OB Approved 10 Tips For Sleeping Warm In Camp

  • Hi Guest, you may choose a LIGHT or DARK theme that works best for you with the "Style Chooser" button at the bottom left on this page!
  • HTML tutorial

Overland Rich

Rank V
Member

Advocate III

1,559
Placerville, CA
Member #

14964

Sleeping Warm in Camp


Hello All,

I am new to Overland Bound but have been travelling in the mountains for 29 years and spent over 10 years as a backpacking, mountain and raft guide. Being new here I wanted to be able to give back and contribute something to the group right off the bat. I thought I could address some basic camp craft questions that those who are newer may not feel comfortable asking. So if you are new to overlanding and camping in general here are 10 tips to sleeping warm.

If you are sleeping in the back of your vehicle or in a rooftop tent you may simply be using large comforters or blankets to keep warm, if so most everything in this article will still apply to you except the bit about sleeping bags.

First off buy the right sleeping bag! For truly sleeping out and spending time in the wilderness you need to have a decent sleeping bag. Picking the right bag means making 3 decisions: shape, fill and temperature rating. You could write a book about each of these subjects, what follows will just be a quick and dirty primer so you can walk into an REI or an EMS for those of you on the East Coast and shop for a sleeping bag without your head exploding.

Shape:

When it comes to shape you want to get a mummy bag. Mummy refers to the overall exterior shape of the bag. A Mummy bag sleeping bag has a hood on it that can be cinched tight, broad shoulders and then the bag tapers to a skinny foot box making the classic shape of a mummy. This is opposed to your old school cotton rectangular sleeping bags. If you’re sleeping bag is a perfect rectangle and has no hood it won’t do much to keep you warm out there. I you’re sleeping bag has any kind of cartoon character print on it like lightning Mcqueen it’s probably going to leave you chilly!

Here is a child's rectangular bag next to a child's mummy bag. The rectangle bag is great for sleep overs but the mummy bag is what you want to use while camping. I don't have an example of an adult rectangular bag but it looks the same just larger and instead of lightning mcqueen it often has prints on it like camp, hunters, ducks, deer etc...they also come in solids but if it's rectangular and cotton don't use it out on the trail.

mummy bag vs rectangle bag.jpg

Here is an adult mummy bag and a child mummy bag:

adult and child mummy bags.jpg

In short buy a mummy bag with a hood. Next is fill.

Fill:

Sleeping bags are filled with all sorts of things, just make sure it’s not cotton. Cotton is heavy, doesn’t insulate well and actually makes you colder, sucks heat away from your body, when it’s wet. The two main types of fill are going to be down or synthetic.

Down:

Down is a superior insulator especially in terms of warmth to weight ratio. You can have a warmer sleeping bag that is lighter to carry and smaller to pack by going down. There are really only 3 reasons to not choose a down sleeping bag.

1. If you are allergic to down. Camping is no fun if you spend all night sneezing and itching hives.

2. If you are going to be doing a lot of water sports with your sleeping bag or travelling in exceptionally wet climates. I used to be a raft guide and actually I used my down backpacking bag all that time because I couldn’t afford another one but truly down wasn’t the best choice for that. Once the feathers are wet, they compress and they don’t provide much insulation anymore and even once they dry it’s hard to get them to fluff back up appropriately in the field to get enough loft back to get warm again. Loft is just sleeping bag jargon for puffiness, the puffier the bag the warmer it will be in general, a wet bag that has lost it’s puff won’t do a good job of keeping you warm. Although this is an advantage of synthetic bags which we will talk more about later.

So if you are going to overland out to a lake and then cross it by paddle board and tent camp on the banks go with a synthetic fill bag. Or if you are going to be over landing across South East Asia in the wet season where you will be getting a daily torrential dousing of rain go with synthetic. For most everything else down is better.


3. Cost. Down bags are more expensive in most cases.


As long as the above three issues don’t effect you, purchase a down mummy bag from a reputable company and you will get decades of use out of it. I am 25 years into using my Western Mountaineering 0 degree down bag and it keeps me just as warm today as it did when I bought it and it has seen a lot of use. When I was a guide I would do 100 nights a year in a sleeping bag most years for about a decade. Even with the high initial purchase price of my bag I am at pennies a night on that thing now and still going strong!

Synthetic:

Synthetic bags are great for people with allergies, people who do a lot of water sports or travel in wet areas, people on a budget and people who have more room to pack because in general a 30 degree down bag will be smaller than a 30 degree synthetic bag although every year technology gets better and the synthetic bags get smaller and lighter. For overlanding purposes since space isn’t usually an issue, nor is weight for our soft goods camping items, a synthetic bag is a great option and will allow you to get a functional sleeping bag on a lower budget.

