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Sleeping bags are essential travel kit for outdoor pursuits. Especially when you’re in cooler climates. Here’s a look at the best sleeping bag for cold weather that 2018 has to offer.
Sleeping bags always tend to come in handy when you’re travelling and backpacking.
Whether you’re camping, hiking, or simply spending the night outdoors, a quality backpacking sleeping bag can make the difference between a good night’s sleep, or an uncomfortable, wakeful overnight experience.
They’re helpful in other situations too, such as when couchsurfing, or staying in huts on hiking trails, or in any form of accommodation where bedding isn’t provided- or when the bedding that is provided is of questionable cleanliness!
I’ve had numerous experiences of happy and sad camping throughout my life and I can personally vouch for the importance of a high quality sleeping bag!
It is difficult to overstate the impact that being warm, cosy and comfortable has on your ability to get some sleep!
Indoors or outdoors then, sleeping bags can be an essential bit of kit for the road. And when the weather is particularly cold, they’re all the more important.
Having just returned from a long weekend of free camping in Wales, where sleep was a particularly rare commodity, I decided to look into the best sleeping bags for cold weather.
This piece is the outcome of that research! I hope you find it helpful when decided the best backpacking sleeping bag for your coming trip.
Best Sleeping Bag for Cold Weather - Summary Table
Considerations When Choosing the Best Winter Sleeping Bag for Backpacking
But first, here's a great little summary video from REI about how to choose the best sleeping bags for your backpacking trip.
Location & Plans
The country or countries you’re heading to should be a primary consideration when selecting a sleeping bag.
What time of year are you going? Will the country be hot or cold? Is the weather likely to change a lot? Is it likely to rain frequently? Will your sleeping bag possibly get wet as well?
Certain sleeping bags are more suited to particular weather patterns, so these sorts of questions are important to think about when making your decision. For simplicity, this piece will focus on cold weather options, but read on for warmer weather suggestions too.
Likewise, your choice of sleeping bag should take into account your plans too.
For instance, if you’re taking one backpack and heading to numerous countries, space is of paramount importance- you’ll need the smallest and lightest sleeping bag possible.
By contrast, if you’ll be travelling by car, with no restrictions on space or weight, a larger and heavier sleeping bag might be fine.
Other plan related questions to consider: will you be spending time at altitude? What’s the coldest temperature you’ll face? How much opportunity will you have to use the sleeping bag?
If you’re unlikely to spend time outdoors or in accommodation where bedding won’t be provided, ask yourself whether you even need one at all!
Size and Weight of the Sleeping Bag
Like I mentioned above, the size and weight of the sleeping bag are important considerations too.
How much space will you have? How much weight do you want to carry? What’s the best size:weight:heat ratio you can find? I.e what’s the smallest and lightest bag available that keeps you as warm as possible?
If space is an issue, having a compression sack for your sleeping bag is probably essential.
This is a bag that goes around the sleeping bag, with cords and ties that allow you to compress it into the smallest size possible.
The Sleeping Bag's Temperature Rating
The temperature rating is another incredibly important consideration when choosing the best winter sleeping bag. But what is temperature rating?
According to REI:
So, when it comes to picking the best sleeping bags for cold weather, you’ll need to find a temperature rating that’ll suit both you and the temperature of the places you’ll be sleeping.
By ‘suiting you’ I’m referring to the fact that everyone sleeps differently.
In technical sleeping bag lingo, you’re either referred to as a ‘cold sleeper’ or a ‘warm sleeper’, depending on how hot you typically get at night.
Warm sleepers are your stereotypical human radiators and cold sleepers are, well, the opposite.
Typically, temperature ratings are between 15 – 50°F (-9 to +10°C). However, as people heat differently, temperature ratings are only ever intended as a guide.
Top Tip for Choosing the Best Sleeping Bags For Cold Weather
Choose a sleeping bag suited to slightly colder temperatures to those you’re likely to encounter on your trip.
If you’re too warm, simply air the bag by cracking the zip open a little.
