The most important attributes of a sleeping bag for winter camping and backpacking are high-value insulation, compressibility, low weight, and ample interior space, so you have ample room to store gear and water in your sleeping bag, so it doesn’t freeze overnight. Cost is also a factor, although a good winter sleeping bag will last fifteen years or more if maintained and stored properly. For winter backpacking and other mobile pursuits such as backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, we recommend you get a down-insulated winter sleeping bag because it packs much smaller and is much lighter weight.
We think the best bang for your buck is a 0-degree sleeping bag since you can boost its warmth with a low-cost liner if you need to sleep in colder temperatures than that. Most people avoid winter camping and backpacking when temperatures dip below zero anyway since it’s just not that fun.
Here are our top 10 recommended down winter sleeping bags for cold weather camping and backpacking. For more information and answer to common questions, see our evaluation criteria and buying advice below.
|Make / Model||Price||Down Fill Power||Weight||Down Fill Weight|
|Marmot Lithium 0||$499||800||2 lbs 9.5 oz||27.8 oz|
|The North Face Inferno 0||$519||800||2 lbs 14 oz||29.3 oz|
|NEMO Sonic 0||$500||800||3 lbs||25 oz|
|Therm-a-Rest Oberon 0||$490||800||2 lbs 8 oz||28 oz|
|Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0||$675||850||2 lbs 12 oz||30 oz|
|Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX 0||$619||900||2 lbs 13 oz||25.3 oz|
|Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0||$620||850||2 lbs 10.6||30 oz|
|Sierra Designs Nitro UL 0||$420||800||2 lbs 8 oz||26 oz|
|Feathered Friends Ibis EX 0||$650||900||3 lbs 1 oz||28.5 oz|
|Big Agnes Star Fire UL 0||$580||850||2 lbs 14 oz||31 oz|
1. Marmot Lithium Sleeping Bag
2. The North Face Inferno 0 Sleeping Bag
3. NEMO Sonic 0 Down Sleeping Bag
4. Therm-a-Rest Oberon 0 Sleeping Bag
5. Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0 Down Sleeping Bag
6. Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX 0 Sleeping Bag
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7. Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 Down Sleeping Bag
8. Sierra Designs Nitro UL 0 Sleeping Bag
9. Feathered Friends Ibis Ex 0 Down Sleeping Bag
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10. Big Agnes Star Fire UL 0
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 skillset and gear list than regular three-season camping or backpacking in warmer weather.
Down vs. Synthetic Insulation
Down insulation is more compressible and warmer by weight than synthetic insulation. How much warmer? The best synthetic insulation is only equivalent to 600 fill power down. What about moisture accumulation inside the bag? If you’re just going out for one night or a few nights in zero-degree weather, it’s unlikely that you’ll perspire enough to significantly reduce the insulation value of a down bag. It’s a very different story if you’re on an expedition where you’re sleeping out in -40 degree weather every night for weeks on end. Even then, most mountaineering guides and explorers still opt for down-filled sleeping bags over synthetic ones because they’re warmer, pack up much smaller, and are much lighter weight to carry. You can also dry out a sleeping bag during a trip in the sun to rid of it any extra moisture. People do it all the time.
Waterproof Down vs Non-Waterproof Down
There’s no such thing as waterproof down. While so-called down waterproofing treatments allow down to dry faster if it gets damp from perspiration, most premium sleeping bag makers won’t use it because it reduces the perceived insulation value of 800, 850, 900, ad 950 fill power goose down.
What is the best sleeping bag temperature rating to get for winter backpacking? While there are bound to be regional differences, a zero-degree sleeping 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, which can save you a chunk of money. 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, or 900: 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.
Most zero-degree winter sleeping bags are unisex. The one exception to this is Featured Friends which make seven women’s specific sleeping bags by our last count including 0, -10, and -25 degree winter sleeping bags.
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 warm 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). They also prevent cold air from leaking into the bag through the needle holes that are created when sewing the zipper to the bag. 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 tape, to keep it away from the down baffles and prevent it from getting snagged on the bag’s outer shell.
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.
- The Winter Sleeping Bag FAQ: Practical Advice for Winter Backpackers
- 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!
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