I sometimes put a sweater on when I first get up on a cold morning. The sweater isn't so cold against my skin, but the zipper is. I get this. Even though they are both at the same temperature, the zipper is a better conductor of heat. Heat flows more easily from warm skin into the cold zipper, cooling the skin more effectively.

The reason a zipper is a better thermal conductor is that it is a metal. Electrons in the conduction band conduct heat as easily as electricity. On the other hand, wool is hair - an insulator.

When I get into a sleeping bag, it is cold like a zipper, even though the nylon and feathers are both insulators. Why is this?

I saw Stephan Bishof's answer to Could a sleeping bag be warmer if you are naked inside?. He says evaporation plays a role. I am not sure I buy this. It is cold even against dry skin, when you get static electricity from sliding in.

Is it simply that the sleeping bag is smooth and a sweater is fuzzy? Better contact makes better heat transport?

In summer you can avoid the whole by unpacking your bag when you first get to camp. It fills with warm air, and keeps it warm until night.

  • $\begingroup$ The nylon lining inside the sleeping bag is not a good insulator. Not as bad as the metal of your zipper but neither as good as the wool of your sweater. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Mar 25, 2019 at 13:24

2 Answers 2


The fuzziness of the surface is the responsible: the sleeping bag has a very smooth surface and therefore comes in contact with your skin in many more points than a fuzzy surface would. Being the thermal conductivity of the air lower than that of the synthetic fibres, you exchange more heat with a smooth surface than with a fuzzy one.

As a matter of fact the filling power of a sleeping bag is given in terms of how much air can be trapped in the sleeping bag filling: thermal insulation is increased in these cases (i.e. when you do not involve vacuum) by the amount of air you can trap between you and the external environment.

edit: of course also the thermal conductivity of the nilon of the inside surface of the sleeping bag plays its role. A fuzzy metal internal surface would be less insulating than a fuzzy one of whool (and would be also pretty uncomfortable ;) ).


i have a potential solution but i'm not sure if it's accurate

say you get up on your cold morning, and your sleeping bag, as rightly stated is a good insulator, but because its been there all night, it will have slowly gotten cold overnight, but because it is such a good insulator, it will prevent a lot of heat getting inside, which should keep it cold

  • $\begingroup$ You are right that the sleeping bag is cold. But the question is why it feels so cold. It is the temperature of a sweater/zipper. But it feels more like a zipper than a sweater. $\endgroup$
    – mmesser314
    Feb 5, 2017 at 18:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's more to do with the conductivity of the material rather than whether heat escapes from it or not. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2017 at 22:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.