Courtesy of Greg Rouse - www.WildernessTrip.com
Sleeping warm is one of the factors that can make or break a cold
weather adventure. Remember the body cools down during sleep and the
blood is drawn from the extremities (feet and hands) to the center or
core of the body, so proper insulation must be provided to prevent heat
To stay warm and get a good night's sleep on your next camping or backpacking trip, try some or all of the tips below:
1. Keep hydrated during the day and avoid drinking lots of fluids at
night, so you won’t have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the
2. If you must go, use a pee bottle, it’s better than exposing yourself
to the elements. Just make sure you label the bottle! Besides, holding
it in requires your body to waste energy (calories) trying to heat up
the water in your bladder to 98.6 degrees.
3. Eat a big dinner with lots of calories. Calories are a unit of heat, without them the furnace won’t burn hot.
4. Keep a snack with you for the middle of the night, so if you do wake
up cold you can replenish lost calories and warm back up again.
(Editor's note: in bear country, always keep foods safely stored in air
tight containers - away from tents - to avoid attacks.)
5. Go to bed warm. Warm up by taking a brief hike around camp or doing
some jumping jacks. If you wrap a frozen salmon in a sleeping bag, will
it stay frozen? Yes, because your sleeping bag will insulate cold or
heat, just like a Thermos.
6. Select a protected campsite out of the wind and off the valley floor
and other low areas where cold air settles. A good rule is to be about
50 feet above the valley floor.
7. Fluff up your sleeping bag with vigor to gain maximum loft before you climb in.
8. Use a good insulating pad between you and the ground. Studies show
that what you have under you is more important in keeping you warm than
what's on top of you.
9. Wear a stocking hat to bed, you lose most of your body heat through your head.
10. Keep your nose and mouth outside your sleeping bag. Your breath
contains a great deal of moisture that can cause dampness to collect in
the bag as you sleep. To keep your face warm, wear a balaclava or wrap a
scarf around your face.
11. Roll the moisture out of your bag each morning when you get up
(roll from foot to head), then leave it open until it cools to air
temperature. If weather permits, set it out to dry.
12. Use a layered sleeping system (i.e. sleeping bag, liner, half bag,
bivy sack). A layered system helps to remove the frost buildup that
naturally occurs when your body warmth meets the cold air (a concern if
you’re staying out multiple nights).
13. Avoid overheating at night and make sure you go to bed dry. Being
too warm produces perspiration, so vent your bag if needed or take off
your stocking hat.
14. Make sure your feet are as dry as possible before going to bed.
This can be done by having a pair of dry sleeping socks or polarguard
booties in your bag for sleeping only. Also, you can “dry” wash your
feet with a good foot powder that contains aluminum chlorohydrate, which
helps dry the skin and reduce perspiration.
15. Use a “sleeping suit”, which is a clean and dry pair of long underwear stored in your sleeping bag.
16. Wear loose fitting clothing to bed so it doesn’t restrict circulation.
17. Keep your sleeping gear clean. Dirt clogs air spaces in the
material and reduces insulation value making it harder to stay warm.
18. If you have cold feet, sleep with your feet together in an elephant
foot or half bag. It’s a bag that uses the principle of the buddy
system, where the feet share heat instead of being isolated, much like
mittens are warmer than gloves. The bag slips over your feet and legs
and then drawstrings pull it shut or you could just use a fleece jacket
wrapped around the same area.
19. Fill a water bottle with hot water before you go to bed and then
strategically place it at any cold spots in your sleeping bag. Just make
sure it has a screw on lid like the Nalgene bottles. A variation of
this is to use disposable heater packs or hand warmers, which costs a
little extra money. Or, in the old days they would take some heated
rocks from around the campfire and place them in a wool sock (just make
sure they're not to hot, so they don’t burn you or your sock or melt
20. Finally the old stand by...to stay warm snuggle up to someone or use the Buddy System (share warmth with others.)