The prime advantage of a synthetic bag is it can still keep you warm when it’s wet. Just like your wool or synthetic base layers that you wear the properties of the synthetic fill allow it to still provide some, although decreased, insulating capabilities when it’s wet. A soaked through down sleeping bag is a heavy, messy and useless item that you have to find a way to dry and re-loft. A wet synthetic bag will keep you at least a little bit warm and continue to be a warming resource even as you dry it out. I once got a synthetic bag doused and slept in it for three nights straight as I spent all day each day drying it on the outside of my pack and although I was wet and miserable I was warm enough to be safe and get some sleep, that wouldn’t have been possible with a down bag. That being said, after that, I purchased a down sleeping bag and have used it in all conditions including multi week expedition rafting trips happily.

Temperature Rating


The final thing to consider is temperature rating. The bags are rated to keep you warm down to a certain temperature. Buy a bag that will work for you in the conditions you most often camp in. If you are on the western slope of the sierras and you camp mostly in the summer and you always use a tent then you can get away easily with a 30 degree bag. If you like to sleep out and at higher elevations with no tent or you do fall or winter camping you may want a zero degree bag. If you are planning to overland across the arctic you will need an even lower rated bag.


My zero degree bag served my well when I was out guiding for years but it is overkill for what I do nowadays and most often is too hot. I end up having to sleep with it open and over me like a comforter or switching with my wife who sleeps cold and she uses the zero bag and I use her 30 degree bag. Being too hot is just as bad as being too cold at night so be sure to get that right temperature rating for the conditions you most often find yourself in.


Now that you have chosen the right sleeping bag here are 10 tips I’ve learned to sleep warm from 100's of nights in the mountains:


1. Always wear a hat to bed. Going to sleep without a hat on is like going to bed at home on a windy night with the front door open. We loose most of our heat through our heads and our feet so wear a hat and you will sleep like a baby. Keep your socks on too!


2. Always sleep on a pad. A tent is optional but a pad is always necessary for insulation not comfort. Even if you’re the guy or girl who can fall asleep at 1pm on a hard concrete floor with no problem you need insulation under you in the wilderness. If you’re in the roof top tent you are covered, they have the pad built in. However, because there is a lot of air under your bunk in that RTT, I learned with my cab over bunk in my four wheel camper, it can still be quite cold because of that air flowing underneath you so you may find you still need an extra fleece blanket underneath you to cut the chill from underneath.

If you are sleeping in the back of the car, in a tent or best yet, out under the stars you will need a good pad. Stay away from any kind of household egg crate or memory foam pads and use a solid, inflatable, outdoor sleeping pad. The reason for this is simple, thermal mass. The ground has a lot of it. You have less of it. In the event that you are warmer than the ground and you are laying on it the heat from your body will want to transfer to the cooler surface, which is the ground. The ground will literally absorb heat from you keeping you cold all night. You just need some insulation between you and it to keep the dirt from grabbing all your hard earned heat throughout the night!

3. Exercise before getting in your bag. This one sounds a bit crazy right? Why would you want to get your heart rate up and get all worked up just before trying to sleep? But if you know how a sleeping bag works it’s a great trick. A sleeping bag itself has no energy which means it can’t create heat, it is simply an insulator, meaning it traps heat. It keeps you warm by trapping a warm layer of heated air between your body and the bag, much the same way a wetsuit traps a warm layer of water between you and the suit. In order to trap heat it has to have some heat inside it and that heat is you! If you have been out shivering your butt off buttoning up camp and then you slide your stone cold carcass into your sleeping bag you are going to have...a stone cold sleeping bag and it will take a long time for your body’s slow boiler to warm up that bag.

So here’s a great trick. Leave your warm layers on until the last second and just before you jump in your bag do some jumping jacks, not a ton, 10 or 15 should get the job done. Then take off your outer layers and jump quickly into your bag and cinch it up around your neck. Your body will release all that heat you just generated into the air space between you and your bag and you will be warm and cozy and drift right off to sleep!

4. Wear light layers only in your bag and not too many. If you are that exceptionally cold person, the one that watches Netflix under two blankets on the couch when it’s 90 degrees outside it will be tempting for you to try to wear every layer you’ve got into your sleeping bag to maximize your warmth for the night. The problem is that it will do just the opposite, it will make you sleep cold and will eliminate the value of using a sleeping bag and here’s why.

