The history of the sleeping bag is difficult to trace with certainty, because for as long as man has stretched out under the star-peppered sky and pondered his own existence, he has also tucked something under his head while doing so. The furthest back we seem to be able to go is to France circa 1850, when officers near the Pyrenees Mountains would each carry a wool-lined, sheepskin sack with buckles that could unfold into a bag.
Thankfully, our options for sleeping under the stars have vastly improved. Sleeping bags, air mattresses, hammocks and pads are all available to make our nocturnal commune with nature a little more comfortable. The question to ponder now becomes, which campsite sleeping option is right for you? The answer to this quandary is simple, though: It depends on the type of camper you are.
The traditional camper is willing to spend some money on a decent sleeping option, but not willing to be frivolous. He usually camps in pairs or small groups, which means the weight of the sleeper is not as particularly important for him as it would be for the backpack camper. Comfort is moderately important, as the traditionalist doesn’t want a sore back after two nights on the ground, but the duration of his camping trip is usually much shorter than that of the family camper, so a couple nights moderate comfort would be fine.
Considering these factors, the traditional camper would be best-suited for a sleeping bag and pad. They don’t cost an arm and a leg, and you will still be able to feel that arm and leg when you get up after a night’s sleep, especially if you are only roughing it for a couple nights. Also, pads and sleeping bags roll up and fold into small items and can fit easily into a packed car.
To the backpack camper, weight is everything. The minimization of weight and space trump all other factors when you plan to wear every item that you’ll need on your back. The backpacker tends to take longer camping ventures, possibly longer than either the traditionalist and the family campers, so comfort should be a close second consideration. Price-wise, she generally doesn’t mind shelling out a little more cash as long as she gets what she needs.
Considering these factors, the backpack camper would likely be happiest with a hammock as a sleeping option. They are a little more expensive than a sleeping bag and pad, but they weigh nearly nothing. Plus, the rocking motion of the hammock induces a relaxation and comfort state that hammock enthusiasts say is priceless.
The Family Camper
These brave souls are forced to bring as many home luxuries with them as possible to try to keep the little ones from executing full-blown camping meltdowns. Often seen with iPad in tow and tons of solar energy receptacles, it’s likely that comfort will be the biggest factor, considering how many campers in the family party could potentially complain about the accommodations. Like the traditional camper, weight is not an important factor, and with children, family campers are used to things costing more.
To the family camper goes the luxurious air mattress. Essentially, it’s like bringing a bed from home; you can even bring your own linens, bedding, and sheets so that familiarity is enhanced. Air mattresses vary in size and price from simple models to more sophisticated mattresses, so the option can fit into many budgets. It also breaks down easily for transport and and does have to weigh a ton, though if you’tr stuffing the mini-van full up anyways, a little extra weight for optimum comfort won’t make much of a difference.
So, whether your camping persona requires a sleeping bag and pad, a hammock or an air mattress, one thing is almost for certain: Your choice will be more comfortable than a French sheepskin sack.