Cold Weather Sleeping Bag Buying Guide
What is a Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
When looking for a cold weather sleeping bag there are a number of decisions that will impact the quality of the sleep you will receive during a winter camp out. A cold weather sleeping bag offers more insulation and is designed to withstand colder temperatures than a traditional bag. The increased design makes them more specialized than standard sleeping bags. The spring and summer months you can enjoy camping outdoors with a few blankets or a lightweight sleeping bag that is designed for warmer nighttime lows. Colder months require specialized equipment that can keep you safe and warm when the night temperatures fall near freezing or below. Without a low temperature rated bag, you risk hypothermia, which can set in quickly as the temperatures fall in the evening. Fall and winter camping requires sleeping bags that are designed to keep you warm all through the night.
Where Will You Be Using the Sleeping Bag?
Hiking and remote camping require sleeping bags that are not only warm but also light weight. They need to be able to reduce down to a very compact size and be carried with ease. They must be light in weight so they do not add much additional weight enabling you to carry them for several miles without adding to the fatigue of the hiker. These compact bags typically use a down material which can provide warmth without the bulk of other materials. They are also typically more expensive than other styles because of the materials that are used to reduce the weight and bulk of the sleeping bag.
Camping and drive in camp sites allow you to focus on the comfort and temperature rating as the highest priority over the compactness and weight of the bag. These bags can be a little bulkier but often come with convenient sacks to keep them compact for travel. They can have temperature rating to zero degrees or below while still being lightweight and compact, but to a lesser degree than the hiking bags. They will have higher density filling to accommodate lower temperatures and are often less expensive because the polyester materials are not as expensive.
What Will the Weather Conditions Be?
The most important feature is how cold will you be able to camp in with your cold weather sleeping bag. The temperature rating that is listed on the bag is generally a survival rating, not a comfort rating. This means for the most comfortable night sleep you should choose a bag that is rates 15 to 20 degrees lower than you expect to experience. This means a zero-degree bag should be used when the lows will be 15 or 20 degrees. This will make you the most comfortable. Also consider what you wear and what temperature you sleep the best in. Things like wearing socks and a hat (where most of your heat loss occurs) will allow you to be comfortable in lower temperatures closer to the ratings given.
Remember that temperature ratings are also provided under ideal circumstances. Things like wind and rain will impact your level of comfort while camping in more adverse circumstances that a tester would experience. Consider whether you will be hiking at the beach or in the mountains and what elements you are most likely to incur. Take your worst case scenario, enabling the bag to meet all of your winter camping needs.
Features to consider
The Type of Sleeping Bag will you need. Sleeping bags come in several different styles. There are hooded and hoodless bags with zippers, zipper less or quilt style sleeping bags, hooded wearable bags and wearable quilt style bags. The sleeping bags may remain the same width all the way down or be tapered towards the feet.
The style you choose should be based on both your preferences and the weather you plan to sleep in. For warmer months’ zipper less bags and hood less bags are great for letting out the heat and allowing you to be comfortable when the weather is warmer. Colder temperatures benefit from the hooded styles because they are able to secure body heat in addition to the insulation to keep your body warm when the weather gets cold.
The Insulation will impact both the weight and the warmth. The most common type of insulation is synthetic material like polyester and down material. Down material can keep you warmer because it is a denser material and can give you lower temperatures without adding weight. Polyester is better for extended trips and wet conditions. Synthetic material tends to be heavier in weight and is harder to compress into a compact size so would not be ideal for hiking, where weight and size is critical for the journey in and out of the site.
The Fabric Used will impact the weight, your comfort and weather proof nature of the sleeping bag. Lightweight fabrics are generally used on higher end bags. Some will be resistant to rips and tears and some will include water proof features. The exterior should be easy to clean, where the inside you want for comfort. Lower price bags typically use heavier fabrics than more expensive counterparts. Some bags are machine washable making them particularly easy to care for.
The Temperature Rating will determine the level of comfort you can expect based on the night time temperatures. The rating listed will identify what the coldest temperature the bag is designed to withstand and keep the average camper warm. Understand that man and women have different temperatures and women tend to sleep colder than men.
Metabolism, clothing worn, wind, and the protection the tent provides will all factor into your personal needs. Typically winter bags should be rated for freezing temperatures or lower. Three season bags generally cover the temperature ranges of 10 to 35 degrees. Summer bags only need to be 35 degrees or higher.
When choosing a cold weather sleeping bag consider the features that are most important to you. Will you be using it mostly for general comping or remote hiking and camping? This will narrow your priorities for both weight and comfort. Then consider what temperature rating you will need. The lower the rating, the more sophisticated materials are used, which can quickly drive up the price. If you will camp up to freezing temperatures out top picks will keep you safe and comfortable during your camping experience.