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Winter sleeping bag recommendations

Hello! I will be starting a new job in February as a field instructor with a wilderness therapy program. I will be backpacking year-round in ochoco national forest near Bend, OR. I need to purchase a new sleeping bag for the winter season, and I’m looking for recommendations. Temperatures in the area can get down to 5-10 degrees F, the average low for the coldest month is 17 F. My orientation packet recommends a -15 degree bag, but this seems like maybe overkill?! I’m wondering if I can get away with a 0 degree bag if using a bivy (OR Helium) and a liner. We’ll be sleeping under tarps, not in tents, and my sleeping pad has an R value of 5. 

I don’t feel excited about shelling out $500+ on a bag I’ll only be using a couple of months a year. I would love input on how warm of a bag I actually need, and recommendations for specific bags (preferably less than $300). Weight is somewhat of a factor—we will be backpacking up to 10 miles in a day, but not every day. So not looking for ultralight but it needs to be compressible and reasonably lightweight. Durability will be really important as I’ll be sleeping in it every night on a one week on, one week off schedule. 

Thanks so much for any input and recommendations!

Don't cut corners on this item!  Go with the -15 degree recommendation.  you will be glad you did.

Hikermor is right.  When you are out there day after day you need the warm bag to recharge at night. 

I don't know how familiar you are with the area around Bend.  Central Oregon is pretty cold country.  Last time I backpacked there in September, it was 35 during the day and sleet and freezing rain at night.  Feb can be really cold. 

Thank you for the feedback! I’m beginning to realise I might have to bite the bullet and shell out for a -15 bag. There’s always credit cards right...


If the winter bag seems too specialized, you could buy a 0 degree high quality bag and add an inexpensive down comforter like those in Costco for winter conditions.  A zero degree bag is good about 9 months of the year in Oregon.  YOu could use the quilt and a wool blanket in the warmest weather. 

Doing that much camping the PNW? 

I suggest you get a UL "dining" fly.  Having somewhere dry to hang out besides inside your tent becomes a big deal.  And in winter the fly serves to cover the camp bench carved into the snow.

Back in 1999 I purchased a Bristlecone sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering. It is rate down to a +10° back then and it is the long model for people who are up to 6'-6". (The current model is rated down to -10°.) I truely love it, it is design for big people, I am 6ft. 1in. and 225lbs. and this bag provides plenty of room. It is only four pounds, which to me is very light. While being a large bag, it compresses down to a small area, when I purchased the bag I asked for the sleeping bag sack that was a size larger than the sack, less compression!
The new models are rated at -10° and, Western Mountaining makes great sleeping bags and their prices reflect this. The current model cost $955!!!

I don't know if any are still on sale but a few years ago I bought an LL Bean -20 F. bag on a double sale that I lucked into online.

BEST designed winter bag I have ever seen and has 800 fill DWR treated "responsibly sourced" down. They may have a 0 F. bag on sale now if you don't need or want a -20 F. bag.

You can get way with a 0 F. bag if you wear puffy jacket and pants over your base layer of long johns. Remember to by all means wear a light fleece balaclava. You can even pull it up over your nose B/C a cold nose is what makes you unconsciously tuck your head inside your bag while sleeping and that wets your bag with exhaled breath.

I recommend also wearing a light, knit glove liner to bed. Try it and you'll like it.

BTW, think of tis expense as "job related" and that it costs as much as a week in a motel.  Get a good quality bag even if it seems expensive because "Buy once, cry once".

Eric B.

Western Mountaineering in the flavor of your choice.

Feathered Friends is another high-end option...

On the trail, good sleep is everything, because everything you do while you're awake seems to take twice as much effort.

Good food, good sleep, lots of water...

Folks are recommending top products.  I own a FF winter down parka - great jacket!  But most of my life I got by with mid-tier gear, higher on the "value" category.  In that vein,  North Face, Marmot and Mountain Hardwear all have dependable bags, at somewhat less $$$$.  I generally also agree with the notion that sleeping bags are on a small list of gear where money should not take priority over function and reliability.

A cheap, but not so light option is getting a large zero degree bag, and using your warmer weather bag as a liner.  You can often drop the low temp of your sleep system another 20 degrees with this approach, without having to shell out the bucks for a -20 bag.  

Whatever you choose, I suggest getting the large sized bag, if that is an option.  Over sizing your bag will allow room to stow next morning's clothing change, and such.  It also allows more room when trying to get dressed inside your bag. 


PHfat cat knows what he is talking about. 

focus less on average temperatures and look at record lows. who cares if the average is 17 if you end up sleeping outside, without a tent, in -10 to -20 f? 

I would go with a -15 bag. look for used gear to save money - a used, reasonably well cared-for down bag will last a long time.  

I've heard and read good things about Wiggy's bags.  He has a multi bag system that the military uses.  Prices seem to be reasonable and gives you options for various temperature ranges.

I've heard both good and bad about WIGGY'S, especially bad on the Customer Service end. "Caveat Emptor"

If you have a 20 F. down bag that is NOT super tight then you can wear puffy clothes inside to greatly increase the R value.

I have taken my 20 F. (overstuffed) Western Mountaineering Megalite bag to 10 F. with long johns and puffy jacket and pants. That jacket and pants are also my "camp clothes". A fleece balaclava is also necessary below 40 F.

Always have an adequately warm mattress or pad. My REI FLASH Insulated has an R value of 3.7 which is good enough down to 10 F. if I lay my day pants and rain parka beneath it. For winter I use an REI FLASH All Season with R 5.3 rating. Works well.

Are those R-values old or new?  I was just reviewing an air mattress and the R's have shifted with the new 2020's interesting and will take me a while to re-calibrate what I think a 3.7 is now...the new test pad (Thermarest NeoAir Topo Luxe) is a 3.7 but didn't feel like one to me...more like an old 3.0?  I'll figure it out in a few years...

May 28, 2022
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