Mtbr's 2016 Winter Biking GearReviews and Roundups

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  1. #1
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    Tent and Sleeping bag questions

    I got invited to go on a first annual bike packing ride in march in Missouri sponsored by my LBS. I don't own a tent or a sleeping bag. March in the Midwest could produce a variety of weather. I want to get a sleeping bag rated for winter Temps but can't decide what comfort rating to buy. I would prefer one all around bag that I could use anytime of year so I don't need several bags around the house. Should I buy a bag rated to 0 degrees or lower or is that too extreme? If it was 35 degrees or hotter would I bake in this bag? Should I buy a bag rated to 20-30 degrees and if it's below zero out just wear extra warm clothes to bed? I doubt I will pack a mat as that would be just one more thing to carry so my bag will be on the tent floor. I am also looking at less than 100 dollars. Until I am doing this a lot I can't justify extra pricy equipment. What about a bag similar to this?
    ALPS Mountaineering 0F Echo Lake Sleeping Bag - Synthetic, Mummy - Save 44%

    This is a tent I was looking at. Any opinions?
    The North Face Stormbreak 2 Two-Person Tent | Bass Pro Shops: The Best Hunting, Fishing, Camping & Outdoor Gear

  2. #2
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    Bag temp rating is based on you having a sleeping pad. Without one you should expect to be noticeable colder.

  3. #3
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    I don't know anything about the ALPS bag but it seems like a great price for a 0 degree bag. Maybe too good to be true? It seems very heavy and bulky for a sleeping bag at 5+ lbs and only compresses to 11" X 18" (per link). Consideration if you will have it on your back or bike during your trip. Down is more expensive but likely to pack down smaller and lighter. Down is usually best in cold weather provided it stays dry. Otherwise synthetic is better option. Note that if you truly expect temps to get down to single digits you should have some sort of insulation between you and the ground. Personally, I've had a synthetic bag rated for 20 degrees for a long time and have used it down to about 10 degrees without any issues. However it is mostly used during summer months in Adirondacks with temps getting down to mid 50s to 60s. Might be better off with a bag rated for higher temps if you plan to use it outside coldest winter months.

    As far as a tent, the Stormbreak 2 seems to be a three season tent and has plenty of ventilation. Great for Spring/Summer/Fall but not so good for deep winter esp. in single digits. You might want to consider a winter only tent for single digits. I have two North Face tents and they are both great but serve different purposes. A 2 person winter only and a 6 person three season. Main difference (other than size) is the amount of ventilation. I wouldn't camp in low to single digits in anything but a winter tent as it is designed to retain heat however expect a lot of condensation to build up inside. Both of my North Face tents are fairly heavy relative to other brands, which again, may be a consideration if you are packing it in on a bike.

    Oh, a trick for winter camping is to throw a Nalgene bottle filled with boiling water in the bottom of you bag before you go to sleep. Will keep the bag toasty for a few hours.

    Good luck!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrutt View Post
    I don't know anything about the ALPS bag but it seems like a great price for a 0 degree bag. Maybe too good to be true? It seems very heavy and bulky for a sleeping bag at 5+ lbs and only compresses to 11" X 18" (per link). Consideration if you will have it on your back or bike during your trip. Down is more expensive but likely to pack down smaller and lighter. Down is usually best in cold weather provided it stays dry. Otherwise synthetic is better option. Note that if you truly expect temps to get down to single digits you should have some sort of insulation between you and the ground. Personally, I've had a synthetic bag rated for 20 degrees for a long time and have used it down to about 10 degrees without any issues. However it is mostly used during summer months in Adirondacks with temps getting down to mid 50s to 60s. Might be better off with a bag rated for higher temps if you plan to use it outside coldest winter months.

    As far as a tent, the Stormbreak 2 seems to be a three season tent and has plenty of ventilation. Great for Spring/Summer/Fall but not so good for deep winter esp. in single digits. You might want to consider a winter only tent for single digits. I have two North Face tents and they are both great but serve different purposes. A 2 person winter only and a 6 person three season. Main difference (other than size) is the amount of ventilation. I wouldn't camp in low to single digits in anything but a winter tent as it is designed to retain heat however expect a lot of condensation to build up inside. Both of my North Face tents are fairly heavy relative to other brands, which again, may be a consideration if you are packing it in on a bike.

    Oh, a trick for winter camping is to throw a Nalgene bottle filled with boiling water in the bottom of you bag before you go to sleep. Will keep the bag toasty for a few hours.

