Winter camping requires a top-quality winter sleeping bag.
Alongside a 4-season winter tent, a cold weather sleeping bag rated for winter temperatures is your most important piece of winter camping gear.
The best winter sleeping bag must keep you warm, dry, and comfortable – even when the temperatures dip well below freezing and the wind picks up into a vicious howl.
Your winter sleeping bag must also match your style of winter camping. Backpackers, mountaineers, and car campers all require something very different out of their sleeping bags.
Here’s exactly how to buy the best cold weather sleeping bags for winter camping.
- Buyer’s Guide
- Best Cold Weather Sleeping Bags
- Care, Maintenance, and Repair
- Best Accessories For Winter Sleeping Bags
Why You Need a Winter Sleeping Bag
A winter sleeping bag is, as its name implies, a sleeping bag made specifically for winter camping.
Also known as cold weather sleeping bags, they’re designed for use at much colder temperatures than normal models, including temperatures well below freezing.
If you plan to camp in winter weather conditions, then a quality winter sleeping bag is essential to stay warm at night.
Benefits of Cold Weather Sleeping Bags
Sometimes a casual camper makes the mistake of believing their normal sleeping bag will handle winter camping.
While this might be true in mild winter weather, with temperatures that don’t drop below freezing, it’s far from the truth for the majority of winter camping trips.
Simply put, a normal 3-season sleeping bag is warm enough for spring, summer, and fall use, but isn’t warm enough for use in the winter.
A winter sleeping bag is much warmer than these other models. This increased overall warmth is thanks to insulation type, insulation construction, insulation volume, bag shape, and a number of special features.
Although we talk about all of these factors in more detail below, temperature rating is one of the single most important factors used to gauge a bag’s warmth.
Most manufacturers use the EN 13537 Standard when it comes to the temperature rating of their sleeping bags.
Temperature rating describes the coldest temperature at which an average user will remain comfortable.
Note that the actual temperature rating varies from brand to brand, even if the list rating is the same, so it’s important to buy a winter sleeping bag that’s rated for colder temperatures than you expect to encounter.
In addition to the extra overall warmth that they provide, many cold weather sleeping bags are also extremely lightweight and pack down to a small size for backpackers, mountaineers, and others.
Consider Your Winter Camping Needs
Most winter campers should invest in a dedicated winter sleeping bag.
Search for a model with a temperature rating slightly lower than the coldest temperatures you expect to encounter.
It’s much better to be too warm while winter camping than too cold. You can always keep the zipper open to ventilate and cool yourself down if needed.
With that said, casual winter campers are sometimes better off just using their normal sleeping bag rather than investing in a winter-specific model.
If you winter camp only once in a blue moon, there are options other than cold weather sleeping bags (such as extra blankets, warm clothes, tent heater) to stay warm while camping in winter conditions.
Another major factor is whether you’re camping in one place or moving to a new campsite each night.
If you plan to go on a winter backpacking trip, it’s imperative to buy a winter sleeping bag that’s lightweight and packs down small for superior portability.
Car campers, on the other hand, should be fine with heavier, bulkier cold weather sleeping bags since they won’t need to carry it in a backpack each day.
Finally, mountaineers should invest in a special mountaineering sleeping bag, over a standard winter backpacking sleeping bag.
Not only are mountaineering sleeping bags even warmer, but they typically come with additional waterproofing. They’re extremely lightweight and durable to boot.
Winter Sleeping Bag Buyer’s Guide
Don’t rush out and buy the first cold weather sleeping bag you come across.
Instead, do some research so that you understand what exactly you’re looking for before you head to your local outdoor store or start shopping online.
Though there are dozens of small variations between models, there are a few key factors you should look for in a sleeping bag for winter.
Our ultimate guide to buying a sleeping bag also discusses some of these factors, but today we’re going to look at how each pertains specifically to winter camping.
Here are the most important factors to look for in your winter sleeping bag:
1. Temperature Rating
The most important factor when buying a sleeping bag for winter camping is temperature rating.
Your winter sleeping bag must have a temperature rating lower than the coldest temperature that you expect to encounter.
Although the majority of manufacturers use the European Norm (EN) 13537 Testing Protocol, it’s far from a worldwide standard.
