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Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag?
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Greg Foster
(thefost) - MLife
Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 19:42:37 MST Print View

This might be a dumb question, but can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? I was in my marmot helium this weekend and wanted to completely cinch down the head hole so that I was fully enclosed in the bag. I decided against it for fear of it not being "breathable" enough. Anyone know if it's safe to be completely enclosed?

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 19:58:46 MST Print View

Can you actually cinch it down that tight? Why do so in the first place? You'll get wet and cold.

Greg Foster
(thefost) - MLife
Re: on 11/23/2009 20:04:49 MST Print View

Why? Because I was cold and that seemed like the best way to retain heat at the time.

I'm a side sleeper, so when I would cinch it down, the side/top of my head would block the tiny bit of hole that was open, so it would be effectively completely closed off.

Hadn't thought about the inside of the bag getting damp...

Edited by thefost on 11/23/2009 20:05:58 MST.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Some rely on cinching on 11/23/2009 21:21:55 MST Print View

I have a friend who regularly takes his 30* bag down to the low teens by cinching it as closed as possible and laying on his side in the fetal position inside it. he relies on his breath to help warm the bag, and has been doing this for years. YMMV, but he sees no reason for a true winter bag and reports that he's never ever been cold.

But FWIW, I think he's a bit nuts.

Jeff Jeff
(TwoFortyJeff) - F
Re: Re: on 11/23/2009 21:22:32 MST Print View

I'm a side sleeper too. It makes it really awkward when I cinch it down. I never bury my face in the bag, but I do get it fairly tight, but I leave my mouth near the opeing of the bag. Wake up on a cool morning and look at the frost around the opening on the outside of the bag. You don't want that inside.

The best method I found was to get a bag with a stoute draft collar over and under your collarbone/neck area. Get that really tight and it seals off my main part of the bag. Then put on a balaclava and hat. I slightly cinch the hood down if I am side sleeping.

I'd love to hear some opinions from other side sleepers. I am sure there are better solutions out there!

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 21:35:13 MST Print View

This thread totally sets off my claustrophobia. I'm going to go hug my quilts now.... Just the thought of closing myself in a bag makes me feel suffocated. Side sleeping and claustrophobia have forever divorced me from the thought of owning another mummy bag.

Edited by lori999 on 11/23/2009 21:36:12 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 21:39:41 MST Print View

> can you suffocate in a sleeping bag?
No recorded instances that I am aware of.
Plenty of people have slept *inside* their bag or *under* their quilt, while out walking or at home.


Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 22:02:18 MST Print View

If you get that cold, get up and pee! Do some jumping jacks to warm up, then EAT and drink.

Being dehydrated and hungry = being miserable. So does pee in your body. Also....if really cold and under prepared lay your rain jacket under you to block some of the cold. For me this has worked as a vapor barrier of sorts.

Acronym Esq
( - F

Locale: TX
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 22:18:13 MST Print View

I don't think you can suffocate in a sleeping bag in the way you described. You may feel mild hypoxia symptoms tho.

The real problem with breathing inside the sleeping bag is that your breath will rapidly increase the humidity of the air inside the bag. My experience is that high humidity cool air feels colder than low humidity air at the same temperature. More importantly increased humidity inside the bag raises the dew point inside the bag increasing the likelihood of condensation. Sleeping in water could be a real problem if you aren't using a vapor barrier.

There are plenty of other techniques to warm up (more clothing, blanket, leaves, exercise, voiding, hugging, friction, fire). I try not to breath in my bag. YMMV.

acronym 11/23/2009 11:14 PM

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Unfortunately, no! on 11/23/2009 22:45:03 MST Print View

But there was a 54 year old total Dufus backpacking with our group going to Olancha Peak in the Sierra Nevada last summer that I only wish would have suffocated in his bag. The idiot got LOST B/C he failed to stay in camp and wait for our summit group to return. Grrrr!

(Yeah, we knew after a few hours on the first day that he was not rowing with both oars in the water and that's why we literally took care of him - or tried to - all the time.)

Joshua Gilbert
(joshcgil2) - F

Locale: Seattle
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/23/2009 22:46:23 MST Print View

There was a case a couple of years ago I think, where some military contractors smothered an Iraqi general(memory is fuzzy, could have been Afghanistan) by shoving him head first in a sleeping bag. They may have also sat on his head. Morbid, but my point is I doubt you could do it yourself unless you got really creative; you would have to try.

