Camping in the UK is brilliant but entirely unpredictable.Even in the dizzy heights of a summer heat wave the night time temperatures can drop to toe-curlingly chilly when there is a clear sky. For family campers with young children this poses a particular problem as well we know! Nothing ruins a camping trip faster than cold, miserable children and grumpy, tired adults the next day!
Up until this summer we have got by using layering. Depending on the temperature, Roo gets kitted out in a pick-and-mix of thermals, cotton PJS’ , tracksuit bottoms,long sleeved tshirt, hat and warm socks (on hands and feet). The underlayers are then topped off with a sleepsack which blissfully cannot slip off even the wriggliest monkey as the temperatures drop.
As a four year old though, Roo is well beyond the sleep sack stage and trying to keep a blanket on her is like attempting to ride a bucking bronco. As we prepared for a weekend away camping it became clear. It was time to invest in a sleeping bag.
About the Vango Nitestar
As the usual research got under way, the Vango Nitestar Junior children’s sleeping bag quickly found itself high on my short-list of children’s sleeping bags. It’s one of a tiny range of technical sleeping bags offered in the UK in a size suitable for young children (come on UK – get your kids out camping more). It was one of the even fewer on offer with 2-3 season insulation.
Rather than the cutesy sleep-over style sleeping bags that are so commonly available the Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag in theory offers sufficient insulation for the cool nights of mid- spring and mid- autumn with a recommended temperature use of between 4-20ºC – perfect given we have camped out the shoulder seasons in previous years and intend to continue to do so.
The Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag is mummy shaped. This means less air for tiny bodies to have to warm up or to conduct that crucial thin layer of warm air next to the body away – a key reason why using a sleeping bag that’s specific to your child’s size is a good idea. It does also mean though that there is less room to kick your feet about. I wasn’t sure how Roo the chronic wriggler would get on with that. It does have a double ended zip though so at worst you could always open the bottom a few inches in milder weather to create a bit of extra space/let in air whilst keeping the torso toasty.
Finally, the Vango Nitestar is approved by the Scout Association. I learnt all my camping craft as a Girl Guide. I could make a proper bedding roll or knock up a rope ladder blindfolded back then. If the Scouts approve something then it must be ok..
On paper this sleeping bag ticked all the boxes. When outdoor stalwarts Vango got in touch to ask if I’d like to test out one of their products, my decision was confirmed.
The first thing that struck me when I saw the Vango Nitestar Junior was that it was a little bigger than I had expected, coming in just slightly smaller than my elderly adult sized 2-3 seasons sleeping bag, which incidentally is also from Vango!
Whilst the stuff-bag does also double up as a compression sack, it doesn’t do a lot to reduce its size. I used one of my other random compression sacks though with a few more straps on and it did the job perfectly, squishing it down by almost half. Every camper, backpacker and family traveller should own at least a few great compression sacks! Size and weight of a sleeping bags with small kids is really not the issue it is when you’re backpacking all day to camp. Chances are, you’ll only need to be able to stuff it in the back of the car and carry it a few hundred meters anyway.
Out of its stuff-sack the size made sense. The Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag is luxuriously padded and invitingly soft inside. Roo was in it fully clothed and declaring it ‘really comfy’ before I could stop her. To my relief the Vango Nitestar looked amply up to the job of tackling cooler camping. Seemingly well-made and in a great vibrant blue, it promised restful nights under canvas for Roo and by default, the rest of us too!
Out in the Field
Later that week we headed off on a family camping weekend, sleeping bag safely packed. Our trusty family tent was no sooner up then Roo raced inside and started to strip.
‘What on earth are you doing?’ I asked her bemusedly.
‘Getting into my sleeping bag for bed’ she replied.
It was lunchtime.
As you can imagine, by the time it really was bedtime she was beside herself with excitement. It was a mild late-summer night and so we went easy on the layers, kitting her out in just long-sleeve PJ’s. She tucked up in her sleeping bag for cocoa and stories outside and looked snug as a bug, although with Roo at around 1m10 this bag designed to accommodate up to 155cm did come up a bit big on her. Finding something of a technical 2-3 season quality any smaller is a hard task in the UK. though. At least she grows fast!
