How to Choose the Right Sleeping Bag for Winter Camping


November 30, 2021


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Women in a sleeping bag

Your goal is sleeping under a star-studded sky admiring the Northern Lights, but you don’t have the right equipment to camp in sub-zero temperatures? What you’re missing is the right sleeping bag: warm enough to help you have a good night’s sleep while staying warm and recovering from your long hike. Read our tips on how to find the right sleeping bag that will adequately protect you from the cold.

Thinking of going camping during the cold season? Check out our Winter Camping Guide for more tips on mattresses, winter tents, and how-to techniques.

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How to choose a winter sleeping bag that is suitable for the weather?

Choosing the right sleeping bag for the right temperatures means that you don’t have to wear layer upon layer upon layer! However, it’s important not to sleep with the same clothes you wore during the day as you’ll be bringing the humidity into your sleeping bag with you.

Sleeping bags with a temperature rating of -9 °C to -12 °C: for the cold of late fall and early winter

For the month of October to the beginning of November, you can opt for a sleeping bag with a temperature code of -9 °C to -12 °C. If you plan to camp in -12°C temperatures, however, it is best to opt for a sleeping bag with a slightly higher temperature rating. This way, you’ll be sure to be comfortable and not feel the effects of the cold. Several factors may affect your heat level during winter camping, such as fatigue, food intake and humidity. Be sure to consider these factors before purchasing your sleeping bag, to optimize your winter camping experience.

Sleeping bags with this temperature rating are perfect for someone who wants to go winter camping for the first time. The price for -9 °C to -12 °C sleeping bags is affordable, too. If you’re worried about whether this type of sleeping bag is sufficiently warm, but are unsure about spending more for a -18 °C to -29 °C bag, you can always buy extra lining which will add insulation to the bag.

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Sleeping bags with a temperature rating of -18 °C to -29 °C: for the cold winter weather

If you are now an expert of winter camping and you want to take your experience to another level, you’ll need a sleeping bag that will offer guaranteed warmth and comfort no matter where you go. With a -18 °C to -29 °C sleeping bag, you can take that trip to the top of the mountain while being excellently bundled up. If you plan to camp in temperatures between two ratings, it is best to choose the sleeping bag with the higher temperature rating.

Although pricier, these sleeping bags have a multitude of uses designed to facilitate your life when it’s cold outside. Taking into account that you will spend much of your time in the bag, some of them are equipped with a front zipper, allowing you to sit up and eat comfortably.

Should you opt for a down-filled or synthetic sleeping bag?

When we talk comfort, we’re talking lining. Two types are on the market: down-filled or synthetic.

Down-filled sleeping bags offer unparalleled comfort and warmth. You’ll feel like you are in your own bed, under thick blankets. And, if you want to transport your down-filled sleeping bag over long distances, it doesn’t take up all that much space! This will allow you to have more room for the rest of your gear. Though, comfort like this also comes with it’s inconveniences. The more compressed the down-filling, the higher the risk for it to lose its puffiness, which is what gives it its thermal properties. The majority of the down currently used in sleeping bags are treated with a coating allowing them to be waterproof and water-resistant. In terms of maintenance, down sleeping bags require more attention than synthetic ones (see below for maintenance).

With regards to synthetic insulated lining, with its equal heat input (in comparison to the down), it will be less compressible. However, its moisture-resistant and its maintenance is easier.

Which shape to choose: Rectangular or mummy?

Mummy winter sleeping bag Rectangular winter sleeping bag

The rectangular sleeping bag is not recommended for winter camping. Why? Because there is a lot of space between your body and the lining, thus more air to heat, which implies heat loss.

If you want to maximize your winter camping experience, you’ll need a sleeping bag that hugs your body. This is why you should opt for a mummy sleeping bag; narrower at the feet and larger at the shoulders. What’s more, most mummy bags are equipped with a wind-breaking hood and adjustable collar that protect your head and neck from losing heat (which is mostly lost from the head and feet, so this factor should not be ignored).

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A necessary addition: The camping mat

Even the best sleeping bag will not protect you from the frozen ground without a good camping mat. If you place your sleeping bag directly on the ground, the filling will flatten out and lose its thermal capacities. Camping mats are rated according to a code. For winter camping, we usually choose a code 4 or higher. When spring arrives, you can go up to 3.5 or more – but never less – or you risk getting too cold.

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Pro tip: Sleeping bag maintenance

In order to maintain the insulating qualities of your sleeping bag, it’s important to take good care of it. After each wash, either filling will begin to lose its thermal capacities. Ideally, wash it the least possible and to air it out after each use. Leave it out for several hours on an elevated surface, and make sure it’s nice and dry.

If you have a synthetic sleeping bag

You should read the included instructions attentively. Inadequate washing, the wrong drying cycle, or temperatures that are too high could alter the insulating properties of the bag.

If you have a down-filled sleeping bag

The idea is to wash it as little as possible. It’s better to remove stains by hand using soft soap, or to submerge it in the bathtub and lay it flat to dry (not to be put in the spin cycle, otherwise the duvet can become damaged and lost its thermal qualities). If it’s absolutely necessary to wash your down-filled sleeping bag and you wish to use the machine, you may set it to “delicate wash”, selecting cold water.

In order to have a memorable winter camping experience, make sure you have the right gear. Have a great winter!

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