Backpacking Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather
Choosing the Right Cold Weather Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Cold Weather Backpacking Sleeping Bags are designed to be warm, lightweight, and compact so that you don’t have too much to carry.
When you’re backpacking, there’s little worse than spending a night shivering in your sleeping bag – desperately waiting for the sun to rise while wearing countless layers of clothing and your wooly hat for extra warmth. Even worse, if you’re facing a day of adventuring in the cold outdoors! So to ensure you stay toasty while you’re backpacking in chilly places, it’s vital that you have the right sleeping bag to keep you warm.
Related: Ultimate Backpacking Gear Checklist
I should also mention early on that as well as a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad is essential to stay warm when sleeping on the ground. Stay tuned for our guide to sleeping pads (coming soon).
Not sure which sleeping bag to get for traveling? Check out our top list of backpacking sleeping bags for cold climates using the quick links below.
12 Best Cold Weather Backpacking Sleeping Bags
If you are looking for a sleeping bag to keep you warm while off exploring the globe, then no doubt you are serious about looking after yourself. There is a massive difference between the lower end sleeping bags and the quality assured products from well-known brands. Cheap sleeping bags might have worked okay for summer camping trips and music festivals but once the temperature drops below 0ºc, you are in for a very cold night trust me. There are a few things you can look for when buying a sleeping bag for backpacking and the first is the temperature rating.
If you’re backpacking somewhere freezing cold, the primary concern on your sleeping bag criteria should be the temperature rating. As the European Advisory devised a legal standard for sleeping bags in 2005, temperature ratings are displayed on all the sleeping bags on this list.
These ratings are presented in “comfort” levels, where the “comfort temperature” displays the lowest temperature that the sleeping bag can contend with before its occupant gets cold. They also include “extreme” ratings for the coldest temperatures, such as snowy conditions and mountains.
Before searching for sleeping bags, ensure you know the temperature of your intended location and choose a sleeping bag that is suitable. Below is an example of an EN13537 tested sleeping which has a clear diagram of the recommended guidelines.
Sleeping bags also have simpler season ratings. The codes for ratings are:
- 1 Season Sleeping Bags: Summer (for use when the temperature is above 5 degrees).
- 2 Season Sleeping Bags: Spring/Summer (+0 degrees).
- 3 Season Sleeping Bags: Spring/Summer/Autumn (0 to -5 degrees).
- 4 Season Sleeping Bags: Year-round (-12 degrees and lower).
- 5 Season Sleeping Bags: Extremely cold conditions!
If you’re heading off somewhere cold, you’ll need a sleeping bag with a Season 3, 4, or even 5 rating. A good rule to bear in mind here is to opt for a sleeping bag that is warmer than you think you’ll need. It’s better to find you’re slightly too warm and take some clothes off or open ventilation zips than to find you’re too cold!
If your location is somewhere with sub-zero temperatures, the extreme condition sleeping bags can offer up to -28 degrees rating. The “extreme” rating basically means “human survival temperature”. This doesn’t mean you’ll be warm or comfortable—just that you probably won’t die of hypothermia or get frostbite. Having a decent tent or shelter is a necesity in any kind of extreme conditions.
While healthy humans have a body temperature of 37 degrees, there is a massive variation in how each individual “feels the cold”. This means it’s vital that you consider your body’s reaction to the cold when buying a sleeping bag. Don’t just rely on the rating on the bag—if you feel the cold, opt for a warmer bag. It is true that women feel the cold more than men, and can have a much lower body temperature at night, so women tend to need a warmer sleeping bag. It is far easier to unzip and cool off in a warm sleeping bag than it is to warm up in a sleeping bag that is not insulated enough to keep you warm in the first place.
Weight is a crucial factor for most backpackers who want to stay as light and mobile as possible, even more so if you don’t plan on using the sleeping bag every night. As you might expect, cold weather backpacking sleeping bags are heavier than warm weather sleeping bags. The extra filling and insulation it takes to keep you warm quickly adds up which is why down sleeping bags make such an attractive prospect. The lighter your sleeping bag the lighter your load so always check and compare the weights before buying.
