Spring Canyon campsite, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag

In Backpacking, Climbing, Paddling, Skills   |   Tagged , ,   |   4 Comments

1.    At the end of each hiking day, wash the dried sweat from your body; it can act like a heat conductor, chilling you.
2.    Wear a hat, socks, and extra layers on your body, but avoid putting on so many layers that you isolate your core, which is your body’s furnace, from your extremities, which get cold more easily. It’s often more effective to wear just one or two layers on your body and line your bag with other extra clothing as added insulation for your entire body.
3.    Change into dry clothing to sleep, as opposed to the clothes you sweated in while hiking; damp clothes promote conductive heat loss from the body.
4.    Stick a water bottle filled with hot water in the foot of your bag. In really cold conditions, put a second bottle filled with hot water in the middle of your bag.
5.    Use a pad or air mattress insulated for the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter, and a second pad if you’re sleeping atop frozen ground or snow.
6.    If you’re using a short pad (to save weight in milder temperatures), lay your empty pack beneath your feet to insulate them from the ground, which can drain heat from your body even in summer.
7.    Pile extra clothing under the foot end of your bag to give your feet more insulation against the cold ground.
8.    Use a sleeping bag liner, which can add the equivalent of several degrees of rating to a bag.
9.    Eat a snack high in fat right before bed, like a candy bar, to fuel your body through the night.

See also my Pro Tips article “How to Choose a Sleeping Bag.” For reviews of my favorite sleeping bags, type the words “sleeping bags” into the Search box at left.

—Michael Lanza


4 Responses to Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag

  1. Brendan Hurley   |  July 29, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I’ve laid down a reflective emergency blanket below my sleeping pad. It helps reflect heat back that would otherwise dissipate into the cold ground.

  2. Lynda Armbruster   |  April 8, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    My favorite way to stay warm in my sleeping bag is to bring my dogs camping – one likes to crawl inside and it’s like sleeping with a little furnace, heehee! Of course, there are places where dogs aren’t allowed but I tend to go places where my dogs can accompany me!

  3. Lori Munden   |  June 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I would recommend changing our clothes right before bed…even your underwear. As a scouter, we are told to never use air mattresses, the air becomes cold and cools you down as well. Closed cell foam pads are much more efficient. We’ve had cub scouts sleeping in lean-tos in April in Newfoundland- with the proper gear, you’ll stay warm. Happy camping!

    • MichaelALanza   |  June 27, 2013 at 7:15 pm

      Good point, Lori. I clarified one of my tips above to make clear I was suggesting a complete change of dry clothes to sleep in. But many air mattresses are insulated for use on cold ground (or even snow), so foam pads are not the only way to stay warm while camping.

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