The Best Winter Down Sleeping Bag Review

We tested six of the best quality zero degree down sleeping bags in a head-to-head competition that assessed the following categories: fit, weight, warmth, packed size, and features. We pushed the limits of these bags by sleeping in them in cold places all over North America, Patagonia, and Alaska. We camped in tents, on snow and ice and also in unprotected bivis at high altitude. Throughout these tests, we were searching for the lightest, warmest, and most comfortable cold weather bag on the market.

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Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Winter Sleeping Bags Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Feathered Friends Snowbunting
Feathered Friends Snowbunting
Read the Review
Western Mountaineering Antelope MF
Western Mountaineering Antelope MF
Read the Review
Video video review
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0
Read the Review
Montbell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #0
Montbell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #0
Read the Review
Marmot Lithium MemBrain
Marmot Lithium MemBrain
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award       
Street Price $549Varies $575 - $595
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $440 - $610
Compare at 6 sellers
$590
Compare at 1 sellers
$549
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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1 rating
Pros Warm, waterproof-breathable shell material, excellent fit.Warm, very light.Warm, very comfortable, best hood design.Extremely comfortable.Warm, comfortable hood, waterproof-breathable shell material.
Cons Small hood.Weak neck baffle Velcro.Terrible zipper.Stretch is unnecessary when camping on snow, heaver than most others, uncomfortable hood.Bad neck baffle.
Best Uses Alpine climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing.Backpacking, alpine climbing, backcountry skiing.Backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing.Luxurious three-season camping.Backpacking, alpine climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing.
Date Reviewed Apr 26, 2011Apr 25, 2011Apr 26, 2011Dec 10, 2011Apr 27, 2011
Weighted Scores Feathered Friends Snowbunting Western Mountaineering Antelope MF Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 Montbell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #0 Marmot Lithium MemBrain
Warmth - 17%
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10
Weight - 17%
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3
Comfort - 17%
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Packed Size - 17%
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Features - 17%
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Fit - 15%
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Product Specs Feathered Friends Snowbunting Western Mountaineering Antelope MF Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 Montbell U.L. Super Spiral Down Hugger #0 Marmot Lithium MemBrain
Total Weight (oz) 43 39 42 45 46
Fill Weight (oz) 25.3 26 28 28 28
Material Weight (excludes down, oz) 17.7 13 14 17 18
Fill Power 850 850 800 800 850
Temperature Rating 0 5 0 0 0
Pocket Yes
Shoulder Girth 61 62 62 53-75 62
Hip Girth 56 53 58 44-62 58
Foot Girth 38 39 40 40+ 40
Shell Material Pertex Shield EX MicroLite XP Superlight 15D Ripstop 12 Denier Ballistic Airlight Nylon Membrain
Continuous Baffle Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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This review covers six moderate winter sleeping bags. We're in the process of updating this by testing expedition weight bags (-20 degrees through -40 degrees) as well as fast an light alpine climbing bags. Check back here in 2015 for an update and read on for moderate weight bags suitable for the Lower 48 states.

Click to enlarge
The Feathered Friends Snowbunting and Marmot Lithium Membrain (in rear) dry out in front of the Whitney group.
Credit: Max Neale
Product Selection
We selected six of the highest quality zero degree down sleeping bags. We choose only those that emphasized performance: all have 800-fill or greater down. This decision was based on the assumption that, when camping and travelling on snow, weight is the number one concern. The bags tested here range in price from $470 to $709. Cheaper bags, with 600-fill down and lower quality materials, will be equally warm, but weigh significantly more and compress poorly. All of the bags tested here will last 20 years (if properly cared for) and keep you warm on adventures ranging from backcountry skiing to fast and light alpine climbing.

Application
Zero degree bags are tremendously versatile. When fully zipped, cinched, and snugged, they can be incredibly warm. Wearing fleece or down pants and a thin down jacket can carry you through nights that drop well below zero. When opened up, they function perfectly for summer backpacking trips and even car camping. Most bags weigh around two and a half pounds, making them reasonable to carry on just about any adventure. Those with waterproof shell materials can also handle unprotected foul weather bivys.

Click to enlarge
Feathered Friends Vireo sleeping bag and Volant parka, Mt. Katahdin, Maine.
Credit: Outdoor Gear Lab
Criteria For Evaluation
Due to the fact that sleeping bags can be used for anything from saving your life in the mountains to curling up on the couch we evaluated these bags on their performance in the following non-application based categories:

Fit
Like all items that cover your body, the single most important aspect of a sleeping bag is its fit. Bags that are too small will be uncomfortable, restricting, and too tight to allow down to loft properly; you'll be cold. Those that are too large will be unnecessarily heavy and may have drafty dead air space; you might also be cold. Finding a bag that fits your body well is the most important aspect of selecting the right sleeping bag.

