If you plan to get out on the trail during the colder months, or are heading to altitude, a warm winter sleeping bag is essential.

Hiking in frosty conditions or at altitude is hard, and after a strenuous day, getting a good night’s sleep is difficult enough – without being cold as well.

We’ve checked out 11 winter sleeping bags for you to consider for your next mountain adventure and mountaineering gear essentials.

Winter sleeping bags divide into 0°F (-15°C) and 15°F (-10°C) temperature ratings. For super-cold weather, or hiking that involves going over 10,000 feet, you’ll probably want to go with a 0°F bag.

But, if you want to snuggle up with your honey, we have a guide to the best 2-person sleeping bags.

Do You Need a Winter Sleeping Bag?

Maybe not. These are ‘extreme’ rated sleeping bags, and for most cases, a 3-season sleeping bag should suffice. A winter sleeping bag is for camping at altitudes above 10,000 feet and in snowy, icy conditions.

It’ll be overkill to buy an extreme-rated bag if you are only using it in shoulder-seasons and at low elevations.

And if you’re heading out in the warm, summer months, consider a summer sleeping bag.


0°F (-15°C) Down Sleeping Bags

These are the warmest sleeping bags for their weight, but the most expensive. You might want to choose one of these if you tend to feel the cold at night and are planning more than just a “one-off” expedition.

Thanks to their superior warmth-to-weight ratio, these are the best sleeping bags if you are planning an unsupported backpacking trek.

For sleeping in Kilimanjaro’s crater (Crater Camp) I would highly recommend a 0°F rated Down sleeping bag as it’s bone-chillingly cold next to the glacier.

Quick Recommendation Picks

  • Top Rated Best Winter Sleeping Bag: Nemo Sonic 0F
  • Best Luxe Winter Sleeping Bag: RAB Expedition 1200 (this wins on warmth, but comes with a hefty price tag)
  • Best Budget Winter Sleeping Bag: Kelty Cosmic Down – go for this one if you don’t need the expedition-level warmth rating of the RAB.
  • Best Synthetic 0 Deg Sleeping Bag: Top Pick: Hyperlamina Torch 0

Nemo Sonic 0F- 800 Fill Down Sleeping Bag ()

Nemo Sonic 800-Fill Down Sleeping Bag, 0 Degree,...

The Nemo Sonic is an extremely comfortable sleeping bag. It’s roomy design accommodates side-sleepers and those who are restless at night.

This comes at the expense of warmth.

If you sleep with a few layers of clothing, then the extra room might suit you. Others will find the compromise in terms of warmth and thermal efficiency is just too much.

This bag performs a bit more like a 15°F bag, rather than a 0°F, but it’s a good choice if you don’t like a very snug-fitting sleeping bag that restricts your movement at night.

The Nemo Sonic is durable, the weather-resistant DWR coating performs well in damp weather.

Also, the 850-fill Goose down has a high warmth-to-weight ratio, and it packs down very small in the compression sack included. For such a roomy, comfortable bag, it’s very light and compact and will not overload your backpack.

What We Like

  • Super-lightweight and packable, taking up little space and weight in your duffel bag or backpack
  • Durable, ripstop 20 denier shell fabric means you can give this bag some abuse before it falls apart!
  • Roomy size keeps side-sleepers and restless sleepers happy it’s nice and wide with a stretchy footbox (so you can even wear your boots to bed!)
  • “Hybrid baffle system” – comprising vertical baffles in the upper part of the bag and horizontal baffles in the footbox means extra warmth where you need it most – apparently.
  • Two vertical vents prevent you from getting too hot – although I’m wondering why you’d want a 0°F bag if you were worried about heat!
  • Internal collar and drawcord ensure that valuable heat will not be lost from your head and neck area.
  • DWR treated shell fabric maintains good water resistance

What We Don’t Like

  • Warmth is not really up to the 0°F rating – if you are a ‘cold’ sleeper, this one may not be for you
  • External storage pouch which isn’t great as batteries can get cold and drain easier
  • The down is not treated to be hydrophobic, but the shell fabric is water resistant

Best Luxe Winter Sleeping Bag:

RAB Expedition 1200 ( $1,100.00)

RAB Expedition 1200 Sleeping Bag, 850 Down,...

