How to Buy a Cold Weather Sleeping Bag

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What Are Cold Weather Sleeping Bags?

As the name suggests, cold weather sleeping bags are sleeping bags designed for extremely cold conditions and are typically used during the winter months of the year or cold regions.

Most cold weather sleeping bags are designed for use between -10° to +10° (Fahrenheit), whereas ‘extreme/winter sleeping bags’ are designed for temperatures of -10° and lower.

In the past it was difficult to know whether the sleeping bag you were buying would be able to handle the temperatures you were going to encounter. Nowadays, however, thanks to the EN standard temperature rating, sleeping bags are all measured the same way, so it’s easy to find a zero degree sleeping bag (or whatever you’re looking for).

How to Buy a Cold Weather Sleeping Bag

Now that we’ve established what a cold weather sleeping bag is, let’s find out how to buy the right one for you.

When buying a sleeping, the 3 key factors to consider are:

  • Temperature
  • Weight (vs. amount of Space)
  • Type of insulation

Sleeping bagWhen choosing a sleeping bag for cold conditions, the first (and most important) thing you need to look at is the temperature. The sleeping bag must be designed to handle the coldest temperature you’re likely to encounter, otherwise it’s worthless.

Nowadays, the temperature rating can often be found in the name of the product (e.g. ‘Men’s Outback Lumen +15 bag’ – meaning its minimum temperature is +15°F).

As I mentioned earlier, the temperature ratings given to sleeping bags are now highly accurate thanks to the universal EN rating standard.

It is worth noting that these EN ratings are based on the idea that when lying in the sleeping bag you’ll be wearing one layer of clothing and a hat, and you’ll have an insulating sleeping mat underneath the sleeping bag.

Note also that the EN standard temperature ratings displayed are different for men and women. In simple terms, if you’re a woman, look for the EN “Comfort” rating to see whether the sleeping bag will meet your needs. If you’re a man, however, check the EN “Lower Limit” temperature rating to see if the sleeping bag will meet your needs.

Size vs. Weight
The next thing you need to think about is the size and weight of the sleeping bag. While a lighter bag will be easier to carry around, it won’t be as big as a larger bag (making you feel more restricted and less comfortable).

Obviously you’ll want to get the lightest sleeping bag possible, but not at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

Lots of people fall into the trap of buying the sleeping bag with the ‘best’ temperature rating (i.e. the one that can withhold the coldest temperatures) without thinking about how heavy the sleeping bag’s going to be. Such sleeping bags, although warm will only add excess (and unnecessary) weight to your bag.

Cold weather sleeping bagsThere are two main types of insulation used in cold weather sleeping bags. These are ‘synthetic insulation’ and ‘goose down’ (also sometimes known merely as ‘down’).

So what’s the difference?

Goose down sleeping bags are typically lighter, warmer and have a longer lifespan than synthetic bags. However, this also means they’re more expensive.

The main selling point of synthetic fill sleeping bags (apart from the price) is the fact that they dry a lot faster when wet. Down sleeping bags, on the other hand are rendered almost useless when wet and take a long time to dry.

There are a couple of extras that you might want to look into getting when buying a cold weather sleeping bag.

The zip (or ‘zipper’) of a sleeping bag is one place where heat can easily escape. Good quality cold weather sleeping bags should have some kind of flap (known as a ‘draft tube’) that covers up the zipper – thus preventing unnecessary heat loss. This draft tube is typically found on most cold weather sleeping bags, but it’s worth double-checking anyway.

Another extra you might wish to look out for when buying a sleeping bag are stash pockets. These are little pockets sown into the bag that allow you to store small items in them (such as an iPod or your wallet).

Related posts:

  1. How to Choose a Sleeping Bag for Traveling
  2. A Guide to Sleeping in Airports
  3. How to Travel With Only a Carry-On Sized Bag

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