In Praise of Old School Flannel Sleeping Bags and Wool Blankets

I can’t remember exactly when but at some point in the past five or so years, I was packing the car for a camp trip with my wife and as I was tossing our down sleeping bags in the back, I realized: hey, wait, why not just bring actual blankets? We didn’t need to worry about how much the blankets weighed or anything, since we were car camping. And as much as I love a puffy down sleeping bag when backpacking, or when sleeping outdoors in truly cold conditions, it will never beat a soft, warm blanket woven from natural fibers. So we brought a comforter we didn’t really need and didn’t care if it got dirty, and a cotton blanket, and our real pillows. 

Wow, we slept great, and have not even once thought about going back to lightweight sleeping bags when car camping.

Most of my camping these days is by myself, as we have little kids at home, and daddy’s solo camping trips are the only way daddy stays sane. In order to avoid getting our bedding filthy, I went out and nabbed a very old school flannel-lined sleeping bag and a wool throw blanket. 

I normally sleep on a cot, and with the warm, soft bag and throw, it feels an awful lot like sleeping in a real bed. None of the slippery sensation of a down sleeping bag coated in slick nylon. Often, when I’m warm, I won’t even zip a sleeping bag closed, which kinda sucks in a nylon-coated bag, because it slips off you very easily. The old school bag with a polyester canvas shell fabric stays put no matter what. The wool throw is fantastic if I don’t actually need a sleeping bag, or when sitting around a campfire, or just for an added layer of warmth with morning coffee. 

For the sleeping bag I went with the SJK Big Timber Pro ($140). I chose the 0 degree bag, because why not be as cozy as possible? It’s a rectangular cut with the red plaid flannel liner you remember from the 70s, or from that Wes Anderson movie about boy scouts. It weighs a whopping 9 pounds, and I don’t remotely care. It rolls up nicely but still takes up a decent amount of space in the car, but again—don’t care. It’s the kind of bag that would look right at home strapped to a mule or a pack horse if you wanted to ride up to a high elevation camp using stock. 

You forget how constricting a mummy bag is until you go back to a rectangular bag. You can roll over, sit up, unzip it easily, it’s just an easier bag to use. A full-size pillow nestles right in there too. 

And no sleeping bag on earth feels as inviting as flannel does when you’re crawling in on a crispy night. 

As for the wool blanket, I went for the Camp Throw from Alpaca Threadz ($125). They seem to be a cool company, selling blankets made in Peru according to fair trade ethics. It’s a good size at 54” x 69” so I can use it as a standalone blanket or just as a throw. Alpaca wool, to my skin, is softer and doesn’t have a scratchy feeling like some sheep wool can. It’s soft to the touch and fairly smooth. Like sheep wool, it resists odors, cleans easily, and dries super fast. While I do like down camp blankets, they have the same issue down bags do—they usually have a slippery nylon shell and it’s tough to keep them on when draped over your shivering body in the morning, nursing a mug of hot coffee. 

We’ve been kinda harping on this here a lot lately, but once you peek out from beneath the ultra-high-tech camping and outdoor equipment curtain, a world of possibilities await. Most of which are way, way cheaper than the stuff you’ll cry while paying for at REI. You could pick up this sleeping bag and wool blanket for right about $250 combined—or roughly the price of one mid-tier down sleeping bag. 


Words by Justin Housman



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