If you are looking for a premium-quality, ultra-lightweight winter sleeping bag that punches well over it’s weight in warmth, then this one’s for you.

It comes at a premium price, but it’s durable and will see you through most of the major hikes at altitude.

Both the 850-fill Goose down and outer shell fabric is treated to be water-repellent and won’t absorb moisture even in damp conditions.

If your trip is a one-off and you are unlikely to use it again, then perhaps you might consider something a little cheaper and less high-spec.

What We Like

  • Super-lightweight and packable, taking up little space/weight in your duffel bag or backpack
  • Moisture-repellent (hydrophobic) 850 European Goose down filling for a supremely warm night, even when camping in a damp cloud
  • Pertex Endurance fabrics are supremely durable, and soft to the touch without being heavy
  • Trapezoid baffle chamber design maintains the “loft” of the down without increasing weight, reducing those annoying cold-spots
  • Waterproof dry-bag compression sack keeps the bag dry when being transported
  • Sleep limit -20°C so you’ll be fine even on Aconcagua!
  • Internal collar and close-fitting neck baffle ensures that valuable heat will not be lost from your head and neck area.
  • Anti-snag 3/4 length zipper
  • Internal zippered pocket for you to store small items
  • Fluorocarbon-free

What We Don’t Like

  • Cost – this is a premium sleeping bag at a premium price – you’ll want this if you are planning multiple mountain trips, not just some light winter backpacking

Best Budget Down Winter Sleeping Bag

Kelty Cosmic Down 0 55 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bag ($179.95)

Kelty Cosmic 0 Degree Four Season Backpacking Down...

The Kelty Cosmic Down 0 is an excellent winter sleeping bag for it’s price point.

If you are looking for the superior warmth and packability of down without the hefty price tag, then you should give this one serious consideration.

It’s a good all-round sleeping bag that will keep you both warm and comfortable. Available in a regular and a long length for maximum comfort whatever your height.

Being an entry-level sleeping bag, it is heavier than the more premium down sleeping bags but for the price, it’s a great buy.

What We Like

  • Cost: excellent 0 degree down sleeping bag for an affordable price
  • 550-fill moisture-repellent DriDown keeps you both very warm and cozy
  • Durable, rip-stop polyester outer for rugged mountain use
  • Polyester taffeta lining for extra comfort – a very cosy feeling inside this bag
  • Dual sliding, locking zip (with anti-snag), so it’s easy to get out of even in the dark
  • Thermal comfort hood and anti-draft collar preventing heat loss from head/neck
  • Quilt-through construction keeps the down in place, reducing cold spots
  • Comfortable, roomy footbox for your hot water bottle
  • Comes in regular and long lengths

What We Don’t Like

  • No internal pocket for those little electronic bits and bobs
  • Stuff sack is difficult and not waterproof – I’d buy a different one
  • Zip can get stuck, you need to take a bit of care, especially with hiking gloves on

Marmot Teton 15- 650 FP Duck Down Sleeping Bag

Marmot Teton 15 Sleeping Bag - Women's

This Marmot Trestles 15°F sleeping bag is an excellent choice for the price point. A good all-purpose sleeping bag that will keep you warm on various hikes.

Coupled with a good thermal sleeping bag liner this bag is super-warm.

For very high elevations or if you tend to sleep cold, then you might find that this bag isn’t as warm as the more premium-priced synthetic bags.

Marmot makes good quality at a good price. The bag compresses down into a small space (although we don’t like the stuff sack it comes with) and is not too heavy, even if you are doing an unsupported hike.

