Do I need a winter bag or can i combine what i already have?

8:51 a.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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Hey everyone!

So i've been backpacking for quite some time, but never winter backpacking which is something i want to get into.

I am just about to pull the trigger on a -20 bag so that regardless of when i want to camp during the Wisconsin winters i'm covered, but i was pondering the layering idea.  Has anyone layered multiple sleeping bags to accomplish a warmer bag?

I currently own a Mountain Hardware 2nd Dimension bag (15 deg), a custom Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt (10 deg) and a Aegis Max down bag (50 deg).   So i'm wondering if i would climb into my Aegis Max, then into my Mountain Hardware bag and finally pull the quilt over the top if that would get me a system that could handle below 10 deg?

All of this would of course be paired with my Big Agnes Air Core mattress which has a 4.1 R value.


9:09 a.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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Yes it works. We’ve used the system for decades on trips where we will be in various zones that go from warmer to colder over multi day routes. 

We have not done that for -20 because we s don’t see that in the southwest thankfully. We will take 20 degree WM bags and a thin synthetic or down quilt will extend the range very nicely. Don’t have a clue about your bags and quilt with your metabolism. Give it a shot in the backyard and see for yourself. Some people also sleep in thicker clothing like down pants and jackets. I never liked that method but works for some.

9:47 a.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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Thanks for the insight.

10:18 a.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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One bag inside another one.  Add some ensolite foam for on top of your pad.  Bring a pad for your dog. 

Cold usually means snow.  I like to split my load in half, since winter equipment is heavier than summer.  I either pull a small sled or have my dog pull it.  Traveling on skis or snowshoes makes you top heavy. 

12:08 p.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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Back in my days of Poverty Backpacking---we called it Dirtbagging---the only way we could stay warm was with Weight and Bulk---i.e. using two or three cheap sleeping bags to stay warm.

But we had to carry the weight . . . and bulk.  The goal though even back in them days was to pay $300 and get a state of the art down bag which ditched all others and worked as a stand-alone down to -10F. 

Both systems work---but nowadays I carry a Western Mountaineering subzero bag at around 3.6 lbs for all my winter trips---and no other bag.

4:01 p.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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I've slept in my 20 degree bag down to single digit cold.  I wore all my clothes and my ski boot liners.  You won't die but your discomfort tolerance is the most important thing.

Two bags is WAY cheaper than a new bag if that's what you have.

4:02 p.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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Oh yes, +1 for the dog pad.  I also bring mine their own bag if they aren't an outdoor dog/cold weather breed.

5:16 p.m. on November 18, 2019 (EST)
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i echo the dirtbagging comment. in my youth, with funds tight, i used a military surplus winter bag that wasn't warm enough for the coldest winter nights in New Hampshire, used a light summer bag inside it and a bivy bag outside, which gave me an extra 10-15 degrees of warmth, more or less.  you need to ensure the 'main' sleeping bag has enough room inside to accommodate the other bag; otherwise, you're just compressing the insulation and not getting much benefit.  it's not easy to do this the other way around,  as few summer-weight bags will swallow a +15 bag.  you could use a second bag as a quilt, but they tend to slide off.  another strategy is to wear some clothing inside the bag, noting the same issue - no point in wearing a down jacket inside the bag unless the bag has room.

there are some down bags designed to do this - Valandre's shocking blue is designed to wear a down jacket inside to complement the insulating value of the bag. they should call it "shocking green" because Valandre bags rarely go on sale, and the shocking blue lists for over $700.  you can usually find them for mildly less. 

if you expect persistent sub-zero weather, you might find a 4.1 R value pad is a little thin, but it depends on how warm you sleep and how the sleeping bag setup works for you to some degree.  i use two closed cell pads in the winter, which gets me to roughly 5.2 R value. It also avoids malfunctions - closed cell pads don't leak or puncture - and is a less expensive but more bulky alternative to inflatable pads.  

i now rely on a -40f down bag from Mountain Hardwear that i picked up on sale.  

7:36 a.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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Thanks everyone!

I really don't have an issue investing in a down winter bag, however, i'm trying to avoid being sucked into some of the current 20% of single item sales at the popular online equipment stores.  I was hoping to score a slightly better deal than that, so i'm trying to see what i can do in the interim.

The unfortunate part is it's winter bag season, so i'm not sure the sales will be any better for awhile.  Secondly, i need the LONG size as i'm 6'5" and usually when i see a heavily discounted bag, it's the regular size.