Remember in the last example a sleeping bag works by trapping a warm layer of air between it and your body. It can’t trap that layer of air if there is no space for it. By wearing excessive layers into your sleeping bag you eliminate the air space needed for the bag to work properly and you end up with a cold bag laying on your cold jacket and you have a surprisingly cold night even though you are wearing a ton of layers! Also remember that you are the heater that warms up that air but your heat is now trapped inside your sweaters and jackets with no hope of warming up that airspace in the bag.

So although it seems counter intuitive, your best bet for a warm nights sleep is to use the tips above and enter your sleeping bag wearing just a set of non-cotton base layers. A light to mid-weight top, a light to mid-weight bottom, socks and a hat is usually the ideal outfit for sleeping inside a high quality sleeping bag. Those layers will allow ample air space in the bag to be heated by the heat you generated with your pre-bed jumping jacks.

5. Go pee in the middle of the night. Now we have all been there camping, you are warm and snug and in the perfect comfy position which took you forever to find and then you wake up feeling the need to head out and answer nature’s call but it’s such a hassle, you have to get out of your bag, put some layers on, go out of the tent, do your business, come back, reverse the whole process and try to get back to sleep all while trying not to wake your tent mate. Who want’s to deal with all that? So you try to ignore it and go back to sleep and then you find that you are suddenly colder as the night goes on.

This is because as you sleep your body is burning calories for fuel to stoke the fires to keep your body temperature at 98.6 all night long. It is also keeping everything inside you at 98.6 including in this scenario an ever bulging , piping hot bag of urine. Your body is using significant resources to keeping that big bag of water hot and those resources are being taken away from keeping the rest of you warm, so you get colder. The solution? No matter how bad it sucks, just get up and go and then go back to sleep. You will be happier, sleep warmer and be more well rested for the trail in the morning.

6. Cuddle a hot water bottle.This is a trick I used all the time when I was a backpacking and mountain guide. I never carried a tent during that time, only a tarp and rarely used that unless inclement weather was a sure thing that evening. Sleeping outside under the stars for so many years was a great joy but it also meant a lot of cold nights. That’s where I learned and practiced all of these tips. This is a great one. At the end of the night when you are boiling water for dishes or tea fill one of your water bottles, or two if you like, with that boiling water and then tuck that into your sleeping bag. It adds a safe heat source to your bag to help you heat it up and keep it warm.

In order to do this you have to have a bottle that doesn’t leak. With plastic bottles boiling water can make the plastic expand and effect the seal of your bottle so it’s often best to wait a few minutes and test the bottle for leaking before you put it into your sleeping bag. You can also wait a minute or two before sealing the lid to let some of the steam escape to help your bottle seal.

If you put the water in and then immediately go to bed sometimes the bottles are too hot to the touch. If this is the case wrap them in a t-shirt, light jacket or wash cloth. I would typically do 2 when I was sleeping out on the side of a mountain and I would cuddle one up to my chest to warm my core and then put one in the foot box of my mummy bag to warm my feet. Nothing sends you right off to dreamland under the stars like warm feet!

I even once survived being snowed in for 4 days with no heat with four people in my home. It got down to 30 degrees inside. The heat was electric but the stove was propane so each night before bed I would boil water and send each person off to bed with a warm water bottle to cuddle, it really does the trick!

Note:I have always done this with non-insulated plastic water bottles. I have not tried it with my insulated kleen kanteens or hydroflasks so I’m not sure how it will work with those, but try it out, you’ve got nothing to lose!

7. Sleep close with a buddy. Sounds silly but on a really chilly night get spooning with your tent mates. I have spent many a night shivering on a ledge on the side of a mountain where I had my travel buddy on my right and left scooch as close as the could to keep me insulated throughout the night, especially before I bought a good sleeping bag. It’s a bonding experience!

8. Sleep with your morning clothes in the foot of the bag. Sleeping bags tend to come in one size fits all varieties. There are sizes but they are general. Often you will end up with a fair bit of extra space in the foot box of the bag unless you are super tall. Fill that space with the first layers you are going to wear in the morning, your pants and your jacket. This does two things, it fills up the extra airspace so you don’t have to work harder to warm it up and it makes your morning clothes nice and toasty warm when you put them on instead of being a cold shock to the system first thing in the morning. It also means in a dark tent in the middle of the night there is no fumbling for layers to head outside and water the rocks, you know right where your jacket is, it’s on your feet!

