Sleeping bags were once a travel staple - but can you still use sleeping bags in hostels? What about taking a sleeping bag on an airplane? Do backpackers even need sleeping bags now?
It wasn't that long ago that backpacking and hosteling were synonymous with wholesome youths trekking between Alpine villages, porting external frame packs with large rolled sleeping bags strapped on top, using sleeping bags in hostels. Looking at old travel guides makes me think that every traveler was an aspiring mountain climber!
Times have certainly changed, both for budget travelers and for the sleeping bag, once a ubiquitous travel staple! The sleeping bag's role in travel isn't quite as clear cut anymore. Readers have been asking sleeping bag related questions and I'm happy to help.
Do sleeping bags count as carry-on? Can you take a sleeping bag on an airplane?
Inquiring minds want to know if you can take sleeping bags on airplanes as carry-on luggage. Many youth conferences, retreats, and college exchanges require a personal sleeping bag. The short answer is YES! It all comes down to your airline's particular carry-on restrictions and regulations.
If a folded up sleeping bag is within the size and weigh allotment, there is no reason it cannot travel as carry-on. Note that many airlines allow one piece of standard carry-on (like a suitcase or backpack) and one personal item (a purse, a briefcase, a camera bag, an umbrella). It's unlikely your sleeping bag would be admitted as a personal item, so make sure you have it packed in your main carry-on bag.
If you're checking some luggage and carrying some on the plane, I always recommend that your carry on bag contain important necessities, like a change of clothing, medication, and communication devices. Keep this in mind as you're wrestling a sleeping bag into your carry-on bag - perhaps it would be easier to put it in your regular suitcase.
Speaking of flying with sleeping bags..... Keep this in mind if you're crossing borders. Many customs forms ask if you have recently traveled to a rural area or if you have biological products with you. Carrying visible camping equipment could result in some extra questions at the border. In the interest of environmental protection, make sure that your sleeping bag is clean and not concealing plant or insect life.
Can you use sleeping bags in hostels?
The second question readers are asking is if they should bring sleeping bags to hostels. The answer here is a resounding NO!
Travelers can't be blamed for finding the idea of a sleeping bag quite tempting. After all, there's nothing like your "own" bed - I love coming home after a trip to slide into my own soft sheets and breath in the familiar scent. And if you are someone who always feels cold, a quality sleeping bag guarantees sweet, sound, snug slumber.
Unfortunately, someone else loves sleeping bags - bed bugs!
Banishing bed bugs in hostels
Bed bugs are the kiss of death for a hostel - and hostels know it. NO hostel wants bed bugs and they will do anything it takes to keep them out of their facilities. While this is excellent news for travelers, it's bad news for sleeping bags.
Every hostel I've visited forbids sleeping bags and, in fact, levies steep fines or even expulsions for using one. If you happen to be traveling with a sleeping bag (perhaps you are mixing up hostel visits with camping), you will be asked to store it in a plastic bag in the luggage room until you depart. If you're couchsurfing, ask with your host in advance. Some might love the idea of having a couchsurfing guest use a sleeping bag - that's less washing up for them and a cozy sleep for you. Others might have (understandable) bed bug fears.
(And as someone who has suffered through bed bug bites - though not related to a sleeping bag - believe me when I say it is an absolutely miserable experience.)
Sleeping bag versus sleep sacks in hostels
If you want an extra layer of warmth, or to feel like you are in your "own" bed, or if you are staying in some dubious facilities, a sleep sack (sometimes called a sleeping bag liner) is a good alternative to a sleeping bag.
Made of cotton, silk, or a blend of fibers, a sleep sack is essentially a sleeping bag made of bed sheets. They are smaller and lighter than sleeping bag and most hostels (but not all) have no problem with them. While they can in theory harbor bed bugs, the sleep sheet can easily be washed and disinfected and therefore they are less dangerous.
Should you choose a silk sleep sheet or a cotton sleep sheet?
My usual sleep sheet has a rather colorful history. It started life as just two plain white cotton bed sheets, circa the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, it was fashioned in a ghost costume for Halloween, with slits for my eyes. The "ghost eyes" were patched with scraps of pink flowered fabric when I moved to Africa in 2004. Coming home, the sleep sheet was then sacrificed to wrap around two giant wooden chief's chairs and the entire bundle was reinforced with duct tape. Remarkably, the package arrived intact and the sleep sheet was saved, although a few scars from the duct tape remain!
I rarely travel with my sleep sheet now. I research my hostel choices and I am confident of staying at clean, sheet-providing facilities. In fact, I've never stayed at a hostel that didn't provide free, clean sheets. But if I had to get a new sleep sheet, or if I was traveling to a region where I was confident in what I would face, bedding wise, I would splurge on a 100% silk one. While they cost more, they are only a fraction of the weight and size of cotton sleep sacks and dry much more quickly.
If bugs are a concern, one of my favourite companies, Sea to Summit, makes a sleeping bag liner from a Coolmax material treated with insect shied.
Sleeping bags and camping: costs and quality.
If your travel plans do require a sleeping bag, you'll find there is a wide range of shapes, designs, and fillers to choose from. Take the time to speak with the staff and ask for assistance. When it comes to your warmth and protection during outdoor activities, you want to have the best quality bag for your budget. And ask about return policies too - you don't want to be stuck with a bag that's unsuitable for your needs or that doesn't perform as promised.
At my local outdoor store, sleeping bags range from $60 for light summer covers to over $1000 for expedition bags. (My personal favourite sleeping bags are The North Face Aleutian, Marmot Trestles, and Chinook Everest Extreme - $180 or less.) There are many reliable choices available under $200 and more expensive sleeping bags often go on sale at the end of the season. And if you are just doing casual summer camping you might not need a sleeping bag at all - we just bring along our regular quilts and duvets from home.
There's nothing as important as a good night's sleep when you're on the road. Hopefully this info helps to put your mind at ease!
Do you have any pressing travel questions? Let us know! We're happy to help if we can.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Tales from the Anti-Adventurist: Vanessa Goes Kayaking!
Travel Memories Are Made When... I Explore the Great Outdoors.
Travel Disasters/When the Tent Blows Away.
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