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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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Owning a winter bag is the most efficient way to keep your body warm on a blustery winter night adventure. Other important factors, such as weight and pack size, can make the selection process difficult. We hope that our testings have helped you to find the best bag for your needs. For more detailed information on what to keep in mind while making your selection, read through out Buying Advice article.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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