What is a Winter Sleeping Bag?

Hiking and camping are activities for all seasons. While many people enjoy milder temperatures for their outdoor adventures, some hardy individuals thrive on winter experiences. In those climates and conditions, it’s imperative to have the right equipment to ensure your safety and warmth while you experience the great, chilly outdoors.

What is a Winter Sleeping Bag?

A winter sleeping bag has a 0 Fahrenheit or less temperature rating. Since they are specially designed to protect against the cold, they tend to come with enhancements not offered in other sleeping bags, such as zipper guards, draft tubes, continuous baffles, and shelf fabrics. 

Having the correct sleeping bag is essential. During the day, our bodies stay warmer due to being in motion. Once we settle down to sleep and recharge, the right sleeping bag needs to be around us to keep us warm. While most people would agree that a warm sleeping bag is necessary, there is a wide range of options with enough differences to be confusing. Here we break down what you need to know about winter sleeping bags.

What do you Wear in a Winter Sleeping Bag?

There’s no wrong answer when it comes to what to wear in a winter sleeping bag. There are endless options: sleeping in as little clothing as possible, sleeping in long underwear, loading up with multiple layers, or honestly, a combination of any of these.

The major determining factors are climate/conditions in which you’ll be using your bag and your previous experience. If you’re going to be in milder temps or you’re a warm sleeper, long underwear may be sufficient. If you’re going to be in colder weather or a cold sleeper, you may want to layer up as much as possible to keep warm.

There’s always an opportunity for a middle ground, too. If your limbs tend to get cold, but the rest of you don’t, maybe your priority is wearing a beanie or warm socks.

Knowing your comfort level and the conditions in which you’ll be using your bag is vital. No matter what your personal preference, don’t let yourself get overheated and start sweating – you’ll be on your way to getting cold no matter which option you choose.

How Can I increase the Warmth of My Sleeping Bag?

There are several ways to increase your warmth at night in a sleeping bag – two primary forms of heat conservation center around retaining the body heat you already have, along with generating more.

Keeping what you have is so important – insulate, insulate, insulate! There are three main ways body head can be stolen from you – radiation, conduction, and convection.

Radiation, which is the body heat you emit, is held in by your sleeping bag. If you add a sleeping bag liner, you can increase the temperature in your bag anywhere from five to 15 degrees.

Conduction happens when your body heat is drawn away from you when it meets another source – such as the earth when you sleep in your sleeping bag. Using an insulated sleeping pad can help keep the ground from drawing your body heat when you lay on the floor.

Thirdly, convection happens when cold air and wind wick your body heat from you. Choosing a site that naturally helps break the wind, such as a thickly wooded area, can keep you warm while you sleep.

While keeping the body heat you have is essential, help yourself out where you can – here are a couple of tips to help generate a little more body heat:

  • Before you go to bed, eat something with complex carbs. It helps your body stay warm with a slow release of energy over time.
  • Light exercise, like stretching, helps your body warm-up before bed. Don’t overdo it, though – you don’t want to start sweating! Perspiration aims to cool you down, which is the opposite of what we wish to in winter!
  • Related to this – always sleep in dry clothes. Wet clothes are the enemy.
  • Finally, pee before you go to sleep. Did you know that your body must work to keep your pee at the same temperature as the rest of you? An empty bladder means less work for your body. Reduce what you drink before bed and pee before you go to sleep. If you must go again in the middle of the night, go.

Can a Sleeping Bag be too Warm?

Oh, yes, definitely. Here are a few watch-outs:

  • If you have a 0-degree sleeping bag in warmer temps, you may find yourself getting too hot and sweating; however, there likely isn’t as much safety risk (as milder weather is clearly safer).
  • Overheating and sweating in colder temps is much more concerning. As mentioned previously, this leads to evaporation and getting too cold, which is what you’re trying to avoid in the first place. Keep your clothing dry and prevent over-heating.
  • There may be a few options to control internal temperature: if you have a liner, remove it. Also, some sleeping bags offer ways to ventilate so you can reduce the inner temperature.

What Does a 20-Degree Sleeping Bag Mean?

In the United States, the degree rating is the lowest outside Fahrenheit temperature at which the bag will keep the average sleeper warm. So, in this case, a 20-degree sleeping bag will keep the average sleeper warm in weather as cold as 20 degrees.

However, it’s important to note that what feels like a 20-degree bag to some may not to someone else. Women also tend to sleep colder, and everyone has individual preferences. The rating does help set a directional guideline, but it’s always a good idea to consider other factors.

Is a 30-Degree Sleeping Bag Warm Enough?

Since a winter sleeping back has a temperature rating of at least 0 degrees Fahrenheit, a 30-degree sleeping bag would be more ideal for hot climates. There are several good quality 30-degree sleeping bags on the market, but if you’re camping in winter temperatures, they would not be the best for your adventure.

How to Choose a Winter Sleeping Bag?

Choosing the best winter sleeping bag depends on your adventure and when you’re going. Winter camping has different needs than summer; if you’re hiking, the weight will be more important to you. The type of insulation and extra features dependent upon personal preferences also need to be taken into consideration.

Temperature is one of the most critical factors for winter camping. It’s imperative that you are aware of the temperatures you’ll be experiencing and choose a bag accordingly. One rule of thumb is to look at the bag’s rating and add 10-15 degrees. This helps ensure your bag will keep you warm enough.

Think about the weight of your ideal sleeping bag. If you are hiking, you may be looking for something more lightweight. In that case, a mummy bag, which is cut closer to the human body, could make a solid choice.

Insulation: down or synthetic? Down is lightweight and works exceptionally well in cold weather. Synthetic will still insulate when wet and dries out more quickly than down.

Personal preference regarding features also makes a difference. Do you want a hood on your bag for extra warmth? Maybe a draft collar or draft tubes to keep air out from zippers? Even something non-weather related, such as stash pockets?

Reviewing all these factors against personal preference and sleeping bag use will help you narrow down your needs’ best fit.

Can You Use a Winter Sleeping Bag in Summer?

Many people would think, why not? The worst-case scenario is you risk getting a little warm, and then you can unzip it.

But it’s important to remember that winter sleeping bags are intended for warmth and protection against cold weather and snow.

In summer, you are far more likely to experience rain. Many high-quality winter sleeping bags are filled with down. Down is superior for winter protection but virtually useless when soaked from the rain. And once wet, it can take quite a while to dry out again.

If there are no concerns about rain being a factor, you can use a winter sleeping bag. If rain is likely, several good quality three-season sleeping bags may be better suited for your use in summer.

Conclusion: What is a Winter Sleeping Bag?

In conclusion, there are sleeping bags suited for any adventure, in every condition and season. While having nearly limitless choices is a good thing, it can sometimes lead to overwhelm and confusion when trying to select the optimal sleeping bag for your needs. Since this becomes even more important for winter adventures, it’s essential to break down what a winter sleeping bag is, what to look for, and consider your individual needs. Knowing these factors will be invaluable in selecting the right bag for your next purpose. Onward to adventure!