One of the worst nights I ever had while camping was when I got sick after sleeping in a cave. Because of some tough-girl complex I have, I decided to continue camping – even though I was freezing my butt off in the cold, wet April weather.
I utilized virtually every trick possible that night to stay warm in my 2-season sleeping bag that night. Here they are, along with some other good tips, so you can have a warmer night in your sleeping bag.
1. Choose the Right Ground for Your Campsite
You probably have heard of R-Value, which is the insulating factor that a material has. But have you heard of U-Value?
U-value is the measure of heat loss through a material. The harder and denser something is, the higher its U-value will be. To stay warm, you want to sleep on something with a low U-value.
Keep this in mind when setting up camp.
Look for leafy or grassy areas. But don’t pitch the tent in high grasses, unless you want to be woken by snakes under your feet.
If it is particularly cold, I like to pile up dead leaves or pine needles and pitch the tent on top of them. The layer prevents the ground from sucking the heat out of you and also makes it more comfortable to sleep.
It takes only an extra 15 minutes to do and will help you sleep a lot warmer.
2. Put Your Sleeping Pad in Your Bag
A lot of people have a problem with rolling off their sleeping pad. Then the coldness from the ground sucks the heat from your body and you wake up shivering.
A simple solution that many campers swear by is to put your sleeping pad inside your bag. The pad also has the effect of filing up empty space in the bag, so you trap more heat. Whether this is warmer is debatable…
Big Agnes also makes sleeping bags, such as the Big Ranger sleeping bag, which have pad sleeves to hold the sleeping pad in place.
3. Put an Emergency Blanket Under Your Sleeping Pad
I haven’t tried this trick myself, but a lot of people in my online backpacking group swear by it. Emergency blankets don’t have much of an R-value but they do work by reflecting heat back at you so less is lost.
It might not give you much warmth, but it weighs less than an extra sleeping pad!
4. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
If you are cold while camping, then you probably need a sleeping bag which is better rated for the cold. A new sleeping bag can be expensive though. Instead, just buy a sleeping bag liner. A good sleeping bag liner can add 10+ degrees of rating to your bag.
5. Spread Your Pack and Clothes Underneath You
Forgot to pile leaves or pine needles under your tent? If the ground is sucking the heat out of you, spread all your clothes and backpack under you. This adds another protective layer from the ground and also makes it more comfy for sleeping.
If just your feet are getting cold or you have a half-length sleeping pad to save weight, you can instead stick your feet in backpack. It will help trap heat so your feet stay warm.
6. Stuff Your Clothes into Your Sleeping Bag
Fill empty space in your sleeping bag with clothes or even your gear. It will be warmer for the same reason that mummy bags are warmer: less empty space to heat.
7. Don’t Sleep Naked
I’m not sure where the myth that it’s warmer to sleep naked came from, but it is false.
The more layers you wear, the warmer you will be.
However, this is all contingent on wearing the clothes correctly:
Don’t bundle your core. Your core is your body’s furnace. If you overdo it with layers here, you will isolate the core from the rest of your body. Your core will start to sweat while your hands and feet freeze.
Start with your extremities. Your hands and feet get cold the fastest. Put extra socks and gloves on before you go to sleep so you don’t wake up with frozen toes in the middle of the night.
Don’t sweat. Wearing too many clothes will also make you sweat at night, which in turn gets you wet and makes it harder for your body to regulate temperature. You’ll alternate between freezing and sweating.
8. Use the Hot Water Bottle Trick
You’ve got to be careful with this one. The last thing you want on a cold night is to spill water in your sleeping bag!
Heat up some water and pour it into your water bottle. Close the water bottle tightly and then put it inside of a sock.
You can also throw a hand warmer down into your sleeping bag to help heat up your toes.
9. Snuggle with Your Camping Buddy
When I got sick while camping and was freezing my butt off that night, I grabbed Isabel and stuffed her (still inside her sleeping bag) inside my sleeping bag.
There wasn’t much room, but I did warm up quickly. It was like my own little space heater. Isabel was a bit pissed that I trapped her though. 😉
If you go camping with a partner, consider getting sleeping bags which can zip together. Co-sleeping is a lot warmer than sleeping alone!
10. Bust Out Your Windshield Protector
When it is cold, use whatever you have to stay warm! A good tip I heard from a lot of car campers is to use the windshield protector.
Put the windshield protector shiny-side-up under your sleeping pad. It acts like a mylar emergency blanket to provide some insulation and reflect lost heat back towards you.
Obviously this only works if you’re camping near your car, but the moral is to use whatever you’ve got.
11. Warm Up Before You Get In the Sleeping Bag
It is easier to stay warm inside your sleeping bag than get warm. To get warm…
Go pee 20 minutes before getting in your sleeping bag.
Then go pee again before you crawl in.
Nothing sucks more than leaving your warm sleeping bag to pee in the middle of the frosty night!
Never go to bed in wet clothes.
You’ll freeze due to the evaporation. This is one time where it makes more sense to sleep naked. To dry wet clothes, put them on top of your sleeping bag.
Run around before getting in your sleeping bag.
Do exercises or jump around. This will warm you up and your sleeping setup will trap the heat.
Eat something fatty and sugary.
A lot of calories go to keeping us warm. Give your body fuel right before going to bed so it can produce enough heat for the cold night ahead. Some chunks of dark chocolate and pecans should do the trick!
12. Bring Pajamas
You want to be ultra-light, so you skip the PJs… But maybe they are worth their extra weight.
The obvious benefit of sleeping in pajamas is that you won’t have to smell the stinky clothes you hiked in all day.
13. Upgrade Your Sleeping System
Instead of resorting to all of the tricks above, you can take the pro approach. Upgrade your sleeping system to handle the cold weather.
A closed-cell foam pad + inflatable pad is the expert-recommended setup.
Winter Campers recommends this sleeping setup:
- Inflatable sleeping pad (R-value 2 to 3)
- Closed-cell foam pad (R-value 2 to 3)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Clean, dry clothes
The reason that the inflatable pad goes on the bottom is because, “It it ends up acting like a balloon and floating the closed cell pad off of the cold snow.”
Note that not everyone agrees on this setup though. REI recommends putting the closed-cell foam pad beneath your regular sleeping pad.
What tricks do you use to stay warm in your sleeping bag? Follow Mom Goes Camping on Facebook to join the discussion.
“newmexico 128” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Paul David Gibson
“Photo” (CC BY 2.0) by Michael R Perry
“Emily warming up in the tent” (CC BY 2.0) by Matt-Zimmerman
“these days” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by nathmart