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Sleeping Bags: On Buying and Using One in an Truck Sleeper


When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, many truckers use sleeping bags as their bedding.

With so many different variations on the market, how do you know which one to buy?

Professional driver Mike Simons uses one in his truck; when his wife Vicki rides with him, she uses one, too.

There are pros and cons of using this option just as there are to using bed sheets. Read our tips on buying and using one in your 18-wheeler.

Rolled up sleeping bags on display and for sale at a department store.




Benefits

Because of the custom size of truck sleepers and mattresses, using a sleeping bag can be much easier than using sheets and blankets for sleeping.

  • Standard fitted sheets don't work on custom-size truck mattresses; standard flat sheets can come loose. With a sleeping bag, you roll it out and use it. It doesn't need to be tucked under the mattress.
  • It's easy to "make the bed" when you wake up. Just straighten it up and flop your pillow(s) on top.
  • Depending on the amount of insulation (or fill), you don't need multiple blankets to stay warm in the winter. These units come in multiple ratings for different temperature ranges.
  • Unlike the availability of specialty-sized truck bed sheets, you can buy a good bag in just about any sporting goods store and even some department stores.


Disadvantages

  • The units are not intended to be washed as often as bed sheets. But when they are washed, they require a very large capacity washing machine, like a commercial-sized washer. Even a "large capacity" home washing machine generally cannot accommodate one. Unless you have one of these at home, most likely you will need to use one at a laundry facility. This can be quite expensive.

    A standard home washing machine cannot handle washing a product this large.
    A standard home washing machine cannot handle washing a product this large.
    An extra large capacity commercial washing machine and commercial dryer can handle washing a product this large.
    An extra large capacity commercial washing machine and commercial dryer can handle washing a product this large.


  • A bag that is rated to keep you warm in colder temperatures can make you sweat or keep you hotter than you want to be.

  • Constant usage at night can lead to thin spots or tears in the fabric or underlying insulation.

    Close-up of thin spot leading to hole in the interior lining.
    Photo of thin spot and hole in the interior lining.


Styles

Sleeping bags may be described as two pieces of fabric (like sheets) with a layer of insulation in between (acting like blankets), all sewn together. Whereas sheets don't take up a lot of space but blankets can, so these units can be somewhat bulky. Unlike a sheet and blanket combo, these units are designed to be rolled up and often come with their own strap for bundling and transporting.


Bag in straight shape or style.
Straight sleeping bag.
Nag in mummy shape or style.
Mummy sleeping bag.
There are two basic styles of sleeping bags: straight and "mummy" style. The latter is designed to conserve body heat. If this is not a concern of yours -– or if you are used to moving around freely in your sleep –- consider the straight style.


Warmth Alternatives

Alternatives to using a sleeping bag to staying warm in the winter are a mattress heat sheet reflector pad (the heat of which is reflected from your body back to your body) or a heating pad (powered from outside itself). The problem with these units is that they reflect heat only from one side (unless you roll up in them). Electrically powered heating pads (or electric blankets) can become too warm; if there is no power source, they provide only the type of warmth that a standard blanket will.



Specifications

When buying this product, you will want to bear in mind the following specifications:

  • style (or shape): straight or mummy-style;
  • width;
  • height/length;
  • temperature range or comfort rating;
  • material of:
    • the shell,
    • the lining, and
    • the insulation;
  • insulation or fill weight; and
  • whether or not it comes with a hood.

Some units also come with a small pillow. The inclusion of this extra may or may not figure into your consideration of using one in your truck.





Our Experience

The first sleeping bag that Mike used in the truck (manufactured by Coleman) eventually became so badly worn -– in both the fabric that he laid on and the underlying insulation -- that it had to be thrown away. If Vicki had known about the wear and tear in time, she might have been able to patch it as she did hers when it became worn.

Vicki's unit (also manufactured by Coleman) was purchased at the same location but at a different time from when Mike had bought his. Both of the bags were supposed to be able to be zipped to others of their kind, but unfortunately, the two bags had two different kinds of zippers, making their ability to be zipped together impossible. Drivers who go camping with their families may also want to consider whether or not two similar units can be zipped together.



What Specification Was the Deal Maker or Deal Breaker?

When Mike went shopping for a new sleeping bag, he knew he was looking for a product to be used within his truck; therefore, he was not focused on the shell material being impervious to moisture, as an overnight camper or hiker might encounter when using his product outdoors.

Mike was particularly interested in the lining material of his bag. He did not want material that would not wick away sleep-related sweat. So, he shopped around until he could find a bag with lining containing at least some cotton. When you shop for yours, you may want to research the durability of sleeping bag lining material. If some other material works better for you, by all means get it.



Good, but...

Mike got a new Field and Stream sleeping bag at the temperature rating that he wanted. He did not realize before he bought it that widths of these products vary. He was very surprised the first night that he crawled into it inside his truck because it was 3 inches narrower than the one he threw away! We share this "width story" with you so that you will be aware when you buy one.



The Zipper

Some drivers might like to zip their sleeping bags closed at night to stay cozy warm (especially if they are used to turning their trucks off at night when the weather is nippy). For them, having a feature that allows the bag to be zipped easily might be especially handy. Some bags also have a feature to help prevent the loss of heat through the zipper.



Insulation

Vicki noticed that after the first commercial machine-wash of her Coleman sleeping bag, some of the insulation bunched up in the foot. Although the bag is sewn together at regular intervals, having a feature that prevents the shifting of insulation would have been nice.



A Personalized Fit

Before buying a sleeping bag, you would do well to know what kind of a sleeper you are: cool or warm. Sleepers generate different amounts of body heat at night. In our home, Vicki snuggles under blankets while Mike usually tosses them off. When we're on the road, we each have a sleeping bag that meets our needs.

If you get cool at night and like lots of blankets, you might want to consider getting a bag that will keep you warmer. If you have a tendency to throw off blankets in the middle of the night because you're hot, you might want to consider a bag that will not be so warm.

The kind and amount of insulation (or fill) in the bag should be one of your considerations. Will your bag have goose down or synthetic filling? If you are allergic to goose down, then obviously you will want to go with a synthetic fill. Bear in mind what temperatures will be like in the areas where you'll be driving in the winter and whether or not you will be parking in places where you will not be allowed to idle your truck to stay warm.



Other Considerations

Besides everything already described and assuming that you aren't going to be rolling up your sleeping bag a lot and putting it back in its sheath for storage, about the only other consideration you may wish to make is the color or pattern in the unit. Vicki doesn't particularly care for the color on the outside of her bag or the pattern on the inside (because its comfort is more important to her than its looks). But what is in yours may make a difference to you.






truck drivers money saving tip icon

Money saving tip: Sometimes you can find a department store or sporting goods store that will have sleeping bags at a reduced cost, especially if a particular model number is no longer being manufactured or if the retailer doesn't want to keep it in stock. You may be able to find coupons to put toward the purchase. One of our favorite ways of saving money on purchases is to use our Discover Card (credit card) and use our "Cashback Bonus" to order gift cards for various retailers. As of this writing (September 2009), of the nine "Sports & Recreation" partners that offer gift cards through Discover Card's Cashback Bonus program, two would definitely sell sleeping bags in their stores: Cabela's and Sports Authority. We have never used our Cashback Bonus to get gift certificates for either of these two retailers, but assume that they work exactly the same way it does when we order gift cards from our favorite retailers. (Look for more on Cashback Bonus savings later on our site.)








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