9. Adjust your bag length if it’s too long for you. If you have a lot of extra airspace at the bottom of your bag which is often the case with kids who are in sleeping bags that are too large for them it will be impossible to sleep warm in that bag, your body simply can’t warm up that much airspace but there is an easy solution. Take the stuff sack the sleep bag came in and take the excess bag at the foot box area and stuff it back into the stuff sack until the bag is just a few inches longer than the bags occupant. 2-3 inches beyond their stretched out feel should be plenty for comfort.

Once you have the excess stuffed into the sack, cinch the drawstring around the bag and set the cord lock in place to hold it or tie a quick release knot if there is no cord lock on the stuff sack. Boom, you now have a perfectly sized sleeping bag that the occupant will be able to warm up and sleep comfortably in. If you don’t have a stuff sack that will work you can cinch the bottom of the bag off with a bit of P cord or even a shoe or bootlace, any string will do, just cinch off the unneeded space from the rest of the bag and you will be fine.

Here is an adult and child mummy bag cinched to adjust the size. One is cinched with a stuff sack and the other with a piece of cord:

adult and child bag cinched.jpg

There you have it, 10 tips for sleeping warm and toasty while you are out on the trail. I hope some of you that are new to all of this find this useful!

Safe travels to all of you!
 

brien

Southwest Regional Director
Staff member
Moderator
Member

Off-Road Ranger I

3,402
Tucson, AZ
First Name
Brien
Last Name
Wankel
Member #

3553

Ham Callsign
K7XPO
This is a fantastic write up, thanks! I always had a gut feeling that #4 "Wear light layers only in your bag and not too many" was true, so it's good to see in listed here to give me some reassurance. At some point in my life of camping i started to realize that I seemed much warmer when i would take my pants off in the sleeping bag. I do it every time i'm out, even when it's in the 20s. My wife thinks I'm insane and I can't seem to convince her that it really does keep me significantly warmer. I always keep my pants in my sleeping bag stuffed near my knees or feet so they are nice and toasty warm when i got to put them back on in the morning
 

Trick3d

Rank 0

Traveler I

98
CA
great and simple write up covering all the basics. Good stuff. One thing I believe you should add is this:

Sleeping Bag Liners:
https://www.rei.com/product/850427/cocoon-silk-mummy-liner

-Liner protects and keeps your sleeping bag clean
-Can add up to 5°F to the temperature rating of your sleeping bag

I've found the bag liners to be life savers for us dirty sweaty folks. Keeps my bags cleaner longer, keeps me warmer when needed, small packing footprint.
 

Overland Rich

Rank V
Member

Advocate III

1,559
Placerville, CA
Member #

14964

great and simple write up covering all the basics. Good stuff. One thing I believe you should add is this:

Sleeping Bag Liners:
https://www.rei.com/product/850427/cocoon-silk-mummy-liner

-Liner protects and keeps your sleeping bag clean
-Can add up to 5°F to the temperature rating of your sleeping bag

I've found the bag liners to be life savers for us dirty sweaty folks. Keeps my bags cleaner longer, keeps me warmer when needed, small packing footprint.
Yes great addition! Bag liners are a great way to take the bag you purchased for your most often camping scenario and stretch it's use. They come in silk weight all the way up to fleece liners that can drop your bags temperature rating by tens of degrees. If you normally use a 30 degree bag but decide to go on a winter run you don't need to buy a new bag you can just use a fleece bag liner to make it warmer as long as it's not too bulky and you can still maintain the airspace between you and the bag.

If you want to do it on the cheap I used to just take a flat sheet and sew it into a rectangle and use that as a bag liner just for keeping it clean and for adding warmth I did the same thing with a fleece throw blanket, just sewed it into a rectangle and would use it for particularly cold fall or spring rafting trips.
 

Corbet

Rank V
Member

Pathfinder I

2,055
Durango, CO
First Name
Corbet
Last Name
Hoover
Member #

1204

Couple things to add.

My son is one to thrash about at night. He has been cold weather camping with me since the age of 18 months. I cut his closed cell foam sleeping pad to fit the inside of his mummy bag. That makes it much harder for him to roll off it at night.

Calories, if your winter camping you need fuel to keep warm. I spent the weekends for two winters in college teaching ski lessons. I camped every weekend in a tent those winters. I’d eat two foot long Subway sandwiches right before bed. Record low back then, -28° one morning when I woke up.

Now that I’m in a RTT, I’ve found a lightweight down comforter on top of our sleeping bags to be the best way to keep warm and regulate sleeping temps. My son will burrow down in his mummy bag but I always get too hot. The comforter allows me to unzip the mummy bag but still keep my arms warm under the comforter. It’s also a way to capture and share heat even in separate bags.