Condensation would be the real concern.

Tony Wong
(Valshar) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/24/2009 01:23:23 MST Print View


I have the Marmot Helium EQ and on my first trip in a tarptent in bad weather, my tarptent lost a stake and collapsed around me allowing about an inch of water to flood my tent.

It was blowing so bad, I dared not exit my tent for fear that it would blow away.

I simply layed on my side and completely cinched up the hood to the size of a blow hole and laid away in the driving rain and howling wind until I passed out from being tired.

I woke up the next morning looking like Han Solo in carbonite with the tarptent plastered on top of me with small puddles of water.

The only part of my thermarest prolite 4 pad that was dry was a 3 inch patch running along the middle where I was sleeping on my side.

My whole bag was soaked on the outside, but I remained warm and dry due to the fact that I had seam sealed my sleeping bag, which was the only thing that saved my bacon!

That said, I survived with nothing more than a blow hole that might have been an inch or two wide....all I know is that I just cinched the hood as tight as I could and bunkered down in my sleeping bag that night.

Winds were strong enough on the ridge that were on that a friend's REI Half Dome bent a pole from being crushed by the wind, forcing him to spend the night in a pit toilet for his shelter....I count myself luckier than him that night.

My advice is that yes, you could do it, but avoid it unless the "stuff" has hit the fan....the condensation build up might warm you up initially, but too much and you probably will start to collapse the loft of your down bag.

Hope that this helps.

P.S. Lesson learned....avoid setting up on a ridge, use large rocks to hold your stakes down, and don't pitch your shelter in a slight depression that turns into a swimming pool.


Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/24/2009 04:02:52 MST Print View

Tightly sealed bag makes for a horrible Dutch Oven :)

On a serious note, go with the others advise on the fact that you will more than likely generate condensation inside the bag and become colder, ventilation is a good thing.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Side sleepers on 11/24/2009 06:34:56 MST Print View

"I'm a side sleeper, so when I would cinch it down, the side/top of my head would block the tiny bit of hole that was open, so it would be effectively completely closed off."

I'm curious as to why you can't roll the sleeping bag on its side too so the blow hole would be over your mouth/nose.

If you're healthy, you won't suffocate. A High concentration of CO2 will cause distress and wake you up the same way it wakes people with sleep apnea. The danger comes if there is some other condition like heart disease that the breathing stress exacerbates.

Edited by herman666 on 11/24/2009 08:27:46 MST.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Seam sealing Tony's Helium EQ on 11/24/2009 07:49:52 MST Print View

PM sent to Tony

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/24/2009 08:27:46 MST Print View

I'm confused. Why would the side of your head be in the face opening? When you roll over to sleep on your side, you roll over with the bag. It stays in position on you. That's why the bag has insulation on the bottom. You should easily be able to cinch down to that proverbial blow-hole, roll on your side, and still easily get fresh air. I'm primarily a side sleeper and have been using bags as I describe for decades. It works great.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/24/2009 13:36:10 MST Print View

Yes. You will die. Buzzards will eat you, leaving only the bones. You should get a quilt. LOL!

joseph peterson
(sparky) - F

Locale: Southern California
Can you suffocate in a sleeping bag? on 11/24/2009 18:29:21 MST Print View

yes I will burrow myself in a bag if I get too cold. I have never had an issue with condensation in my down bags. I have never backpacked east of Colorado though FWIW.

And funny story Tony, brings back some memories lol

Gregg Martell
(gmartell) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Flattend insulation on 11/24/2009 18:45:24 MST Print View

If you have a down bag, the insulation on the bottom will be flattened, if you were laying on your back before turning on your side, eliminating the insulating value of your bag. I flip side to side when I sleep and try to keep the botton of my bag on the pad. I just roll inside the sleeping bag. I've had some pretty cold nights when I failed to roll in my bag.


Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Flattened insulation on 11/24/2009 18:52:02 MST Print View

My WM Alpinlite bag comes out of my pack compressed to virtual nothingness, but immediately begins to grow as if it were alive. I don't look, but I assume much the same occurs when I roll on my side because I haven't gotten suddenly cold.

What kind of insulation do you have?