The Basics - What to Bring

Sleeping bags, pads and mattresses

Sleeping bags also come in different shapes and sizes. The two most common sizes are mummy and rectangular.

Mummy-shaped sleeping bag Mummy-shaped sleeping bag
© Mountain Equipment Co-op

Mummy bags taper at the bottom. They are warmer in cooler temperatures as they follow the contours of your body more closely limiting the amount of air inside needing to be warmed up. Because they taper at the bottom, there is less room for you to move around inside and some people find them harder to sleep in. They pack down smaller and are usually lighter which makes them a common shape for backcountry sleeping bags.

Rectangular-shaped sleeping bag Rectangular-shaped sleeping bag
© Mountain Equipment Co-op

Rectangular bags are simply large rectangles. They offer more room for people tossing and turning in the night. They don’t pack down as small but this is not usually an issue for those arriving to the campsite by car. Although they are not as efficient as mummy shaped bags in terms of heat preservation, this is usually not an issue and should keep you warm unless you are sleeping in extreme conditions.

Sleeping bags come in a large range of temperature ratings. Again, if you are purchasing or renting a sleeping bag, make sure to talk to friends, family and your local camping store staff for advice to make sure you get the right one for you.

Sleeping Pad Sleeping Pad
© Mountain Equipment Co-op

Sleeping pads and mattresses go under your sleeping bag on the floor of the tent. They have two purposes. First, they provide comfort by getting you off of the ground. Secondly, those with foam or down on the inside also provide warmth with a layer of insulation between you and the ground. Although you may not notice this in summer (as it is usually not needed), in winter it can make a big difference.

Sleeping mats or pads can be a large inflatable air mattress that resembles your mattress at home, or they can be the thinner foam mats that roll up small and are easy to pack.

Parks Canada Staff Tips
Get cold easily? Bring a toque! It will keep your head warm while the rest of your body is kept cozy by your sleeping bag. (From the staff at St. Lawrence Islands National Park)

Place a blanket or sheet on top of your sleeping bag before you go to sleep. Moisture will condense on the blanket rather than on your sleeping bag. In the morning, just hang the blanket to dry.