Packed size is another crucial factor for backpacking sleeping bags because you only have a limited amount of space in your backpack. Compression sacks are a must for any synthetic sleeping bag as they give you some leverage to squeeze and hold it tightly packed. Down sleeping bags are incredibly compact and can often be stuffed into a small stuff sack or dry bag without much effort.
Because the leap from 3 to 4 season sleeping bags is quite big in terms of size and weight, many people might choose a smaller sleeping bag with a lower heat rating. To compensate for this you should pack a sleeping bag liner and be prepared to rely on warm base layers and clothes if it gets too cold.
One of the main factors in ensuring your sleeping bag keeps you warm all night is the insulation it’s made from. The majority of sleeping bags are filled with either synthetic or natural down insulation. There are pro’s and con’s to both but in the end, it comes down to personal choice and judgment. More on this next.
The fabric used for the liner and outer should also be considered but is far less important. A tough outer material will give extra protection over the long run and a soft, breathable lining will provide the most comfort. Some extreme down sleeping bags have a durable water repellant (DWR) coating to prevent the down from getting wet which is great but adds a ‘couple of grams’.
Down Vs. Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Deciding between down and synthetic sleeping bags is going to make the biggest difference to the weight, size, and price of your purchase once you have selected a temperature rating. In cold climates, down sleeping bags are most people’s first choice as they provide a much better warmth to weight/size ratio than their synthetic counterparts.
The biggest issue with down insulation is that it doesn’t work very well if it gets wet and is a struggle to dry, whereas synthetic insulation is designed to keep you warm even if it does get wet and also dries much faster. Down sleeping bags are generally more expensive and require more care than synthetic sleeping bags but will typically last longer.
Down Sleeping Bags
Down is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers of birds and contain thousands of tiny air pockets. These air pockets trap air and retain heat, keeping you toasty even in very cold conditions. It offers a wider range of comfort temperatures, so is ideal if you’ll be traveling through multiple countries. Down sleeping bags are also ideal for backpacking in cold places as they offer a great warmth-to-weight balance. They pack extremely light and small, especially compared to synthetic bags, so they won’t be a burden on your adventures.
Related: Top 10 Best Down Jackets
The disadvantages of down are that if untreated it can absorb moisture, loses its insulating capacity when wet, and takes a long time to dry, so it really isn’t suited to damp conditions. You can get specially treated hydrophobic down or HydraDown which dries faster repels water for longer and retains loft when wet to keep you warm. Coupled with a water repellant outer shell, you shouldn’t have much of an issue unless you really dunk the thing in water or go to sleep in a puddle.
Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Synthetic insulation is designed to replicate the properties of down by creating as many tiny air pockets within the fibers as possible to retain maximum warmth. The major benefit that synthetic insulation has over down is that it will keep you warm even if it gets wet and takes less time to dry out. If you have ever been on an extended backpacking trip with lots of camping then you know how easily a sleeping bag can get damp. Condensation builds up in the night and touching the side of your tent is all it takes to get a wet patch near your feet.
A synthetic sleeping bag rated to -10º will keep you just as warm as a down sleeping bag with the same rating will but will be heavier and bulkier to carry. When the price of a synthetic bag can be around half the price of a down sleeping bag, it is understandable why many budget backpackers choose the cheapest option. You won’t find any synthetic bags on this list because they just can’t compete with the warmth to weight ratio of down sleeping bags.
Cold weather backpacking sleeping bags tend to come in two main shapes: rectangular and tapered/mummy.
Rectangular: Rectangular sleeping bags have a zip around two sides, and can be zipped to other rectangular sleeping bags using opposing zips to form giant sleeping bags. However, the extra room of the non-fitted shape is far less insulating and rarely include a hood, so they’re not suitable for extreme conditions but are ok if you are traveling as a couple. A downside is that rectangular bags can be weighty and bulky, which isn’t ideal for lightweight backpacking.
