Camping in winter takes a certain amount of challenge compared to summer. Nothing is particularly straightforward, even your water bottle and boots will freeze solid over night and trying to cook on your regular gas stove can be nigh on impossible. However, one essential piece of kit for winter camping has to be the sleeping bag. While you can probably get away with a bag that’s good to -5°C in many winter situations, I prefer something a bit warmer just in case. Local conditions can cause cold air to pool, perhaps there’s a keen breeze making it’s way through the tent; whatever the reason, you need to keep warm.
The Snugpak Softie Chrysalis Winter Sleeping Bag claims a comfortable night’s sleep at anything down to -10°C, and an extreme temperature rating of -15°C which I don’t tend to take much notice of. Often winter bags can cost a small fortune, especially if you’re looking at down expedition bags where anything under £300 is considered cheap. The Snugpak Winter Bag comes in at an attractive rrp of £94.95
The bag brims with features such as the Expanda panel system that allows you to make the bag wider, or narrower. This might add a bit of weight to the bag, but a better fitting bag will also keep you more comfortable. Not only does it adjust for girth, but height, making it a good all-rounder.
Like my mum says – “You’ll grow into it”…
You only need to pick the bag up once to feel the build quality. It’s no surprise that Snugpak are a military favourite, this is a bag you’d be using for many, many seasons to come. The fabric is a tough feeling Paratex Micro, and the inner a silky Paratex Light that’s a pleasure to sleep in. The compression sack’s also sturdy, and you don’t feel that you’re going to rip it apart when trying to pack the bag as small as possible.
Which leads us to the main downside of the bag, the bulk. The bag is huge even when compressed to the nines, which is par for the course with super-warm synthetic bags. We’d guess that you’ll need a good 15 litres spare to fit this in – which is a quarter of the capacity of my largest pack! I’ve managed to winter camp with a ‘large’ 45 litre pack before, it had a bit of room for expansion and stated it was 45+10, but you’d struggle with a bulky bag like this. especially if you’re taking half a proper winter tent to boot. Below are a side by side comparison of the Snugpak and a typical winter down bag (a circa 2002 Mountain Equipment, -12°C and weighing in at around 1200g) that’s very similar in spec to an Alpkit Skye High 800. I’ve struggled in the past with this down bag, possibly due to damp conditions, and found that the newer synthetic Snugpak Winter to be much more toasty! There’s also a 32 litre day pack to give an idea of scale.
Of course, this is where synthetic bags excel. They’re largely unaffected by damp conditions, while down bags lose efficacy. On a few of my first winter wild camps, I made the mistake of keeping a few damp items of clothing on whilst in the bag. Wearing a Paramo ‘shell’ layer meant that all the moisture would be wicked away and escape as moisture. This moisture, inside the bag would be a disaster! Of course, with a synthetic you’d be more likely to get away with it. Now, I take a clean set of baselayers to wear as ‘jimmies’, which help keep me warmer as well as keeping the bag cleaner. Which is another positive for synthetic, as it’s much easier to clean than a down sleeping bag.
So we’ve got a well built, synthetic bag that’s meant to be good for the winter, which meant no review would be complete unless we really tested this out under real winter conditions. The proper 2012-13 Winter, in Snowdonia at least, was rather disappointing. It was mainly rain, rain and more rain. Of course, I’m being churlish, there were also plenty of gales to boot. So while Autumn continued on into January, we had to wait till the spring before Winter proper arrived. This is all on top of the period of weather that filled the middle of last year that doesn’t really class as anything. So with daytime freezing levels down to well under 300m and parts of the country totally snowed in, it was the ideal time to give a bag like this a proper test with the night time temps dropping well below freezing.
I’d estimate it fell to about -5°C overnight, with snow lying on the ground in the morning, and the bag kept me suitably warm all night. It was too cold to watch anything on my phone or keep my hands outside the bag for long. Of course, I was using a winter sleeping mattress (a heavy duty down-filled Exped) which is an essential part of the winter camping kit. If you use a lightweight summer mat, or a closed cell foam mat, then you probably won’t feel as warm.
Overall, this is a bargain winter sleeping bag that’s bursting with features. It’s synthetic, with all the usual advantages (good in the damp, much cheaper than down) and disadvantages (bulky, heavy) that go with the territory. With the ‘spring’ we’re currently experiencing, this is a quality, toasty 4 season bag that won’t break the bank and will outlast this decade. If you can live with the weight, then it’ll probably be fine for the colder ‘half’ of the year – whenever that happens to fall.
With thanks to Sleeping Bag Outlet who kindly supplied us with the bag for review.