Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
"I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers.
Display Avatars Sort By:
Heather Toyne
(heathert) - F
"I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers. on 08/19/2012 22:39:21 MDT Print View

"I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks."

A girl said this to my husband today and he immediately thought of me. I am almost always cold. I'm chilly inside a climate controlled building even though I'm wearing more clothes than everyone around me. To say I'm a cold sleeper doesn't accurately describe it - sometimes I find it hard to sleep due to feeling cold in my bed in my 72* house. When I'm so chilled that I can't sleep, I find that using an external heat source (a heated blanket or my hubby) is the fastest way to get warm and thus get to sleep.

So, I know I make heat, it's just very little. But that's the whole concept of a sleeping bag - it doesn't heat you, it just holds the heat that you generate. So, I'm wondering how much more sleeping bag I will need. I'm obviously going to pick one that is overly warm - I'm thinking about getting a 0* bag for sleeping in the twenties. But will that even be enough? Ladies who sleep colder than cold - what do you think?

To make the choice even more tough - I'm also considering a double sleep system so I can steal heat from my hubby. We've done this before in a 72" circumference rectangle bag but we were cramped and it was drafty.

rich y
(gkine) - F

Locale: NorCal
re on 08/19/2012 22:43:15 MDT Print View

bottle of hot water between your legs

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: "I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers. on 08/19/2012 22:44:52 MDT Print View

While it wouldn't be exactly cheap, if you don't get up in the middle of the night to pee, then perhaps have someone make you a set of cuben overalls/jumpsuit/whateveryoucallit and wear that under (next to skin) your normal sleeping clothes. Trap what little heat you do generate much better than anything else I can think of.

Also, have a look at ZPacks' new twin quilt. Affordable for such things, and Joe's added a nice touch - each side closes down around the neck individually to help prevent drafts. Might be just the ticket to help use heat from hubby while curing the draft problem.

Edited by idester on 08/19/2012 22:45:24 MDT.

Andy F
(AndyF) - M

Locale: Midwest/Midatlantic
Re: "I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers. on 08/19/2012 23:14:47 MDT Print View

With low temps around 50F, my wife sleeps comfortably on a pad and in a mummy bag which would keep me warm down to around 10F.

In a double bag, wear warmer clothes so that you won't notice drafts as much. That way, the overall heat will keep you warm.

You might find this helpful:

rowan !

Locale: SF Bay Area
I know the feeling on 08/20/2012 00:00:40 MDT Print View

My sleeping bag is rated -5 degrees (no idea how accurate that rating is). At 29F I was chilly, not to the point of being miserable but definitely cold. And I was wearing every piece of clothing I had, which amounted to 4 layers. This bag is comfortable for me from about 35-55F. At the warmer end of that range I unzip it and use it quilt style.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: "I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers. on 08/20/2012 00:20:08 MDT Print View

+1 to sharing a quilt with someone warm
+1 hot water bottle between legs

As to how warm a bag... only experience will tell you for certain. My wife's was a super cold sleeper. Our Western Mountaineering Versalite which is accurately rated for 10F, and I can comfortably use at 0F without extra insulation keeps her just right down to somewhere between 40-50F when she is wearing a fleece?!


eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
en rating on 08/20/2012 10:03:54 MDT Print View

look for a sleeping bags comfort rating (not the lower limit rating), or basically that for which an average female will be comfortable at

go here to understand more ...

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
RE I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks on 08/20/2012 10:19:30 MDT Print View

This thread could have been started by me. I'm a cold sleeper, and like the OP can sometimes have trouble being warm at night in a room temperature house, let alone out on the trail when the temps can drop into the 40's.

I am a huge proponent of the hot water bottle system. That's one reason I won't ever switch to the ultralight water bottles. I will continue to use either Nalgene (the old soft ones) or lately my SS water bottles. I would rather have that extra weight and have the option of boiling up water at night, dropping the bottle into a spare sock, and tucking it into my bag with me. On a regular cold night, I use one bottle tucked in between my thighs to warm my femoral artery. On very cold nights, a second bottle will be tucked into an armpit.

