10 Pro Tips: Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag
By Michael Lanza
Head into the mountains in summer, or almost anywhere in fall or spring, and you can encounter nighttime and morning temperatures anywhere from the 40s Fahrenheit to below freezing. I’ve spent enough frosty nights outside over the past few decades to learn a few things about how to stay warm. (My coldest night was -30° F, in winter in New Hampshire’s White Mountains; I don’t recommend it.) Here are my 10 tips for making your camping experience more comfortable.
1. At the end of each hiking day, wash the dried sweat from your body; it can act like a heat conductor, chilling you. I swim in a lake or creek when possible, or wet a bandanna or other cloth to wipe myself off.
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 light to midweight layers (think: one or two base layers, or a base layer and a light insulation piece) 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.
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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. (Make sure they’re sealed tightly.)
5. Use a pad or air mattress insulated for the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter, and if needed, a second foam 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.
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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.
10. If you’re sharing a tent with a partner who doesn’t get cold as easily as you, ask that person to sleep on the tent’s windward side. If you have two warm-sleeping partners, sleep between them, or at least position your bags and pads close together to benefit from one another’s body heat.
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