Camping in winter? You may shudder at the thought, but an early winter’s morning can be one of the most beautiful times to be outdoors.
I’ve done my fair share of cold weather camping and I hate being cold at night!
In this article, we’ll look at the best cold weather sleeping bags followed by some some things you need to consider when buying one.
Read on and stay warm!
Best Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather Camping
Whether you’re going on a high-altitude expedition, a winter backpacking trip or just want a cheap sleeping bag for a few nights car camping, here are the best options for every camper and every budget.
Best Down Cold Weather Sleeping Bag: Rab Neutrino 800
If you’re going to be camping regularly in the winter, then this is one of the best cold weather sleeping bags money can buy.
Seriously, I have been lusting after this bag for years.
Rab is a British manufacturer so my fellow Americans may not have come across them before.
They’re an established brand who have a wealth of experience in making mountaineering kit and it shows in the quality of their products.
This is a 4-5 season bag that’s light enough to be used for backpacking but warm enough to keep you comfortable at -4F (women may want to add 5-10°F to this).
It’s stuffed full of 800 fill power ethical goose down and is quite possibly the fluffiest, coziest sleeping bag you will ever snuggle up in.
Although it’s not waterproof, the down has also had a hydrophobic treatment, meaning it dries faster and will retain its loft if it gets damp.
The Pertex outer is windproof and contains an odor control treatment to help keep the stink out of your bag.
The bag comes with either a left or right zip and you get a cotton storage sack in addition to the compression sack.
The regular size will fit people up to 6 ft 1 in and there’s a long version for taller people.
Best for Backpacking: Outdoor Vitals Summit
A 4-season bag weighing less than two and a half pounds for under $400?
I thought I was dreaming, but such a thing does exist!
The Outdoor Vitals Summit bag uses 800 fill power down and lightweight ripstop materials to keep you warm down to the low 20s – its official temperature rating is 20°F – without the bulk you get from most cold weather sleeping bags.
Even better, it comes in three sizes so you can get a bag that fits your shape without having to lug around excess material if you’re on the short side.
Recommended sizes are:
- Short, for people up to 5 ft 6 in
- Regular, for people between 5 ft 6 in and 6ft
- Long, for people up to 6 ft 6 in (this also comes with an extra 2 inches of width)
The sleeping bag comes with a four-way compression sack that allows you to cinch the bag down to a pack size of approximately 10 x 8 inches.
This is a decent pack size for a summer bag, let alone ones will keep you warm all year round.
The regular size weighs just 2 lbs 10 oz, including the stuff sack and even the long version comes in at under 3 lbs.
It’s not clear if the 20°F temperature rating is an “extreme” or “comfort” rating – users have reported it to be warm at temperatures in the 20s – but a sleeping bag liner will add an extra 5 to 10°F to the temperature rating for not much added weight.
As it uses lightweight materials, it may not be as robust and durable as other bags – this isn’t a flaw, it’s a design choice, but it’s something to be aware of if you tend to treat your kit roughly.
Best for Hammocks: Hyke & Byke Antero
If you have the right gear you can stay strung up in your hammock all year round.
Hyke & Byke’s hammock compatible sleeping bags serve as both an under quilt and top quilt to keep you snug in cold weather even above ground!
The warmest bag in the Antero range is given a 15°F lower limit rating (for men) and a 30°F comfort rating (for women).
It’s stuffed full of 800 fill power goose down which means it is pretty compressible and lightweight.
The bag is designed to be 4 inches wider than standard sleeping bags to give some wiggle room inside your hammock.
If you’re a larger person who finds standard sleeping bags too restricting, it may be worth checking out the Antero range for use in a tent.
This seal around the hammock at the head and the toe may not be quite as tight as you like and if you can feel a draft coming through, you might want to stuff some clothes in the ends to prevent icy toes.
Best Budget Winter Sleeping Bag: Coleman North Rim Mummy
I said at the beginning that sleeping bags that will keep you warm when it’s freezing outside come at a price.
Well, the Coleman North Rim is a bit of an exception to that rule.
It’s rated down to a 0°F and although I suspect most people would be chilly if the temperatures dropped that low, it should definitely keep you warm between 20°F and 30°F.