What We Like

  • Cost
  • SpriaFil high-loft insulation which is constructed in a wave design to keep you warm and eliminate cold spots
  • Insulated hood and collar with drawcords so that you don’t lose heat from your head and neck
  • dual side zippers
  • Expandable Footbox that allows a comfortable, natural foot position so that you don’t feel restricted
  • Regular and long sizing: Long? fit is also extra-wide accommodating folk with larger shoulders or those of us who like a slightly roomier sleeping bag
  • Anti-snag zipper with a draft tube to prevent heat escaping through the zipper
  • Keeps warm even in wet conditions
  • Internal pocket so that you can keep small items close to you
  • Comfortable polyester taffeta lining for extra comfort and durability?

What We Don’t Like

  • We wished it packed up a little smaller in stuff sack

O°F (-15°C) Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Synthetic sleeping bags have come a long way since the old bulky, heavy rectangular offerings.

If you have an allergy to down, or simply don’t want to spend the money, then check out these synthetic winter sleeping bags.

Synthetic models generally pack a bit bigger than their down counterparts, and weigh a bit more. This is a consideration for winter backpackers on unsupported treks.

Another advantage of synthetic over down is that it dries a lot quicker and is much more forgiving in wet conditions.

Top Pick: Hyperlamina Torch 0

Best for Budget: Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z (not as low-cost but much better value than the Coleman)

Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Torch 0

Mountain Hardwear HyperLamina Torch 0 Sleeping Bag...

The Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina Torch is a top-class, premium-quality synthetic sleeping bag.

It is very lightweight, barely weighing more than the heavier down bags.

This bag is suitable for both supported treks and unsupported backpacking in rugged, cold environments.

Quick-drying with a windproof outer, this bag is versatile, durable and will withstand most mountain conditions.

If condensation in your tent makes it damp, it will dry in no time and continue to keep you warm.

What We Like

  • 200g Thermal-Q insulation which provides a great “loft” and warmth
  • Wind-resistant outer shell which is lightweight and soft.
  • Welded “Lamina” construction eliminates cold spots from stitching
  • Tailored hood blocks drafts and seals in the heat
  • Comfortable footbox with extra insulation so that your feet are always warm
  • Snug fit maximises the efficiency of the insulation keeping you warm
  • Short, central zipper (with baffle) prevents heat loss from the zip area and is easier for side-sleepers
  • Very lightweight – excellent warmth-to-weight ratio
  • Compression stuff-sack included so that it takes up less room in your backpack

What We Don’t Like

  • Stuff sack is not waterproof
  • Definitely bulkier than down taking up more room in your backpack
  • Whilst we liked the central zip, it’s not to everyone’s taste

Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Torch 5 – Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Torch 5 Sleeping Bag -...

If you are looking for a great value, not too heavy synthetic sleeping bag, this one is a worthy contender.

The Lamina Z Torch is a lightweight, compressible synthetic sleeping bag that keeps you very warm in winter conditions.

Being synthetic means it will dry quickly if it gets wet, the Lamina design keeps the insulation well “lofted” providing superior warmth at a good price point.

The interior is soft and while there is room to move around, you will be toasty warm on winter nights.

Without the extra expense of a down sleeping bag, this one will perform well in damp conditions.

The overall look and feel of this is durable, warm and functional. If you tend to be a cold sleeper you may like to take along a good sleeping bag liner, just to be sure.

What We Like

  • Cost
  • Thermal Q 200g insulation compresses into a small space taking up little room
  • Lamina construction seals the insulation into the bag without stitching prevents the heat from escaping through the stitched areas eliminating cold spots
  • Extra insulation in the core and foot area keeping you warmer
  • Comfort mummy design allows you to move around without compromising thermal efficiency
  • Soft polyester lining, wicks away moisture from your body
  • Moisture-repellent, durable “ripstop” nylon shell keeps the bag dry
  • Zip pocket for keeping small items close to you
  • Footbox allows you to keep a natural position of your feet without feeling restricted
  • Tailored hood with a face gasket so that you lose less heat from your head and neck
  • Compression stuff sack to pack it down very small

What We Don’t Like

  • Stuff sack is not waterproof
  • Runs on the short side so consider getting the long version if you are quite tall
  • Slightly sticky Zipper, gets caught on the shell fabric

Coleman 0 Degree “Big & Tall” Mummy Sleeping Bag

Coleman Big and Tall Sleeping Bag | 0°F Mummy...

