The most important attributes of a winter sleeping bag for backpacking and thru-hiking are: high value insulation, low weight, compressibility, and interior space, so you can be comfortable and store gear, like damp boots and water bottles, in your sleeping bag so they don’t freeze overnight. Cost is also a factor, although a good winter sleeping bag will last ten years or more if maintained and stored properly.
Here are our top 10 recommended winter sleeping bags for cold weather backpacking. For more information, see our evaluation criteria and buying advice below.
|Make / Model||Weight||Fill Weight||Fill Power||Price|
|Big Agnes Blackburn UL 0||2 lbs 12 oz||23.5 oz||850||$500|
|Big Agnes Orno 0||2 lbs 7 oz||28 oz||850||$560|
|Feathered Friends Ibis EX||3 lbs 1 oz||28.5 oz||900||$635|
|Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX 0||2 lbs 13 oz||25.3 oz||900||$599|
|Marmot Lithium||2 lbs 9.5 oz||27.8 oz||800||$499|
|NEMO Sonic 0||2 lbs 11 oz||23.6 oz||850||$479|
|Sierra Designs UL Nitro 0||2 lbs 8 oz||26 oz||800||$379|
|The North Face Inferno 0||2 lbs 14 oz||29.3 oz||800||$519|
|Western Mountaineering Kodiak MF 0||2 lbs 12 oz||30 oz||850||$675|
|Montbell Down Hugger 800 #0||3 lbs 2 oz||33 oz||800||$589|
1. NEMO Sonic 0 Sleeping Bag
2. Big Agnes Orno 0 Sleeping Bag
3. Marmot Lithium Sleeping Bag
4. Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0 Sleeping Bag
5. Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX 0 Sleeping Bag
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6. Big Agnes Blackburn UL 0 Sleeping Bag
7. The North Face Inferno 0 Sleeping Bag
8. Sierra Designs Nitro UL 0 Sleeping Bag
9. Feathered Friends Ibis Ex 0 Sleeping Bag
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10. Montbell Down Hugger 800 #0
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Winter Sleeping Bag Selection Advice
Mummy Sleeping Bag or Quilt?
A mummy sleeping bag is warmer and more comfortable than an ultralight down quilt under 20 degrees fahrenheit. While quilts are popular for warm weather use, mummy bags are far less drafty when the mercury drops below 20 degrees. They also provide a warm overnight space where you can keep water, filters, and footwear overnight to prevent them from freezing. This is harder to do with an ultralight quilt, which is usually shorter and sized narrow to save weight. Sleeping in temperatures below freezing definitely changes your behavior and requires a different skill set and gear list than regular three-season camping or backpacking in warmer weather.
What is the best sleeping bag temperature rating to get for winter backpacking? While there are bound to be regional differences, a zero degree bag is usually a good baseline temperature to aim for because you can easily make it warmer by 20 degrees by wearing insulated clothes or by using a sleeping bag liner. A zero degree bag can also be used in warmer temps up to about 20-30 degrees by cracking open the zipper or loosening up the hood and venting it if you’re too warm. The weight and packability of a zero degree sleeping bag is also pretty reasonable compared to a minus 20 degree bag and usually doesn’t require the purchase of a larger backpack to carry.
Best Type of Insulation
If you plan to do any winter backpacking, you’re going to want a down-insulated sleeping bag because it’s the warmest insulation available by weight. It compresses very well, making it very packable. Aim for down fill powers of 800, 850, 900, or 950: the higher the better. Higher fill power down traps more warmth by weight than lower fill power down. People often wonder whether goose down is better than duck down. All down is graded the same way, in a species-independent manner. In other words 800 fill power goose down is as good as 800 fill power duck down, only more expensive because there’s a smaller supply.
Sleeping Bag Dimensions
It is common to sleep with boot liners or boots, water bottles, and other items, like water filters, that should not freeze overnight. This means you’ll want some extra space in a cold weather sleeping bag to store the gear, while still maintaining your personal comfort. In addition to added shoulder, hip, and foot width, some people get a longer sleeping bag so they can store gear below their feet. Winter nights are long and it pays to be comfortable, especially if you have to sleep with cold, damp boots and water bottles.
Winter sleeping bags should have a draft collar, zipper draft tubes, and snag-free zippers at a minimum. Partial length zippers, continuous baffles, vents, and even water-resistant down are all nice-to-haves, but you can get by without them to save on cost or because they’re not strictly necessary.
Most winter sleeping bags have draft collars and I consider it a cold weather essential. A draft collar is a tube of insulation that drapes over your chest and neck and seals in the bag’s warmth. Without it, the war air inside the bag will rush out around your neck when you move around inside. The simplest draft collar is a down tube that covers the front of your chest. Higher end bags add a second draft collar around the back of your shoulders and neck and provide additional controls, so you can tighten or loosen it.
Zipper Draft Tubes
Draft tubes are tubes of down that cover up the side zipper so your legs don’t come in contact with it (because it’s cold). Most winter bags have at least one zipper draft tube, although some have two, both top and bottom, that fall into place when you zipper up your bag.
Snag Free Zipper
Snag-free zippers prevent the side zipper’s teeth from tearing the shell fabric of your bag and spilling its insulation. The zipper is usually bordered by stiff fabric of some sort, to keep it away from the down baffles.
Water-resistant down is a nice to have, not a must-have in a winter sleeping bag. The truth is most people can keep their sleeping bags dry. If you notice moisture on the outside of your sleeping bag in the morning, it doesn’t mean that the down inside is wet. Simply drape it over your tent in the sun while you eat breakfast and it will dry in no time.
Continuous baffles usually run horizontally across a bag. They allow you to shake the down in the baffles and move it to a different location. For example, if you’re too warm, you could shake the down so it fell down the sides of the bag, rather than keep it on your chest. While continuous baffles let you customize the distribution of down for different needs, many people prefer baffles that keep the down in one place reliably and permanently. It’s one less thing to worry about.
Partial length zippers
Partial length zippers are often used as a weight-saving feature, however they can reduce use across a wider temperature range by limiting your venting options.
Vents like NEMO’s Thermogills or Sierra Design’s Foot Vent can increase the temperature range of a sleeping bag, but they’re just one way of accomplishing this goal.
How do we know what the 10 best winter sleeping bags are? We survey our large readership to ask. If you’d like to participate in our surveys, be on the look up for the gear raffles we run every few weeks on SectionHiker, where we give survey participants a chance to win. Or sign up to the weekly, award-winning SectionHiker newsletter, so you never miss out on an opportunity to participate. We hate spam, so we’ll never share your email with anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any time.
- The Winter Sleeping Bag FAQ: Practical Advice for Winter Backpackers
- Winter Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings: Words of Warning
- Is it Better to Buy a Sleeping Bag with a Gore-Tex Shell or to Use a Bivy Sack?
- Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack Size Guide
Check Out All of SectionHiker's Winter Gear Guides!
- 10 Best Winter Hiking Boots
- 10 Best Snowshoes for Winter Hiking
- 10 Best Winter Backpacks
- 10 Best Winter Sleeping Bags for Backpacking
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