Choosing the best cold weather sleeping bag can be challenging but doesn’t need to turn into a nightmare. With a little prep and a little research, you can get the bag you need and have confidence you will be comfortable camping even in the most extreme conditions.
What Should You Know about Choosing a Cold Weather Sleeping Bag?
The time of year you intend to camp is important. Most people are two season campers. They camp when temps are fairly mild, which in most areas in the spring and fall. Occasionally, people will also camp in the summer, especially if they are traveling to areas with a mild summer climate.
In rare cases, people will camp during the winter months. Even in many of the milder areas winter temperatures can be uncomfortable overnight, which means you’re going to need a bag that offers a significant amount of warmth.
For the most part, campers can get away with sleeping bags that are rated for 35 degrees or more. They can keep you warm overnight as long as temps stay above 35 degrees, which will be the case most of the time throughout the spring, summer, and winter in most locations.
If you do intend to winter camp, look for a bag that can keep you warm in temps that are 10 degrees or higher. Even if you aren’t expecting temps to drop that low, you want to make sure you are prepared if they do.
A good rule of thumb is to subtract 10 degrees from the lowest temperature you think you’ll encounter overnight. So, if you are sure the temperature won’t drop below 25 degrees overnight, look for a bag that can keep you warm in at least 15 degrees or higher. Weather is unpredictable, and things like wind and humidity can make a difference, so this 10-degree cushion can make all the difference when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Does the Shape of the Bag Matter When It Comes to Warmth?
The simplest answer: yes. There are several different shapes or styles of sleeping bags available, and when it comes to warmth, the shape does matter. This is because sleeping bags work by trapping your body heat and keeping it in the bag with you.
People who are typically warmer or hotter tend to need sleeping bags that don’t rank as high when it comes to temperatures. People who produce less body heat overnight will need bags that work as hard as possible to store the little bit of heat they do produce. Hot sleepers will “cook” inside of cold weather bags.
Standard rectangular bags do the least to preserve body heat but are usually suitable for most camping conditions. Those who are camping during the winter or in colder climates during the spring and fall months might want to consider a mummy style bag because they help retain the most body heat.
Mummy style bags have a hood that coverage your head and face, which prevents heat from escaping. As you’ve likely heard, your body loses a lot of its heat from the head, so covering your head is one of the best ways to stay warm while your sleeping.
How Does Insulation Affect How the Sleeping Bag Performs?
As you might have guessed, the insulation in a sleeping bag has a significant impact on how it performs and whether or not it can keep you warm. The insulation in sleeping bags can be made from a few different materials and which of these materials you choose will determine how warm you’ll be overnight.
Synthetic insulation tends to be good enough and comes with the lowest price tag. Synthetic insulation also tends to dry quickly and perform well even when the bag is exposed to wetness. Synthetic insulation is hypoallergenic, so if you are concerned about having a reaction to a particular type of insulation, this is the way to go.
Goose down insulation is all-natural and offers more heat retention than most synthetic types of insulation. After all, if it’s good enough to keep a goose warm in cold temps, it’s good enough for the average camper. Down also has the added benefit of being able to pack well because it can be compacted tightly. The downside of down is that it’s not water resistant and will take forever to dry if it gets wet.
In addition to the insulation, you’ll also want to consider the materials used to make the shell and the lining of your sleeping bag.
The shell should be water resistant. It usually doesn’t offer much in terms of heat, but keeping you dry will keep you warmer, so it’s still important.
The lining of your sleeping bag can affect temperatures and how comfortable the bag is. For instance, many people like fleece-lined or flannel-lined sleeping bags because they are not only warm, but they are also soft and cozy.
Some sleeping bags come with a pouch for a sleeping pad which offers an additional layer of insulation between the ground and the camper. This can add a great deal of warmth, but it also makes sleeping on a hard, bumpy surface more comfortable. Even if your bag does not have a pouch, you can put it on top of a sleeping pad. You just might need to make adjustments if you move around a lot and the pad shifts underneath you throughout the night.
Finding the best cold weather sleeping bag doesn’t need to be a hassle. You just need to consider what you need and what features are going to serve you best when you’re camping. Most people will be able to do nicely with a sleeping bag that offers moderate warmth, but those camping in extreme conditions will need bags with the best cold weather ratings.
In some cases, if you plan to camp in extreme cold conditions and also want to camp during hot summer months, you might need to consider two different bags.