Are you looking to venture into winter camping or step it up a notch? Need an update to your winter sleeping bag?

After testing in the field, our Wasatch Front Grassroots Team Leader, Denver Bauter, and our Grassroots Program Manager, Rachael Denis, review these three bags for their varying degrees of winter worthiness. Read on:

Big Agnes Ethel 0 Degree Women’s Regular Sleeping Bag

Reviewer: Denver Allen, 5’9”, 130 lbs
Where to Buy: amazon.com, backcountry.com, campsaver.commoosejaw.com
Perfect for: those who move around a lot in their sleep and need warmth on a winter excursion, particularly where warmth is more important saving weight

Winter Sleeping Bag - Big Agnes

Testing Grounds: I used this bag in Utah’s Wasatch Front below Thursten Peak. It was cold and clear that night; around 18 degrees Fahrenheit. I slept on top of a tarp, without a tent, using the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pad, which is the recommended compatible sleeping pad for the Ethel (sold separately; however, Big Agnes says any rectangular sleeping pad with the same dimensions will work). I also slept with my Klymit Luxe camping pillow. I wore a light puffy, fleece pants, light socks, and a warm beanie.

Construction: The bag is made with a polyester mini rip-stop shell with an exterior water-repellent finish. The lining is polyester taffeta with 650 DownTek water-repellent insulation connected with Big Agnes’ “Insotect Flow Construction”.

The petite sized bag will fit frames up to 5’6” and weighs 3 lbs, 2 oz, while the regular sized bag fits frames to 5’10” and weighs 3 lbs, 6 oz. The smaller bag packs down into a 7” x 8.5” cylinder and the regular packs into a 7”x 9” cylinder.

Winter Sleeping Bag - Big Agnes EthelFunction: When I opened this bag, I was surprised to see the underside had no down, just a pouch for a sleeping pad. The concept is logical but I had my doubts. However, the recommended sleeping pad fit well without any drafts at the pad-bag interface seams. I tried it with my Klymit Static-V sleeping pad and, though it worked, the bag didn’t have the same seamless-integration feel that it does with the recommended pad.

The first time I got into the bag, I was concerned with the head of the bag extending beyond the edge of the integrated sleeping pad. To avoid feeling the edge of the pad, I added my camp pillow (which had to be mostly deflated to fit the bag) and tucked the bag down around my head.

When I’m sleeping, I usually fall off of the pad, but with the Ethel being attached to the pad, that problem is solved. The integration has other benefits, too: It also gives the bag a more roomy feel and the bag stays in place when I roll over instead of becoming bunched up and twisted around me.

I tend to sleep on my side with my legs curled up, so I was happy that the bag was roomy enough for me to slide my legs inside the bag and sleep in any position. However, I did notice that since the bag stays long and straight due to the sleeping pad integration, the space below my feet was a little cold. This can be fixed by putting extra clothes at the bottom.

The draft collar helped keep the cold air from leaking around my shoulders and neck. I could tuck my hands into as well to help keep them warm. But though the bag didn’t have any drafty spots, I could feel some cold coming from the ground through the uninsulated bottom of the sleeping pad, but it wasn’t enough to make my overall temperature drop or cause discomfort. Using a warmer sleeping pad or adding a small, closed-cell foam pad would add that extra bit of warmth. The bag itself was a comfortable temperature and the Insotect Flow Construction (which is a fancy way of saying the baffles are stitched vertically) worked nicely so the loft and insulation didn’t settle to the sides with gravity and, instead, stayed in place all around my body.

This winter sleeping system isn’t the lightest in the market but I’m willing to carry a bit more weight to keep me warmer.

 

Pros:

  • stability of the system/ bag design allows sleeping in any position
  • never felt claustrophobic in the bag
  • good price point

Cons:

  • There were some cold spots, especially in the foot area.
  • The bag-pad system is on the heavier side.
  • Need to use a sleeping pad that conforms to specific dimensions

REI Magma 17 Degree Women’s Long Sleeping Bag

Reviewer: Denver Allen, 5’9”, 130 lbs
Where to buy: https://www.rei.com
Perfect for: cold fall nights or warmer winter camping (30-50 degrees Fahrenheit)

Winter Sleeping Bag - REI Magma
Testing Grounds:
I used this bag while camping in Taylor Canyon outside of Ogden, Utah. The temperature ranged from 32 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit with mostly clear skies; however, it snowed lightly in the middle of the night. I shared a 2.5-person, three-season tent with one other person and my dog. I slept on a Klymit Static-V Insulated pad and Klymit Luxe Pillow. I slept in thin leggings and a long-sleeve fleece.

Construction: The Magma has a 15-denier ripstop nylon shell and lining and a 850 fill, water-resistant goose down. The regular size fits frames up to 5’5”, weighs 2 lbs 4 oz, and packs down to 7.3 liters. The long fits up to 6’ frames, weighs 2 lbs 6 oz, and packs down to 7.9 liters.

Function: When this bag is removed from the stuff sack, the loft is instantly noticeable. The bag puffs up quickly and evenly, creating a warm barrier of insulation.

The Magma’s material is soft, and I liked the dark but feminine colors (Dark Obsidian outer/Peacock Teal inner). The fit worked very well for me, too: When camping, I like to keep the next day’s clothes in the foot box of my bag so my clothes will be warm in the morning. This bag had just enough room for that. My camp pillow was large for the headspace in this bag, but with a little deflation, it worked out. Even with the less-than-perfect fit with my pillow, I wouldn’t want the hood any larger since it would add weight and decrease the effectiveness of the insulation in trapping warm air around me.

However, there were a couple of features I would like to see included or improved in the Magma. The first is a small issue: I wish the bag had an interior stash pocket for convenience. The second improvement is more substantial: The draft collar is less like a standard beefy collar of insulation and more like a small flap of extra b