The Coleman bag is a budget winter sleeping bag. It’s versatile, comfortable and will keep you warm and dry on the trail.

If you are wanting to purchase a synthetic bag without the premium price tag but with the warmth and quality that you need this one will do it.

That it’s bigger than the super-lightweight bags should be fine for any supported trek, or car camping.

If you are backpacking, then you’ll want something lighter and more compressible. This one is bulky and fairly heavy.

For your Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Everest Base Camp or Machu Picchu needs, this bag is an OK choice. If you tend to sleep a bit cold, I would highly recommend you take a good quality sleeping bag liner along.

What We Like

  • Price
  • Hollow polyester insulation provides good heat retention keeping you warm all night
  • Full-length, 2-way zipper has a good draft tube to stop cold air coming in
  • The hood is adjustable and roomy, with a comfortable quilted construction
  • Offset quilt construction prevents cold spots
  • Great for taller people

What We Don’t Like

  • Horrible color
  • I wouldn’t rely on it on the coldest of cold nights, but coupled with a good liner, it should perform quite well
  • It’s bulky and heavy – good for car camping but not for backpacking

15°F (-10°C) Down Sleeping Bags

It’s perfectly possible to have a comfortable night’s sleep with a good 15°F rated sleeping bag. For most winter backpacking at home, this should be sufficient.

Depending on where you are going, if your trek has you sleeping in lodges (Everest Base Camp) or huts (Marangu Route, Kilimanjaro) then you might not necessarily need the 0F rated bag. This is entirely a personal choice.

If you tend to sleep “cold” at home, when you are not exhausted from 7 hours on the trail then I would suggest you opt for the warmer bag, rated 0°F.

When choosing whether to take a 15°F bag, do bear in mind that altitude and exertion can both conspire to make you much colder than you would normally be.

Note: if you plan to camp at Crater Camp, Kilimanjaro – I’d recommend a 0°F rated bag.

Top Pick: RAB Ascent 700 or Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame

Best for Budget: Outdoor Vitals Atlas

RAB Ascent 700- Insulated Mummy Sleeping Bag for Camping

Rab Ascent Down Insulated Sleeping Bag for Camping...

As usual, RAB knocks it out of the park with the quality of workmanship that goes into their products.

This mid-weight down sleeping bag is a great choice for a 15-degree bag.

Light enough for backpacking, this bag packs down very small. Coupling it with a good sleeping bag liner would likely improve its rating to nearer 0F.

The RAB Ascent 700 is a great bag for winter backpacking or a trek like Kilimanjaro, at a great price point for the quality.

More expensive than a synthetic bag or other, more entry-level down bags but you’ll notice the different as the mercury starts to fall.

What We Like

  • Lightweight and packable, taking up less space and weight in your backpack
  • Moisture-repellent, quick-drying 650 fill power European Duck down filling keeping you warm through the night, maintaining insulation even if you are in damp conditions
  • Soft to the touch and durable Pertex Microlight fabrics make up the outer and inner shell
  • Trapezoid baffle design ensures a stable structure of down in the bag, improving the “loft” to minimize cold spots
  • Internal collar and drawcord ensure that valuable heat will not be lost from your head and neck area.
  • Anti-snag 3/4 length zipper
  • Internal zippered pocket for storing your small items
  • Roomy enough design to allow for different sleeping positions
  • Fluorocarbon free

What We Don’t Like

  • Cost

Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass- Goretex 0 Sleeping Bag

Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass GORE-TEX Sleeping Bag

This is a rugged down sleeping bag manufactured from good quality fabric that will keep you warm when the temperature drops.