Finally, if you can bring the dog. One at the foot of your bag is a great guarantee your feet will never get cold if you have one that can handle the temps. My Malamute in the tent is like having a heater. (Ground tent, not the RTT)
 

Retinens803

Rank V
Member

Member III

2,392
South Carolina, USA
First Name
C
Last Name
J
Member #

18068

Ham Callsign
KN4BMJ
Sleeping Warm in Camp


Hello All,

I am new to Overland Bound but have been travelling in the mountains for 29 years and spent over 10 years as a backpacking, mountain and raft guide. Being new here I wanted to be able to give back and contribute something to the group right off the bat. I thought I could address some basic camp craft questions that those who are newer may not feel comfortable asking. So if you are new to overlanding and camping in general here are 10 tips to sleeping warm.

If you are sleeping in the back of your vehicle or in a rooftop tent you may simply be using large comforters or blankets to keep warm, if so most everything in this article will still apply to you except the bit about sleeping bags.

First off buy the right sleeping bag! For truly sleeping out and spending time in the wilderness you need to have a decent sleeping bag. Picking the right bag means making 3 decisions: shape, fill and temperature rating. You could write a book about each of these subjects, what follows will just be a quick and dirty primer so you can walk into an REI or an EMS for those of you on the East Coast and shop for a sleeping bag without your head exploding.

Shape:

When it comes to shape you want to get a mummy bag. Mummy refers to the overall exterior shape of the bag. A Mummy bag sleeping bag has a hood on it that can be cinched tight, broad shoulders and then the bag tapers to a skinny foot box making the classic shape of a mummy. This is opposed to your old school cotton rectangular sleeping bags. If you’re sleeping bag is a perfect rectangle and has no hood it won’t do much to keep you warm out there. I you’re sleeping bag has any kind of cartoon character print on it like lightning Mcqueen it’s probably going to leave you chilly!

Here is a child's rectangular bag next to a child's mummy bag. The rectangle bag is great for sleep overs but the mummy bag is what you want to use while camping. I don't have an example of an adult rectangular bag but it looks the same just larger and instead of lightning mcqueen it often has prints on it like camp, hunters, ducks, deer etc...they also come in solids but if it's rectangular and cotton don't use it out on the trail.

View attachment 75200

Here is an adult mummy bag and a child mummy bag:

View attachment 75203

In short buy a mummy bag with a hood. Next is fill.

Fill:

Sleeping bags are filled with all sorts of things, just make sure it’s not cotton. Cotton is heavy, doesn’t insulate well and actually makes you colder, sucks heat away from your body, when it’s wet. The two main types of fill are going to be down or synthetic.

Down:

Down is a superior insulator especially in terms of warmth to weight ratio. You can have a warmer sleeping bag that is lighter to carry and smaller to pack by going down. There are really only 3 reasons to not choose a down sleeping bag.

1. If you are allergic to down. Camping is no fun if you spend all night sneezing and itching hives.

2. If you are going to be doing a lot of water sports with your sleeping bag or travelling in exceptionally wet climates. I used to be a raft guide and actually I used my down backpacking bag all that time because I couldn’t afford another one but truly down wasn’t the best choice for that. Once the feathers are wet, they compress and they don’t provide much insulation anymore and even once they dry it’s hard to get them to fluff back up appropriately in the field to get enough loft back to get warm again. Loft is just sleeping bag jargon for puffiness, the puffier the bag the warmer it will be in general, a wet bag that has lost it’s puff won’t do a good job of keeping you warm. Although this is an advantage of synthetic bags which we will talk more about later.

So if you are going to overland out to a lake and then cross it by paddle board and tent camp on the banks go with a synthetic fill bag. Or if you are going to be over landing across South East Asia in the wet season where you will be getting a daily torrential dousing of rain go with synthetic. For most everything else down is better.


3. Cost. Down bags are more expensive in most cases.


As long as the above three issues don’t effect you, purchase a down mummy bag from a reputable company and you will get decades of use out of it. I am 25 years into using my Western Mountaineering 0 degree down bag and it keeps me just as warm today as it did when I bought it and it has seen a lot of use. When I was a guide I would do 100 nights a year in a sleeping bag most years for about a decade. Even with the high initial purchase price of my bag I am at pennies a night on that thing now and still going strong!

Synthetic:

Synthetic bags are great for people with allergies, people who do a lot of water sports or travel in wet areas, people on a budget and people who have more room to pack because in general a 30 degree down bag will be smaller than a 30 degree synthetic bag although every year technology gets better and the synthetic bags get smaller and lighter. For overlanding purposes since space isn’t usually an issue, nor is weight for our soft goods camping items, a synthetic bag is a great option and will allow you to get a functional sleeping bag on a lower budget.