I also sleep with a balaclava, long underwear, and warm socks. My nanopuff or down sweater is on stand by if I'm still having trouble. It's a combination of having an external heat source and keeping the heat I have in me close that works for me. When I can afford it, I plan to upgrade my current Kelty Cosmic Down 20 sleeping bag to a Western Mountaineering Versalite because the construction of that bag looks like it would help.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: RE I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks on 08/20/2012 10:31:30 MDT Print View

Most women require more insulation in the torso area to be equally as warm as a typical man. Having said that, there are women specific sleeping bag cuts available that do just that. Also, consider using a bag with continuous baffles that allow the user to shift more down to the torso area (i.e. Feathered Friends bags). And yes, consider taking a bag that is 5-7F warmer than the temps you think you may encounter. It is difficult to make sure you have a constant body temp prior to going to bed. You may not have eaten enough, drank enough, or may be tired, dehydrated, or wet. My feeling is you take a little extra down to compensate.

Cristina Connolly
(anacri) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: "I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks." Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers. on 08/20/2012 12:44:29 MDT Print View

I have the same problem. Where I seem to loose most of my heat is around my hips. I wrap an extra fleece around my hips inside my sleeping bag and that usually makes me much more comfortable.

Nick Brown

Locale: Highland Park
I'm a girl, and I don't make heat. It sucks. on 08/20/2012 12:45:01 MDT Print View

Read this and Andy's other articles under "writing".

It's from a climbers perspective but obviously carries over to backpacking. Very informative stuff.

Good luck and stay warm!

P. P.
(toesnorth) - F

Locale: PNW
You may have to wait for it but.............. on 08/20/2012 14:59:19 MDT Print View

I recommend menopause. ;-)

Heather Toyne
(heathert) - F
Thanks for the comments and the info everybody on 08/20/2012 21:01:29 MDT Print View

Lots of good stuff to think about and read. From the reading I had done before, I knew to take EN ratings with a grain of salt, but the opinions from both the links degrade the system even more. I especially like the statement from the mammut paper: "The standardisation process sometimes appears unstoppable and divorced from consumer needs."

I think in addition to getting a quality bag, I'll use a hot water bottle and super duper wool socks. As far as which bag, I am now in a conundrum as I have too many choices since there appears to be quite a few good manufacturers out there. What's also stopping me is the price. Good gawd, the car I used to drive cost less than these babies! Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they are worth it and I won't cheap out on this important piece of gear but it's a little hard to stomach.

If I bite the bullet and buy one of these bad boys, I will try to remember to update this thread for future newbie cold sleepers.

oh and P.P., I may take your recommendation in a couple of decades ;)

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Thanks for the comments and the info everybody on 08/20/2012 21:17:23 MDT Print View

A quilt can give you similar warmth for less money. You do have to adapt somewhat to make it work though. Flopping about in a sleeping bag is somewhat mitigated by a draft collar, but that can get you cold real quick in a quilt.

Also, instead of thick wool socks, down booties might be a better idea. Goosefeet, a vendor here, makes very light booties.

Someone mentioned cold hips. I sleep in my hiking clothes, and my hips can get cold if I hike late into the day or into the night because of the moisture in my underwear. It seems the extra layer there, and the sweat between my back and pack isn't so good for staying dry down there. Changing completely before crawling into your sleeping bag would help. Someone else mentioned using vapor barrier clothing, which would also prevent that moisture from making you cold. I usually bring a sit pad, and in the last year I've started putting it under my hips instead of my upper back and head. Finally, if you go with a bag or quilt from a small company, you could request that extra down be used over your hips.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
More ideas on 08/20/2012 21:44:29 MDT Print View

Here are a couple other thoughts.

1. Go to bed warm.
If you let your tired body cool off too much before bed it will take a while to rewarm your sleeping bag. One of the first things I do in camp is put on my extra layers. I put them on before I really need them so I'm conserving heat. If it looks like a cold night I try to get in bed quickly before I cool down.

2. Check your sleeping pad.
At colder temperatures a good sleeping pad can make a difference. Also make sure that its not so skimpy that parts of your body roll off of it onto the cold ground.

3. Make sure your sleeping bag is not too tight.
Its fine to sleep in your jacket and extra layers but make sure there is room in your sleeping bag for them. If its too snug you will be squeezing the insulation from the inside which makes in less effective (especially down).