For this reason, it’s particularly important to research each sleeping bag, checking customer reviews in the process, to ensure it actually does what it claims.
Winter campers should look for cold weather sleeping bags rated for at least 10°F or lower.
2. Insulation Type
Your winter sleeping bag’s insulation is what keeps you warm at night.
The insulation traps your body heat inside of the bag. Winter models let a minimal amount of this heat escape to keep you warm at night.
Your options for insulation type include down (duck or goose), water-resistant down, and synthetic insulation.
Although each type has its own pros and cons, water-resistant down is typically the best option for winter campers and backpackers.
The reason that down outshines synthetic is largely its warmth-to-weight ratio. You can get much more warmth with a much lighter amount of material.
A mummy bag is your best bet for a winter sleeping bag.
Not only does the more streamlined mummy shape cut down on weight, but it also provides additional warmth and insulation.
A mummy cold weather bag is tailored to the shape of your body (you can even find them in men’s and women’s varieties) to increase heating efficiency.
Rectangular and semi-rectangular are other options, although these are best for 3-season use, not winter camping.
4. Size and Weight
The size and weight of a winter sleeping bag are most important to winter backpackers.
Winter campers and others that will remain in a single location for the length of their stay don’t have to worry about size and weight of their cold weather sleeping bags as much.
In addition to their increased heating efficiency, mummy shape bags are the most lightweight option.
Buy a winter mummy bag filled with down insulation for a model that packs down small and carries light.
Most cold weather sleeping bags come in a single model, although there are women’s, kids, and extra-long models on the market.
5. Construction and Materials
In addition to insulation type, you should pay close attention to the materials used for the shell and lining of your winter sleeping bag.
The outer shell should be constructed from ripstop nylon or polyester. High denier fabrics are best. The shell must be waterproof and treated with a DWR finish.
The most common inner lining material for cold weather sleeping bags is polyester (or, sometimes, nylon taffeta) since it is soft and breathable.
Another important factor to consider is insulation construction. Or, how the insulation is held into place between the outer and inner layer.
Most winter sleeping bags utilize baffle insulation. These are the seams running across the outside of the bag. The goal is to keep the insulation in one place so it doesn’t shift around at night.
6. Additional Features
A winter sleeping bag can come with any number of additional features.
Some of these you actually need for winter use while the necessity of others is based more on your personal preferences.
The most important winter sleeping bag features are:
A cold weather sleeping bag with a well-insulated hood is essential for winter camping. It must cinch up tight for cold nights when you need as little of your face exposed as possible.
A draft collar fits around the top opening of your winter sleeping bag, near the hood, to limit the amount of cold air that enters. The best have their own cinch collar, independent of the hood cinch, to tighten up once you’re snug inside the bag.
A draft tube extends down along the zipper of your sleeping bag to prevent air from getting in through the zipper. The best are well insulated and cover the entirety of the zipper.
The foot box is, as its name implies, the space at the end of the bag where your feet go. If you sleep on your side, you might want a more spacious footbox than a back sleeper.
A quality zipper is an essential component of cold weather sleeping bags – you don’t want it to break or get stuck in the middle of the night! Generally, the thicker and more robust the zipper, the better.
7. Brand Reputation
It’s usually a smart idea to buy all of your outdoor gear and equipment from a reputable brand.
The best outdoor brands are known for their quality products – and many stand behind their products in full with lifetime-guaranteed, no-questions warranties.
Countless customers have used their products in the past, so both positive and negative reviews of all the cold weather sleeping bags are easy to find.
Finally, these brands tend to offer excellent customer service, just in case you have a question about their products.
8. What About Ethics?
It’s important to consider sleeping bag ethics before making a purchase.
The very best winter sleeping bags typically use down insulation. This down comes from either a duck or a goose.
Although synthetic down is available, it’s generally not as lightweight, warm, or durable as the real thing.
Down insulation is also known for its loft. You can smash your bag down to fit it into a stuff sack but it lofts right back up when you roll it out at night.
A number of outdoor brands are now committed to procuring ethical down. For some, this means collecting only naturally shed down from molting.
