but if you want to look at all of the European Standard ratings, you may have to look at the sleeping bag manufacturer's website.

So with this information in hand all you really need to do is establish the lowest temperature that you will be camping in. Keep in mind that it is always better to buy a sleeping bag that will provide more warmth than you may need. It is far more pleasant to unzip your sleeping bag because you are too hot rather than have a miserable nights sleep because you are too cold.

Sleeping with Layers

Matching a sleeping bag with the correct temperature ratings is really important so you don't end up getting cold. However the lower the sleeping bag’s European Standard rating is, the bulkier and heavier the sleeping bag will be. You can however choose to sleep with layers on (which you will already be carrying on your bike) essentially meaning you can get away with buying a sleeping bag with a slightly higher European Standard rating. Commonly these would be quality thermal layers being either marino, polyester or polypropylene to provide adequate levels of extra insulation and warmth. If you find it uncomfortable sleeping with layers on, then simply ignore this option and match the European Standard ratings to the lowest temperatures you predominantly camp in.

Recommended Sleeping Bags for New Zealand

There are a number of sleeping bag manufacturers that produce a variety of good options for adventure riding in New Zealand. The two sleeping bags below are ones I have personally used for years and highly recommend.

Exped Ultralite 500

This is an excellent goose down filled sleeping bag if you are looking for a super compact option. It packs down remarkably small and weights next to nothing. The -1°C European standard lower limit rating is respectable considering its small size and weight. This is an excellent sleeping bag for 3 season tent camping or 4 season hut camping. 

Photo 1 of Adventure Riding Sleeping Bag
View Exped Ultralite 500

Exped Waterbloc 800

This is a bombproof goose down filled sleeping bag that will keep you warm in the most extreme New Zealand weather. This is one of Exped’s Waterbloc range of sleeping bags which is waterproof. The waterproof feature offers a great safeguard against the sleeping bag down getting wet therefore ensuring you will always be dry and get a good night’s sleep. The -9°C European standard lower limit rating offers excellent warmth. 

It is by far one of the best 4 season options on the market if you are camping in the High Country or you ride through the winter. It is the best sleeping bag I have owned and I've slept like a baby on many occasions where the temperature has dropped well below zero degrees Celsius.  

Photo 2 of Adventure Riding Sleeping Bag
View Exped Waterbloc 800