Camping in cold weather is something I’ve learned to love over decades of a variety of winter camping experiences. As a teenager on wilderness camping trips, I experienced my fair share of miserably cold camping — mainly due to camping with the wrong sleeping bag. That had long had me thinking about the best sleeping bags for this kind of weather.
When temperatures drop at night (especially in the desert or mountains) you can easily become uncomfortably cold while you’re camping if you don’t have the right sleeping bag for this situation. And being cold at night can also deter you from leaving the house in cold weather months to go camping in the future. Those teeth-chattering cold evenings are not easily forgotten.
Over the years, I’ve upgraded my camping equipment and learned that you can actually camp comfortably when it’s cold outside — even in the winter. You just need the best sleeping bag for the job. I’ve also learned that it’s invigorating to wake up to cold crisp morning air with a cup of hot coffee knowing that you had a good night’s sleep in the great outdoors despite the cold weather.
Here are my recommendations for the seven best sleeping bags for cold weather camping from 20 degrees to -20 degrees (all temperatures mentioned in this article will be in Fahrenheit):
1. RAB Neutrino 800
The RAB Netrino 800 Sleeping Bag is worth the investment if you’re winter camping in temperatures down to -4 degrees. Made with an 800-fill European Duck Down, this sleeping bag retains heat exceptionally well.
With the mummy tapered shape, the RAB Netrino 800 sleeping bag fits close to your body and comes with an adjustable cinch cord to pull the sleeping bag even closer around your face. This sleeping bag is also hand-filled so you’re getting a quality product that will last for many years. And, it weighs in at just 3 pounds, 4.5 ounces, so it’s lighter to carry when you’re backpacking.
The internal YKK 3 coil zipped stash pocket, 3/4 length YKK 5 coil main zip (left hand zip only), and anti-snag zipper webbing tape is a higher end feature that will help keep your zipper from snagging and last longer.
2. Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 15
If you’re backpacking in cold weather, the Mountain Hardwear Bishop Pass 15 sleeping bag is a great choice as it weighs just 2 pounds, 5.4 ounce, while still boasting 650-fill power down insulation that will keep you warm to about 15 degrees. The mummy cut fits close to your body for efficient warmth. You’ll also notice how water repellent the outside of this sleeping bag is since it’s made to keep the down fill dry inside.
This Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag also has a glow-in-the-dark zipper pull so you can easily find it in the dark. And, the zipper is a lightweight #5 YKK zipper that has an anti-snag slider to allow you to zip yourself up at night without getting snagged. Another great feature of this sleeping bag is that you can zip it with another compatible Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag if you want to create a sleeping bag for two people.
This sleeping bag comes in both regular and long sizes, has an inner stash pocket, loops for your sleeping pad and includes a stuff sack for easy packing.
3. Klymit 0 Degree
The Klymit 0 Degree sleeping bag is a bag you can trust to get you through the single-digit temps. It features pillowy synthetic fill that keeps you warm and comfortable all night long, and it has an outer fabric that has a durable water repellant treatment to protect the insulation from moisture that can impede thermal performance and add weight. But what you’re really going to love about this sleeping bag is when the stretch baffles allow you to sit up, stretch, and freely cross your legs without unzipping your bag.
The bag measures 82-by-11-by-11 inches, and packed down to almost 18 inches in length. The insulation is ClusterLoft, a synthetic down-like material, and the shell is 20D nylon. It weighs in at 4.7 pounds.
4. Marmot Sawtooth
The Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag is another packable sleeping bag ideal for backpackers camping in cold weather. With 650-fill duck down, this premium sleeping bag will keep you warm at night down to 15 degrees. Although this three-season sleeping bag doesn’t pack quite as small as other higher priced sleeping, it’s still a good quality choice and weighs in at just 2 pounds, 5.4 ounces.
The attention to detail in the mummy design of this sleeping bag is unique as it has a comfortable foot bed and a comfortable hood that holds in heat and keeps you warm and cozy all night. It also has a Defender treatment that makes this sleeping bag water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about the duck down insulation getting wet and heavy.
5. Coleman 0 Degree
Coming in just under $50, the Coleman 0 Degree Mummy Sleeping bag is a good choice for car or tent camping in cold weather down to 0 degrees. One of the best features of this Coleman sleeping bag is that it’s made specifically for taller people up to 6 feet, 2 inches. There’s also a bungee cord built into the opening so you can pull the draw string tight to seal in heat. The synthetic fill in this sleeping bag is comparable to an 800-fill good down sleeping bag and retains heat inside consistently.
This Coleman sleeping bag also has an insulated foot box to provide your feet with a little extra insulation. With 4.5 stars on Amazon, this inexpensive bag is an ideal choice for cold weather camping on a budget.
6. The North Face Eco Trail Down 0 Degree
Made from fully recycled materials, this North Face sleeping bag will keep you warm down to 0 degrees. With 600-fill recycled down and a polyester shell, this sleeping bag has a unique zipper system — wraparound J-zip — for better mobility (especially for your knees) and venting. The cinch-cord hood is also good for sealing in heat to keep you warm.
Coming in on the larger size when rolled, similar to a 5-gallon bucket, this sleeping bag is made for winter camping and not ideal for long backpacking as it weighs more than 5 pounds. The internal phone pocket will keep your small electronics warm and the vaulted footbed gives you a little added space. You can also secure your sleeping bad with the built-in tie-down loops.
7. U.S. Army Subzero ECW Down GI Sleeping Bag
This Military Surplus sleeping bag is my personal go-to sleeping bag for winter camping in Montana. This sleeping bag has held up for the past seven years and keeps me incredibly warm from my head to my feet in the winter and early Spring. It’s more roomy than other mummy shaped sleeping bags I’ve tested, as there’s plenty of room to sleep on your side and move around without compromising your heat.
The two-sided zipper makes it easy to get in and out of and there is some extra head cushioning so you can sleep comfortably without a pillow. The thick down and polyester fill insulation holds in heat and the poplin cotton shell repels water to keep the down fill from getting wet. The draw cord hood is another nice feature as it keeps heat from escaping around your head and it’s easy to adjust from the inside.
You can usually find this sleeping bag in new or used condition online or at a military surplus store. Since this sleeping bag weighs about 8 to 10 pounds (ranging from small to large), it’s best to use it for car or tent camping in areas where you don’t have to haul the sleeping bag long distances.
Suzanne Downing is an outdoor writer and photographer in Montana with an environmental science journalism background. Her work can be found in Outdoors Unlimited, Bugle Magazine, Missoulian, Byline Magazine, Communique, MTPR online, UM Native News, National Wildlife Federation campaigns and more.
Feature image courtesy of Klymit
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