A lot of campers pack up their camping gear to store for the winter season. But some people — those of us who live with many snowy months each year — are simply swapping out their go-to items. Cold weather doesn't have to mean camping and backpacking season is over for anyone, though. With the right winter camping gear, wintertime camping can be a beautiful change to getting outside during the warmest parts of the year.
The key, of course, is having the right equipment, like a four-season tent, a camping sleeping pad, and a high-quality sleeping bag designed to handle low temperatures. A cold-weather sleeping bag is essential to make sure that, no matter how low the mercury drops, you can always sleep soundly. With the best cold-weather sleeping bag, you can rest easy and toasty warm wherever your adventure takes you. From snowy conditions to cold nights in the desert, these bags should cover cold nights in an array of terrains.
Marmot Wind River -10° Sleeping Bag
Best Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag for Serious Cold
If you’re planning on serious winter camping, you need an equally serious bag. Marmot’s Wind River -10° Sleeping Bag is ready for all but the absolute coldest camps. The 650-fill-power down is combined with a down-filled draft collar and multi-baffled hood to trap heat around your dome. Plus, dual side-zips allow for precise temperature regulation, in case things weren’t quite as cold as you planned. We especially love that it features an internal stash pocket and is made with a recycled shell and lining fabrics, too.
Nemo Tempo Synthetic Sleeping Bag 35°F
Best Value Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
Of course, not everyone needs a 10-degree or subzero sleeping bag. Some of us sleep warm, and many regions around the U.S. don’t get that cold, even in the dead of winter. For a more balanced cold-weather sleeping bag, we like Nemo’s all-new Tempo. The synthetic Stratofiber fill balances warmth, moisture control, packability, and, perhaps most importantly, price. At around $140 retail, it’s one of the best value (read bang-for-your-buck) winter-friendly sleeping bags on the market. Plus, with a 35°F, it’s mild enough to use in the fall, too.
The North Face One Bag 3-in-1 Sleeping Bag
Most Versatile Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
The North Face One Bag is a one-stop shop for almost any conditions you might be camping in. The genius, 3-in-1 design combines three sleeping bags that can be reconfigured to suit a wide range of temps from five to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Made with 800-fill goose down, the mummy sleeping bag weighs at most 3 pounds and 12 ounces. For the weight and the range of months and weather conditions you'll be able to use it in, the One Bag is well worth the investment.
Big Agnes Torchlight 20 Sleeping Bag
Most Adaptable Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
The Big Agnes Torchlight 20 sleeping bag is a go-to classic for good reason. Made with ripstop nylon and 600-fill DownTek, the mummy-style winter sleeping bag can be comfortably used at temperatures around 20 to 27 degrees Fahrenheit. But one of the best features of this bag is that it has a patent-pending design that allows for additional panels to be added. That means up to 10 inches in diameter can be added to the circumference of the sleeping bag.
REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag
Best Ultra-Light Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
As one of the most expensive options on this list, REI Co-op's Magma 15 sleeping bag is no doubt an investment. The quality bag is made with water-resistant 850-fill -power goose down and has a winter-ready temperature rating of 16 degrees Fahrenheit. But one of the best characteristics of this bag is that it weighs just one pound and 12 ounces — no small feat for a cold-weather sleeping bag. That makes this a great option for backpackers or anyone hoping to lighten their load during wintertime camping and hiking.
Therm-a-Rest Questar 0 Sleeping Bag
The Therm-a-Rest Questar 0 was tested down to zero degrees Fahrenheit, but its comfort level is actually closer to 14 degrees. The roughly 3-pound mummy-style bag is made with 650-fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic Down and is fitted to trap heat inside even when you move to change sleeping positions throughout the night. Another added benefit: those who struggle with cold feet will love the "Toe-asis" which is designed to help heat the feet quickly thanks to an extra pocket of down surrounding the bottom tip.
Kelty Mistral 0 Sleeping Bag
Best Budget-Friendly Cold-Weather Sleeping Bag
Kelty's Mistral 0 sleeping bag is a highly cost-effective yet durable option with a cold-weather-friendly temperature rating of zero. With plenty of room to move around and get comfortable and synthetic insulation, it's a great beginner sleeping bag for those new to cold-weather camping. The only negative to this bag is that it's rather voluminous (compared to more premium options) and might take up more room than you'd like. You can, however, pick up a highly compressible stuff sack to do your best to minimize the space this bag takes up.
Sleeping bags, especially cold-weather sleeping bags, can be surprisingly complicated. There’s a lot to consider, from the type of fill to the liner to the shell material to the temperature rating to — you get the picture. Finding the right bag for you comes down to how and where you’re planning to use yours most. Here’s the low-down on what to look for when shopping for your next winter-ready sleeping bag.
Down vs. synthetic fill
Let’s cut to the chase: Down is a near-perfect insulator. Compared to synthetic fill, down is lighter, warmer, and, in our opinion, more comfortable too. Being inside a down sleeping bag feels softer and just plain better. It’s a remarkably comfortable material.
There are two downsides (get it?) to down, however. The first is price. Down is almost always significantly more expensive than its synthetic counterparts. The second is that down insulation won't keep you warm if it gets wet. This may or may not be a problem for you as it all depends on where and when you camp most often.
Bottom line: If you plan to camp in mostly dry regions and money isn’t really an object, down is your man. If you frequent damp or wet climates (like Florida or the PNW) and/or the price of your gear really matters, synthetic is probably your best bet.
Entire 10,000-word posts have been written about sleeping bag temperature ratings. That’s to say: They’re surprisingly complicated. Some outdoor companies like to play fast and loose with their temperature ratings, which makes it hard to compare apples to apples, so to speak, when shopping for a cold-weather bag that you want to keep you reliably warm.
As a general rule, we find that most campers who frequently overnight in winter will do just fine with a 0-degree bag. If you live somewhere that doesn’t often get this cold, you’ll still have a buffer for those freak cold snaps. If you like to camp where it frequently gets even colder, you can use a sleeping bag liner or double up on your layers to keep warm, should you need to. For seriously cold environments like northern Canada or Antarctica, consider a -20-degree or -40-degree bag.
Sleeping bag shape
While there are exceptions, most modern sleeping bags are either rectangular or mummy-style in shape. As the name implies, rectangular bags don’t taper. Rather, the design is the same width at the shoulders and feet. These are roomier and typically more comfortable but not as warm because they require your body to heat a larger volume of air.
Mummy bags, on the other hand, are warmer in cold weather because they taper from the shoulders down to the feet to more closely hug the shape of your body. Translation: Less interior space to keep warm. The downside is that some campers find these bags too constricting, bordering on claustrophobic. Here, again, it’s a matter of personal preference. The “best” shape is the one that’s best for you, the one in which you sleep most comfortably.
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