by Gerry Rowan
A few rules will help ensure you sleep warm while backpacking or camping:
• Never sleep on the ground. Use a foam or inflatable sleeping pad. Cold or frozen ground will suck the heat out of your body. If a sleeping mat isn’t available, make a pile of dry leaves and/or pine boughs to sleep on.
• Always use a ground cloth. This could be a small plastic tarp or a commercial backpacking ground cloth. It’s important to stay dry and not soak up moisture from the environment. Many sleeping pads are designed to be waterproof. A large, lawn-sized plastic trash bag can function as both a ground cloth and a windproof sleeping bag cover.
• Select a sleeping bag that is adequate for the temperatures you will be camping in. Generally, the better the insulation quality, the more the bag will weigh. As a result, backpackers tend to choose a bag that is too light in insulation for the conditions they will encounter.
• Add a sleeping bag cover that is both windproof and waterproof. These covers protect against precipitation, fog, and ground moisture; also, the trapped air between the bag and the environment will greatly help maintain warmth in the bag.
• Different brands of lightweight, fleece sleeping bags can be added to a heavier sleeping bag as a liner to increase its insulation. The lightweight bags can be used in cold weather much the same way that zip-in linings extend the use of coats and jackets.
• Dress for sleeping warmth by
o Wearing a hat. A watch-cap-style hat works well to keep your head warm while you sleep.
o Wearing gloves. Select gloves that have added liners—these provide a good deal of warmth while hiking and work well for warm sleeping.
o Wearing warm, heavyweight hiking socks. Always start your evening with a pair of dry socks. Damp socks will wick heat away from your feet. Allow the socks you hiked in all day to dry overnight.
o Not sleeping in coats or pants unless you have to. Zippers, pockets, and hoods can be uncomfortable to sleep on all night. Wool or dual-layer long underwear is ideal to sleep in and makes a great base layer for cold-weather hiking clothing.
o Always sleeping with your mouth and eyes uncovered. Carbon dioxide will build up inside a sealed sleeping bag.
o Using a hot-water bottle. Fill a water bottle with hot water and take it into your sleeping bag. It will help you warm up the bag and provide drinking water during the night.
o Choosing the right tent. Remember, heat will dissipate through the walls of the tent. The greater the volume of the tent, the greater the outside surface area; hence more radiation of heat. Generally, smaller tents are better in cold weather and larger tents in hot weather.
o Pitching your tent so it’s as protected as possible. Use the landscape as a wind-, rain-, or snowbreak. Consider building a windbreak when camping on cold, windy nights.
Keystone Trails Association