Tips for Sleeping Warm When Camping

*Not actually Mitch. **Also, below advice for sleeping in tents, not snow caves.

One key element of having a good bushwalking trip is getting restful sleep. The most enjoyable trip into the backcountry can be soured by the inability or difficulty to obtain sleep. The main issue I want to address is being able to remain warm throughout the night.

First and foremost, your choice of sleeping bag is vital. I’m a warm sleeper and I find the limit ratings on sleeping bags apply quite well to me. Despite this, I’ll still get a bag that has a limit rating lower than I need which gives me a sense of security if the weather unexpectedly drops. If you’re a cold sleeper then be conservative, I would recommend getting a bag that has a lower comfort rating than you need for the same reason as above.

Once you’ve got the sleeping bag sorted, there is a myriad things you can do to increase warmth and get the most out of your bag’s insulative power. Below I’ve listed different tools I rely on to ensure a warm night’s sleep when the mercury drops.

  • While bushwalking I usually have a dehydrated or reheatable meal for dinner. When boiling water, I’ll boil enough water for the meal and about 1 litre extra for my Nalgene. I’ll then put the Nalgene in the footbox of my sleeping bag. I haven’t had any problems with water vapour creating condensation in the bag but if you’re worried you could stow the bottle in a spare drybag before placing it into the bag’s footbox.

  • A warm sleeping bag doesn’t provide more warmth than a colder feeling sleeping bag. Instead a warm sleeping bag insulates you better than a colder feeling sleeping bag. Your body is responsible for producing the heat that will keep you warm overnight. If you crawl into your sleeping bag cold, it will take much longer to feel warm inside the sleeping bag. In order to generate a bit of heat, I’ll do some light exercises like lunges or jumping jacks whilst walking around camp looking for animals. If you’re in bad weather (which you probably are, if you’ve gotten to this point) you can do some crunches and pushups inside your shelter. The key is to relax when you feel a bit of heat, if you start profusely sweating you’ll probably cause more problems than you solve.

  • Next step is to ensure you relieve yourself before getting in your sleeping bag. The aim of all of these steps is to produce warmth for sleeping and retain it. If you get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, you’ll likely have to regenerate warmth upon returning to the bag.

  • I’ll then change into a set of dry base layers. Some people prefer a thermal liner, but I like having spare base layers as they have obvious other uses. Being bone dry, I won’t go to sleep feeling clammy and will avoid producing any condensation. This also includes putting on my other set of socks, my beanie and my buff. You lose a lot of heat through your head, especially if you’re balding. If it’s a winter trip, I’ll pack a pair of thick socks dedicated for sleeping.

  • At this point, I’m in the sleeping bag feeling comfortable in my base layers. The Nalgene has provided a nice bit of warmth in the footbox and I’m ready for my night cap. I’ll take out the Nalgene which should still be pretty hot and use some water to make an herbal tea. Afterwards, I’ll seal the Nalgene and place it back in the footbox.

  • To finish off, I’ll attack the problem metabolically. With my tea, I’ll have some biscuits or trail mix right before bed; whatever you choose, fattier the better. This will keep my digestive system working overnight. To my understanding, if the anatomical factory is left on, you’ll be warmer as a result.

Extra Tips

As well as the steps above, I have a few failsafe strategies if I need to boost warmth.

  • I currently use a synthetic puffy; the Mont Guide Hoodie as my insulating layer. When I go to sleep, I keep this close at hand. If I need to relieve myself during the night, I can quickly chuck this on to retain warmth. Also, when sleeping under a tarp, I might need to get up during the night to retie an anchor or tension the guy lines.

  • When winter camping, I’ll pack some form of vapor barrier liner or VBL for my feet. I usually use any old plastic bag, but I recently upgraded to Exped’s Vapor barrier socks. I’ll use these when first hiking in the morning to warm up my frozen boots without getting my feet wet. Additionally, I’ll sometimes put these on when I first go to sleep to help warm up my feet in winter.

  • If you need to get warm quick, you can use a Coghlans Survival Bag as a VBL for your entire body. Although, please note that if you want to use this as a VBL in a non-survival situation use it inside your sleeping bag like a liner. If you get in your sleeping bag then inside this survival bag, you could produce a trip ending amount of condensation.

These tips aren’t gospel. They’re a combination of passed on wisdom and learnt wisdom that I acquired through poor choices. Depending on your physiology and the trips you do, you might not need such a comprehensive strategy to ensure a warm night’s sleep. If anything, I hope that publishing these tips gives you a new idea or encourages you to find what ideally works for you. Sweet dreams.

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