Yo Sis, Be Real with Me & the Rest of Gen Z. What Sleeping Bag Should I Get?

Wednesday’s are for giving advice to my Gen Z brother and his friends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The entirety of my little brother’s text read: “Yo Sis, what sleeping bag should I get? Love you!”

No context. No explanation. Not even a proper salutation.

I have received similarly themed emails from a variety of my Gen Z students. Usually sent late at night, the emails all say something like this: “Yo Chase, would you give me one more round of feedback on my paper before I submit it? Thanks!”

The students sending emails with “Yo Chase” have all been interested and engaged students; I have never received a “yo” from a student who didn’t give a shit. In these emails, they are requesting equal respect. “I am contributing in class, working hard on your assignments,” they are saying, “please acknowledge this by telling me exactly what I need to do for an A.”

The “yo” greeting—from my little brother and from my students—is a request to be real them, to not talk down to them, and to please avoid the Socratic method at all costs. Treat us like equals. No need to spray (as we call it in outdoor recreation) about your status or experience.

I get you, little bro. I get you, students. We are facing a pandemic, a civil rights crisis, climate change, and the beginning of the largest recession the United States has ever experienced. The future is unknown; buying a sleeping bag you can adapt to a variety of situations makes sense. Asking your instructor exactly what you need to do to get an A makes sense.

Dear little brother, even though you make more money than anyone else in the family, I respect your frugal gear purchases.

I also respect your desire to not go full cowboy and just use whatever hand-me-down bag Dad gave you from the 70s. I tried that 15 years ago, and it was miserable.

Here’s my truth. The sleeping bag I use for almost everything (except tropical adventures) is filled with down, 10 years old, and rated to zero degrees. I was planning on getting a new one this summer, but I lost my job, so I will likely keep using this one. It’s bulkier than what most people bring bikepacking; I manage, though, by squeezing it into a small bag with a lot of good old elbow grease. For warmer trips, I sleep with it partially unzipped. For colder trips, or for trips when it might rain, I pack a bivouac sac.

How to Select a Sleeping Bag to Fit Your Outdoor Lifestyle

To my Gen Z little brother, to my Gen Z students, and to anyone looking for practical sleeping bag advice without a know-it-all attitude, here are 5 points I find useful when weighing sleeping bag options.

Temperature Ratings. When in doubt, go with a zero degree bag because it will be the most versatile. If summer is your primary camping time, a 20 degree bag will likely be a good option.

Rainy or Wet Environments. If your normal camping environment tends to be rainy and wet, make your life easy and go with a synthetic bag. Yes, it will be a little heavier than down, and a bit more bulky, but it will keep you warm if it gets wet.

  • If you want something more temperature accurate (to save some weight) figure out what temperature range you will be using the bag in and add at least another 10-15 degrees. Unless the bag has an EN rating. An EN rating means you are probably safe to consider the lowest degree value as accurate because EN bags have gone through rigorous degree testing.
  • My rule of thumb has always been the temperature rating will keep me alive but not comfortable.
  • If you are always going to be snuggling up in a tent with someone else, then your sleeping bag can air on the warmer rating side.
  • If you plan to sleep out under the stars, go with a bag rated on the colder side.

Zipper, No Zipper, Half Zipper. The ultralight crowd will tell you to go with a zipper free bag. No zipper (or half zipper) saves weight and potentially adds warmth. However, if you are on a budget, and want to roll with just one sleeping bag for all environments, having a zipper allows you to use the bag in a wider range of temperatures because you can unzip if it’s too hot.

Versatility. If you love down like I do (it’s more comfortable, lighter weight, less bulky) make sure it has a water resistant coating, buy a bivouac sack for when you plan to sleep out under the stars or when you know you will be camping in rain/wet.

Compression. The saddest trip packing moments for me have been when I couldn’t fit all my gear into backpack or onto my bike. This is the draw back of not always buying the most expensive, ultralight gear. One of my workarounds has always been to get a compression sack verging on too small for my sleeping bag. Taking the time to stuff the sleeping bag into a sack that is almost too small, and then compressing the hell out of it with straps, saves a lot of space.

Yo Sis, Cut to the Chase With This Gear Advice (no pun intended)

The “yo” in my brother’s texts asserts a desire for equality, not because he’s concerned about power positions, but because he wants me to get to the point like I would with a friend. He doesn’t want bandwagon appeal or appeal to tradition:

  • Bandwagon Appeal. Ultralight is the solution to all your outdoor problems. Buy a really light bag, so you can go far and fast.
  • Appeal to Tradition. Use whatever you got, kid, it’ll make you tough like me in the long run. When I was your age, I survived 3 weeks camping in the snow with the wrong sleeping bag. It got wet on the first day, which meant I didn’t sleep for 3 weeks because I was so cold.

The more grey hair I notice in the mirror, the more I am pleased by my brother’s text messages. He has his audience and purpose dialed: make Big Sis feel both young and worthy as someone to seek out advice from, remind her she’s your equal so she doesn’t tease you too much, and then save yourself an hour of Googling about sleeping bags.

Yo Students, Here’s the Deal

Students. I wish I had encouraged you to try out “yo” on other faculty members. One of the assignments in my 300-level intensive writing course includes instructions for a professional email. These instructions have always been for my fragile colleagues and not for you. My colleagues would be appalled at the lack of respect the “yo” greeting implies about their status as the gatekeepers of the literary canon.

If I ever teach again, I want to revise this assignment to reflect on the posturing of respect expected in academia. Like this:

Welcome to class! Please take a minute to imagine yourself—a Gen Z student—starting an email with “Yo” to a British Literature professor who has had tenure since the 90s (when your generation was just beginning to pop out of birth canals). This professor has been sheltered by academia since they were the age you are now, and they are in the position to decide what is important for you to be learning during a pandemic, a civil rights crisis, climate change, and the onset of the largest recession known to the United States. They want to teach you the literary canon (this is academic code for dead white guys), with emphasis on a few women because this will create a feeling of diversity, and of course a few unique POC voices because this will make the syllabus look good.

Take 3 minutes to write down why you would want to use the salutation “yo” in an email to this professor.

  • What does the salutation “yo” say about status?
  • How could you turn “yo” into a conversation about your real needs as a student coming of age in a pandemic, civil rights movement, recession, and climate crisis?

Now, let’s brainstorm specific audiences where not using “yo” as a greeting would benefit you.

A job interview is literally the only example I can think of at the moment. Students, please bail me out and come up with more.

Yo Outdoor Industry, Yo Academia

To the outdoor industry, I think the “yo” of Gen Z means enough with your elitist shit. We want outdoor recreation and access for all.

To academia, I hope the “yo” of Gen Z means enough elitist posturing. We want education for all, and we want a voice in what we are learning. We are more in touch with reality than you realize.


  1. Dana Ernst

    My favorite part: “One of the assignments in my 300-level intensive writing course includes instructions for a professional email. These instructions have always been for my fragile colleagues and not for you. My colleagues would be appalled at the lack of respect the “yo” greeting implies about their status, their grand positions as professors.”

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