The treated down does a good job of keeping it’s loft and insulation even in slightly damp conditions.

It packs down small and light, and will not take up too much room in your pack or duffel bag.

It’s ideal for unsupported as well as supported treks. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom is a solid sleeping bag for the price point.

What We Like

  • 650-fill Down has an advanced Q.Shield treatment repelling moisture and maintaining the loft even in damp conditions meaning you don’t freeze when there is a bit of condensation
  • Glow-in-the-dark zipper pull
  • internal stash pocket; hang loops; sleeping pad loops
  • Highly water-resistant shell
  • Full-length down draft tube prevents heat loss and cold spots along the zipper
  • Thermo Trap baffle design keeps the down in small compartments maintaining it’s loft and minimizing cold spots around your body
  • Clever face gasket blocks drafts and seals in the heat around your head
  • Comfort fit so that you can sleep in different positions
  • Single handed drawcords work well even with gloves on
  • Very lightweight – excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, compressing down nice and small to take up little room in your backpack

What We Don’t Like

  • No waterproof stuff sack
  • Zipper can get stuck if you try to open/close it too fast

Outdoor Vitals Atlas 15°F – 650+ Fill Down Ultralight Sleeping Bag

Outdoor Vitals Atlas 0-15 - 30 Degree F 650+ Fill...

Bearing in mind the price point. This bag is a budget-down sleeping bag that performs well.

This hybrid sleeping bag is a blend of synthetic and down. What’s more is that it combines the moisture advantages of synthetic with the warmth of down. The DWR coating on this lightweight sleeping bag shell prevents water from entering but when soaked, water drains out while staying warm.

While this is not a premium bag , it does has a lifetime warranty, which we consider a premium feature, If you are budget-conscious yet want luxe benefits, then this could be worth a look.

I would recommend taking a sleeping bag liner to improve it’s warmth.

The bag compresses very small and is lightweight.

It has a rugged and durable feel, with a good zipper. For the price, this is a good choice.

What We Like

  • Cost
  • Lightweight 650+ fill down which has a good warmth-to-weight ratio great for backpacking
  • Drawstrings so that you can adjust the hood keeping your head and neck warm
  • Baffles around neck for keeping the heat in
  • Inside pocket for keeping small items close by
  • Reinforced material around the zipper keeps drafts out
  • Nylon moisture-repellent shell keeps damp away from the down filling
  • Soft and comfortable polyester lining
  • Compresses very small to take up very little room in your duffel or backpack

What We Don’t Like

  • Some down feathers coming out of seams
  • Compression sack is not waterproof
  • Down can tend to migrate, leaving cold spots

15°F (-10°C) Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Slightly heavier and bulkier, synthetic sleeping bags are an excellent choice for those allergic to down or for travels in wet conditions.

Synthetic sleeping bags perform much better than down when they get wet and are less expensive. For supported treks, when space and weight are not crucial, then a synthetic sleeping bag is an excellent choice.

If space and weight are a major consideration, then down will out-perform synthetic insulation every time.

Best 15 Deg Synthetic Sleeping Bag: Marmot Trestles 15

Best for Budget: Coleman North Rim (do me a favor, only buy this one if you are on a serious budget and cannot afford anything better. It’ll do, but only just!)


Coleman North Rim– Best Budget Sleeping Bag

Mummy Sleeping Bag with 54 Ounce Coletherm...

The reason I am mentioning this sleeping bag here is if you are on a seriously low budget, and are only going to use the bag once or twice.

The Coleman North Rim is a budget synthetic sleeping bag that does not pack down well and is heavy.

However, for a supported one-off trek or car camping it’s worth considering if you are concerned about the cost of better sleeping bags. I have seen this sleeping bag on Kilimanjaro and on an Everest Base Camp trek.