Different Sleeping Bag Rating Types
I never knew there was so much to know about sleeping bags.
Turns out there’s a whole bunch of rating systems used. The ones below seem to be the most common- at least that I came across in my research.
1) Season ratings
Season ratings refer to the number of seasons of the year in which the sleeping bag is most suitable. The range, confusingly (as there are only 4 seasons), is from 1 to 5.
- 1 season: these sleeping bags are suited exclusively to the hot months of summer
- 2 seasons: these sleeping bags are suited to use between late spring & early autumn.
- 3 seasons: these sleeping bags are suited to use between early spring & late autumn.
- 4 seasons: these sleeping bags are suited exclusively to the winter months (temperatures below 0). These are thick and often down insulated- see below.
- 5 seasons: These sleeping bags are also known as ‘expedition bags’ and are designed for high altitude mountain ascents and extreme cold.
2) EN tested tag ratings
The EN tested tag is found on many three season sleeping bags and stands for European Norm testing protocol.
EN testing is generally recognised as the most objective and dependable temperature rating. Unfortunately not all bags use it.
But where a sleeping bag has been EN tested, you’ll see two further ratings:
Comfort rating: this is the lowest temperature that a bag will keep the average ‘cold sleeper’ comfortable.
Lower limit rating: this is the lowest temperature that a bag will keep the average ‘warm sleeper’ comfortable.
Again, despite their greater reliability, these EN tag ratings are still only intended as a guide.
Type of Sleeping Bag Insulation
Another important consideration of choosing a sleeping bag is the type of insulation used inside. There are typically 2 types: synthetic (usually polyester) and down (duck or goose).
Here are the pros and cons of each:
Pros of Synthetic Insulation for your Sleeping bag:
- Typically cheaper
- Retains warmth when wet
- Dries much quicker that down
- Good for damp climates
Cons of Synthetic Insulation for your Sleeping bag:
- Worse warmth to weight ratio
- Typically larger when compressed
- Insulating power decreases each time it is repacked
Pros of Down Insulation for your Sleeping bag:
- Higher quality insulation
- Lighter in weight
- Compresses smaller without losing insulation when repacked
- Better insulation for more extreme cold
- Possible water treated down to make water resistant
Cons of Down Insulation for your Sleeping bag:
- More expensive than synthetic
- Ethical issues (byproduct of the meat industry- more on this below)
- Loses heat when wet
- Harder to dry versus synthetic insulation
Specific Down Insulation considerations
Duck or Goose?
Down comes from either duck or goose. Goose down is recognised as higher quality, but duck down is becoming increasingly used. Down is generally a by product of the meat industry; because more ducks are eaten than geese, duck down is more available and less expensive.
Ethical Issues of Using Down
Only use down that’s traceable/ethically sourced. This means that from farm to factory these animals are inspected to make sure they’re not force fed or live plucked.
Just FYI too: Some bags offer a combination of down and synthetic insulation, to get the best of both worlds.
Size and Shape to Best Fit Your Body
A final consideration when choosing your sleeping bag should be its size and shape in relation to your body. The shape is important because of how a sleeping bag works.
Remember, you are the heat source for your sleeping bag!
With more space, there’s more to heat and also more chance of the air circulating (i.e. the air isn’t ‘dead’).
This all means that it is important to find a bag that’s a good fit for your body.
There are two main types: the mummy bag or rectangle bag. Here are the pros and cons of both.
Pros of the Mummy Sleeping Bag:
- The shape is form fitting, meaning it is tapered to the body. This keeps warm air close, without leaving space for it to cool down.
- Generally smaller in size and lighter weight
- Smaller size means they compress more easily and into smaller final form
- Apparently more suited to backpacking trips
Cons of the Mummy Sleeping Bag:
- Tapered shape can feel restrictive when inside
- Less space to move around inside
- Less suitable to people with larger frames
Pros of the Rectangle Sleeping Bag:
- Better for larger people
- Less restrictive than the mummy shape
- More room and space to move around inside
Cons of the Rectangle Sleeping Bag
- More air can circulate, so less suited for colder climates
- Generally larger and heavier in size
- They don’t compress as easily
FYI: it is also possible to find semi-rectangular sleeping bags, which are good if want more space while remaining tapered, light weight and compact.