Mummy: Mummy sleeping bags, unsurprisingly, keep you wrapped up like a mummy. The tapered, fitted shape retains heat far better than rectangular bags, and they feature a “hood” to rest your head in, retaining vital warmth. They weigh less than rectangular bags and most feature a “stuff” sack so they can be substantially compressed. This makes them brilliant for backpacking, as they don’t take up too much room. The majority of mummy bags are single-sized, but some can be zipped into double bags using opposing right- and left-handed zips.
There are some features which can improve the usability of a sleeping bag for backpacking in cold weather and others which are useful wherever you are. If you happen to be sleeping in a hammock on a chilly night you will surely take all the warmth you can get.
- DWR coating is always good to have because sleeping in a wet bag isn’t much fun.
- Drawstring or draft collar hoods stop heat loss around your face and block out some light and sound in noisy places.
- Stuff sacks are a backpacker’s best friend and help make your sleeping bag/backpacking gear as compact as possible.
- Inner pockets are a good idea if you stay in a lot of backpacker hostels so that you can keep your most valuable items secure.
There are a few factors to consider when you’re looking at zips:
- Left or right-handed zips: Right-handed people need left-sided zips, and left-handed people need right-sided zips
- Two-way zip: Some bags contain two-way zips to enable you to ventilate various parts of your body.
- Full-length or half-length: Some bags feature a full-length zip to enable ventilation.
- Zip baffle: As heat can be lost through zips, this insulates the zip.
- Zip cover: This bit of Velcro stops your zip unfastening while you’re asleep.
Where to Start?
So now you know what to look for when choosing a sleeping bag, you can start to look for the one bag that ticks all your boxes. Here is our list of 12 cold weather sleeping bags for backpacking and camping to get you started. All these bags have solid reputations and we would not recommend anything we would not use ourselves.
12 Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather
Western Mountaineering Ultralite Mummy Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 1 lbs 13 oz / 820 g
TEMPERATURE: 20° F / -7° c
PACK SIZE: 17″ x 13″ / 18 cm x 33 cm
MATERIALS: 850+ FP down insulation, Microlite XP shell, Full down collar
The Western Mountaineering Ultralite is a lightweight backpacking sleeping bag that will keep you comfortably warm down to -7° c. It compresses down very small and has an excellent warmth to weight ratio. The outer material might not feel very tough but once you get over the initial fear of damaging it, you realize it is much tougher than you thought. Ideal for backpacking and will last for a long time (10 – 20+ years).
If this isn’t warm enough for you, check out the Western Mountaineering Puma GWS -25F for a serious sub-zero sleeping bag system.
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Marmot Helium 15 F Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 1 oz / 935g
TEMPERATURE: 15° F / -9° c
PACK SIZE: 7″ x 14″ / 17.8 cm x 35.5 cm
MATERIALS: 800 FP goose down, Ultralight Pertex Microlight 20d nylon ripstop shell with DWR, 30d 100% Nylon lining with DWR
The Marmot Helium is a great 3-4 season backpacking sleeping bag which is lightweight and resistant to moisture. There is a handy second zip at the top of the left-hand side which provides easy access and extra ventilation when opened. The multi-baffle hood is super snug and can be drawn in tightly to seal in heat and has a nice inner pocket to store valuables. The Helium is very comfortable and has added stretch to the material allowing you to move about without having lots of dead space.
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Mountain Hardwear Ratio 15 Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 8 oz / 1,140 g
TEMPERATURE: (comfort – limit) 12° F – 24° F / -4° c to -11° c
PACK SIZE: 8″ x 15″ / 20 cm x 38 cm
MATERIALS: Q.Shield™ DOWN 650 FP, 30D Plain Weave shell with DWR treatment, 30D Taffeta lining
The Mountain Hardwear Ratio 15 is a three-season sleeping bag for backpackers and campers looking for lightweight warmth and extra protection from moisture. The ThermoTrap baffle construction locks the down into smaller chambers which reduce heat migration and keeps you warmer. The DWR treatment helps repel water and the Q.Shield down retains maximum loft in damp conditions to help keep you warm and dry all night.