Best Cold Weather Sleeping Bag Reviews
Now that you’re done with our winter sleeping bag buying guide, you should know what to look for in your cold weather sleeping bags.
We’ve done a little of the legwork for you by reviewing the top winter sleeping bags to narrow down your options to the best of the best for a few major types of winter camping.
Here are 7 of the best winter sleeping bags currently available:
1. Best Overall: Mountain Hardware Phantom Torch 3
The Mountain Hardware Phantom Torch 3 is a lightweight and warm winter sleeping bag.
It boasts 800-fill goose down to keep you warm in temperatures as low as 0°F plus a down-filled face gasket and a hood with six insulation chambers for even warmth throughout.
Although it does utilize the mummy bag shape to keep weight down, this cold weather sleeping bag is surprisingly spacious, especially compared to other lightweight models.
Mountain Hardware incorporates a number of useful features into the design, including double stash pockets, single-handed draw cords, and anti-snag zipper panels.
This model is an excellent choice for anyone winter camping, especially those that want a slightly wider mummy bag cut than normal.
What We Like:
- Extremely well insulated
- Wider cut than normal
- Lots of useful extra features
What We Don’t Like:
- Expensive price tag
2. Best for Mountaineers: Marmot Col Membrane -20
You’ll have a hard time finding a more weatherproof sleeping bag than the Marmot Col Membrane -20.
Rated for winter temperatures down to -20°F, this bag is not only warm and weather resistant, but lightweight and very packable.
The vertical baffles filled with 800-fill down, draft tube and collar, and insulated hood all help provide superior warmth. A weatherproof shell further helps keep the elements at bay.
One extremely nice thing about this cold weather sleeping bag is the roominess. It features a mummy bag design but has more space inside (for extra layers or waiting out bad weather). At the same time, this spaciousness doesn’t sacrifice warmth.
This cold weather sleeping bag is well suited for mountaineers and others embarking on long winter camping expeditions.
What We Like:
- Very warm
- More weather resistant than most
- Small packed size
What We Don’t Like:
- Heavier than other models
3. Best for Winter Backpackers: Western Mountaineering 10
The best winter backpacking sleeping bag must be warm, lightweight, and packable to a small size.
The Western Mountaineering 10 meets all these marks and more. Not only does its 850-fill down provide an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, but it also compresses with ease.
In fact, this is one of the lightest 4-season sleeping bags for winter backpacking. At the same time, it’s not overly restrictive. You can still comfortably wear an extra layer or two while snuggled up in the bag.
Additional highlights include a wide draft collar with its own cinch cord, a well-fitting hood with drawstring, and snag-free zipper.
This model is an awesome sleeping bag for ultralight winter backpacking.
What We Like:
- Extremely lightweight
- High warmth-to-weight ratio
- Snag-free zipper
What We Don’t Like:
- Shallow hood
4. Best for Casual Winter Camping: Marmot Sawtooth 15
The Marmot Sawtooth 15 is a great choice for casual winter campers looking for a reasonably priced cold weather sleeping bag.
Although it’s not as warm as others on our list, 650-fill down powder still does a good job keeping you warm at night.
Throw in a number of features designed to make the bag easier to use and more comfortable, like anti-snag zippers and a wrap-around footbox, and it’s easy to see why this bag is so popular.
Remember that although this winter sleeping bag works well for casual winter camping trips, it’s not warm enough or light enough for winter backpacking or mountaineering.
On the other hand, the trade-off is that you likely won’t get sweated out if you use this bag in spring or fall.
What We Like:
- Affordable price
- Reasonably warm
- Anti-snag zippers
What We Don’t Like:
- Not warm enough for serious winter camping
5. Best on a Budget: Mountain Hardware Lamina Z Torch
The Mountain Hardware Lamina Z Torch is one of those products that packs in a lot for a low price.
As our favorite budget winter sleeping bag, it’s not only notable for its low price tag, but also the level of performance it provides at these markdown rates.
It utilizes ThermalQ synthetic insulation, zoned insulation, an ergonomic draft collar, well-fitting hood, and mummy bag cut for maximum warmth and insulation. It’s rated down to 5°F.