And for a bag that costs around fifty bucks, that’s a pretty good deal.
The trade-off comes with the size and weight. The North Rim is a bulky, heavy sleeping bag.
This won’t be an issue if you’re camping near to your vehicle, but you’ll struggle to squash it into your backpack if you’re going hiking.
It’s got most of the features you’d expect a winter sleeping bag to have, but be aware that as it’s a cheap bag, the materials aren’t likely to be of the same quality as a bag that costs five times as much.
If you’re planning on doing a lot of winter camping, it may be worth seeing if you can stretch your budget a bit, but for occasional use, the North Rim will be more than adequate.
Things To Consider Before Buying
It’s not difficult to buy a cold weather sleeping bag, but more than their warm weather counterparts, it’s kind of important to get it right.
You don’t want to spend a night freezing or carry around a bag that’s the wrong material!
How Much Are You Willing To Pay?
Usually, I put budget much further down the priority list of considerations when choosing outdoor gear, but when it comes to winter sleeping bags, this is the first question you need to ask yourself.
Because sleeping bags that will keep you warm when it’s freezing outside come at a price.
There are cheaper options, but you’ll have to make major compromises on weight, bulk, and warmth.
If you’re struggling to find a sleeping bag that’s as warm as you want within your budget, another option is to use a silk sleeping bag liner.
This will add extra warmth plus it helps keep your sleeping bag clean.
Down or Synthetic Fill Insulation
Most cold weather sleeping bags use down insulation due to its high warmth-to-weight ratio.
It’s also more expensive than synthetic insulation, which is one reason why warm sleeping bags are expensive.
If you’d prefer a synthetic sleeping bag either because of cost or for ethical reasons, then expect to have a heavier bulkier bag to get the same level of warmth as an equivalent rated down bag.
The quality of down used in a bag also makes a huge difference to its warmth and weight.
This is measured by “fill power”. Fill power is a measure of the volume filled by an ounce of down feathers.
The bigger the volume – or the greater the loft – the more heat can be held between the feathers and the warmer the sleeping bag.
As you may expect, sleeping bags with a higher fill power are typically more expensive.
There’s usually a trade-off between cost and weight – high fill power bags will be lighter and more packable but they’ll also cost more.
One disadvantage of down is that it can lose a lot of its warmth when it gets wet.
If most of your camping is done in cold, rainy climates then a synthetic bag may a better option for you.
Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Sleeping bag manufacturers will usually provide one or more temperature ratings to help you judge what conditions the bag is suitable for.
However, it isn’t always clear whether the temperature given is a minimum survival rating – indicating you shouldn’t get hypothermia at that temperature – or comfort rating – meaning you should be warm enough to sleep comfortably.
Premium sleeping bags from established outdoor manufacturers usually come with an EN/ISO rating, which is a standard you can use to compare different bags. This gives different ratings for “comfort”, “lower limit” and “extreme” temperatures.
Unless you’re a very warm sleeper, I’d advise looking only at the comfort rating for the sleeping bag when deciding if it’s going to meet your needs.
As a cold sleeper, I’ll typically go for a bag that’s at least 5°F lower than the minimum temperature I’m likely to be sleeping at.
As I said, I don’t like to be cold!
If you’re looking at a bag and the description is a little vague about the temperature rating, it’s worth erring on the side of caution and assuming it’s an extreme rating.
Weight and Packability
I’d almost always recommend a down sleeping bag for backpacking in cold weather as it’s much easier to compress down and lighter to carry.
The only exception would be if you are camping in a situation where it’s highly likely that your sleeping bag will get wet – in that case, synthetic insulation may be a better option
Even a down filled cold weather sleeping bag will take up a fair bit of space in your backpack, so the trade-off then becomes a battle between price, weight, and warmth.
Wrapping It Up…
Camping in winter isn’t for everyone, but with the right sleeping bag, it doesn’t have to be a miserable experience.
In fact, you may find you get a better night’s sleep in your new sleeping bag than you do in your bed at home.
So take your pick of the sleeping bags above, don your thermal tights and get out and enjoy camping in winter.
And if you’re still worried about camping in the cold, check out our tips on how to stay warm in a tent.