The Basics

What the outdoor retailer offers is personal expertise which is something the web cannot deliver. In a world awash with product and competing claims, the informed sales person comes into his or her own. On these pages and in concert with individual sponsors we offer a series of bullet point guides to the basics of the key outdoor product categories. Our aim is to provide inexperienced sales staff a guide to what to remember and for more experienced ones a reminder of things they might have forgotten. The Basics has been produced so as to make it simple to download – in most cases each takes up no more than single sheet of paper.

The Basics of Sleeping Bags

We all experience comfort and warmth in different ways and this makes assisting a customer in finding the right sleeping blanket one of the trickier challenges. Until the European EN135367 standard was introduced, it was normal practice to describe sleeping bags in terms of a seasonal rating. Although the new code has standardised things, most customers still find it easier to comprehend the differences if described in the original way.

1 Season: A lightweight bag suited to summer use when the temperature outside is unlike to fall below 5 degrees
2 Season: Better suited for use in the spring and autumn, which whilst not hot means the user is unlikely to encounter severe frosts conditions
3 Season: Will handle cold nights and frost down to -5. Beyond that the user might start to feel uncomfortable
4 Season: Comfortable for winter use down to minus ten and if need be a bit further.

Family Campers

When dealing with family campers in addition to warmth, the feel of the bag is likely to be more an issue than say, pack size (how well/ small the bag packs down to) or weight.  Ascertaining when the family expect to be using the sleeping bags (high summer for example) will allow you to advise them on the right choice. Families will prefer bags that do not require special care and which are easily machine washable.

Hikers/Adventure Travellers

Weight and packing down size are important here and the good sales person will know to question users closely about what kind of climate they anticipate using the bag in. Hard wearing materials and the quality of zips are things to highlight.

Mountaineering/Cold Weather

Clearly the requirement here is how warm the bag is and how small it will pack down to. The user will, in these circumstances need to understand the benefits of one type of filling over another.


The critical element in the construction of sleeping bags is what they are filled with. The choice between synthetic and natural down bags come down to a combination of personal preference and performance characteristics.


Down is the term used to describe the fine feathers between the skins of a bird, in this case ducks and geese, and the outer feathers we can see. Duck down costs less than goose down, but goose down provides better insulation. Not all down is the same quality and can vary with the age of the bird. The younger the bird, the poorer the quality of the down. This is usually reflected in the price of the product. 
The advantage of Down is that it is very a warm, especially when compared to its low weight and easy compression. Its disadvantages are that it performs very badly when wet, it does not breathe and it requires more care if it is to keep its performance characteristics.

Synthetic Insulation

As the description implies synthetics are manmade to mimic the qualities of natural down. The result is a warm insulating material which is both durable and soft. As with Down there are varying qualities but as a rough rule the more you pay the softer and more natural the product will feel, buying a branded insulation usually means that the product has been tested over many years to make sure it will keep its heat retaining structure and performance.

The advantages of synthetics are that they allow heat to circulate and moisture to evaporate far better than the natural product, and they are not as badly affected by being wet as they still retain their insulating structure.  If they do get wet in the field they are a lot easy to dry out.  Synthetic filled products require less care and can be cheaper. The disadvantage is that they tend to be bulkier.

For more information visit:

Download PDF