And finally, there are two person sleeping bags (also known as ‘double wide’), which (as the name suggests) are designed to sleep two people inside.
As you can imagine, these are much larger in size, but great if you are travelling with a friend/loved one and have the means to easily transport them.
Final Sleeping Bag Features to Think About When Choosing the Best Cold Weather Backpacking Sleeping Bag
Having a hood on the sleeping bag is highly recommended for colder climates. As your head releases a huge amount of heat, having it covered at night should be a priority in colder climes.
2) Left or Right Handed Zip
Sleeping bags sometimes offer the choice of either a left or right handed zipper.
This shouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor, but it can definitely be awkward to unzip your bag with the wrong hand.
And remember, every second counts when you’re bursting for the loo at 6am in the morning…
3) Roll Mat Sleeve
Some sleeping bags are now being designed with a slot on the underside for a roll mat to go inside.
This is a cool feature that puts an end to the annoyance of rolling off your mat onto the cold earth below!
However, I’ve seen mixed reviews of these, so it might be worth doing so further research before making the call.
4) A Stash Pocket for Valuables
Another nice feature you sometimes see is a stash pocket- usually somewhere on the inside of the sleeping bag.
It just means that your valuables are kept close to hand and you know where they are at night!
5) Pillow pocket- put clothes etc to make a pillow
And finally, some sleeping bags now have a pocket in the hood for a pillow too.
Where a pillow is often a deal breaker in the bid for sleep when camping, having one there all the time is handy.
It doesn’t need to be a proper camping pillow though- you could just roll up your clothes inside instead.
The Best Sleeping Bags for Cold Weather
Let’s now take a look at some of the best sleeping bags for cold weather that I’ve found.
Best Lightweight Sleeping Bag:
Kelty Cosmic 40 Dry Down Sleeping bag
Key Features of the Kelty Cosmic 40
- 3 season
- Hydrophobic ‘DriDown’ insulation (water-resistant down)
- Left hand zip
- Mummy shape
- EN rating: 40°F (4.4°C)
- Thermal comfort Hood, draft collar and footbox
- Includes stuff sack
Description of the Kelty Cosmic 40
With a temp rating of 40°F this sleeping bag isn’t the warmest you’ll find out there!
But I wanted to include some options for slightly warmer weather too. And for that, the Kelty Cosmic 40 is hard to beat- especially for the price point.
This is a versatile 3 season bag that’s lightweight and filled with high quality down insulation. The ‘DriDown’ insulation means it’s water resistant too, helping you stay warm and dry in wet conditions.
It also comes with a stuff sack as standard, keeping it small in size too (7” x 12”). And with a compression sack it’s meant to compress to roughly 6” x 9” though, which is tiny!
Given its lightweight design (weighing 0.9kgs) as well, it’s perfect for backpacking, where space and weight are a priority.
This is a great, high quality sleeping bag that’s fantastic value for money. Steer clear of sub 40°F temperatures and this bag will be perfect for your backpacking needs!
Pros of the Kelty Cosmic 40:
- Water resistant down
- Awesome value for money
- Lightweight and small in size
Cons of the Kelty Cosmic 40:
- Unsuitable for colder temperatures (below 40°F)
Klymit KSB 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag
Key Features of the Klymit KSB 20
- 3 season
- Water resistant outer fabric
- Right hand zip
- Stash pocket
- Adjustable length
- Includes 2 stuff sacks
- Draft collar and insulated hood
Description of the Klymit KSB 20
The Klymit KSB is a 3 season sleeping bag that’ll keep you far warmer than the Kelty Cosmic.
It’ll cost you a bit more money, but from all accounts this sleeping bag is second to none in terms of quality.
