If you live in an area that experiences winter, and you’re a SHTF samurai – you NEED a quality sleeping bag. Lucky for you, I’m going to lay out a little info for ya. I’d like to think I know a few things about sleeping bags for cold weather conditions, because – before having kids – I used to have time for winter hiking.
There are basically two types of sleeping bags: synthetic and down. I’ve used both, and unless you’re allergic to down, I can’t understand why anyone would want a synthetic bag . . . unless they just want to spend less money. The only other non-allergic upside to a synthetic bag is that they’re more likely to keep you warm should the bag get wet – but that’s it! Further, this can be easily rectified – just don’t get it wet. Here, take a gander at my wife’s synthetic LL Bean sleeping bag:
She bought synthetic, because she said she was allergic to down. We bought this bag before we were married, about 9 years ago. We broke it in when I took her on her first overnight hike on Mount Chocura.
The downsides to a synthetic bag are:
- they’re heavier than down
- they don’t usually keep you as warm as down
- they friggin’ suck when you’re trying to stuff one in your backpack
She said she was allergic to down, yet for some reason she prefers my sleeping bag – a down bag:
This bag is pure sweetness. It’s rated to -25 F, stuffs easily into a pack, it’s long, and it has Gore DryLoft materials. That DryLoft action is sweet, because the bag breathes really well. Ever spend the night in a sleeping bag and wake up in the morning all damp and shit? Not with DryLoft. If I went to sleep in this thing on the side of a mountain in the winter, I’d wake up to see the entire outside of the bag covered in frost. THAT would be my perspiration being wicked away outside the bag.
Price on a bag like this? Friggin’ expensive! I bought it back in 1997 when I was preparing for a winter trip on Mount Rainier. That was back when I had money, again – before kids. I’m thinking the retail price was around $400 or so, but I had a SHTF homie’s girlfriend, who was working at LL Beans at the time, buy it for me with her insane employee discount, something like 30-40% off. It has treated me well ever since. Buy the good stuff once, that’s my equipment motto.
Other things you’ll want to consider in selecting your bag:
- When it says it’s rated to -20 or -25 or -40 – don’t believe it! It’s a friggin’ load of crap. I have a nice, warm bag, but I’d be freezing my tits off if I was sleeping in this thing and the outside temp was -25.
- Always get a mummy bag, not the rectangular version. A mummy bag will cinch up around your face to help trap in your body heat.
- When hiking, I stuff the sleeping bag – AND EVERYTHING ELSE – into a heavy-duty trash bag inside my pack. I line the entire pack with a big trash bag – or two. Then if it rains – no worries. If you fall off a cliff and into a raging river – no worries . . . .
- Always use a sleeping pad underneath to insulate you from the ground. The Therm-a-Rest versions are nice. That’s what I use. I started with the non-inflating type, afraid an inflating version would pop. That has never happened since switching.
- Get a long bag, longer than you are. It makes a big difference when you don’t want to take your little cold weather booties off to leave them outside and get cold. Just take ’em off and push them to the bottom of your bag. The bottom of the bag is also a good place to store any drinking water you might want when you wake up in the middle of the night, because it’s just so damn cold. Hydration is key in cold weather.
BUT WAIT – there’s more! A BONUS TIP for you cold weather hikers!
This is a trick I learned myself. Most hikers carry a Nalgene bottle of some sort. Cold weather hikers sometimes carry an insulated bottle carrier for that bottle. I do, and when bed time comes, I fire up the backpacking, white gas stove and I boil some water. I pour the boiling water into the Nalgene bottle (note there are now plastic, chemical concerns with certain Nalgene bottles – now available in stainless steel), then I put the bottle into its insulated sleeve, crawl into the sleeping bag with it, and hug it against my chest all night long. It great! It acts like a freakin’ hot water bottle all night. Next to your chest (heart) it heats you up real sexy like, and when you wake up thirsty, you’re drinking warm water.
– Ranger Man