4. Insulate your head.
I ALWAYS wear a warm hat to bed. If its cold I wear two (my quilt doesn't have a hood).

5. Fluff up your sleeping bag
If you end up with a down sleeping bag a good idea is to take it out early when you pitch camp. That way the down has plenty of time to "loft" or fluff up so you get the maximum insulation.

Thayne N
(teethless) - MLife

Locale: Boston
fwiw on 08/20/2012 21:54:54 MDT Print View

My girlfriend is finally consistently sleeping comfortably in the 40's using a WM ultralight ("20 degree"), neoair with GG evazote pad (under), cap 4 top and bottom, wool beanie, and a hot nalgene at the feet. We usually have a warm tea about 30 mins before retiring.

Good luck on your quest for sleeping warmth! I find a couple jumping jacks always helps me out towards warm slumber. Like other posters, I augment my bag's warmth with an insulating layer wrapped around my torso or legs if I'm pushing it.

K L Sinizer
(DoubleFun) - MLife
Cold! on 08/20/2012 22:22:11 MDT Print View

"This thread could have been started by me." Me too!

Being cold was my biggest problem when I started backpacking more about a year ago. Then I discovered Montbell puffy down pants... oh how wonderful. Layering when needed, or just my 15* Sub Kilo Womens bag for warmer (40*) nights. With puffy pants, puffy jacket, silk pj's, wool socks and synth booties over them, I finally slept warm on the trail! I also determined that I was feeling cold through my Neoair - and bought a Gossamer Gear 1/8" pad to line it with - and it made a big difference as well. Bringing hubby is a fine idea but I wanted to tweak my system so I knew *I* would be warm when going alone.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Thanks for the comments and the info everybody on 08/20/2012 22:26:46 MDT Print View

until something better comes along the en-rating is still the best out there ...

if you believe that you are a very cold sleeper, simply get a warmer bag ... what the en-ratings allow you to do is compare the insulative capacities of various bags with a single legislated (EU) lab tested standard measurement ...

so if you have a 20F TNF tested bag and a 20F WM one ... fit being equal, they should be quite comparable ... it takes away the "unobtanium" claim from some of those manufacturers out there ...

on average a normal woman will require a bag that is 10F lower rated than one for a normal man ... if you believe you sleep colder than the average woman then simply get one that is 20F lower than the lower limit rating ... or 10F lower than the comfort rating in other words ...

to put it simply ... buy the warmest bag and pad within a reasonable weight that you can afford ... with UL materials and 800+ fill down it shouldnt weight that much more ... while im an advocate of hawt nalgenes, plenty of fats for dinner, an extra jacket, and VBL in certain conditions ... they are just parlor tricks if you dont solve the basic premises , that you need a warmer bag ...

to misquote napoleon ... god is on the side of more insulation ...

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Sleeping bag opinions for super cold sleepers." on 08/20/2012 22:39:44 MDT Print View

Been there, done that! I don't get as cold as some, but I have had some miserable nights with insufficient sleeping bag and/or sleeping pad.

First, the EN13537 ratings that Eric mentioned. Here's another explanation (it's a complex subject):
Note that the "comfort" rating (ostensibly for the "average" woman) is 9-10*F higher than the "lower limit" (ostensibly for the "average" man). For me this seems about right--when I had a 32*F rated unisex bag (Marmot Hydrogen), I started getting cold at 40*F. You may sleep colder yet, in which case you might want even more differential in your sleeping bag--maybe 5* to 10* more than the "comfort" rating or 15*-29* more than the "lower limit" for men. A lot of US retailers don't understand these ratings and use the "survival" rating, which is the temp at which you may or may not be dead of hypothermia in the morning. I don't know why they even have that one! For us cold sleepers, the idea of having a less warm sleeping bag supplemented with clothing isn't going to work--more like we need the insulating clothing to supplement a 20*F bag at 35*F! In any case, the extra down carried in a warmer sleeping bag will weigh less than more warm clothing. Check the manufacturers' websites for those EN ratings. For some companies (such as Western Mountaineering) you'll have to check a UK website. If the company doesn't sell their bags in the EU, they may not do EN13537 testing--it is expensive! If the bags are high-end ($$$) and the company has a good reputation, assume their rating is the "lower limit" and add 10*F--for you, probably 15* to 20*F.