    Good luck!
    I am really not sure if I would normally go camping in extreme weather. Honestly I haven't been camping since 1997. I just want a good sleeping bag that will work whether it is 10 degrees at night or 50. Everyone keeps referring to a pad between you and the ground and all I can envision is a foam mat. How heavy are these mats? I guess I was thinking a 1/2" thick dense foam mat which would weigh 10 lbs.

  5. #5
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    You don't necessarily need a pad but you'll have more heat loss through the ground without one. Obviously more important during winter camping than other seasons. This is a simple foam pad designed for backpacking that weighs as little as 9 oz depending on size. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite Sleeping Pad - REI.com There are other designs and some cost more than a good bag. I'd probably look for a lighter and smaller bag, maybe 20 degree or so and a good pair of thermal u/w if you want it mostly for all season use. Personal choice though and a lot depends on how well you tolerate the cold. All else equal, lighter is better if it will be on your back and/or bike. That all goes out the window if you'll be camping from your trunk

    Good luck!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrutt View Post
    You don't necessarily need a pad but you'll have more heat loss through the ground without one. Obviously more important during winter camping than other seasons. This is a simple foam pad designed for backpacking that weighs as little as 9 oz depending on size. Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOlite Sleeping Pad - REI.com There are other designs and some cost more than a good bag. I'd probably look for a lighter and smaller bag, maybe 20 degree or so and a good pair of thermal u/w if you want it mostly for all season use. Personal choice though and a lot depends on how well you tolerate the cold. All else equal, lighter is better if it will be on your back and/or bike. That all goes out the window if you'll be camping from your trunk

    Good luck!
    I was wondering about a mummy bag vs a traditional rectangular bag as well?

  7. #7
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    Mummy better for cold but more confining. Also generally smaller so better for backpack. Traditional more comfortable. We camp alot during the summer months and usually use a traditional bag on an air mattress. Just open it up and use it like a normal blanket. We camp in Lake George off our boat so size/weight really isn't an issue. When I camp with my son in the scouts I prefer a mummy bag. Again, all of this is personal preference.

    Oh, our mummy bags are right and left side specific and can be zipped together to make a two person bag. Nice option if you'll be camping with your significant other...

  8. #8
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    I'd opt for a 20-30 degree bag and wear the extra clothes.
    A pad, as mentioned earlier, helps with heat loss and does provide padding.
    Just remember, whatever you take will be on you or your bike, so weight and bulk do come into play. I'd recommend on going light and compact. It might cost more, but if you like it and continue to keep doing it, you'll be happy with the investment.
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  9. #9
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    I agree with bakerjw. My set up is a 20 degree bag, if i am worried about it being darn right cold i have a silk insert sleeping bag liner. I live up north and its cold here. The liners are an extra cost, but i use them year around and are plenty worth it. If you arent sure how often you are going to camp, just ask around from family and friends to borrow equipment. Good excuse to buy the liner now too! Then if you enjoy it, spend the money on items of quality instead of having to replace down the road.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by iowamtb View Post
    I got invited to go on a first annual bike packing ride in march in Missouri sponsored by my LBS. I don't own a tent or a sleeping bag. March in the Midwest could produce a variety of weather. I want to get a sleeping bag rated for winter Temps but can't decide what comfort rating to buy. I would prefer one all around bag that I could use anytime of year so I don't need several bags around the house. Should I buy a bag rated to 0 degrees or lower or is that too extreme? If it was 35 degrees or hotter would I bake in this bag? Should I buy a bag rated to 20-30 degrees and if it's below zero out just wear extra warm clothes to bed? I doubt I will pack a mat as that would be just one more thing to carry so my bag will be on the tent floor. I am also looking at less than 100 dollars. Until I am doing this a lot I can't justify extra pricy equipment. What about a bag similar to this?
    ALPS Mountaineering 0F Echo Lake Sleeping Bag - Synthetic, Mummy - Save 44%

    This is a tent I was looking at. Any opinions?
    The North Face Stormbreak 2 Two-Person Tent | Bass Pro Shops: The Best Hunting, Fishing, Camping & Outdoor Gear
    I don't think those are your best options. The weight of that bag plus tent is over 11 pounds! That's more than some peoples entire load!

    You may want to take a step back and answer some questions. Is this a one time thing? Or are you planning more trips if you like it? Would you use the gear for other things like Backpacking or car camping? Are you sharing the tent with someone?