The Mountain Hardwear Phantom Flame sleeping bag offers similar temperature ratings and is 7 oz lighter but costs about double the price. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost -40F is one of the warmest sleeping bags on the market and worth checking out if you are thinking of going to Antarctica or somewhere like that.
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Nemo Sonic Down 15 Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 6 oz / 1,090 g
TEMPERATURE: 15° F / – 9° c
PACK SIZE: 18″ x 9″ / 46 cm x 23 cm (6.5 liters)
MATERIALS: 850 FP Duck down, 20D Nylon Ripstop with DWR treatment, 40D Nylon Ripstop with OSMO™ foot box, 20D Nylon Mini Ripstop with DWR treatment
The Nemo Sonic Down 15 offers the best internal temperature regulation of all the cold weather sleeping bags for backpacking on this list. The Thermo Gills can regulate the internal temperature of the sleeping bag by up to 20° F which makes this a versatile choice for year-round use. A combination of vertical and horizontal baffles prevent down migration in key areas and the stretchy fabric around the knees stops you feeling restricted.
The Sonic Down sleeping bag is also available in a 0° F rated model. Worth noting is that the founder of NEMO is a former NASA contractor tasked with designing space suits – so there are lots of cool design features and models to check out here.
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Montbell Spiral Hugger 800 #1 Down Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 4 oz / 1,011 g
TEMPERATURE: 23 F / -5° c comfort | 11 F / -11° c limit | -24 F / -31° c extreme
PACK SIZE: 7.1″ x 14″ / 18 x 36 cm (7.3 liters)
MATERIALS: 800 FP down insulation, 20D Ballistic rip-stop nylon shell
The Montbell Spiral Hugger 800 Down #1 is a super stretchy and comfortable sleeping bag which adapts to your bodies movements while you sleep. The spiral baffle system works great with no cold spots and we love the neck baffle which stops warm air escaping through the top. The Montbell Spiral Down Hugger is super flexible and once you are zipped in you know you will be warm which makes it the perfect sleeping bag for fidgety backpackers.
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Western Mountaineering Antelope MF Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 7 oz / 1,105 g
TEMPERATURE: 5 F / -15 c
PACK SIZE: 8″ x 17″ / 20 cm x 43 cm
MATERIALS: 850 FP down insulation, weather resistant MicroLite XP™ fabric shell, 15D Nylon Taffeta lining
The Western Mountaineering Antelope MF is a reliable cold weather backpacking sleeping bag for year round use all around the world. The 7″ loft captures warm air very fast and the MicroLite XP shell is highly breathable to prevent you from overheating. The spacious girth and plump full down collar make this a serious piece of backpacking gear that is also very comfortable.
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Rab Neutrino Endurance 600 Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 7 oz / 1,100 g
TEMPERATURE: 25 F / -3° c comfort | 15 F / -9.5° c limit | -18 F / -28° c extreme
PACK SIZE: 8.6″ x 12.2″ / 22 cm x 31 cm
MATERIALS: 800 FP European Goose Down (Rab® fluorocarbon free Hydrophobic Down developed in conjunction with Nikwax®), Pertex® Endurance shell, Pertex Quantum® liner with Polygiene® STAY FRESH odor control treatment
The Rab Neutrino Endurance 600 is not new by any means but it is still one of the best cold weather backpacking sleeping bags on the market. It uses Pertex to protect you from getting wet as well as utilizing Nikwax technology to maintain loft and performance in wet conditions. Rab is well known for their ethically sourced materials and use some of the highest quality down available in the world. Lots of wiggle room and maximum comfort make the Rab Neutrino Endurance 600 a serious contender even in 2017!
For a super warm sleeping bag for the coldest backpacking expeditions check out the Rab Expedition Series which are stuffed with up to 1,400 g of the highest quality 850 FP European goose down.