Second, the pad has been mentioned. The EN13537 ratings for a 20*F bag assume that the sleeper is wearing a base layer, a knit hat and is sleeping on a pad with an R value of 5, which is warmer than most sleeping pads. If you use an insulated air pad and (like me) like it nice and squishy, its R value will be lower than if the pad is pumped up fairly full. You very possibly will want a separate closed cell foam pad on top of the insulated air pad--more than 1/8 inch thick. Look on the manufacturers' websites for the "R" values. I won't recount my 18*F night on a standard NeoAir (plus inadequate 1/8" CCF pad) except to say that I was cozy warm on top and shivering violently underneath! In other words, my sleeping bag was fine but the pad was not!

Third, get some exercise at bedtime to rev up your internal thermostat. If you've been sitting around, you're already cold, your metabolic rate has dropped and your body can't put out the heat to warm up that sleeping bag. Do some jumping jacks, situps, a brisk walk (be careful in the dark, though) or jogging in place for 10 minutes and then crawl into your sleeping bag right away. You need that extra boost to warm up the bag--once it's warm you should be OK.

Warm hat or, preferably, balaclava, gloves, warm socks or down booties on your feet--all help you stay warm. Resist the temptation to curl up down in the sleeping bag so you exhale into it--that will wet out your down in a hurry. With a draft collar in your sleeping bag, you can pull it tight around your neck while leaving enough opening in the hood for breathing. If I buy another bag (highly unlikely), I will never get one without a draft collar!

IMHO, the pee bottle is fine for guys but not helpful for us gals. Maybe a coffee can, but be sure it's right side up! (That's an ancient joke.) I just grit my teeth and go outside (at my age, that's several times per night). If it's a starry night, it's well worth it! A few situps before going back to sleep help. If you haven't stayed outside too long, (which you won't unless there's a meteor shower on). there will still be some warmth left in your sleeping bag when you come back.

The one problem with the hot water bottle is that by the middle of the night it isn't doing much warming (it will be body temperature). If you need a reheat in the middle of the night, you probably need more insulation on you. That's because you should stay warm once you've warmed up the bag.

Watch those continuous baffles--if you don't fluff things up periodically, the down is apt to migrate and leave cold spots. I personally would rather not have the continuous baffles, but most bags that don't have them are made with more down on top than on the bottom. That won't work for folks like me who sleep on their sides, turn over a lot and take the bag along when turning over--I need my down equal on all sides. This winter I plan to send my Western Mountaineering bag back to the manufacturer for a couple ounces of overfill. That will not only make it warmer but help keep the down from migrating. I check the bag before each trip and maybe every 3 days during the trip; the down doesn't move around that easily.

Menopause doesn't really help--for me, the hot flashes were followed by cold spells, just a general acting up of the body's thermostat. And they lasted for only about 4-5 years.

Edited by hikinggranny on 08/20/2012 22:56:48 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Different bags, start warm, pee often. on 08/20/2012 23:50:24 MDT Print View

Having worked in a BPing store, I can tell you that this is a common experience for women. We would recommend (for couples using zip-together bags) that she get a warmer bag than he. That one suggestion made a lot of customers much happier. (For single people, we'd recommend a left-sided zipper since more bags are right-zippered, their chances of "getting lucky" were improved).

Luke is right that going to bed warm is a big part of it. My wife really notices my business trips by needing an extra quilt on top. Apparently my sparkling wit is not missed as much. And yet, she'll be tossing back all the covers 3 hours later and is quite warm to the touch. She has the worst time when, say, she's a little under-dressed, inactive, at the computer prior to going to bed. Aim to be really toasty warm (without sweating) prior to getting in the bag.

We don't know why - me the engineer / thermodynamist and she an MD - but we both notice that needing to pee in the middle of the night makes you feel cold. Bite the bullet, go pee, and you'll rest better afterwards. Do that a few times, and you'll remember to hydrate A LOT in the afternoon but reduce fluids and caffiene in the evening, pee right before bed, and you'll sleep solidly through more of the night.