    Since this is your first trip, I would advise asking around to try to borrow as much gear as possible. If that doesn't work, look around for used stuff: Craigslist, Ebay, Geartrade, etc. It may take a while, but you can usually find quality gear for a fraction of the new cost. Also, keep an eye out for Sierra Trading Post coupons, especially on Facebook. The often have 25% to 35% off coupons, and sometimes 40% off, which will get you a much nicer/lighter bag within your budget. As mentioned, the lightest will be a down mummy bag. I would aim for something around 20 degrees. And definitely get a mat, even a cheap foam one, it will keep you warmer and much more comfortable. If you will be sleeping by yourself, get a one person tent or Bivy if you can live with one, it will be cheaper and lighter.

    Something like this with a decent coupon will be under $100. It is a couple of pounds lighter and will pack down smaller as well, which is another consideration when bikepacking: Kelty 21°F Cosmic Down Sleeping Bag- 550 Fill Power, Mummy, Regular - Save 30%

  11. #11
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    I understand what you guys are saying about weight believe me lol. What I'd actually like to do is just take a light weight tarp and a sleeping bag and use my bike to support the tarp. It's just that I don't think I have any wind protection if it ends up being pretty cold. My friend who is organizing this said a lot of people bring hammocks. That sounds like a nice idea to but I can't imagine keeping warm on a cold night in a hammock. Plus depending on how many people go there could be a battle for good trees to string a hammock from. So I'm not sure in a group setting a hammock would be the best choice.

  12. #12
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    If you buy multiple parts, you can mix and match for different temps. I don't think I'd want a 0 degree bag on a 50 degree night, but a 30 degree bag with a bag liner and an extra blanket might do the trick at 0 degrees, then just use the bag alone at 50 degrees, or the bag liner and the extra blanket.

    I find under insulation (pad) essential for comfort as well as warmth. I sleep in a hammock, now, so my under insulation is a little different, but on the ground you have options from a cheap, foam pad to an inflatable pad. I don't know which does a better insulating job, but I've found inflatable pads to be a little more comfortable and to pack a little easier. Foam is plenty light, but bulky.

    I've always been interested in the Big Agnes style of bag that only has insulation on the top, and the bottom has a slot for a pad/air mattress. I've heard good things, and it seems like a good way to keep your bag weight down, but I've never tried it. Sleeping in a hammock, I don't need the pad, and usually just open up my bag and use it like a blanket.

    Here are the pieces of my set up:
    Top insulation
    • Sleeping bag, either 30 degree or 50 degree
    • Poncho liner
    • Sleeping bag liner
    • Warm clothes including a hat and wool socks
    • I have space blanket, but it usually ends up as part of my under insulation. It's light enough and small enough that I should just carry two.


    Top insulation
    • Open cell (soft, squishy) foam cell pad
    • space blanket
    • wind-breaker layer that hangs under the other parts
    • In a pinch, I've added a quilt to this set-up.


    I mix and match pieces to match the outdoor temperature, but I don't think I've ever gone lower than the upper twenties. In really warm weather, the poncho liner and bag liner are all I need, and one or both of those pieces usually come along. The rest get added as the temps go down.

    Sleeping on the ground, I preferred a rectangular bag, but I've found that it's bulkier and there's more space to warm up. Now my bags are just used as blankets anyway, so mummy bag works great because I can leave the last few inches zipped and keep my feet in there and use the rest as a blanket. It's not confining, but my feet stay warm. Using it as a blanket, it's easier to vent or adjust how well covered you are, too, so a 30 degree bag isn't going to be too warm in the 40s.

  13. #13
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    Know a bunch of guys who swear by hammock and have done a lot of winter camping with them. They make quilts that go on the underside of the hammock that function similar to a pad for sleeping on the ground.

