Power outages present a number of serious challenges to preppers. Internet access becomes difficult. Appliances do not function; the food in your refrigerator and freezer may go bad. Solar recharging of batteries and battery-powered devices is limited and can be expensive. Loss of electrical power is one of the most likely SHTF scenarios, whether short- or long-term.
But if you live in one of the colder regions of the country, power outages in winter are particularly problematic. (I recently moved from sunny Florida, to snow-stormy Massachusetts.) Snowstorms are common, and power outages due to the storm are always a possibility. How long before power is restored? It depends on how large the storm and how many persons are without power. Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to millions, and it took weeks for (almost) everyone to regain power.
What do you do at night then, if there is no power to heat your home? Other than alternate sources of heat, or bugging out for a warmer building, what can you do? One possibility is to use sleeping bags — the ones designed for camping in cold weather — in order to keep warm inside your home during a winter power outage. This type of sleeping bag can be easily identified because it will have a temperature rating. The rating tells you to what extent the bag can protect you from the cold. For prepping and survival purposes, even though you will likely be using the sleeping bag indoors, the cold temperature rating is still useful.
Let’s say that you are camping outside, and sleeping in a tent. The rule of thumb is that the temperature inside the tent will be warmer by “as much as” 10 degrees Fahrenheit compared to outside. If it is 20 degrees outside, the tent could be as warm as 30 degrees. The sleeping bags are rated to outdoor temperature, but not as if you were sleeping without a tent. So you still need a “20 degree bag”, even though the tent is a little warmer. Also, the bag rating assumes that you are dressed warmly in the bag, not sleeping in your skivvies.
If you are using a serious camping sleeping bag in your home during a winter power outage, you have an advantage over a tent. The house retains some heat from the daytime, due to the mass of its construction materials and its large interior air volume. So the rule that says a tent will be “up to” 10 degrees warmer might become “10 to 20 degrees warmer” for a house. I suggest, then, that a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees F more than sufficient for this type of prepping purpose. Of course, when indoors, your bag is not on the cold ground (or on a thin pad on the cold ground). And you can throw an extra blanket or comforter over the bag, too.
Why not just get the sleeping bag with the absolute lowest temperature rating? Well, the lower the rating, the more expensive the bag. So you generally want the highest temperature rating that will still work for you.
Sleeping bags come in three shapes: rectangular, semi-rectangular, and mummy. The mummy bags are shaped to fit close to the body, for additional warmth. The foot end of the bag is particularly narrow. This makes the bag less comfortable to sleep in, so you are better off with one of the other two shapes. The semi-rectangular bag is somewhat narrower at the feet, again for the sake of warmth. But with a 20 degree bag used indoors, you’d be fine with even a rectangular bag.
The temperature range that we are considering is called “3 season”, and the temperature rating is in the range of 10 to 35 degrees F. You don’t want a “summer bag”, obviously, and the winter or cold/extreme weather bags are just too expensive. They can reach prices in the hundreds of dollars. By comparison, a high-quality 3-seaon bag can cost around a hundred dollars. Here are some more details on choosing a sleeping bag from REI.
Sleeping bags are also highly useful if you have to bug out in uncertain circumstances. You grab one sleeping bag for each family member. Then, if you have to sleep in some type of publicly available shelter, or on a friend or family member’s floor, or in your car, or in some other difficult situation, you are well prepared for sleeping when it is cold.