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Sleeping Bag Shootout – Military vs Civilian

I thought I’d do something different and look at some of the gear I’ve been using. One of the most important pieces of gear you’ll ever own is your sleeping bag. I’m sure we’ve all woken up at one point in the middle of the night with your legs crossed tightly, realizing it’s going to be another long cold night in the tent with another 5 hours until sunrise. Who would have thought that Canadian Tire thinsulate sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees really just meant keeps you alive at 0 degrees? Yeah, it sucks.

Here are the 3 sleeping bags currently in my possession.

Left - Standard Canadian Forces Military Sleeping Bag;

Middle – North Face Solar Flare;

Right – MEC Tern Dryfoot.

The key component in here is these sleeping bags is the down fill. All are filled with varying qualities of down. The fluffy stuff underneath a duck/goose’s feathers that traps air and keeps them warm. In a sleeping bag the down gives the bags its loft, which in turn traps air, insulates your body and keeps your heat in. As you can see each bag as a different degree of loft. The North Face Solar Flare is filled with 800 fill (the higher the number the better the loft per weight of down), the MEC Dryfoot, 575 fill and the military bag is unknown. The North Face bag is the clear winner here (almost twice as thick as both the military and MEC bags), followed by the MEC bag then the military bag. And it shows, as it translates into the highest temperature rating at -30 degrees Celsius. Not only does the North Face bag have the most loft (which could be the a combination of the quantity of down as well as the quality) it is also the lightest out of all the bags. Comparatively the MEC Dryfoot is rated to -7 which the military bag is unknown but probably along the lines as the MEC bag based on experience.

I tried both the military bag and the North Face Solar Flare during a military winter warfare exercise in an unheated, virtually uninsulated tent in -25 to -35 degree weather. Now the military bag alone would not normally be sufficient in such temperatures, so what the military gives you is a second sleeping bag to put the first one in. That’s right. Two sleeping bags at the same time.

Here you can see the two bags put together giving similar loft if not slightly more than the North Face bag. This combination is warm enough for comfortably sleeping during such cold temperatures. Both the North Face and military bags kept me warm without much difficulty however, carrying 2 military bags is about 5 times the weight and 3x the size (compressed) as the North Face bag. Reasons for this?1) The military bag was designed at the latest the 80s and therefore the qualities of materials wasn’t as good.2) The military bag was designed to be durable and to be able to withstand being tossed around a bunch. The North Face bag wouldn’t be able to survive such treatment as the material is a lot lighter and seemingly more prone to tearing.

All in all, it’s most likely a combination of the two that contributes to the size and weight of the military bag.

To note, I wouldn’t even try sleeping with the MEC bag at -25. You can tell, even though it’s a decent bag, it would keep you warm at those temperatures. And to the tough infantry types, yes I know you often take just one military bag on winter warfare to save weight. I would freeze my a** off.

So, what does this all mean? I’d say if you’re doing mostly summer/fall camping or very mild winter camping, something like the MEC bag will do the trick. I think it cost around $150 at the time (which was at least 10 years ago during my scouting days). If you’re looking at winter camping or high altitude mountaineering where the temperatures easily drop below -10, go with something like the North Face bag, but you’ll be paying a premium. This bag goes for about $600. And if you’re really stuck, are military or have access to a military bag, or need a bag that tough/indestructible (in sleeping bag terms) go for the military bag. 1 bag for summer/fall or 2 bags for harsh winters.

And don’t forget your blue foamie or thermarest! That adds a ton of insulation between you and the hard cold ground.

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