It would not be suitable for backpacking as it’s simply too heavy and bulky. For the price, you are getting a warm sleeping bag, but don’t expect the zippers to last or for it to be very durable.

I would recommend this only if you are on a very tight budget.


Choosing Winter Sleeping Bags

Seasons & Temperature Rating

Most sleeping bags will have a temperature (warmth rating) often using the “European Norm” system. Additionally, they are divided into “Seasons”:

  • 1-Season: Summer, warm-weather use only. Ideal for temperatures above 10°C
  • 2-Season: Cooler nights, but still for mild weather use
  • 3- Season: A 3-season sleeping bag is designed with versatile temperature ratings, lightweight insulation options, and features like draft collars and insulated hoods to ensure warmth and comfort in spring, summer, and fall
  • 4-Season: Actual winter sleeping bags.

The 1 and 2-season sleeping bags don’t leave much room for error. Even in the summer if you have a cold snap or start feeling unwell, these can be left lacking.

The most versatile sleeping bag for most backpacking/camping excursions would be the three season bag. If it’s hot, you can unzip it but it’s got the capacity to keep you warm if the temperature drops.

Even during the summer, if you intend to sleep above 10,000 feet you’ll need a winter sleeping bag. All multi-day hikes at altitude mean freezing cold nights. Additionally, the more fatigued you get, the colder you will feel.

With a sleeping bag rated 15°F (-10°C) it is advisable to take a good sleeping bag liner, to keep you comfortable on freezing mountain nights.

A Note About EN Ratings

Note that warmth ratings are not to be relied on exclusively. The EN ratings (European Norm) are often inaccurate. This is because they are based on what the “average” person finds comfortable or otherwise.

They are an attempt to standardize the conversion from an insulation value to a temperature range. But they don’t take into account that there are many variables contributing to how comfortable someone is when camping.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. That’s not to say that the most expensive winter sleeping bag is necessarily the warmest.

How the EN System Works

Don’t rely on it, especially in the “extreme” cases. Use it as a guide only.

The three “standard” ranges are:

  • Comfort limit: This is the temperature range where the “standard”, or “average” woman sleeps comfortably. (You can see that this opens up a huge chasm of what “standard” and “average” entails). At this limit, you should not be feeling cold.
  • Lower limit: At this range, a “standard” or “average” man would be able to sleep comfortably. Once again, what the heck is a “standard man”?
  • Extreme rating: A strong sensation of cold is to be expected here, but in theory, this is the minimum temperature that an average woman could endure in this sleeping back for about 6 hours without getting hypothermia. Do not rely on the sleeping bag at this temperature!

You may see an “Upper Limit” rating – this refers to the temperature an “average” man can sleep without sweating too much. A pretty useless piece of information in my opinion.

The problem with these temperature ratings, apart from the definitions involved in “standard”/ average? people, is they also take no account of other factors in your sleep system.

Apart from the fact that people feel the cold differently, the outside conditions: wind, and humidity also play a part, as well as the fit of your sleeping bag and whether you are using a sleeping pad or camping cot, are all factors in how well your sleeping bag will perform.

I take these ratings with a pinch of salt. Always prepare for colder temperatures than you are expecting. It’s easier to peel off and unzip the bag if you are a bit hot, but getting caught on a very cold night can be serious.

Most winter sleeping bags will state that they are 15°F or 0°F – although as we’ve seen, there are a number of variations within these ratings.

Whether you choose to buy a 15°F or a 0°F will depend on (a) your budget (b) your expectation of future usage (c) how cold or warm you tend to be at night.

Shape, Style & Size

Most modern winter sleeping bags are a “Mummy” shape – looking a little bit like a sarcophagus. This design traps the heat next to your body, minimizing heat loss so you stay warmer through the night.

This shape makes the bag less bulky for fitting into your backpack without compromising on warmth.

