A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
A few months ago while on a camping trip, I woke abruptly from a dream. I blinked, trying to figure out where I was, but no matter how many times I closed and opened my eyes, all I could see was … nothing. A consuming, suffocating, soft nylon nothing. Only when I tried to move my arms and legs did I realize I was in my sleeping bag. During the course of the night, I had twisted within the bag until the zipper was behind me. My face stared into the bag itself, while the back of my head peeked out from the mummy bag’s face hole.
As a side-sleeper, I have always had trouble with sleeping bags. Through my years as a camper and a gear reviewer, I’ve found that modern options just aren’t made for people like me. They’re built with the idea that we all sleep flat on our back, completely still. In most bags, the zippers, which are always located on the side, tend to painfully find their way under my hip bone soon after I get in. Sometimes — and this was the case on that terrifying camping trip — the seam of the zipper actually catches on the sleeping pad, holding the bag in place while I spin inside. Then there’s the problem of warmth and cushioning: Since many bags concentrate the insulation at the front of the bag for core warmth, rolling to my side exposes my back to the cold.
I’ve always just dealt with the frustration, but then I learned about the new Big Agnes Sidewinder, a sleeping bag designed specifically for side-sleepers. The Sidewinder’s zipper goes right up the center of the bag. After you get in, zip up and roll to your side — there’s nothing but comfort. There’s no zipper pressing into your hip. Thanks to the added insulation in the Sidewinder, you actually won’t feel much of anything pressing into your hip: Rather than being spread across our back as we sleep, our weight is concentrated in our hips, shoulders, and ankles. To account for this, the Sidewinder added synthetic down in the hips and foot box. (The rest of the bag is filled with high-loft, water-resistant natural down.) There is also a little more room in the hips and shoulders since side-sleepers tend to curl up more than others. The foot box is expanded too, allowing your feet to stay comfortably extended as you roll around.
I tested a 20-degree bag, but for warmer-weather hiking, Big Agnes also offers the version above, which is rated to 1.6 degrees Celsius. It comes in both women’s and men’s cuts, and there’s even a more casual camp style with heavier insulation, a more relaxed fit, and a cheaper price for non-backpackers who can afford a bit more weight. The bags have water- and tear-resistant exteriors, and there’s a pretty wonderful new feature I appreciated called the “pillow barn”: a mesh pocket that holds your pillow against the bag, no matter how much you squirm. Thanks to that, the zipper, and those extra pouches of fill, I’ll never camp in discomfort — or fear — again.
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