The prime advantage of a synthetic bag is it can still keep you warm when it’s wet. Just like your wool or synthetic base layers that you wear the properties of the synthetic fill allow it to still provide some, although decreased, insulating capabilities when it’s wet. A soaked through down sleeping bag is a heavy, messy and useless item that you have to find a way to dry and re-loft. A wet synthetic bag will keep you at least a little bit warm and continue to be a warming resource even as you dry it out. I once got a synthetic bag doused and slept in it for three nights straight as I spent all day each day drying it on the outside of my pack and although I was wet and miserable I was warm enough to be safe and get some sleep, that wouldn’t have been possible with a down bag. That being said, after that, I purchased a down sleeping bag and have used it in all conditions including multi week expedition rafting trips happily.

Temperature Rating


The final thing to consider is temperature rating. The bags are rated to keep you warm down to a certain temperature. Buy a bag that will work for you in the conditions you most often camp in. If you are on the western slope of the sierras and you camp mostly in the summer and you always use a tent then you can get away easily with a 30 degree bag. If you like to sleep out and at higher elevations with no tent or you do fall or winter camping you may want a zero degree bag. If you are planning to overland across the arctic you will need an even lower rated bag.


My zero degree bag served my well when I was out guiding for years but it is overkill for what I do nowadays and most often is too hot. I end up having to sleep with it open and over me like a comforter or switching with my wife who sleeps cold and she uses the zero bag and I use her 30 degree bag. Being too hot is just as bad as being too cold at night so be sure to get that right temperature rating for the conditions you most often find yourself in.


Now that you have chosen the right sleeping bag here are 10 tips I’ve learned to sleep warm from 100's of nights in the mountains:


1. Always wear a hat to bed. Going to sleep without a hat on is like going to bed at home on a windy night with the front door open. We loose most of our heat through our heads and our feet so wear a hat and you will sleep like a baby. Keep your socks on too!


2. Always sleep on a pad. A tent is optional but a pad is always necessary for insulation not comfort. Even if you’re the guy or girl who can fall asleep at 1pm on a hard concrete floor with no problem you need insulation under you in the wilderness. If you’re in the roof top tent you are covered, they have the pad built in. However, because there is a lot of air under your bunk in that RTT, I learned with my cab over bunk in my four wheel camper, it can still be quite cold because of that air flowing underneath you so you may find you still need an extra fleece blanket underneath you to cut the chill from underneath.

If you are sleeping in the back of the car, in a tent or best yet, out under the stars you will need a good pad. Stay away from any kind of household egg crate or memory foam pads and use a solid, inflatable, outdoor sleeping pad. The reason for this is simple, thermal mass. The ground has a lot of it. You have less of it. In the event that you are warmer than the ground and you are laying on it the heat from your body will want to transfer to the cooler surface, which is the ground. The ground will literally absorb heat from you keeping you cold all night. You just need some insulation between you and it to keep the dirt from grabbing all your hard earned heat throughout the night!

3. Exercise before getting in your bag. This one sounds a bit crazy right? Why would you want to get your heart rate up and get all worked up just before trying to sleep? But if you know how a sleeping bag works it’s a great trick. A sleeping bag itself has no energy which means it can’t create heat, it is simply an insulator, meaning it traps heat. It keeps you warm by trapping a warm layer of heated air between your body and the bag, much the same way a wetsuit traps a warm layer of water between you and the suit. In order to trap heat it has to have some heat inside it and that heat is you! If you have been out shivering your butt off buttoning up camp and then you slide your stone cold carcass into your sleeping bag you are going to have...a stone cold sleeping bag and it will take a long time for your body’s slow boiler to warm up that bag.

So here’s a great trick. Leave your warm layers on until the last second and just before you jump in your bag do some jumping jacks, not a ton, 10 or 15 should get the job done. Then take off your outer layers and jump quickly into your bag and cinch it up around your neck. Your body will release all that heat you just generated into the air space between you and your bag and you will be warm and cozy and drift right off to sleep!

4. Wear light layers only in your bag and not too many. If you are that exceptionally cold person, the one that watches Netflix under two blankets on the couch when it’s 90 degrees outside it will be tempting for you to try to wear every layer you’ve got into your sleeping bag to maximize your warmth for the night. The problem is that it will do just the opposite, it will make you sleep cold and will eliminate the value of using a sleeping bag and here’s why.

