Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag – Everything You Need to Know
June 7, 2022
Any seasoned camper understands the importance of planning. Whether you’re headed to a local campground or roughing it in the wilderness, your camping trip will only be great if it’s well-planned.
One critical part of your camping trip is the sleeping situation. If you plan to traditionally camp in a tent, it’s crucial to have a warm sleeping bag. Even in the middle of the summer, it can get cold at night. The last thing you want is to be unprepared.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to stay warm in your sleeping bag.
Get the Right Sleeping Bag
Staying warm while camping starts with having the right kind of sleeping bag. Many standard sleeping bags are similar. However, if you’re expecting cold temperatures at night, you should opt for a high-quality winter sleeping bag.
Winter sleeping bags are designed to keep you warmer. Therefore, they are heavier, thicker, and filled with more insulation – usually either down or synthetic materials. Winter sleeping bags have a few other features that you should check off your list to ensure you stay warm.
Comfort and Limit Ratings
When searching for the right sleeping bag, always pay attention to the temperature limit and comfort ratings. Most sleeping bags will display both on their tags.
The limit rating will be the lower of the two. The limit rating tells you the lowest possible temperature for which you should use the sleeping bag. This number is always an estimate at best, so there’s a good chance you’ll still be cold in low temperatures.
The comfort rating of the bag will give you a better idea of how warm it will keep you. This number lets you know at what temperatures you’re most likely to stay warm and comfortable while in the bag. It will always be higher than the limit rating.
If you want to stay warm, look for a comfort rating that aligns with the weather of your campsite.
Down or Synthetic?
Here’s the deal: synthetic is the cheaper insulation sleeping bag option, but down is always better. And when it comes to staying warm in the wild, it’s always best to go for high-quality products.
You may be fine with synthetic, but we recommend getting a down sleeping bag.
However, the biggest con to a down sleeping bag is that you absolutely cannot get it wet, or else it will be useless to you. Synthetically insulated sleeping bags are still usable when damp.
The idea for most camping trips is that your items and sleeping gear stay dry in your tent – but accidents happen. And as the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.
If you can, find yourself a waterproof sleeping bag. Not only will it keep you warm and protect your down insulation, but it will be critical should your tent spring a leak.
Use a Sleeping Pad
When it gets cold outside, the ground gets cold as well. Unfortunately, people tend to forget about this component when planning a camping trip. A tent protects you from elements like wind and rain, but its thin bottom does nothing for the temperature.
A useful camping hack to prevent ground chill is to use a sleeping pad. Camping sleeping pads serve as excellent insulation. They keep your body heat from escaping beneath you and protect you from the cold ground. Plus, they can make sleeping on the ground more comfortable.
When we sleep inside or feel cold in our home, what do we use? Blankets, of course. It should go without saying that blankets are essential for keeping you warm in a sleeping bag especially during the winter or colder climates.
You can use a blanket one of two ways. Either wrap it around yourself and then slide into your sleeping bag, or lay it on top of your bag. The former will take up more space in your bag, but it will likely do a better job at keeping you warm.
But when it comes to camping, we recommend using camping-specific blankets. Let’s take a look at what makes these kinds of blankets different from your throw blankets at home.
For cold-weather camping, grab a blanket made from a material that retains heat well. Seek out materials such as:
Wool is a popular option for cold-weather camping, as it retains heat well and even wicks moisture. Some people find wool itchy and uncomfortable, but you can solve this problem by using it as a layer over your sleeping bag rather than inside it.
A good alternative to wool is a fleece. Fleece is essentially the synthetic counterpart of wool. It insulates well, dries quickly, and not itchy like wool. Fleece is also a lightweight material, making it ideal for light packing.
Finally, polyester is another solid option. It is very insulating, lightweight, and moisture-wicking. Polyester is also fire-resistant, so it’s safe to use it around the campfire before taking it to your sleeping bag.
If you’re camping in extreme colds, you should sleep with the following:
What you wear to sleep in your house will be very different from what you wear on a cold camping trip. Two things are critical here: wear dry clothes and dress for the weather.
Thick, wool socks
From there, it works best to dress in light layers. The idea is to be comfortable without overheating. Sweating when it’s freezing out can make you even colder.
Clothing items such as flannel pants, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and long-sleeved turtlenecks can help you stay warm.
Try the Hot Water Bottle Trick
Many people stay away from the hot water bottle trick only because the thought of having a water leak in their sleeping bag is too much of a risk. However when done properly, a hot water bottle can make your sleeping bag toasty and comfortable.
Before you hit the sack, heat some water up over the fire and pour it into a water bottle. Place the water bottle in a sock or two. Hold it close to your core or by your feet while you sleep.
Alternatively, try sticking a couple of hand warmers in your sleeping bag. Doing so will give you a similar effect without running the risk of getting wet.
One of the worst things you can do for yourself in cold weather is wearing wet clothing. Not only will it make you incredibly cold and uncomfortable, but it can very quickly become dangerous.
According to experts, wet clothing can conduct temperatures 30 times more than air. What this means is that the water on your clothing will transfer the heat away from your body at rapid rates.
If your clothes are wet, it’s better to get into your sleeping bag naked than in your damp apparel. Ideally, you should bring an emergency pair of clothing to change into.
But if you don’t have anything else to wear, take off your wet clothes, dry your body, and get into your sleeping bag without them.
Warm Up Before Getting In
While camping in the cold, you’re relying on your body temperature to regulate the entire temperature of your sleeping bag. So, if you slide in your bag while you’re cold, it’s going to be a while before you feel warm again.
It’s best to get in your bag while you’re already warm. This can be challenging if you’re coming in from a cold night, but there are a few things you can try.
Do a few quick exercises to get your heart pumping and your body temperature up. Take a few laps around the camp or do some jumping jacks, then get in your bag.
Change into fresh, warm, dry clothes.
Eat something calorie-dense right before bed.
Warm up in front of the campfire before going to sleep.
And a word of advice from the wise: always go to the bathroom right before heading to bed. The last thing you want to do on a cold night is head back into the cold because nature is calling.
Pro Tip: Partner Up
If you’re struggling to stay warm and don’t have any other supplies with you, you could share your sleeping bag with another person in your group.
The idea of sharing a sleeping bag with someone else may not sound appealing, but there’s nothing quite like another’s body heat to warm you up.
In some instances, sharing body heat may even prevent hypothermia.
Knowing how to stay warm in a sleeping bag can mean the difference between an awesome camping trip and a string of miserable nights in the cold.
Even using just a few of these tips can help elevate your camping experience and ensure you can get a good night’s rest for the next day’s activities.
Be sure to pack the right gear, make yourself a checklist, and be as prepared as possible to stay dry, warm, and safe.
George Cummings enjoys connecting with nature, meeting new people, and making friends from all over the world. RVing and camping create the perfect opportunity for [him/her] to take part in these activities. After spending several years on the road and exploring the great outdoors, George Cummings shares some of his best pieces of advice on how to make the most of your time while camping. TourTheOutdoors is his way of helping outdoorsy individuals like [him/her] start on a right footing with amazing recommendations and buying guides.