  14. #14
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    I'm a year-round backpacker, so am more comfortable giving suggestions about this stuff than I am mountain biking.
    Random thoughts after reading:
    -Yes, you absolutely do need a pad. An inflatable will be the least bulky, self-inflator will still pack compactly and cost less, CCF will be the cheapest by far and the lightest, but extremely bulky, especially for bikepacking. Suggest looking at ThermaRest self-inflators after establishing what temps you expect. I have an Exped Hyperlite inflatable now, but have been using a 3/4 length Thermarest ProLite small for several years for temps down to freezing. ProLite and Prolite Plus are good all-around pads, and the women's versions are warmer, though shorter.
    -10-50 is entirely doable with one bag/quilt, if you layer clothing on the low end of those temps. A bag that's comfortable by itself at 10 will be way too hot at 50, though, no matter how much you vent.
    I can't even zip up my bag that's EN-rated for 10F until it's about 22 degrees outside.
    I've used a down hoody and grid fleece bottoms over midweight baselayers with a 30F quilt down to -2F, though(I do run exceptionally warm, so it's not for everyone). Matter of fact, I have not used anything warmer than my 30F quilt since I bought it, in spite of spending weeks out in 0-15F lows. An insulated jacket and warm baselayers are a given for around camp at those temperatures, so I use them for insulation while sleeping, too.
    -Liners are useless except for keeping your bag clean. The few that actually do add noticeable warmth are very heavy for what little they offer. I use a Sea to Summit Reactor as a summer bag the hottest few weeks of the year in Alabama, because it's about like having a thin sheet over you. Makes for a 1lb(!) sleep system in conjunction with a Klymit X-Lite Recon inflatable, though.
    -That Alps Mountaineering bag is not just extremely heavy, but probably still not a 0F bag, either.
    -What is March like in your part of MO? I googled the average temps, and it says 33F low, 56F high. Maybe you don't need a 10F capable bag, and I certainly wouldn't buy one just for one trip. Check into renting from local outdoor stores if you have any.
    The TNF Cat's Meow is a solid synthetic bag that can almost always be found for $150-170, and is EN rated to 22F for men.
    -How are the bugs? If it's cold enough to talk about bags with such low temp ratings, consider a tarp. Cheaper, lighter, and packs more compactly then a tent, though you'll need poles for support, or trees to tie off to. They can be a pain in the butt, and you'd need to read up on proper setup and practice a little, but the weight and money savings might make one worth a look.

    Edit: Rob, you should look into a quilt, especially for hanging! I went all-in with my 30F-a Katabatic Palisade(the only "best" thing I own in this world), but my 50F is from Underground Quilts, and they and Hammock Gear have some very reasonable prices for high quality quilts with lots of options.

    I've used the two together in the single digits(4F) just to see, and they worked great. Was using my down parka as a pillow, though, and don't normally go that route. My buddy was using a hammock with a 0 or 10F topquilt and 20F underquilt, and was ok with his clothes and insulated jacket on,

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by cgrutt View Post
    Know a bunch of guys who swear by hammock and have done a lot of winter camping with them. They make quilts that go on the underside of the hammock that function similar to a pad for sleeping on the ground.
    Yep. Works surprisingly well. You end up needing two quilts (at least) though, one for underneath you, outside the hammock and one for on top of you inside the hammock, although a sleeping bag can be used inside the hammock. The downside is that quilts that are made to hug the bottom of a hammock are not a common item, so they usually cost a decent amount. My hammock has an "undercover" that holds my insulation close and keeps the wind off of my backside, and when I was caught in colder weather than I was expecting, I just borrowed a plain, old, decorative quilt and tossed it on top of my undercover, and it did the job, but you do a lot better, I expect, with a purpose-made quilt.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by OwenM View Post
    Edit: Rob, you should look into a quilt, especially for hanging! I went all-in with my 30F-a Katabatic Palisade(the only "best" thing I own in this world), but my 50F is from Underground Quilts, and they and Hammock Gear have some very reasonable prices for high quality quilts with lots of options.
    Right now I'm in a Hennessy that has it's own under-insulation system made to work with its hammocks. It does the job pretty well, and only one time did I feel the need to supplement my standard insulation. And even then, it was a convenience. I wasn't going to freeze, I just wouldn't have been as warm as I like. Since I don't have much opportunity or desire to sleep colder than the 30s, it works. Eventually I'd like an underquilt because I think it would pack smaller, and could be used on another hammock if I ever decided to switch, but that's down the road.

    A top quilt, however, is high on my list. I'm currently using a rectangular 30 degree bag for my coldest camping, and it really adds some bulk to my load. My warm weather mummy bag packs decently, but I definitely want a quilt for colder weather.

    Right now I have a wish list for bikepacking/camping gear. Number 2 on the list in my top quilt, right after the frame bag.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
    Number 2 on the list in my top quilt, right after the frame bag.
    Ha! On the flip side, an underquilt is #3 on my list should I decide to try a hammock(that and a tarp being #1 and 2)
    My gear is pretty much nailed down, but hammocks are sooo tempting.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by OwenM View Post
    Ha! On the flip side, an underquilt is #3 on my list should I decide to try a hammock(that and a tarp being #1 and 2)
    My gear is pretty much nailed down, but hammocks are sooo tempting.
    I had given up on bike camping because the amount of crap I was carrying to stay warm, dry, and comfortable filled the back of my station wagon. Then I was introduced to hammock camping, and I've been loving it ever since.

  19. #19
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    Another positive for hammock i will mention is how comfortable they are. I was skeptical about how my back would be when i woke up, not disappointed. If trees are around, i haven't used a tent since i bought my hammock. quilt is also #1 for me right now, but using a pad/sleeping bag has been good on the colder nights.