This winter sleeping bag is also notable for its DWR-treated nylon shell and soft polyester interior lining. It packs down nicely but has a ton of loft while in use.
This model is great for casual winter camping and winter backpacking, but isn’t quite warm enough for serious mountain use.
What We Like:
- Affordable price
- Warm and well insulated
- Weather-resistant exterior
What We Don’t Like
- Zipper prone to snag
6. Best Two-Person: Big Agnes King Solomon 15
The Big Agnes King Solomon 15 is a two-person sleeping bag built for winter camping.
Although it’s not your best bet for backpacking or mountaineering due to its bulk, it’s remarkably warm and lightweight for its design.
Despite the two-person construction, the bag is well insulated and will keep you warm in temperatures down to 15°F. A draft collar and hoods with drawstrings kick insulation up a few more notches.
Other features worth noting are the extra length for taller campers and the pad sleeves on the bag to securely attach your sleeping pad.
You won’t find a better two-person winter sleeping bag than this model from Big Agnes.
What We Like:
- Fits two people
- Spacious and long
- Warm and well insulated
What We Don’t Like:
7. Best for Women: Marmot Women’s Ouray 0
Women naturally sleep a little colder than men. They are also usually a little smaller in size.
The Marmot Women’s Ouray 0 solves both these problems. The winter sleeping bag is not only cut for a woman’s body, but it also features extra insulation in areas where it counts.
The sleeping bag is designed from the ground up with women in mind. The tighter fit (narrower in the shoulders, wider in the hips) is used to promote better insulation as well as an improved weight-to-warmth ratio.
It utilizes 650-fill duck down with a multi-baffle hood, down-filled collar, and draft tube for improved insulation and worth. Other notable features are the anti-snag zipper and wraparound footbox.
Not only is this one of the best cold weather sleeping bags for women, but it’s a good option for smaller men as well.
What We Like:
- Smaller size/shape
- Increased insulation
- Snag-free zipper
What We Don’t Like:
- Not the lightest for the size
Sleeping Bag Care, Maintenance, and Repair
Proper care greatly extends the life of a winter sleeping bag, no matter the wear and tear of your winter outdoor adventures.
Here are a few of the most important tips to keep in mind:
1. On the Trail
Keep your sleeping bag as clean as possible. I typically wear a separate set of socks and underwear in my bag at night.
Shake the sleeping bag out each morning. If possible, let it dry for a few moments in the sun before putting it away.
2. At Home
Completely air out your winter sleeping bag after each trip. Hang it in a cool, dry place like a garage for multiple days until it’s completely dry.
I prefer to store my sleeping bag spread out in this same manner. If space is a limitation, try out a special sleeping bag storage bag.
A storage bag is more spacious than a normal stuff sack. Many are made of mesh. The extra space and ventilation can lengthen the life of a sleeping bag, especially the down insulation.
Avoid cleaning your sleeping bag unless absolutely necessary.
Spot cleaning, on the other hand, is less harmful. Use a toothbrush and a mixture of laundry detergent and warm water to clean any dirty areas.
If you do need to clean a sleeping bag, avoid the dry cleaners. The detergents and solvents they use are too strong and might cause damage.
Instead, wash your sleeping bag in the bathtub with warm water. Use a special laundry detergent that’s designed for items filled with down. Massage the bag with your hands to clean and then rinse all the detergent away with warm water.
Work out the excess water with your hands in the tub. Once the bag is as dry as possible, hang dry it for a night or two in a cool, dry place like your garage.
Luckily, the majority of winter sleeping bags are designed to stand up to their fair share of on-the-trail abuse.
If yours does break in the field, say a zipper or small tear, you’ll usually be able to ride out the damages until you get home.
Duct tape also does the job in a pinch – but it can easily result in a sticky mess that causes more harm than good once you get back home.
Do your best to maintain and DIY repair your cold weather sleeping bag in the field.
Once you’re back at home, check with the manufacturer to see if they provide repairs. Most big brands do. Some even offer free repairs on sleeping bags under warranty.
Many outdoor specialty stores provide repairs as well. Rainy Pass Repair is an example of an outdoor gear fabric repair professional.