Remember in the last example a sleeping bag works by trapping a warm layer of air between it and your body. It can’t trap that layer of air if there is no space for it. By wearing excessive layers into your sleeping bag you eliminate the air space needed for the bag to work properly and you end up with a cold bag laying on your cold jacket and you have a surprisingly cold night even though you are wearing a ton of layers! Also remember that you are the heater that warms up that air but your heat is now trapped inside your sweaters and jackets with no hope of warming up that airspace in the bag.

So although it seems counter intuitive, your best bet for a warm nights sleep is to use the tips above and enter your sleeping bag wearing just a set of non-cotton base layers. A light to mid-weight top, a light to mid-weight bottom, socks and a hat is usually the ideal outfit for sleeping inside a high quality sleeping bag. Those layers will allow ample air space in the bag to be heated by the heat you generated with your pre-bed jumping jacks.

5. Go pee in the middle of the night. Now we have all been there camping, you are warm and snug and in the perfect comfy position which took you forever to find and then you wake up feeling the need to head out and answer nature’s call but it’s such a hassle, you have to get out of your bag, put some layers on, go out of the tent, do your business, come back, reverse the whole process and try to get back to sleep all while trying not to wake your tent mate. Who want’s to deal with all that? So you try to ignore it and go back to sleep and then you find that you are suddenly colder as the night goes on.

This is because as you sleep your body is burning calories for fuel to stoke the fires to keep your body temperature at 98.6 all night long. It is also keeping everything inside you at 98.6 including in this scenario an ever bulging , piping hot bag of urine. Your body is using significant resources to keeping that big bag of water hot and those resources are being taken away from keeping the rest of you warm, so you get colder. The solution? No matter how bad it sucks, just get up and go and then go back to sleep. You will be happier, sleep warmer and be more well rested for the trail in the morning.

6. Cuddle a hot water bottle.This is a trick I used all the time when I was a backpacking and mountain guide. I never carried a tent during that time, only a tarp and rarely used that unless inclement weather was a sure thing that evening. Sleeping outside under the stars for so many years was a great joy but it also meant a lot of cold nights. That’s where I learned and practiced all of these tips. This is a great one. At the end of the night when you are boiling water for dishes or tea fill one of your water bottles, or two if you like, with that boiling water and then tuck that into your sleeping bag. It adds a safe heat source to your bag to help you heat it up and keep it warm.

In order to do this you have to have a bottle that doesn’t leak. With plastic bottles boiling water can make the plastic expand and effect the seal of your bottle so it’s often best to wait a few minutes and test the bottle for leaking before you put it into your sleeping bag. You can also wait a minute or two before sealing the lid to let some of the steam escape to help your bottle seal.

If you put the water in and then immediately go to bed sometimes the bottles are too hot to the touch. If this is the case wrap them in a t-shirt, light jacket or wash cloth. I would typically do 2 when I was sleeping out on the side of a mountain and I would cuddle one up to my chest to warm my core and then put one in the foot box of my mummy bag to warm my feet. Nothing sends you right off to dreamland under the stars like warm feet!

I even once survived being snowed in for 4 days with no heat with four people in my home. It got down to 30 degrees inside. The heat was electric but the stove was propane so each night before bed I would boil water and send each person off to bed with a warm water bottle to cuddle, it really does the trick!

Note:I have always done this with non-insulated plastic water bottles. I have not tried it with my insulated kleen kanteens or hydroflasks so I’m not sure how it will work with those, but try it out, you’ve got nothing to lose!

7. Sleep close with a buddy. Sounds silly but on a really chilly night get spooning with your tent mates. I have spent many a night shivering on a ledge on the side of a mountain where I had my travel buddy on my right and left scooch as close as the could to keep me insulated throughout the night, especially before I bought a good sleeping bag. It’s a bonding experience!

8. Sleep with your morning clothes in the foot of the bag. Sleeping bags tend to come in one size fits all varieties. There are sizes but they are general. Often you will end up with a fair bit of extra space in the foot box of the bag unless you are super tall. Fill that space with the first layers you are going to wear in the morning, your pants and your jacket. This does two things, it fills up the extra airspace so you don’t have to work harder to warm it up and it makes your morning clothes nice and toasty warm when you put them on instead of being a cold shock to the system first thing in the morning. It also means in a dark tent in the middle of the night there is no fumbling for layers to head outside and water the rocks, you know right where your jacket is, it’s on your feet!