Whilst Roo insisted on fully zipping up her Vango Nitestar sleeping bag to begin with, within an hour she was restless and hot. We unzipped it halfway and she quickly fell asleep. Having a hood loosely around her head didn’t seem to bother her in the way I had worried it might, nor did having a narrower space for her feet. By the time we went to bed the air had chilled considerably. We zipped her sleeping bag back up almost to the top.
Through the night Roo’s 18 month old sister woke up several times and took a lot of settling. Despite all the commotion though Roo surprised us by sleeping through the lot. It was early morning when she finally woke up. Her sleeping bag had successfully resisted a night of Roo wriggling without budging an inch. I was impressed. We asked if she had woken up because of that bone numbing chill that seems to waft over the ground just before dawn but she replied no. She was simply excited for the day ahead.
When Roo hopped out both her clothes and the sleeping bag were damp and sweat free – both reason when present for kids chilling rapidly and often caused by getting clothing and bedding choices wrong. Moisture can render natural bedding’s insulating properties useless too – another reason to opt for a synthetic material such as the breathable specialist polyester fabrics selected for the Vango Nitestar Junior.
We hung up the Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag on the tent ceiling, using the handy hook installed for this purpose on its bottom. It didn’t really need opening up for a proper airing but there’s nothing like climbing into a freshly aired bag at the end of the day (especially if you didn’t have the chance to wash your feet properly the night before)!
When our camping weekend was finally over the sleeping bag packed easily away back into its stuff sack. It had done its job well. I’m fairly sure the extra twigs we found whilst stowing it probably fell out of its interior storage pocket. The pocket is supposed to be for stashing away a small torch or perhaps a tissue close to hand but Roo never loses any opportunity to stow away her many nature treasures!
I’ve resisted buying a children’s sleeping bag for Roo for the last year. It seemed a big investment for something she would only grow out of and that I thought I could just get round by using clever layering and woollen blankets. In reality I just wasted a year of sleeping well under canvas for the sake of £30.
Whilst we tested out the Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag towards the end of summer, this was a sleeping bag that would easily go into the autumn, particularly if paired with a sleeping bag liner, good insulating mattress and perhaps a wool blanket underneath. It is also perfect for sleepovers or for keeping little people toasty whilst winter stargazing or , in our house anyway, hedgehog watching! All the extra little details such as the insulated zip baffle that covers the plastic zip track (no cold metal shock on your tummy during the night), the off-set seams (again fewer drafty bits) and the way the zip is designed not to just unravel as you roll about all contribute to the Nitestar etaining vital warmth,with Vango rating its minimum comfort use at 4ºC.
The size of the sleeping bag didn’t bother me at all after that initial surprise and caused no packing dilemmas. If you’re just going to be camping in the height of summer though you could afford to go for a 2 season sleeping bag though and cut back on the extra padding. I wouldn’t go any less though if camping in the UK – you can always use a sleeping bag liner by itself (we didn’t use one on this trip at all) on a really hot night.
As for durability? Well it’s hard to tell when we have owned the sleeping bag for only a few months. I’ll check back this time next year and let you know! I can say though that Vango sleeping bags have served me well in the past. My current one is still going strong after around 17 years of regular use. Impressive when you consider that its outings included not just backpacking and camping around the world but also all the wild parties of my late teen and student years where a floor or worse was the best mattress on offer. An alfresco night on a grass roundabout in Pamplona whilst travelling in Spain features strongly in my memories for some reason! I’m not sure that’s quite what my Mum had in mind when she bought it for me all those years ago but I’m very glad she did!
The Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag has an RRP of £30 and you can find a full specification of the Vango Nitestar Junior sleeping bag on the Vango website. Vango gifted Roo’s Nitestar sleeping bag for the purpose of this review but it was an item I had already independently researched and short-listed. All opinions, writing and musings remain as ever entirely my own.