A Brief History of Sleeping Bags

Early records of sleeping bags involve French customs officers who watched the passes of the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. These early bags were made of sheepskin, for the water resistant properties, and lined with wool. The bags had five buckles so that they could be rolled. In the 1850’s, Arctic explorers made beds out of a course wool blanket covered with linen, which was then covered with a Mackintosh, rubberized fabric which was invented in 1824 by Charles Macintosh (we recognize this as raincoat fabric of today). Another early sleeping bag example was used by German peasants in the 1850’s. This was a simple strong linen sack that was then stuffed with dry leaves, hay, or straw. One of the earliest alpine sleeping bags was tested by Francis Fox Tuckett in 1861. This early bag was made from a wool blanket with a Mackintosh rubber bottom. However, Tuckett was not overjoyed to learn that the rubber bottom gathered condensation while sleeping, and thus the design was abandoned. All these early designs were somewhat of a hassle to get in and out of, due to the fact that they were essentially sacks that one climbed into.

The first mass produced, commercially successful sleeping bag was the Euklisia Rug, invented by Pryce Pryce-Jones of Welsh origin. Pryce-Jones, or P.J. as he called himself was a draper’s apprentice at the age of 12, and went on to become the father of the mail order business. The Euklisia Rug was a wool blanket that folded in half and fastened together, thus solving the inconvenience of having to climb into a sack. The rug also had a sewn-in, inflatable, rubber pillow. The Russian army was the first big order, in the amount of 60,000 Euklisia Rugs, and there is record of them having been used in the Siege of Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War. However, the city fell, leaving Pryce-Jones with 17,000 extra rugs. He added the extras to his catalogue, advertising them as inexpensive bedding for charities to provide for the poor. The rugs then began to see service in the British Army and Australian Outback. The Euklisia Rug was 6 feet 11 inches long by 3 feet 31 inches wide.

The military also have had a hand in the development of the mass produced sleeping bag. Military issue sleeping gear before WWII consisted of five wool blankets and a ground sheet to them up. By the beginning of WWII, the mountain sleeping bag and the M-1942 design both featured a mummy shape. The mummy shape had been gaining in popularity among sportsmen in the years leading up, and the mummy design was adopted by the military to save weight and space in soldiers’ rucksacks and to address a shortage of down feathers (not as many were needed to fill a mummy shape). The mummy design had the added benefit of conserving heat more efficiently than the rectangular design. Military issue sleeping bags featured a full length, quick release zipper as well. The M-1942 was later replaced by the M-1949, which was a mummy shaped and filled with feathers. The M-1949 had a modular sort of design, where it’s water proof case could be laced to the main body of the sleeping bag in order to provide more warmth and water protection. In the early 2000’s the military started issuing the Modular Sleeping System, one that we recognize today as various liners that can be combined to achieve many different temperature ratings.