Best Winter Sleeping Bag Accessories
The two most important pieces of winter camping gear are arguably a quality 4-season tent and a warm winter sleeping bag.
But investing in the right winter camping accessories can help you stay even warmer, dryer, and cozier at night, thereby making your trip even more enjoyable.
Here are the most important winter camping accessories to consider:
1. Sleeping Pad
By far the most important winter sleeping bag accessory is a sleeping pad.
The benefits of a sleeping pad are numerous. They encompass far more than just increased comfort at night.
For winter camping, a sleeping pad provides extra insulation. It acts as a layer between your sleeping bag and the cold ground.
Look for a well-insulated air pad created from synthetic fiber or down insulation. There are specific models on the market geared towards winter camping.
Keep a close eye on the R-value of the sleeping pad. The higher this number, the more insulated the pad. 11.0 is generally the highest for this type of product.
If weight isn’t a major concern, your best bet is to actually use two sleeping pads. Use a closed-cell foam pad on the bottom with a self-inflating air pad on the top for the ultimate in insulation and overnight warmth.
High among the best sleeping pads for winter camping is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Backpacking Air Mattress.
2. Camping Cot
A camping cot is another beneficial accessory for cold weather camping.
Like a sleeping pad, they can help add a little extra insulation to your sleep setup. A cot also lifts you up off the cold, and potentially damp, ground.
The problem is that cold air will circulate underneath you. If you use a cot for winter camping, then you absolutely need to use a sleeping pad as well.
Although some cots have built-in padding/insulation, most are made with a very thin poly-canvas material that won’t insulate well in and of itself.
If you’re interested in a cot for winter camping, the Teton Sports Camp Cot is a good choice.
3. Sleeping Bag Liner
A sleeping bag liner is another winter camping accessory with a number of benefits.
Chief among these is that it helps keep your bag clean. A sleeping bag liner works much like a set of sheets for your bed. Simply take them out and wash them at the end of each trip to extend the lifespan of your sleeping bag.
Another winter-specific benefit of a sleeping bag liner is extra insulation.
The right liner provides an extra layer of insulation to help keep you even warmer at night.
Sleeping bag liners are made from a variety of materials. The best for winter camping is flannel. A specially made material like Thermolite is another good option.
Some models are made specifically for winter camping use. For example, the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme Thermolite Mummy Liner can add up to 25°F of warmth.
Like the other winter camping accessories on this list, a pillow provides a two-pronged set of benefits.
Most obvious is the added comfort. A pillow makes sleeping outside much more comfortable.
Another benefit is the extra insulation. A pillow provides extra warmth for your head at night, which makes a night spent camping much more enjoyable.
A compressible pillow filled with a soft foam material is generally a better option for winter camping than an inflatable air pillow.
The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow is one of the best pillows for winter camping currently on the market.
5. Tent Heater
Those planning to camp in extremely cold winter weather conditions might want to look into a portable tent heater.
Although most backpackers and mountaineers forgo a tent heater in favor of saving weight, these devices are a great option for those camping in one place.
The Mr. Heater Little Buddy is a small, lightweight model that works well and is safe to use in small indoor spaces, including in a tent.
Additional Tips to Stay Warm While Winter Camping
A quality winter sleeping bag (and winter tent) only go so far towards keeping you warm at night.
While the winter camping accessories above will also help, there are also a variety of tricks and tips you can implement to stay even warmer.
Here are the best ways to stay warm while winter camping (aside from a sleeping bag):
1. Insulation is Key
The key to staying warm while camping in the winter is insulation.
This starts with your cold weather sleeping bag itself but also extends to your sleeping pad and sleeping liner. And, to a minor extent, it includes your tent.
The more insulation you can add to your winter sleeping setup, the warmer you’ll be at night.
2. Wear Clothing to Sleep
A thin layer of clothing helps provide a warmer night of sleeping for winter camping.
Although any type of clothing will do, your best bet is a clean layer of synthetic clothing, such as long underwear.
The catch is that you don’t want to hinder ventilation. If you wrap up with too much clothing on, you might start sweating.
That sweat then has the potential to freeze and lead to a night spent shivering. This is actually why you want to avoid cotton clothing if possible in favor of something that will wick the moisture away from your body.
