Should I get a left zip or right zip sleeping bag? I’ll be honest, in all my years of camping, I never noticed that some of my sleeping bags had the zip on the left, and others on the right. I was just happy to be warm. But then last year, I got a new Rab Solar Eco 3 sleeping bag and decided to sell my old GoLite bag. I listed it on eBay and soon, my phone started pinging. Not with bids, necessarily, but with campers wanting to know if the zip was on the left or the right. I pulled it out and checked: the right. But why did it matter to so many people?
It turns out that this is a really common question for people choosing a sleeping bag. Is that because the zip being on one side versus the other makes it difficult for some people to operate? Or is it because, when you’re buying a sleeping bag, the company might require you to choose between left or right, causing you to wonder which you need? Honestly, I’ve no idea. Maybe a bit of both. But either way, read on to find out why sleeping bags come with zips on both sides, and how to choose the right sleeping bag for you.
Should I get a left zip or right zip sleeping bag?
A lot of sleeping bags, such as the Fjällräven Abisko two-season and the Snugpak Softie Expansion 5, come with the zip on the left. A few have the zips on the right side, but more common than that option are those such as the Mountain Equipment Glacier 300 (which we rated as one the best two-season sleeping bags), that come with a choice of right or left zip.
Before we can get into which side you might want the zip to be on, it’s important to understand what a left zip and a right zip actually mean, because as I recently discovered, there’s two ways of describing what side the zip is on, and no it has nothing to do with skiers left and right. Does the sleeping bag you’re looking at say left or right side zip? Or does it say left or right hand zip?
Typically, a company that makes sleeping bags will say whether their bag has a left or right side zip. The former means it’s on the left side, while a right side zip is on the right side, so that’s easy. But some companies who sell outdoor gear describe sleeping bags as having a “left hand zip” or a “right hand zip,” while the brand Alpkit seems to use both terms, and it turns out that that actually means something different.
Let me explain. When you’re lying on your back inside your cozy sleeping bag, if the zip is on the left, you can either reach your right hand across your body to unzip it, and still have room for your elbow to bend, or you can somewhat awkwardly reach up with your left hand to do it. Now pay attention here: for this reason, these sleeping bags are sometimes referred to as “right hand zip” sleeping bags, because they are easier to operate with your right hand. But the zip is on the left so they are also termed “left side zip” sleeping bags. There are probably more of these sleeping bags around because the majority of people (70 to 95 percent, according to Scientific American), are right-handed. The Alpkit Pipedream 400 bag is an example of one that’s described as “left hand,” but the zip is on the right.
When the zip is on the right side, that means that it’s arguably easier to access with your left hand, so it’s occasionally referred to as a “left hand zip” but is still a “right side zip.” Get it?
Ok, but which do I need?
Now we’ve got the linguistic nuances out of the way, do you just choose a sleeping bag according to which had you write with? Not necessarily. Whether you need the zip on the right or the left side of your sleeping bag probably has less to do with your dominant hand more to do with how ambidextrous you are and whether your sleeping bag shape, your body mass and your general level of contortionism give you room to move. It’s honestly probably best to get inside an actual sleeping bag and try to unzip it with both hands. If one side is insanely difficult and you think you might have to cut yourself out of the bag with a camping knife once it’s zipped up, you need the zip on the other side.
If you’re like me and you sit up before unzipping anyway which gives both arms room to function because half the bag isn’t trapped underneath you, then it probably doesn’t matter what side the zip is on.
And if all of this has given you a headache, try the Sierra Designs Nightcap 20F sleeping bag which has done away with the zip altogether and is super cozy.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.