The KSB is made from duck down insulation, and comes with an insulated hood, draft collar and additional insulation in the foot box. This all adds up to a snug, warm sleep experience!
Don’t fret if it gets too hot either: the KSB’s bidirectional zippers enable you to vent the bag from the top or bottom, cooling you down on warmer nights.
A stash pocket is neatly fitted to the inside of the bag, which enables you to keep your items safe. I also read that this can be used for a hand warmer too, for especially cold nights.
This sleeping bag won’t let you down in size and weight either. At 1.25kgs it is light weight (especially given its temperature rating) and supposedly compresses to an enviably small size (pack size is roughly 13” x 8.5”)
The design of this bag also allows for one of the Klymit sleeping pads to fit inside too.
For someone with a reasonable budget, looking for a versatile and incredibly warm 3 season sleeping bag, packed with tonnes of great features, the Klymit could be for you.
Pros of the Klymit KSB 20:
- Adjustable length ensures efficient sizing for smaller people
- Lightweight and compresses incredibly small
- 2 way zip sliders mean you can vent from top or bottom
- Water resistant outer fabric protects down from moisture
Cons of the Klymit KSB 20:
- More expensive than the Kelty
- Some reviews suggest it sheds down
- Zippers that can snag
The Best 3 Season Sleeping Bag:
The Hyke & Byke Quandary 15
Key Features of the Quandary 15
- 3 Season
- Water repellent Nylon nylon lining
- Different sizes available (short, regular and tall)
- Zipper ‘baffles’ to prevent heat loss
- Hood and shoulder drawstrings
- Compression stuff sack included
Description of the Quandary 15
This one comes highly recommended. I mean, for this price point the quality is simply out of this world.
The company, Hyke & Byke manage to keep their costs down by dealing direct with the consumer and operating a solely cloud based business. What this means for us, the recipients of their awesome outdoor equipment, is that we get outrageous quality gear for minimal prices.
Just read all the amazing reviews of the Quandary 15 and you’ll be sold!
This sleeping bag is designed with warmth, comfort and durability in mind. The materials are water resistant and tough, yet it remains light weight (roughly 1.36kg) and pretty tiny in size (10” x 7.5” when compressed)- perfect for backpacking.
In terms of warmth it is made of premium duck down and boasts drawstrings for the hood and shoulders, as well as baffles around the zipper that prevent air circulating.
I like that it comes in different sizes too, which means you have a better chance of finding one that fits- no matter how big/small you might be.
From all I’ve seen online, this would be my personal pick of the best sleeping bags for cold weather.
Pros of the Quandary 15:
- Lifetime warranty
- Fantastic value for money for the quality
- Responsibly sourced down
- Fantastic weight:heat:price ratio
Cons of the Quandary 15:
- Possibly too narrow for larger users
- Zipper can snag
Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag Under 100:
Abco Tech Envelope 20 Sleeping Bag
Key Features of the Envelope 20
- 4 season
- Double filled lining and polyester exterior
- Includes compression sack
Description of the Envelope 20
The Abco Envelope is my pick for the best backpacking sleeping bag for under 100 dollars/pounds (depending where you are!).
It may have fewer fancy features compared to the others on this list, but it seems to cover all its bases exceptionally well.
Whether it’s the warm, durable, water resistant material, or the absolute budget price tag, this sleeping bag is a great choice for anyone who needs a good quality bag for minimal expenditure.
Interestingly, the Abco is listed as a 4 season sleeping bag, despite having a 20°F temperature rating; keep in mind that the Hyke and Byke Quandary above is a 3 season bag that has a 15°F rating.
I’m not entirely sure why there’s this inconsistency.
However, it remains safe to say that the Abco is still a solid choice for cold weather use. At 20°F it matches the temperature rating of the Klymit bag, but at an absolute fraction of the price. That’s impressive!
I’ve also seen different size estimates for the Abco when compressed: 9” x 16” and 8” x 13”. I’m not quite sure which to trust, but it’s safe to say that, while not being huge, the Abco Envelope sleeping bag isn’t as small as some of the others.