9. Adjust your bag length if it’s too long for you. If you have a lot of extra airspace at the bottom of your bag which is often the case with kids who are in sleeping bags that are too large for them it will be impossible to sleep warm in that bag, your body simply can’t warm up that much airspace but there is an easy solution. Take the stuff sack the sleep bag came in and take the excess bag at the foot box area and stuff it back into the stuff sack until the bag is just a few inches longer than the bags occupant. 2-3 inches beyond their stretched out feel should be plenty for comfort.

Once you have the excess stuffed into the sack, cinch the drawstring around the bag and set the cord lock in place to hold it or tie a quick release knot if there is no cord lock on the stuff sack. Boom, you now have a perfectly sized sleeping bag that the occupant will be able to warm up and sleep comfortably in. If you don’t have a stuff sack that will work you can cinch the bottom of the bag off with a bit of P cord or even a shoe or bootlace, any string will do, just cinch off the unneeded space from the rest of the bag and you will be fine.

Here is an adult and child mummy bag cinched to adjust the size. One is cinched with a stuff sack and the other with a piece of cord:

View attachment 75204

There you have it, 10 tips for sleeping warm and toasty while you are out on the trail. I hope some of you that are new to all of this find this useful!

Safe travels to all of you!
I have done all excepts 7. And number 8 never thought of, brilliant.
 

SiDbaru

Rank III
Member

Traveler I

632
California
Member #

14702

Sometimes overlooked is the fact that your cloths have sweat on them and this will evaporate and sick the heat from you.
I always put on a pair of dry socks and underwear before hitting the sleeping bag. Believe me it makes a world of difference.

On one trip I was freezing and couldn't get my feet warm. Finally decided to change into some dry clothes and Bam just like that I was warm
 

Speric

Rank IV
Member

Member III

1,373
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
First Name
Eric
Last Name
A.
Member #

18037

Great tips! what are your thoughts on semi-rectangular bags? I was never a fan of the "mummy" feel, but I usually do wear a hat. I'm about to pick one up. I also remember reading years ago when I backpacked about putting a water bottle at the foot of the bag. I found it really helped regulate my heat.

I like the putting the morning clothes in the bag idea. Will have to try that.
 

SiDbaru

Rank III
Member

Traveler I

632
California
Member #

14702

Not the biggest fan of the minimum bags but I have noticed when I sleep on the ground (insulated with a pad or whatever) that if I lay flat on my back I get the best sleep.
I'm normally a side sleeper but something about laying flat on a firm surface really relaxed and alignes my back. So mummy bags don't bother me too much anymore. But I have a square foot box sleeping bag now :) with a bug net so the creepy crawlies don't get in
 

TJDon

Rank IV
Member

Off-Road Ranger I

1,260
Galt CA
First Name
Don
Last Name
A
Member #

19869

Ham Callsign
KI6TUI
With a quality sleeping bag. What are your thoughts about not rolling it up after every use? I’ve been told to “stuff” it back into the bag so the fill will not push out of the folds
 
  • Like
Reactions: BCNP4runner

BCNP4runner

Rank V
Member

Off-Road Ranger I

2,323
Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
First Name
Jeff
Last Name
K
Member #

20371

Ham Callsign
KI5FGO / WRFH471
With a quality sleeping bag. What are your thoughts about not rolling it up after every use? I’ve been told to “stuff” it back into the bag so the fill will not push out of the folds
The general rule of thumb is never roll mummy bags, as this compresses/mats the insulation, reducing its effectiveness. For backpacking, I used the stuff sack with an external frame pack, but when I switched to an internal frame pack, I just stuffed it inside with everything else. For storage between trips, I have a large cotton canvas sack to store the mummy bags (one per sack) so that they aren't very compressed. Folks with more storage space just hang them up. The real trick is to air them out and store them dry and uncompressed. (Washing requires special handling)
 

BCNP4runner

Rank V
Member

Off-Road Ranger I

2,323
Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA
First Name
Jeff
Last Name
K
Member #

20371

Ham Callsign
KI5FGO / WRFH471
Great tips! what are your thoughts on semi-rectangular bags? I was never a fan of the "mummy" feel, but I usually do wear a hat. I'm about to pick one up. I also remember reading years ago when I backpacked about putting a water bottle at the foot of the bag. I found it really helped regulate my heat.

I like the putting the morning clothes in the bag idea. Will have to try that.
One of my lighter bags is a semi with a cinch-able hood (like a mummy). Its rating isn't as low as my mummies, perhaps partly because my feet aren't together to warm each other and partly because there's just more volume inside the bag for my body to warm. BUT when the temperature is within the rating of the bag, I find it much more comfortable. (And I use the clothes trick to fill up some of the extra volume in colder weather.)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lanlubber