ON THE WHOLE, I love sleeping bags. When I got my first, a slippery orange thing lined with images of ducks and shotguns, I quickly discovered that no matter where I slept—the haymow, the back forty, the living room—I felt like I was lighting out for the territory. I took immediately to that snug, toasty, flannelly embryo feeling. You know the one: After a long day of hiking, you crawl in the bag and give out an involuntary little happy-shiver and hug yourself. And yet, a claustrophobic bugaboo lurks in the coziness. As a child, I once wound up head-down in my sleeping bag and went frantic, crazy-ape bonkers trying to escape. Later, I slid from the top bunk in my orange bag, panicked because I was unable to throw out my arms. Even now, I find myself opening the bag before I push my legs in, just to check for teensy wolverines hidden in the toe end. I think of bears arriving, and me unable to escape. Freud would draw conclusions based on the male preoccupation with issues of zippers and entrapment.
After years of cheapo bags, I treated myself to a military-issue mummy sack. "FOR EMERGENCY EXIT," read a tag sewn inside, "grasp each side of the opening above the slider and spread apart quickly, forcing the slider downward." Sweet reassurance for the claustrophobe. That night I slept in a farmhouse owned by a pair of photographers. Not wanting to muss the vintage quilts, I unrolled my new sleeping bag, slid in, zipped to chin level, hugged myself with the happy-shiver, and dozed off. It was July, and I woke up 15 minutes later drenched in sweat. Grasped each side of the opening above the slider and spread apart quickly. Nothing. The zipper was jammed. Be calm, I thought, and commenced thrashing on the bed like a prodigious eel. I jammed an arm out the face hole and, with one particularly contorted bounce, wrenched into a sitting position. Deep breath. Think. With one hand waving uselessly at the sky, I grabbed the interior zipper pull with the other. Bit down hard on the liner. Yanked and yanked. When the zipper finally gave way, cool air rushed across my skin.
Love your sleeping bag, I say, but do not trust it.