Whether you are camping during the winter or on chilly spring and fall nights, we hope there’s something here that will help you get a good, warm night’s sleep, one of the factors that can make or break a cold-weather adventure. The body cools down during sleep and blood is drawn from the extremities to the core, so stay warm on your next camping or backpacking trip by trying some of the tips below:
- Select a protected campsite and ventilate your tent. 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.
Pitching in a sheltered spot out of the wind will help when you ventilate your tent at night. This may sound a little strange at first but there’s a good reason for it. The heat from your body, and your breath itself, can cause condensation to build up and make everything in your tent slightly damp. Remember, dampness equals chillyness.
By keeping your tent ventilated, you can reduce dampness and condensation and keep you and the inside of your tent dryer, which keeps you warmer throughout the night.
- Use a space blanket to reflect heat back down at you. Most people just think of these as emergency blankets. Just attach it to the ceiling of your tent with duct tape and it will reflect much of the heat inside the tent back down at you.
- Make sure that you have a good quality, temperature-rated, sleeping bag. For maximum toastyness, get a sleeping bag that is rated for zero degrees. You can also get a sleeping bag liner to increase the temperature rating by about ten degrees.
Roll the moist air 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. At night, fluff up your sleeping bag with vigour to gain maximum loft before you climb in.
- Use a good insulating sleeping pad between you and the ground. Studies show that what you have under you is more important in keeping you warm than what is on top of you.
Sleeping pads offer more insulation than air mattresses, which are filled with cold air on cold nights. An air mattress by itself doesn’t offer any insulation between you and the cold air inside. If you want comfort and warmth, you can put sleeping pads right on top of an air mattress.
- 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 in your bag, for sleeping only. Even slightly damp socks can cause you to lose a lot of heat through your feet.
- Keep your nose and mouth outside your sleeping bag and avoid overheating. 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.
Being too warm produces perspiration and you can be sure that you will end up cold and damp in the end, so vent your bag if needed or remove some layers.
- Wear a stocking hat to bed, a lot of your body heat is lost through your head so just by wearing a knit hat, you can keep a lot of that body heat in.
Use a ‘sleeping suit’, which is a clean, dry, loose-fitting pair of long underwear stored in your sleeping bag. It won’t restrict circulation and dirt clogs air spaces in the material and reduces insulation value making it harder to stay warm.
- 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.
- Go to bed warm. Warm up by taking a brief hike around camp or doing some jumping jacks, or use the old standby to stay warm and snuggle up to someone or use the Buddy System (share warmth with others).
- 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 night and lose all that cosy tent warmth.
- Eat a big dinner with lots of calories. Calories are a unit of heat, without them the furnace won’t burn hot.
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. In bear country, always keep foods safely stored in air tight containers and away from tents on the ground to avoid attacks.
- 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. 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 too hot.
- 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 calories trying to heat up the water in your bladder to 98.6 degrees.
Of course, we’re going to extol the virtues of sleeping in a well-insulated, suspended tent, but if you have any special secret winter camping tips, please drop us a line or two to share the love!