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Sea To Summit Latitude LT II Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 7 oz / 1,100 g
TEMPERATURE: 15 F / -9° c
PACK SIZE: 7.7 Liters (medium sized watermelon)
MATERIALS: Ultra-Dry Down 750+ FP, 20D NanoShell™ outer with DWR treatment, 20D polyester lining
The Sea To Summit Latitude LT II is a nice bag for a range of activities all year round thanks to the water repellent shell and treated down. With superb loft and lots of wiggle room inside, this sleeping bag is great for adventurous backpacking including alpine environments. The whole sleeping bags zips out flat to create a full duvet for warmer conditions which gets far more use than you might think.
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Big Agnes Spike Lake 14 Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 10 oz / 1,190 g
TEMPERATURE: 14 F / -10° c
PACK SIZE: 8″ x 17.5″ stuff sack (20 cm x 44 cm) / 8.5″ x 8.5″ compressed size (21.5 cm x 21.5 cm)
MATERIALS: 600 FP DownTek™ water repellent down, Nylon Ripstop shell with DWR finish, Nylon Taffeta lining
The Big Agnes Spike Lake offers great value for money without sacrificing performance and goes to show you don’t need to spend a grand to sleep like a king or queen. The water repellent finish works really well to keep moisture out and the treated DownTek keeps most of its loft if it does come into contact with water – which means it maintains its insulating properties in damp conditions. There is plenty of space to turn around inside the bag and you feel well protected from the elements wherever you are.
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Montane Minimus Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 4 oz / 1,005 g
TEMPERATURE: 37 F / 3° c comfort | 28 F / -2° c limit | 0 F / -18° c extreme
PACK SIZE: stuff sack 22 cm x 9 cm x 30 cm (could be massively reduced with a compression sack)
MATERIALS: 90/10 goose down at 800+ FP, PERTEX® Shield+ waterproof and breathable shell, PEAQ Down lining
The Montane Minimus is a fully waterproof down sleeping bag with taped seams which is ideal for backpacking in cold weather. While it may not be suitable for subzero temperatures, winter conditions in many countries never even come close to that so the Minimus might be just what you need. Montane have a reputation for quality-made goods and this sleeping bag is no exception but the narrow foot box and 1/2 length zip might not be for you.
Check out the Montane Prism Sleeping bag for a reasonably priced synthetic sleeping bag which is made using PRIMALOFT insulation.
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Crux Torpedo 500 Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 10 oz / 1,190 g
TEMPERATURE: 32 F / 0° c comfort | 21 F / -6° c limit | -4 F / -20° c extreme
PACK SIZE: 9.8″ x 11.8″ / 25 cm x 30 cm
MATERIALS: 850+ FP Goose Down, 2-layer eVent® 40D nylon shell, 15d Pertex Quantum® soft-touch nylon lining
The Crux Torpedo 500 is a lower alpine sleeping bag that works just as well for backpacking. The waterproof shell is made from eVent fabric which will keep you very dry and is also incredibly breathable much like Gore-Tex. As well as being waterproof the outer shell is tougher and more durable than other ultralight bags and so we would expect it to last longer.
The Crux Torpedo range of sleeping bags is available in 3 other weight classes for different situations and destinations.
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KLYMIT KSB 20 Down Sleeping Bag
WEIGHT: 2 lbs 12 oz / 1,250 g
TEMPERATURE: 20˚F / -7˚C
PACK SIZE: 13″ x 8.5″ / 33 cm x 21.6 cm
MATERIALS: 650 FP White Duck Down, 20D rip-stop nylon with DWR treatment, 20D nylon lining
The KLYMIT KSB 20 isn’t the lightest down sleeping bag for backpacking but it is one of the cheapest. The stretchy baffle system is one of the best we’ve seen and it gives you lots of freedom to move about when zipped up tight. As you might expect from one of the cheapest sleeping bags on the list, the KLYMIT KSB 20 Down is very basic and lacks the luxurious quality that other brands strive for. If you use you gear hard and fast then this might be a good choice otherwise I would look for something a little lighter.
Also available in a camoflage colour combination.
Thanks for reading our list of the 12 Best Cold Weather Backpacking Sleeping Bags, stay tuned and subscribe for our summer sleeping bag list coming soon.