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Surviving in Comfort: Choosing the Right Winter Sleeping Bag

When it comes to choosing the right winter sleeping bag, you can feel a bit like Goldilocks. This is especially true when it comes to winter camping. Although the end result of a poor choice won’t just have you running out of a house. You make the wrong choice and hypothermia will be your only unwelcome guest.

Not all of us are adventurous, to the point where we’re willing to camp in the snow. Yet, there’s something special about camping in the winter. A serene peacefulness overwhelms the senses during nature’s hibernation period. The leaves are gone, the forest floor is covered with a crisp layer of white, and a campfire is a necessity. If you’re a trapper than you know the beauty of winter in the woods. Even if you’re not into winter camping, I would still suggest you pick one up and keep it in your car.  Consider it an “oh shit” bag along with a multi-wick candle, waterproof matches, and a metal coffee can. This could save your life if your car ever stalls out in the middle of a blistery winter storm.

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Three Categories of Sleeping Bags

Summer – Typically bags suited for 30 degrees and above. A distinct characteristic of these bags is the full body zipper, allowing the user to unzip all the way if temps get too hot.

Three Season – These sleeping bags are typically suitied for 20 degrees and above. They have additional heat saving materials when compared to the Summer bags, but I would not suggest using them in the cold months.

Winter – The beast of the sleeping bag. Typically suited for below 20 degrees, these heavily insulated nests can withstand some of the harshest winds and temps out there. They come with full enclosures (cinch-able hoods, draft hoods and zipper draft tubes). There’s a reason they can be used on Mount Everest conditions and still leave the adventurer warm and toasty.   The one downside is that they are very bulky to pack, when compared to the Summer and Three Season bags.

I have selected 4 sleeping bags that are best suited for winter conditions – or the worst case scenario: a survival situation. I am only picking from “mummy” styles, as the others (rectangular and semi-rectangular) are inefficient at keeping heat in my opinion.  Just be forewarned: comfort and warmth ain’t cheap.

Brooks-Range Drift -10

brooks range drift, sleeping bag, winter survival
Photo Credit: Brooks-Range

Price: $749.99

The Brooks-Range Drift -10 is a phenomenal bag that mixes comfort, weather resistance and packing weight (47 oz.). The Drift -10 is quite pricey, but as with most outdoor gear you get what you pay for. There’s a reason it won Outdoor GearLab’s 2017 Editor’s Review. Combining 36 oz. of 850+ DownTek® treated down feathers with a 15-denier lightweight waterproof breathable shell, this bag will keep you warm even when the temps drop down to -10 degrees. What’s DownTek® you ask? Well, it’s a proprietary weather resistant coating that stands up to wet conditions, repealing 30% more water than untreated down. I’ve linked a video below demonstrating its capabilities, and why down loft/structure is so important. Trust me, it’s well worth the price.

Nemo Canon

Nemo canon, winter sleeping bag
It’s like a wintery wonderland onesy! (Photo Credit: Nemo)

Price: $999.95

The Nemo Canon is quite possibly one of the most versatile bags on the market. Filled with 850+ down and Nemo’s proprietary 15-denier shell and waterproof membrane, the Canon is rated to keep you alive down to -40 degrees. What makes it so versatile is the “Adjustable Thermo Gills™” venting system placed mid torso, which allows for air flow on warmer days and retaining the heat on freezing nights. Also, there’s two arms sealable slots that allows you to keep warm in the bag while still being able to prep food or gear – consider it like a survival onesy. The Canon also has a “Stove Pipe™ Tunnel Hood” that keeps air near your face while still allowing you to breath. The Canon only weighs 45 oz. so it is sure to be an easy pack. Again, good gear costs good money.

L.L. Bean Katahdin CT

ll bean Katahdin, sleeping bag, survival gear
Photo Credit: L.L. Bean

Price: $209

Don’t be fooled by the price. The L.L. Bean Katahdin CT is a solid bag rated to 0 degrees. This is the only synthetic (polyester fill as compared to down feathers) bag I will list, but it’s what helps keep the price down. The 40 denier ripstop nylon shells help keep the sleeper dry in wet conditions and the polyester fill lofted. One interesting aspect of the Katahdin CT is the Celliant fibers in the lining. Celliant converts body heat into infrared heat, which helps soothe aching muscles. The downsides? The weight, coming in at 82 oz, as well as the temperature resistance (it’s technically considered a three season bag). Regardless, the Katahdin CT is a quality bag for a bargain price.

FjallRaven Polar -30

fjallraven, polar -30, down sleeping bag
Photo Credit: FjallRaven

Price: $1,000

The priciest on the list, and the best suited to handle the cold. I couldn’t not list a FjallRaven product (known for their down jackets). Also, for you PETA lovers out there, FjallRaven has a 100% transparency when it comes to ethically harvesting their down. Regardless, the Polar -30 is a heavyweight that can easily maintain comfort even when the temps fall into the negative double digits (-30 degrees). A 20 denier shell and 700 down provide ample warmth and weather resistance. The bag weighs 76 oz., making it the heaviest down bag on the list. Simply put, this bag will keep you alive.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of which bag you choose, just remember a sleeping pad (or a bunch of pine needles) is a necessity in keeping you warm on the snowy floor. If you live in an area where weather drops into the negatives, then as a safety move always carry a multi-wick candle, waterproof matches, an empty metal coffee can (for heating radiation), and a sleeping bag in your car. They could save your life. Now get out there and enjoy the outdoors!

If you’ve got a go to sleeping bag that you love, feel free to share it in the comments below.

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Travis Mandell

Travis Mandell

Former South Florida Police Officer and Detective. Certified in criminal investigations, narcotics, tactical response and firearms. Now that he is in the private sector, he enjoys his constitutional freedom of speech once more. He's always down for some fishing, motorcycle adventures, or camping in the great outdoors.