Mummy-style sleeping bags have a hood to secure around your head, and a neck collar to prevent heat loss from your head and neck area.

The narrower the hip/shoulder specifications, the more heat is retained in the sleeping bag. This can be at the expense of comfort, as you may not like the feeling of being restricted.

If you are a restless sleeper or like to sleep wearing a few layers, opting for a slightly larger (therefore slightly less thermally efficient) design may keep you more comfortable through the night.

You want to make sure that the sleeping bag you choose will actually fit. If you are 6’5″? you don’t want to be buying a petite size.

Most high-end models will come in a couple of different lengths, so if you are on the tall side, or want room in the foot box for a hot water bottle, be sure to size up.

Be aware that larger sizes (obviously) add weight and volume, an important consideration when backpacking.

Women’s-specific bags are often a slightly different cut from men’s/unisex, and sometimes have more insulation in targeted areas such as footbox and core. The colors make an attempt at being more girly, but I’ve yet to find much difference in terms of performance.

Fill and Insulation

Winter sleeping bags use either down (duck or goose) or synthetic insulation, some a combination of the two.

Down-filled bags are significantly more expensive, they hate getting wet, and dry slowly. But, they have an extremely good warmth-to-weight ratio keeping you very warm on cold mountain nights.

Down also compresses very small and is super-light, minimizing the amount of weight and space taken up in your backpack.

Goose down is superior to Duck down in terms of its compressibility and warmth-to-weight ratio, though for most of us, we won’t notice the difference between a premium quality duck-down sleeping bag and one filled with goose down.

Fill Power

For down sleeping bags, “fill power” is the amount of loft – or volume – any given weight of down produces. So an ounce of 800-fill down will produce more loft (more trapped air – and more warmth) than an ounce of 600-fill down.

The lower the fill power, the more weight is required to produce similar amounts of warmth.

Hydrophobic down: down that is treated with a polymer to make it somewhat water resistant. Hydrophobic down is not waterproof, but it dries quickly and the feathers don’t clump together so quickly.

Synthetically insulated bags are bulkier and can be heavier. However, they are cheaper, better for wet conditions, maintain their thermal efficiency, and dry quickly. This gives you the peace of mind that you’ll still be warm even if it does get wet.

Often synthetic is recommended for the treks that require camping, such as Kilimanjaro (except the Marangu route), Mt Kenya, and the Annapurna circuits, as there is more risk of getting wet, and often on these treks, someone else is carrying your gear.

All that being said, I always use a down-winter sleeping bag! On camping trips, I just make very sure to keep it well stowed in a waterproof stuff-sack. And, I avoid sleeping in leaky tents.

Weight and Compressibility

A major consideration is always going to be weight and compressibility. If you are carrying your own gear, you want gear that packs down into the smallest size and weighs as little as possible.

Down comes up trumps in both the weight and the compressibility stakes. Quite apart from being the warmest – it’s warmth to weight and warmth-to-volume ratio is unsurpassed.

The cut of the bag can also have an effect on it’s compressibility, the mummy-shape with their tapered cut tends to compress smaller than the rectangular ones.

Tip: if your bag doesn’t come with a compression sack, then get yourself a waterproof one. It will keep the bag dry in your backpack and make it as small as possible.

Weather Resistance and Durability

Whilst it won’t be waterproof, it’s important that the bag can withstand a bit of condensation, at the very least. Decent shell fabric with a DWR treatment should be adequate for all but the worst of leaking tents and downpours.

The more robust the shell material, the heavier it’s likely to be. These days it’s possible to get very durable high-tech shells that are super-light, but they’ll cost you more money.

Other Considerations

Hood:

A lot of heat is lost through your head, so a decent hood is important. If you tend to move around when you sleep, you’ll want one that’s a bit roomier, so that you can turn your head to the side. Personally, I like a deep, wide hood – not one that I have to cinch up tight.