All of the bags reviewed here are available in at least two sizes: Regular (up to 6') and Long (up to 6' 6"). Some are also available in Short (up to 5' 6"). Manufacturers such as Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering provide different cuts of the same bag, allowing you to find one that fits well in three dimensions. While the sleeping bags reviewed here are men's bags, most manufacturers also make a women's version. Look at the foot, hip, and shoulder circumference to compare dimensions.

Go big for winter. A longer bag provides storage space for batteries, socks, boot liners, etc., and also lets you drop down into the bag on super frigid nights. Longer sizes add only and ounce or two to the bag's weight. It's well worth it for snow camping.

Click to enlarge
Hanging out on the side of Denali (Alaska) in the Hilleberg Nammatj with Therm-a-Rest's NeoAir XTherm, ZLite Sol, and Compack Chair. Feathered Friends Peregrine and Mountain Hardwear Ghost sleeping bags.
Credit: Clayton Kimmi
Weight
Purchasing a lightweight sleeping bag is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your pack's weight. Sleeping bag weight is function of fill, shell material, and features. Higher quality down weighs less, as do thinner materials and fewer bells and whistles. Of the bags reviewed here the Valandre Shocking Blue was heaviest, weighing a full 48.6 ounces. The lightest bag, Western Mountaineering Antelope MF, comes in at 39 ounces. While both of these bags have the best 850-fill down, the Antelope has a much trimmer, more efficient fit that reduces the total amount of material.

Warmth
A sleeping bag's warmth is a function of fit, fill, and shell material. The bags reviewed here are all stuffed with 800 to 900 fill power, the best available.

Shell material influences warmth by providing a windproof and water resistant barrier between you and the elements. Water resistance and breathability are inversely related. Two of the bags tested here have waterproof-breathable shell materials. We found these to be considerably warmer the bags with lighter and more breathable shell materials. When assessing warmth, spend less time fussing over materials and more time finding a bag that fits well. The warmest bag will depend on your body. Those on the slimmer side will likely find the Feathered Friends Snowbunting to be the warmest (they offer wider cuts too). Those one the larger side will probably find the Valandre Shocking Blue to be the warmest.

Two bags, the Western Mountaineering Antelope and Feathered Friends Snowbunting, have continuous baffles (down fills a single tube that runs from one end of the zipper around and underneath to the other). This allows you distribute the down evenly or shift it more to the top or bottom. Moving the down to the bottom is best for the summer and the top, for winter. This versatility is one of the main reasons why these are our two top rated bags.

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The Marmot Lithium Membrain sheds snow and water
Credit: Max Neale

Features
Here we evaluated the number and quality of features that each bag was equipped with. This variable encompasses shell material quality, zipper quality, zipper closure quality, hood design, neck baffle design, and the inclusion or omission of a stash pocket. We believe the Feathered Friends Snowbunting has the most advanced shell material. It's also the only bag with simple, lightweight, and effective snap closures on the neck baffle and hood. Unfortunately none of the manufacturers were able to get all the right features. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom, for example, has the best and most comfortable neck baffle and hood but also the most atrocious zipper.

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The Feather Friends Hummingbird's zipper and snap closures. The zipper is great and the snaps are better than velcro because they're stronger, don't wear out, and will never scratch your face.
Credit: Max Neale
Packed Size
Packed size is largely a function of down fill power. However, because all of the bags here have comparable quality down, their shell material and features have the greatest effect on compressibility. We stuffed all of the bags in the same compression sack and measured the resulting dimensions. The Western Mountaineering Antelope MF was most compressible, punching down to 7"x 8"x 11". The Valandre Shocking Blue was least compressible.

Accessories
A waterproof stuff sack is critical for keeping your bag dry. Unfortunately, very few bags come with decent quality stuff sacks and many bags come with downright terrible stuff sacks. Thus, we highly recommend purchasing one separately. See our Best Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack article for our recommendations for specific applications.

The right soap is important for the care of down sleeping bags. We recommend ReviveX Down Cleaner to safely clean and restore the loft.

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The Antelope MF packs smaller than an 8"x11" piece of paper
Credit: Max Neale
Bottom Line
Our Editor's Choice award goes to the Feathered Friends Snowbunting, a waterproof-breathable cocoon of dreamy down and well thought-out features. This bag is a true winter performer capable of enduring windy, snowy, unprotected bivvs. Those looking to shave four ounces and pocket $75 dollars should consider the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF, our Best Buy sleeping bag.

Click to enlarge
storage sacks from left to right: Valandre Shocking Blue, Western Mountaineering Antelope MF, Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0, Marmot Lithium Membrain, and Feathered Friends Snowbunting.
Credit: Max Neale

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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