And yet, this is a 4 season, 20°F sleeping bag for under £40! That’s impressive stuff. For the budget traveller (with some extra space in their backpack) this would be a great buy.
Pros of the Envelope 20:
- Rectangle shape means more space inside
- Water repellent
- Machine washable
- Cheap cheap cheap!
Cons of the Envelope 20:
- Larger packed size versus previous sleeping bags
- Rectangle shape means greater heat loss through air circulation
- Difficult to get back into compression bag
- Zipper snags
- Unsuitable for larger individuals
Best Budget Backpacking Sleeping Bag:
Active Era Professional M300 Sleeping Bag
Key Features of the Active Era M300
- 3-4 Season
- Water resistant
- Internal stash pocket
- Internal drawstring collar
- Windproof double zipper
- Adjustable drawstring hood
- Double layer insulation filling
- Includes compression bag
Description of the Active Era M300
The Active Era Professional M300 is another (even cheaper) budget sleeping bag option. And again, it is pretty impressive for how expensive it is!
The synthetic insulation means the M300 is water resistant and machine washable, which is always helpful after long, smelly trips!
What’s more, the ‘double filled’ design means it keeps you pretty warm too.
It is down as a 3-4 season bag, but I’d take that with a pinch of salt considering that other bags in this list take that same season rating while packing a temp rating of 15°F (-9.5°C). That said, a range of 30-50°F (-1 to +10°C) is nothing to turn up your nose at!
I’d say that’s a solid comfort range for a bag of this price. And, though I’d probably argue against taking it to its lower ‘extreme’ limit of 15°F, it should definitely do the job from early spring to late autumn.
The M300 is definitely one of the larger sleeping bags on this list, weighing in at about 1.5kg and measuring approximately 8” x 14.5” when compressed.
For anyone with real space limitations this may rule the M300 out.
However, if you’ve got the luxury of lots of space, it is definitely worth considering- there are literally hundreds of top reviews on Amazon for this sleeping bag!
This one gets my vote for the best budget backpackink sleeping bag.
Pros of the Active Era M300:
- Insanely cheap
- Machine washable
- 100% money back guarantee
- Great bang for the buck
Cons of the Active Era M300:
- Larger packed size
- Less suitable for people over 6 feet tall
- Questionable temperature rating
Mountain Warehouse Everest Down Sleeping bag
Key Features of the MW Everest
- 4 Season
- Left hand two way zip
- Internal stash pocket
- Includes compression bag
- Drawstring hood
Description of the Mountain Warehouse Everest
The Everest is billed as Mountain Warehouse’s most advanced sleeping bag yet. And it’s easy to see how that might be true!
The Everest’s comfort rating of 15-26°F (-3 to -9°C) means this sleeping bag will keep you warm in bitterly cold temperatures.
The fact that the range is fairly broad is a positive thing as well, as it means you’ll be just as comfortable at varying levels of heat.
Again, the bag isn’t the smallest on this list. But it is by no means the largest either, measuring 9” x 12” when packed. It is the heaviest though, weighing in at 1.76kg.
That’s not exactly heavy, but like I’ve said before- every spare gram and centimetre counts when you’re travelling.
Although the bag scores highly on Amazon, it is worth noting that there are some mixed reviews online too. So, if you like the look of the Everest, do a bit of due diligence first before you hit the buy button!
That aside though, this seems like another stand out choice for a cold weather sleeping bag.
Pros of the MW Everest:
- Fits body shape for greater warmth
- 4 season design
- Duck down means high quality insulation
Cons of the MW Everest:
- Possibly too constrictive
- Lower ‘breathability’ = sweaty!
- Relatively expensive
Best Double Sleeping Bag for Backpacking US:
Key Features of the Sleepingo
- Queen sized
- Water resistant
- Can be used as two individual sleeping bags
- Comes with two travel pillows
- Includes stuff sack
Description of the Sleepingo Double
This incredibly popular and highly rated double sleeping bag would be the perfect accompaniment on a family, or couples’ backpacking trip.
