Winter Is Coming. Sleeping bags.

Winter is coming

Cold weather and winter camping. How to stay warm, safe and comfy.

Tips & Tricks

On winter trips I slept in open lean-to's, under tarps, in tents and in quinzees, which we dug right into the snow.

Sleeping Bags For Winter Camping

Whether you sleep in the open, under a tarp, a tent or an igloo, the most essential part of your gear for winter camping is your sleeping bag. Get the right sleeping bag for the adventure you are going to.

Look inside your sleeping bag, for a label with EN13537 temperature ratings. The European Norm EN13537 is designed to produce standaradized temperature ratings for sleeping bags. The bags get tested under laboratory conditions. Sleeping bags with an EN-certificate have comparable temperature ratings and thus, if you compare two bags, you have a guideline which is warmer. 

Two different EN13537 labels.

On the top left my spring/autumn sleeping bag. There  you see an older version of the label.

Comfort Maximum of +2°C

Lower Comfort Zone -3°C

Extrem Survival -20°C

Mountain Euipment (Manufacturer) Recommended Sleep Zone: +20° to -7°C


Bottom left photo, my summer sleeping bag with a newer version of the EN13537 label.
Comfort Limit Female (red): +11°C

Comfort Limit Male (yellow): +7°C

Extrem (blue): -6°C

What do those ratings mean and how to interpretate them?

Again and again on cold weather camping trips I heard enthusiastic hikers boast the downright sensational temperature ratings of their bags, but then they suffered from a very cold night at relatively mild temperatures. What went wrong? The single biggest and very common mistake is to think that the Extrem Temperature rating is the benchmark for the bags performance. It is not. Apparently I can't state this often enough.

According EN13537 definition, the Extrem Temperature is"the minimum temperature at which a standard female can remain for six hours without risk of death from hypothermia, though frostbite is still possible".

There you go. Maybe it should be more appropriately called "Survival Temperature".

The crucial temperature rating is the Comfort Limit rating: "the temperature at which a standard femal can expect to sleep comfortably in a relaxed position".

Anything below that rating and sleeping in this bag will become an increasingly cold experience. From my own experience, a two or three degrees difference can change everything, from "still sleeping comfortably" to suddenly "too freaking cold to sleep". 


A guidline, not a set in stone rule, for cold weather sleeping bag categories:

Spring/Autumn sleeping bags: a comfort rating around 0°C, with a variance between +5°C to -4°C

Winter sleeping bags: definitely below freezing, with temperatures between -5°C and -12°C


Expedition sleeping bags are a category of their own and are not tested acording EN-Norm 13537


My own winter sleeping bag is the Western Mountaineering Antelope, which I bought in the USA, and thus has no EN13537 label inside, but bags sold over here in Europe have the certificate label and received a Comfort rating of -10°C.
I have been winter camping with this sleeping bag many times, in a lean-to, cave, tent and quinzee.

You are out camping and are getting cold? Maybe your sleeping bag is not quite up to the temperatures you are experiencing? This can happen easily, not just in winter, but also during the in-between season, when an unexpectedly cold night hits. 

Hopefully you haven't been so mad as to attempt winter camping with a light summer sleeping bag. In that case I wonder what the heck you are doing and recommend to save your life by hiking out as fast as possible!
If it is only a few degrees that are missing to a comfortable nights sleep,...well, despair not. There are a few easy tricks to gain some extra degree of warms.

I will post some tested and proven tips and tricks over the coming weeks. Starting today with trick Tip 1.

PS: Please don't forget to write your comments, questions or suggestions in the comment box below article.

Date: 16. Nov. 2017

Winter Camping Tip 1. The warm water bottle


Before you go to sleep fill a sturdy plastic flask with hot water, to warm your sleeping bag. I have used Nalgene bottles for this and never had a leak. DO NOT use metal flasks, such as made from aluminum or steel! Metal is an excellent heat conductor. If you fill boiling water into metal flasks the metal will instantly become so hot you risk severe burns to your skin or melting the synthetic material of your sleeping bag or garment.
Nalgene bottles are made of a relatively thick plastic, which provides just enough insulation to keep them save for handling. Always be careful when handling boiling hot fluids though. I usually wrap the flask into a cloth, towel or a shirt - ideally made of cotton - before tucking it inside the sleeping bag. That way the warmth of the flask will last longer through the night, instead of giving off a lot of heat all at once and cool down fast.

A hot water bottle can also help with drying slightly damp clothes, like socks.

I have an insulation sleeve I use to keep the bottle warm. Mind you, I once filled a steel canteen with boiling water and stuck it inside such a sleeve. It melted the synthetic material of the sleeve! 

Stick a bottle in the foot end of your sleeping bag, when you suffer from cold feet. Hug it to your belly to keep your body core temperature up.
Pro tip: Instead of just filling hot water into your flask, use tea. A sweetened fruit tea is great. Or hot chocolate.
If you get thirsty during the night, or feel cold, drink a few sips of hot beverage. It will help you to keep warm.

You'll be gratefull to enjoy a sip of luke warm beverage first thing in the morning, before getting up and out into the cold, particulare when all other water has frozen over night. 

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