(The Gear Loop) - The brilliant thing about the UK is that as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it arguably becomes the perfect time to get out into the countryside and camp among nature.
There will be fewer people around to disturb you, and entirely new things to do and see. After all, bat-spotting and star-gazing are less ideal activities with the kids when the sun doesn’t set until 10pm.
Popular walking, scrambling and climbing routes will also be much quieter in the cooler months, and campsites highly unlikely to be full, potentially reduced in price and staggeringly peaceful places to set up camp.
However, the key item you’ll need for camping in the cooler months is a winter-rated sleeping bag - potentially along with a more robust three/four season tent and a more insulated camping mat, although the latter two can be offset with a little planning.
We’ve collated some of the best performing sleeping bags for colder months, making sure we offer up an option for every budget, from excellent value models to those expedition-ready sleeping bags that tend to cost a lot more.
The best cold season sleeping bags for all budgets
Sea to Summit Spark SP III
- Astonishingly light
- Great performance overall
- Real-world usable (good zip)
- Not rated for full winter
- It's pricey
The Sea to Summit Spark SP III (3) is at the warmer end of winter operations, rated down to -2°C comfort. But there’s a substantial twist here - the little Spark not only packs down incredibly small, but weighs in at 665g - an incredibly low weight for such a warm bag. It’s an impressive feat anyway, but in person it’s even more appealing, as the Spark 3 isn’t obviously ultralight.
The 10D shell and 7D liner materials feel up to the job (albeit lightweight), and the Ultra-dry Down filling - a massive 850+ Loft of 90 per cent premium goose down (certified Responsible Down Standard (RDS) lofts beautifully. There’s even a generous three-quarter length zip for easy venting on warmer evenings. If you’re looking for packability, low weight but a decent temp rating this is your fast-and-light tool for the winter months.
Rab Neutrino 600
- Robust and well-designed
- Relatively lightweight
- Top quality
- Could be warmer
- Top end of budget
The Rab Neutrino line of sleeping bags will be immediately familiar to a whole generation of outdoors-folk, and the latest iterations build on that heritage, delivering well-designed warmth for very little weight.
There are a range of ‘weights’ - the 600 being in the midrange - but this is far from a mid range bag. With a limit of -12°C, and a comfort rating of -5°C, this can take on all but the fiercest of winter adventures, but still weighs in at a shade under a kilo - it also costs £440, which is at the top end of most budgets.
A relatively burly 20D Pertex Quantum recycled nylon ripstop (38gsm) with fluorocarbon-free DWR outer and 20D recycled nylon liner encase 800FP European goose down with Nikwax fluorocarbon-free hydrophobic finish.
That’s solid fill power, which backed with a neck baffle and snug fit boosts the warmth on offer considerably. Finally, the three-quarter length zip adds usability - broadening the seasons right out.
Vango Zenith 200
- Strong pricepoint
- Good eco credentials
- Neat detailing
- Temp rating could be better
- Quite large
The Vango Zenith 200 is a synthetic sleeping bag with a surprisingly low RRP. The downside of this is a recommended minimum temp of 1 degree above freezing - which is marginal for true winter use. It’s also not on the svelte side (as synthetic bags tend to not be), with a packsize of 24.0 x 20.0cm and a weight of 1.6kg.
The brighter side is that the Zenith is made from recycled Polair Z Eco fabric and lightweight Insulite Helix Eco fill, which takes the edge off the environmental concerns. Good design continues throughout, with the stuff sack being fleece-lined to create a pillow, and mosquito netting at the head and foot of the bag - highly valuable for warmer, more midge-y adventures.
Decathlon Forclaz Trekking Sleeping Bag MT500
- Keen pricing
- Decent temp rating
- Synthetic for faff-free warmth
- Heavy, too
The Forclaz MT500 is a classic bit of Decathlon equipment - pretty good on any level, and very good when you consider the pricing. For the money, you get a synthetic sleeping bag with a comfort temperature rating of -5°C, and a limit temperature of -11°C. In short, an excellent bag for the slightly careless UK camper, where damp is a fact of life. The rating should see you comfy in all but the northernmost winter exploits, and you’re paying a fraction of the premium of some of the top bags.
There is a reason for that price point, unfortunately, with the Forclaz MT500 weighing in at a chunky 2.1 kg, and a volume of 19.1 L - neither really lending it to portability.
However, for short journeys, very wet conditions or car camping there’s a lot to be said for this as an option - it’s even got two side zips for extra ventilation, and can be machine washed.
Vango Microlite 300
- Relatively lightweight
- Keenly priced
- Still warm when wet
- Pretty bulky
- More of a beginners bag
The Vango Microlite 300 sleeping bag ticks off a lot of boxes - for a start, it’s synthetic-filled, thus will keep you warm even if it gets wet, but weighs just over a kilo, which is a rare combination. It’s also keenly priced, a combination that makes it perfect for winter beginners, and anyone planning to travel longer distances while carrying it.
A downside is the packsize, at 26.0 x 19.0cm, but synthetic bags are always bulkier than their down equivalents, so this isn’t something to get too worried about.
The thermal performance isn’t astonishing, probably thanks to the lighter target weight, at 1° C comfort, and a recommended limit of -2°, but that’s not bad for a synthetic bag at that overall weight - Vango’s 4T Eco Synthetic insulation is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.
Finally, but by no means unimportantly, the lining and shell fabrics are both recycled - being recycled Polair Active Eco material. For winter beginners and bargain-hunters of any experience level, there’s a lot to be said for the Vango Microlite 300.
How to buy the best sleeping bags for colder months
Research the temperature
Just as with any season sleeping bags, winter bags are rated by sleeping temperature, but as overnight temps drop, you’ll need to be more cautious about the numbers.
It’s worth at this point being clear about your off-season outdoor camping plans. The temperature difference between an overnight in the Peak in October and a week in the Cairngorms in January is huge, and unless you want to end up with a large number of sleeping bags it’s a good idea to get the best you can to fit all your plans.
That said, if you really don’t need a four-season, -15 capable bag, then carrying the extra weight (and paying the extra money) is best avoided too.
Down vs synthetic filling
winter this choice becomes even more stark. Even the most technical and costly down bag will begin to weigh quite a bit to combat winter chills, while the synthetic options are not only bulky, but even heavier.
However, it’s worth giving a bit of thought to this, as some situations will make it very difficult indeed to keep a down bag dry, at which point you’d be much warmer in a synthetic bag.
Although we have included some excellent value bags in this roundup, it’s well worth taking a good look at your finances when buying a winter sleeping bag - good ones are not cheap, and there's a good reason for that.