A synthetic base layer with a hat is your best bet. Place any extra clothing either underneath or around the outside of your sleeping bag for additional nighttime insulation.
3. Hot Water Bottle
One of the worst things about camping in the winter is the first half an hour or so after climbing into your sleeping bag.
Once it warms up thanks to your body heat, you’re in the clear, but those first moments can be excruciatingly cold.
4. Eat Right & Exercise Before Bed
Stay warm while cold camping by eating well throughout the day.
Your body will work hard to burn off the food, creating extra heat in the process.
The same goes for eating a midnight snack. As long as bears and other wildlife aren’t an issue where you’re camping, keep a few snacks on hand to eat throughout the night for a boost in metabolism.
Exercise is equally important. A few minutes of exercise right before crawling into your winter sleeping bag will warm you up and heat up your sleeping bag faster. A few jumping jacks work well.
Check out our complete camping food checklist for camping recipes and snack ideas.
5. Buddy Up
Body heat is one of the best ways to stay warm while winter camping.
If you’re camping with someone you feel comfortable cuddling up next to, the shared warmth works wonders at keeping you warm.
Although sharing the same bag, or trying out a two-person sleeping bag, works well, body heat actually radiates through thick sleeping bags as well.
So, all you really have to do is move your sleeping bags close together and sleep next to each other to reap the rewards of your camping partner’s body heat.
Winter Sleeping Bag Alternatives
You really can’t find anything better than quality cold weather sleeping bags for winter camping.
However, those that don’t like the confined feel of a sleeping bag, or otherwise prefer a different option, still have a few alternatives.
Here’s what you need to know about these sleeping bag alternatives:
1. Heavy Blankets
As long as you have enough insulation, any type of heavy blankets will do the job in mild winter weather conditions.
Note that a heavy camping blanket probably won’t keep you warm on its own during a cold spell, so it’s best to double up with several blankets. Or, better yet, a blanket on top of your sleeping bag.
One good option for a little extra winter camping warmth is the Kelty Bestie Blanket.
2. Backpacking Quilt
A specially designed backpacking quilt is a quality alternative to a sleeping bag, even in the winter.
Although they look similar to normal sleeping bags, they’re actually quite a bit different. They have a similar cocoon shape but do away with the hood, back, and zippers.
You can tuck the upper sides of the quilt in extreme cold or leave them loose if the weather starts to warm up.
A down backpacking quilt is a good sleeping bag alternative because of the cheaper price, lighter weight, and increased versatility.
Like buying a sleeping bag, it’s essential to buy a backpacking quilt with a temperature rating lower than the coldest temperatures you expect to face on your trip.
One good option is the Outdoor Vitals LoftTek 15 Degree Backpacking Quilt.
3. Bivy Sack
A bivy sack, or bivy bag, works as a sleeping bag alternative in some situations.
Short for bivouac sack, they are a favorite among climbers, alpinists, bike campers, solo backpackers, and others serious about saving weight.
A normal bivy sack is sort of like a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag. It combines a waterproof bottom with a waterproof top to protect you from rain and snow.
A bivy shelter takes this same idea up a notch by completely covering your head and giving you a little extra breathing room.
Although a bivy shelter weighs about a pound more than a bivy sack, they offer far more ventilation and overall comfort.
The best bivy sacks add an additional layer of insulation which can raise your nighttime temperature by roughly 10°F.
The Outdoor Research Helium Bivy is a top-quality lightweight model for cold weather camping.
It’s tricky enough to stay comfortable while camping even in the best weather conditions.
Winter camping is a whole different story. But even in cold, snowy, and windy weather, you can stay warm and dry with the right cold weather sleeping bags.
The best winter sleeping bags are designed specifically for cold weather camping. Their temperature rating is lower than the coldest conditions you expect to encounter.
Pair your sleeping bag with the best winter camping accessories like an insulated sleeping pad and flannel sleeping bag liner to add even more warmth to the mix.
Our winter sleeping bag buyer’s guide and best cold weather sleeping bag reviews will help you find the right model to buy.
Check out our winter tent buying guide for more information on how to buy the best 4-season tent for cold weather.