Now, it’s most definitely huge, measuring 87” x 59” (unpacked). The packed dimensions are less clear, but it’s safe to say it won’t be small! After all, this is queen sized sleep bag.
So, probably not the best for a backpack.
However, if you have the means to transport it, this 2.5kg sleeping bag seems like a fantastic choice. Consider this: 82% of its 2,535 reviews are rated 5 stars.
That’s insane! It shows how highly recommended this double sleeping bag comes.
Rated to 32+°F (0°C), the Sleepingo Double is practical in terms of warmth too. It’s no expedition level rating, but for a chilled night in the outdoors, it isn’t bad either. And, if you have someone else in there with you it’s bound to feel even warmer.
It sounds comfortable and cosy to sleep in as well, boasting an actual 210 thread count. And, what’s especially useful is that it can be converted into two single sleeping bags, making it multifunctional.
All this for exceptional monetary value as well. It is no wonder this bag is so popular.
The only downside I can see is that it’s only available on Amazon in the US!
Pros of the Sleepingo:
- Comfortable design
- Water resistant material
- Multifunctional (can be divided into 2)
- Plenty of space for two people
- Includes 2 pillows
- Great value for money!
Cons of the Sleepingo:
- Large size makes it impractical for backpacking
- Only available in the US!
Best Double Sleeping Bag UK:
The Vango Accord
Key Features of the Vango Accord
- 3 season
- Double size
- Twin zip
- Double layer construction (2 layers of insulation)
- Includes square shaped carry bag
Description of the Vango Accord
The Vango Accord Double sleeping bag is another highly rated option.
It’s easily big enough for two people and has a 3 season temperature rating that promises to keep you warm on chilly nights away! Its thermal capacity is in no way incredible, but it is perfect for what this bag is designed for.
It looks and sounds bloody comfortable too, with the same 210 thread count as the Sleepingo above.
It is stitched, which keeps the two layers of insulation in place around you and has extra padding around the pillow area for additional comfort.
A brushed cotton interior is apparently makes it particularly cosy!
One disadvantage of the Vango is its weight though: at 5kgs it is actually pretty heavy. And, packed square at 20” x 23” x 10” (50 x 59 x 25cm), it is enormous! No backpacking with this one…
However, for camping or campervanning with no weight limits, this’ll be ideal.
It’s also incredibly reasonably priced too (especially for such a recognised and respected brand), which is, of course, an added bonus!
Pros of the Vango Accord:
- Suitable for 3 seasons
- Duvet style
- Comfortable design
- 2 layers of insulation
- Stitching to keep insulation evenly distributed
Cons of the Vango Accord:
- Huge and heavy!
- Unsuitable for backpacking
Sleeping Bag Liner Best for Backpacking
Here’s a little addition to this best sleeping bag for cold weather piece: a sleeping bag liner best for backpacking.
Sleeping bag liners are great for all sorts of reasons. For instance:
In warm weather they’re ideal things to sleep in instead of a full sleeping bag
In dirty accommodation you can protect yourself from nasty surprises by sleeping in one
If it’s extra cold you can put your liner inside your sleeping bag for additional warmth
…And so on.
Here’s one of the best sleeping bag liners for backpacking I found:
The Friendly Swede Travel Sleeping Bag Liner
Rating (/5): 4.5
Why the Friendly Swede Sleeping Bag Liner is Best:
- Large size! At 41" x 86" (105 x 220cm) it’ll fit most people inside
- Includes a pillow pocket
- Rectangle design provides plenty of room to move around
- Includes a 6” x 8” stuff sack (making it small in size when packed away!)
- Machine washable and durable 100% polyester material
- Silky feel
- Easy to get into with side opening and velcro closure
- Comes with a lifetime warranty
So, if you’re looking for the best sleeping bag liner for backpacking to go with the best sleeping bag for cold weather, this one will be a great bet.
Read this related piece: The Best Backpack to Travel Europe