Nothing ruins a camping or backpacking trip like a bad bag, especially during the winter months when spending any time outside is a lot harder. Get a sleeping bag that is too constricting, doesn’t ventilate enough, or does it too much, is sticky like cling wrap, or has gaps in the padding that leave you with cold spots, and it will turn an otherwise golden trip into a freezing hell.
The key to getting the right bag is to find one that will fit the conditions you plan on encountering. For winter, this means seeking out a bag that is rated for about ten degrees below the chill you expect to find. Much more than that, and it’s likely to roast you.
Anything less, and they’ll chip you out of the ice.
When it comes to cold weather bags, down is typically the best option out there, since synthetics don’t usually bring the heat. There’s also little else on the market that packs down as well – since space is always a concern, whether hiking or driving to the site.
Then there’s the fit of the thing, which can wreck an otherwise beautiful bag if it’s sloppy loose or binds you up like a mental patient in the 1940’s.
Mix each of these component parts together and you have a glorious stew made up of the 11 supreme cold weather sleeping bags out there.
Forget what we said about synthetic fabrics playing second fiddle to down. When ounces matter, but you still want a bag that’s comfortable for bigger bodies, the Sports Tracker is coverage where it counts. The 75D Diamond ripstop shell can snag or get perforated without losing its ability to keep water out, which is a blessed guard against the trip-destroying bane of wetness. Zip it up with a full-length baffle, and it’s a lifetime goer. Purchase: $68
A winner on both price and fit, capable of getting down to about 20-degrees, the baffle system employs elastic material that flexes out when you get into it, but then constricts to fit your form, and to keep everything nicely packed when you’re carrying it. Though the duck down is a scant 650-fill, and isn’t nearly as dense as true goose, it still manages to out perform anything else in its price range by a fairly wide margin, and is head and shoulders above competitors that overcharge for lesser pieces. Purchase: $140
Simple as they come, The North Face has hit on a very basic winner with the Aleutian. It can handle serious cold, rated at -20-degrees, with Heatseeker Eco insulation that’s heavy, but doesn’t drown the price the way lightweight down will. Ripstop nylon and no frills might mean it ranks low on the wow factor, but it hits home runs in warmth and cost efficiency. Purchase: $189+
Enlightened Equipment Revelation
Marketed as the quilt that goes anywhere, the Revelation is one of the few cold weather sleeping bags that doesn’t have a hood built in, choosing instead to act as both a bag or an exterior blanket, which makes it primed for mixing and matching with other choices, should you decide to go with one of the lighter options. Customization factors in at every stage, from size to down fill type, letting you turn the Revelation into whatever you want to see in your gear loadout. Purchase: $300
Big Agnes has a history of making seriously comfortable bags that are built with the intent of feeling more like a home comforter, so there’s less adjustment time from your house to the side of a hill. Rather than using a traditional mummy bag arrangement, Agnes offers a free range hood that has a wider build for easier movement and less constriction unless you so desire it. One of the nicest features is the pad sleeve on the back, which is among the best for keeping your mat in place, which saves heat lost to the cold, cold ground. Purchase: $316
Kuiu Super Down Sleeping Bag
Prepare to ignore any budget constraints you might have if you’re eyeballing this beauty. Though the sticker shock doesn’t fade easily, one day carrying this around, and one night bivouacked against the bite of winter will make a believer out of you. Pound for pound the most warmth you’re going to find at this heft, it is 865-fill with 12D ripstop nylon that uses verticle baffles for both better lateral stretch, and less space wasted than you’d get with horizontal baffling. It’s a toaster that doesn’t lose a degree even when you roll in it. Purchase: $450
L.L.Bean Ultralight 850 Down
A big, downy hombre that tends to spill over most pads when deployed, yet packs down to a two-pound cantelope when it’s time to break down the site, the name might be uninspiring, but it suits this wide, unpretentious beefcake. Unlike most bags that barely clear the bar to make their temperature rating, you can expect this to exceed its 15-degree temp tag. Purchase: $499
A versatile backpacking and mountaineering bag, the Sonic breaks from the pack by allowing you to stay comfortable in any of the colder temperatures, with a wide range that slides well between single digits all the way up to above freezing. The key to their design is the long gills on the front that can be zipped down like motorcycle jacket vents, creating a pair of heat sinks that can be opened wide for extra morning snoozes, or pulled in tight for freezing nights. Combo baffling – vertical on top, horizontal on the bottom – add space where it’s required, but cut wasted fabric without injuring the comfort level. Purchase: $530
A balanced beast that checks off all the major boxes, the Antelope doesn’t wow in any particular field, though it is exceptionally light, but rather has a well-rounded body with its 850-fill down and multiple size options, in short, medium, and large. Part of the secret to Western’s success lies in using a draft collar along with down hood to hold air in more efficiently right at the breathing hole, where you’re likely to lose the most. The baffle arrangement also helps you choose how well it works by quick-shifting the down for more or less warmth as the mercury changes position. Purchase: $595
Feathered Friends Snowbunting EX
Continuous baffles turn the Snowbunting into a solid year-round bag which can accommodate trips to colder climates during the warmer months, or the other way around. A breathable laminate on the outside coupled with DWR (Durable Water Repellent) help stop wetness, and even keep your own soggy breath from condensing inside the bag, creating a drier experience that makes it incredibly good for moist climates, such as trips up Mt. Rainier. Purchase: $599
Fjällräven are always miracle workers when it comes to their winter gear, and this is no exception. The unusual zipper configuration offers the ability to either snug yourself into the relaxed mummy fit, or let your arms go free for handling basic chores without ever needing to exit the bag. It’s also filled with features, such as a fur hood that can detach, should you want to insulate your cranium in the caveperson style. Damn durable, it’s not for packing unless you have a mule to carry it, since there’s a lot of girth and density to this yeti. Purchase: $1,000