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A sleeping bag is a protective "bag" for a person to sleep in, essentially a blanket that can be closed with a zipper or similar means, and functions as a bed in situations where a bed is unavailable (e.g. when camping, hiking, hill walking or climbing). Its primary purpose is to provide warmth and thermal insulation. It also protects, to some extent, against wind chill, precipitation, and exposure to view, but a tent performs those functions better. The bottom surface also provides some cushioning, but a sleeping pad is usually used in addition for that purpose. A bivouac sack (bivy) is a waterproof cover for a sleeping bag that may be used in place of a tent for lightweight travelers or as a backup if inclement weather occurs.
A basic sleeping bag is simply a square blanket, fitted with a zipper on two or three sides, allowing it to be folded in half and secured in this position. A sleeping bag of this type is packed by being folded in half or thirds, rolled up, and bound with straps or cords with cord locks. The basic design works well for most camping needs but is inadequate under more demanding circumstances.
The second major type of sleeping bag, sometimes called a mummy bag because of its shape, is different in a number of important ways. It tapers from the head end to the foot end, reducing its volume and surface area, and improving its overall heat retention properties. Some bags are designed specially to accommodate women's body shapes. Most mummy bags do not unzip all the way to the feet. The zipper is a weak point in any sleeping bag's insulating qualities. Together with the tapered shape, this design feature helps protect the feet, which are more vulnerable to heat loss than other parts of the body. Another design feature is a drawstring, equipped with a cord lock, at the head end to help prevent the escape of warm air. A mummy bag often cannot be rolled like a rectangular bag. Instead, it is simply stuffed into a stuff sack or compression sack.
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