War, death and exploration are a few of the things associated with the worlds first sleeping bags. There has long been a need for sleeping under the stars by adventuresome people. Slumber bags were invented and developed by such people, for such people. Whether reindeer fur, kapok fiber or wool sleeping bags, they have all been changed and refined over time.
It’s been written that in 1000 AD Freydis Eiriksdottir was the first person to have invented a sleeping bag, perhaps using a sail from a ship. She was the brutal daughter of Fredrick the Red of Greenland, a fierce Viking. However, in reading The Saga of Erik the Red from the Icelandic Saga Database and in reading Book II Icelandic Records, Chapter: Voyage of Freydis, Helgi and Finnbogi in the book titled The Norse Discovery of America, I found nothing to support Freydis having invented or used a sail, reindeer fur, kapok fiber or wool sleeping bag.
It’s unmistakable though, that the earliest insulators for slumber bags were woven camel fur, reindeer fur, kapok fiber and later duck and goose down. Kapok fiber comes from the Kapok tree. It’s light, buoyant and the kapok fiber is resistant to water. The kapok fiber is often used in place of down. In the year 1823, a rubber patent was issued to Charles Macintosh. This patent made new types of bags possible. Francis Fox Tuckett tested a prototype of his alpine bag, which was made of blanket material and had a rubber undercoating, in 1861.
Then, in 1876 Pryce Jones made Euklisia Rugs, which were wool sleeping bags. They were made from Brown Army Blankets originally made for the Russian Army. According to a copy of the Brown Patent ( http://a-day-in-the-life.powys.org.uk/eng/home/eo_euklisia.php ) in the Powys county archives, the wool sleeping bags were to be 2 yards and 11 inches long by 1 yard and 31 inches wide. These wool sleeping bags, which were the first to be mass produced and circulated, used fasteners to keep them closed.
While the Pryce Jones rug, wool sleeping bags were mass produced, they weren’t commercially produced. The first commercially produced bag was filled with reindeer fur and kapok fiber. It was developed in 1889 by Fridtjof Nansen and the company Ajungilak of Norway, for the first expedition to the North Pole. Today Ajungilak is part of Mammut AG, where reindeer fur and kapok fiber isn’t currently used.
Next, in 1912 Captain Lawrence Oates had a slumber bag made with tapered feet and reindeer fur. On his way back from the the Antarctic with his companions, he got severe frostbite and was slowing everyone down. On March 17, 1912, leaving his reindeer fur bag behind, he sacrificed himself to give his friends a chance at survival. His reindeer fur slumber bag is on display today at the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Finally, in 1942 United States soldiers were issued slumber bags. These first slumber bags were heavy and bulky to carry, but important to the troops’ well being. In the late 1940’s the army started using down bags to make them easier to pack. Today the US military uses down, synthetic and wool sleeping bags (not usually reindeer fur or kapok fiber though), depending on where they are deployed.
In today’s society slumber bags are associated more with survival and warmth. The explorers of today reap the benefits innovation and refinement have brought through the years. Reindeer fur, kapok fiber and wool sleeping bags aren’t heard of very often. Nowadays mainly down or synthetic slumber bags are used, but if we needed to we know we could still make ourselves a reindeer fur bag to keep warm.