A good winter sleeping bag can cost you a mortgage payment, and it makes little sense to spend that much if you're just going to give winter camping a go for one weekend out of the season.
There are other options. You can rent one from an outfitter, be lucky enough to find one at an Army Surplus store, place two fall-rated bags put together or buy a less expensive brand and add a few things to it.
Last weekend I tried out the well-priced, Canadian-brand Hotcore R-300 sleeping bag. It’s spacious, rectangular, breathable and insulated with Siliconized TrueLoft microfibre (meaning it still provides warmth if it gets wet). It also only costs a mere $125.
There is a downfall, however: it has a rating of -20 C. The temperature went down to -24 C, and I would have been cold if I didn’t add a few extras.
On the inside, I added a sleeping bag liner (Hotcore Hostel/Travel Sheet). It’s a soft quick-dry sheet that comes with a pillow pocket. On the outside, I used an SOL Bivy Bag which gave me an extra 10 degrees of warmth. These bags are inexpensive and amazing.
I also used a few extra tricks I’ve learned over the years to add warmth throughout the night:
- Camp in a well-protected forested area, away from the wind and blowing snow. Even better is a swamp. It’s out of the wind and provides plenty of dead, standing wood.
- Ventilate the tent. Condensation will quickly form from you breathing and cause the interior of the tent to become covered in a layer of fine ice particles, which will eventually melt and soak everything inside.
- For extra insulation, pile up snow around the sides of the tent.
- When you finish setting up camp, change into an extra dry pair of long underwear and dry socks (keep a spare set in the front pouch of your parka so they are nice and warm to put on) and wear a wool toque to bed.
- Smooth out the snow under your sleeping area as soon as possible. Once the snow starts to melt and then freeze it becomes too difficult to flatten. Also, create a shallow trough for your body to reduce rolling back and forth through the night.
- Sleep on a thick foam pad or Therm-a-rest (not an air-mattress). Your body will lose more heat to the cold ground than the air.
- Add reflective pipe insulation under your pad.
- Fluff your sleeping bag before crawling in.
- Munch on high calorie snacks just before bed time. The fuel your body has to burn off will help you stay warm.
- Go to bed warm. Do a few jumping jacks before going in the tent or ride an imaginary bicycle inside your bag.
- If you find yourself shivering inside your sleeping bag, put on your rain gear to act as a vapor barrier and hold in your body heat.
- Stuff your boot liners in your sleeping with you at night to make them toasty warm for the morning.
- Store your electronics, batteries or even camp fuel in your sleeping bag to protect them from the cold.
- Try to keep your head out of your sleeping bag. Moisture from your breath will get trapped and dampen your bag. Instead, wear a hat with a balaclava or wrap a scarf around your face.
- Keep an empty (well-labeled) water bottle inside the tent to pee in. A full bladder robs the body of more heat than an empty one; and besides, who wants to crawl out into the cold night air to relieve themselves at 2:00 a.m.?
- Women can use a device called a Pee-Mate or Wiz-Easy to help their aim.
- Sleep with a hot water bottle, a thermos or Nalgene bottle of hot water for extra warmth and so you have something warm to drink in the morning. A survival candle also keeps you snug and cozy, while providing light.
- Stuff the next day clothes inside your sleeping bag.
- A candle lantern will light up your tent and give off some heat as well.