Neck Baffle:

Indeed, lying in a drafty tent with cold air circulating around your neck is not a pleasant way to spend a night. The neck baffle, or draft collar should fit around your neck, under your chin, giving you extra insulation against heat loss.

Pockets:

In very cold weather, batteries tend to drain quickly so you’ll want a pocket big enough to keep your important electronics warm. Make sure the pocket is accessible and not uncomfortable when full.

Foot Box:

I can’t stand a tight foot box. I know it’s more thermally efficient, but having a bit of room in there to put a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water is more important to me. Some bags have reinforced fabric in the foot box, which protects the bag if you decide to wear your boots to bed. Alternatively, there are 4 season sleeping bags with expandable foot box or zippered footbox, if you prefer to have your feet freed when sleeping.

Zippers:

You definitely want zippers that do not catch and snag on the shell material. Look for a lining on either side of the zipper and a decent draft tube (an insulated tube running along the inside of the zipper) to prevent heat loss and air from getting in. It’s still important to zip and unzip your bag carefully, as rough treatment will tear the shell fabric.

What About Your Sleeping Pad? (Hint: it matters)

A sleeping bag can only do so much. If you have a rubbishy sleeping pad – or worse still, insist on sleeping on the ground or on some old foam cushion you dug out of your garage – don’t expect the sleeping bag to perform at its best.

When backpacking in winter, make sure that you take a decent sleeping pad, with a high R value – it will make all the difference to your comfort.


Getting the Most Out of Your Sleeping Bag

Top Tips for a good night’s sleep on the mountain:

Whether you are camping on Kilimanjaro or Mt. Kenya, or sleeping in huts and lodges on your way to Everest Base Camp, here are our top tips for getting the most out of your winter sleeping bag:

  • Keep it dry – if it doesn’t come with a waterproof stuff sack, get one, or wrap it in large heavy-duty garbage bags.
  • Shake it out before you get into it. Having been compressed, you need to get the air back into the fill in order for the “loft” to trap the heat.
  • Use a sleeping bag liner. I wouldn’t go anywhere without my liner. It keeps the bag clean. Dirt and fine sand from the trail gets into the insulation and degrades it. A liner will reduce the amount of laundering that your bag needs, prolonging it’s life.
  • Also, a decent liner can improve the temperature rating. If you are in any doubt about whether your sleeping bag will be warm enough, get hold of a thermal liner to be sure.
  • Keep it clean: it’s best to have a set of clothes that you only wear at night to keep warm in a sleeping bag, minimizing body oils, sweat and dirt accumulating in the bag.
  • At bedtime, fill a water bottle with warm water (make sure it’s watertight!) and stow this in the foot box to keep your toes nice and warm. You can also use chemical warmers in the same way.
  • Before retiring, drink a hot drink to warm your core and walk around a little to get the blood flowing.
  • If you are camping, make sure the sleeping bag is placed away from the side of the tent. Sometimes condensation can form on the sides, wetting the sleeping bag.
  • Use your men’s hiking clothes or women’s hiking outfit, you plan to wear for the next day’s hike (so long as they are dry) as a camp pillow, so that they are nice and warm for when you need to put them on.

See more top tips for a good night’s sleep in our guide How to Stay Warm in a Tent.


FAQs

How important is the fill material in a winter sleeping bag?

The fill material of a winter sleeping bag is crucial for insulation and warmth. There are two main types: down and synthetic. Down fill is lighter, more compressible, and typically offers better warmth-to-weight ratio, making it ideal for extremely cold conditions and where carrying less weight is a priority.
Synthetic fill, on the other hand, insulates better when wet and is generally more affordable, making it a good option for damp conditions or for those on a budget

What temperature rating should I look for in a winter sleeping bag?

For winter camping, it’s crucial to choose a sleeping bag with an appropriate temperature rating. A good rule of thumb is to select a bag rated for at least 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. For most winter conditions, sleeping bags rated for 0°F (-18°C) or lower are advisable.

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