  20. #20
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    I carry a large Thermarest Neoair, a 20* NF mummy bag, and a Black Diamond Megamid lite. About 6 lbs, and these are fairly heavy, I could easily cut that to 4 lbs, but it's nice on cold nights at 8000'. I wear clothes or not in the bag depending on the temps.
    I ride after my own fashion, on endless narrow singletrack.




  21. #21
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    OP, borrow or rent, start there. Got your bike and gear carrying options dialed in?

  22. #22
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    Rob_E has the right idea with the mix & match system.

    I have a bag rated to 5C / 40F. I also have a sleeping bag liner that adds ~10F. I have used this setup comfortably down to the mid-teens, wearing more clothing to sleep. I would bring this clothing anyways for camping so it is not extra gear. In warm weather the liner and extra clothing is not needed.

    I mostly camp in warm-ish weather being in Socal. There is some cold weather camping too but not enough to really need a second, warmer bag. If you can only have one bag I would go with the lighter bag and layers. A blanket, liner or clothing make up the difference. You will be miserable in warmer months in a warm bag. You can always put more clothing on if cold. You can only take so much off if you are too hot.

    An insulated pad also makes a big difference in the cold but does not present a downside in warmer months. I often use a bivy as I find it retains heat better than a tent. If rain is possible I go with a tent, but rain means above freezing so warmth is less an issue. All of my gear is compact enough for backpacking/bikepacking. A similar sleeping bag to what I have can be had at REI for around $100. The Alps bag the OP linked to is a good cold weather bag but it is over 5 lbs. Try to get something in the 2.5-3 lb range that can compress down to a small size.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by leeboh View Post
    OP, borrow or rent, start there. Got your bike and gear carrying options dialed in?
    That's always a good idea. I think though I am going to just start cheap any purchase. It wouldn't hurt to have a good sleeping bag anyways. I am going to get one in the 30 degree F range and maybe a tarp or pad to sleep on. I am going light and simple to start. I had a good talk with my friend today who is putting it on and he just sleeps in a mummy bag on a self inflating mat in the open no tent. If it looks like rain a tarp could be used. I am not sure how much I will bike pack. This could just be a once or twice a year deal. My friend also told me they were going to be watching the weather trying to make it on a decent weekend weather wise. In other words if the forecast looks crappy ahead of time they are probably going to reschedule to a better weather weekend. None of use are going in survival mode. Just a nice relaxing bike pack that is beginner friendly.

    To address the weight issue.....I just got back from a 13.5 miles gravel ride that was mostly flat. The gravel was soupy and muddy and the shoulders were soft and felt like riding in sand. I was on just my bare bike wearing my back pack and I tell you I realize now how weight is going to be a HUGE factor. That mud was hard as hell to ride in without my bike loaded down. Not that I didn't already know that riding in mud was harder lol but it refreshed my memory .

    Quote Originally Posted by OwenM
    What is March like in your part of MO?
    Its hard to tell. It can depend on the year. I remember a few winters having over a foot of snow in late March and others being beautiful and fairly warm.

  24. #24
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    A couple thoughts based on 30 years of camping in a lot of different environments, and being responsible for others in the same:

    You definitely want a pad, especially if the weather is going to be cool/cold. Not just for comfort, but for warmth as others have said. Good pads have insulative value, and can actually help in getting away with a lighter sleeping bag. Check out Klymit - they make an insulated pad (The Static V Insulated) that is still lightweight and very packable for a reasonable price. I love mine.

    I really like my hammock for warm weather. And sure, you can bring a bunch of extra stuff in order to make a hammock comfortable in cold weather, but at that point, are you really saving any weight or bulk over sleeping on the ground with a good insulated pad? In my experience, you will sleep warmer on the ground with less gear than the amount of gear it takes to keep you warm when you are suspended in the air. Just my .02

    Rob's suggestion about 'mix and match' is a good one. It's like layers for your outoor clothing system - it's going to be a lot more versatile (and probably cheaper) in the long run than buying a bulky, heavy, zero-deg. sleeping bag that you will be sweating your ass off in the rest of the year and that is a pain to pack.

    Ultimately, go have fun. You'll learn a lot from your first trip about what to bring and what not to and then you'll continue to refine it on the one after that, and the one after that....
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  25. #25
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    All good advice. I'm a warm sleeper, and almost never wake up cold. I have an REI sub kilo, 20 degree down bag. I'm always warm in it, too warm even. It packs down to almost nothing. Nice bag.


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