8:30 a.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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You could also lay in one bag and unzip the 2nd [assuming it is still zipped some near the foot] and then slide the foot of the one you are in into the foot of the 2nd bag and pull that bag over you then clip it onto the first bag near your shoulders.

That will act like a quilt  but give you maximum loft and will be easier getting in and out of as you will only have one zipper to contend with.

And as mentioned above what padding, how much, you lay on is important.

10:28 a.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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When I started backpacking the Grand Canyon in winter in 1984, I had a 20 degree North Face Cats Meow bag, I tried it alone a few  times on a trip into the canyon, but found it wasn't good enough. So after my first trip in the canyon , I bought a military wool blanket and folded it in half the long way and stitched it along the outside edges. Then carried it and pulled it over the 20 degee bag and it worked fine at keeping me warm.

I have also in recent years used a light summer bag inside a winter bag adding more warmth on the really cold nights.

I see a few compaies now make a sleeping bag system that uses 2-3  individual nags  which can be used  by themselves for different seasons or together for cold winter nights.

PLus sleeping in a tent and on a sleeping pad will increase your warmth via insulation and  wind barrier.

11:18 a.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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I have used a Marmot down bag rated for 20 degrees with a polar fleece blanket inside the bag down to 5- 10 dgrees above.  I wore a lot of clothes and chose calm weather for overnight ski trips. 

Unless you are out there a lot in winter, it makes sense to use what you have. 

1:38 p.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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ppine said:

Unless you are out there a lot in winter, it makes sense to use what you have. 


This is very good advice. We also have WM Sequoia bags but have only used them a handful of times because they are rated for 5°. They are wide tapered bags and very comfy. They are too warm in most cases for us. So if you are only going to camp in seriously low temps occasionally then I’d say the same; layer with the bags, quilt and clothing you have if they are comfortable enough. Warm booties and a watch cap are essential imo.

 When we take the 20° bags and an over quilt we can camp just about anywhere. In some cases we use only the light quilts if we are winter camping in the Mojave desert. If a cold front comes in or we move to higher terrain then we can layer up with the whole system. 

4:05 p.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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I think you can used what you have, mindful of one consideration: when layers are inserted into each other (e.g. one sleeping bag inside another) they need adequate room so the insulation is not compressed; otherwise efficiency is reduced.  Test at home.  Thus you may wish to ditch the 50° bag.  If your quilt and MH bag perform as they are rated, then this will work.  In a push you also have fleece, and other personal layers you may layer in there.  A warm balaclava, good warm sleeping socks and eating a snack before your sleep will help keep your body heat up and make you feel warmer.


5:08 p.m. on November 19, 2019 (EST)
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@Will1e: Hello! For what it's worth, I agree with Ed that you should just work with the 15-degree bag inside the 10-degree quilt. In addition to the compression issue, the two additonal layers of nylon will undoubedly result in vapor-barrier effect. I'd focus more on upping the R-value of your pad, maybe with a full-length, 3/8-inch-thick closed-cell-foam sheet placed on top of the Big Agnes.

7:53 a.m. on November 20, 2019 (EST)
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Thanks for the insight everyone!!  Sounds like this is a viable option as i keep my eyes peeled for a dynamite deal on a sub zero bag.  Fortunately, the negative digit nights here in NE Wisconsin won't hit for another month hopefully so this will buy me some time to trial what i have.

I've also been looking for a 4-season tent and have come across some economical options for hot tents/tipis.  So now i'm exploring that in more depth as well vs. a standard 4-season tent.  The thought of trekking into the woods and having stove fires at night sounds like heaven!  If I pull the trigger on something like, even less reason to need a heavier single bag.

4:52 p.m. on December 21, 2019 (EST)
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I'd try the EE quilt over the MH 2nd Dimension 15 F. bag. As PPine said, add a closed cell pad like a Thermarest RidgeRest but put it under your mattress. Works better that way in my experience. You may be surprise at how much warmth that quilt adds.

I have had my overstuffed 20 F. Western Mountaineering Megalite bag down to 10 F. in a solo tent wearing a puffy jacket and pants over medium weight base layer and a fleece balaclava and was just fine. I think I could nave been warm at 5 F. 

I also have a light Thermarest synthetic "topper" cover with 3 elastic bands snapped to it that run under my mattress. I'm trying it this winter in hopes it will collect most of my body vapor when it condenses so I can let it freeze and shake it out the bottom opening in the morning.

Eric B.

February 29, 2020
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