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Winter Sleeping Bags

Winter Sleeping Bags:

Winter Sleeping BagsSometimes the choices for sleeping bags are overwhelming but if you know a few things about winter bags it will be much easier to figure out what kind of winter sleeping bag is best for you.  Additionally, there are several things you can do to help keep you warm when sleeping outside in winter conditions (or in a tent). Some of those tips are listed at the end of this article.

Temperature Rating:

The most important thing about a winter bag is that it keeps you really, really warm. The temperature rating determines just how cold it can be outside for you to be warm inside your sleeping bag. Most people will not go winter camping without a rating of at least 0 degrees. If you are a cold sleeper, it’s definitely better to err on the side of caution and get a -15 or -20 degree bag. But remember, with a better warmth rating, your bag will typically be heavier.

Insulation - Down:  

One of the most difficult decisions to make when choosing a winter sleeping bag is whether you want down or synthetic insulation. Down is unarguably warmer in proportion to its weight. Down sleeping bags pack extremely well, and if you get the highest quality, 800-900 fill down, your bag will literally be light as a feather. 

There are a few things to keep in mind about down. First, a higher quality down bag is not necessarily warmer. For example, if you compare two down bags rated at 0 degrees, one with 650-fill and one with 850-fill, the 850 fill bag will weigh less, however they will both be warm to 0 degrees. The great thing about extremely high quality down is that it weighs very little. Typically, a 650-fill down sleeping bag will be plenty light for a winter backpacking or camping trip.

Another thing to remember about down is that it is only warm when it is dry. Once it gets wet, it takes a very long time to dry out. If you are going camping in the snow then down would be great, however, in rainy or wet conditions you would be better off with a synthetic bag. There are a few companies that make a down bag with a waterproof, Gore-Tex shell. They are quite expensive but are the best of both worlds.

Insulation - Synthetic:  

If you are at all concerned about your bag getting wet (even from dew), consider a synthetic sleeping bag. Companies have made outstanding progress with their synthetic insulation, nearly mimicking down and getting very good warmth-to-weight results. Some of the more popular synthetic insulations are Primaloft, Polarguard, Thinsulate, and Thermolite. Primaloft is the most down-like synthetic material on the market. Thinsulate and Thermolite are both exceptional at keeping you warm even when they get wet. 

Extras (Length, Zippers, Compatibility):

Choosing the length of your sleeping bag is pretty straightforward. Most unisex bags come in either 6’ or 6’6” and women’s bags come in 5’6” or 5’10” sizes. Getting a bag a little longer than your body is a good idea for a winter sleeping bag because you can keep a warm water bottle, clothes, shoes, and things you don’t want to freeze in the bottom of your bag. Zippers weigh more than the other materials used to make your sleeping bag. For a winter bag, a 1/2 zip is usually sufficient, since you’re trying to stay warm, not cool off. If you are interested in zipping your bag together with a partner, this can be extremely warm, however, make sure your zippers are full-zip, compatible, and on opposite sides, otherwise one person’s sleeping bag will be upside-down. 

Tips for Sleeping Warm:

There is always the debate between sleeping naked or covering up with clothes. A nice balance is wearing a thin layer of long underwear. Your down or synthetic bag gets warm because your body heats up the trapped air, so if you smother your body with clothing, your body heat won’t escape at all and won't raise the temperature of the trapped air. A thin layer of long underwear (synthetic, silk, or wool - no cotton!) will help keep you warm, but will let some body heat escape. Much of your body heat escapes through your feet and your head, so wear a clean, dry, pair of loose socks and a skull cap to bed as well. Additionally, if you are freezing cold when you go to bed, it’s going to take you a long time to heat up your sleeping bag. Do sit ups in your sleeping bag or a few jumping jacks before you go to bed so that your body is emitting some heat. A warm water bottle (that doesn’t leak) can be put in between your legs or on your feet and fill up any extra space with clothes. This keeps your jacket from freezing and reduces the amount of air you have to heat up! One more tip - drink lots of water, but make sure to go pee before you go to bed. Your body expends a great deal of energy keeping liquids in your body warm, so if you need to pee, do so immediately.

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