Best Practices for Sleeping Warm in the Backcountry

If you’re plan­ning a camp­ing trip out to the mid­dle of nowhere, you’ll need to think ahead about your sleep­ing strat­e­gy. Nights in the wild quick­ly get mild. These tips will keep you sleep­ing warm in the backcountry.

campers sleeping warm in backcountry

Prepa­ra­tion is Everything
Research starts before you leave for your trip. Google the weath­er fore­cast of where you’ll be, as well as the his­tor­i­cal weath­er pat­terns for the same sea­son in pre­vi­ous years. Know­ing what to expect can make all the dif­fer­ence in how pre­pared you are.

When you get to your camp­site, look around for the best place to set up camp—you want a flat, dry, durable sur­face that’s pro­tect­ed from the wind. Pitch your tent and stake it out well. Then, before you do any­thing else, set up your sleep­ing sys­tem. Inflate your sleep­ing pad and lay out your sleep­ing bag, so that the down or syn­thet­ic insu­la­tion can ful­ly recov­er all of its loft before bed­time. If you’re a cold sleep­er in a tent with three or more peo­ple, try to sleep between your tent mates (rather than on one side.)

Insu­late Your­self from the Ground
When it comes to being warm, sleep­ing bags are only half of the equa­tion. Edu­cate your­self about R‑values, which are used to mea­sure a sleep­ing pad’s abil­i­ty to insu­late. The high­er the R‑value, the warmer you’ll be. If you’re a cold sleep­er or will be trav­el­ing in extreme cli­mates, con­sid­er using two sleep­ing pads.

Wear the Right Layers
When­ev­er pos­si­ble, put on dry clothes before bed. Avoid cot­ton, and opt for wool or syn­thet­ic instead. Wear a warm hat, socks, and what­ev­er oth­er lay­ers feel good. And that old wives’ tale about how it’s warmer to sleep naked? It only works if you start sweat­ing. As a best prac­tice, if you’re cold put on more layers.

Remem­ber that Sleep­ing Bags Pro­vide Insu­la­tion, Not Heat
Think of an insu­lat­ed cool­er: if you put in some­thing warm, it’ll stay warm; if you put in some­thing cold, it’ll stay cold. So instead of crawl­ing into your sleep­ing bag when you’re cov­ered in goose­bumps, try pre-warm­ing your body. Do jump­ing jacks, push-ups, what­ev­er gets your blood pump­ing enough to raise your core temperature.

Min­i­mize Emp­ty Space
Your body is work­ing hard to heat the air inside your sleep­ing bag, just like a space heater inside a clos­et. The more emp­ty space, the hard­er your body has to work. Try stuff­ing dry jack­ets or cloth­ing inside your bag to fill emp­ty spaces, or tuck extra baf­fles under­neath your body to make the sleep­ing bag smaller.

If you have a mum­my bag, make sure the hood is cov­er­ing your head and cinch the open­ing around your face.

Make Your­self a Hot Water Bottle
If you have the resources, there’s noth­ing cozi­er than a plas­tic bot­tle filled with hot water. Just make sure it’s sealed tight­ly, and dou­ble-check that your bot­tle is BPA-free before drink­ing the water in the morning.

Eat Before Bed
Your body expends lots of ener­gy gen­er­at­ing heat, and a small bed­time snack can pro­vide fuel for the long night ahead. Just avoid sug­ar, and opt for high-pro­tein, high-fat foods like nuts, seeds, or avocados.