How to Sleep Warmer While Camping and Backpacking

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For a few years now, we’ve both relied on a Big Agnes sleeping system.  This worked great in the beginning, particularly as we began camping in Texas’ warmer weather.

A 15 degree Big Agnes Bag, and an insulated Big Agnes Air Core pad was our system.  

Upon moving to California, we began noticing several chilly nights where we shivered through the night and woke up exhausted the next morning despite our 15 degree bags and insulated air pads.

We’ve recently made several changes to allow us to sleep comfortably, no matter what style of camping our adventure includes. We will often backpack over a weekend, carrying all that we need on our backs for a self-propelled excursion.  Or, we might wander down an an old forest road in our 4×4 to find a remote secluded spot to basecamp out of, making day trips to explore the wilderness around us.  

We knew we weren’t ready to buy all new sleeping bags – as our bags were still nice and lofty.  So, we chose a system of options to mix and match depending upon our chosen style of adventure.  

How to Sleep Warm in the Backcountry

First things first – we made sure to use our bags properly.  This is effective for both backpacking and overlanding.  Whether comfortable or not, zipping up the bags all the way, using the draft collar around my face and keeping my face out of the bag has made a huge difference.  I used to keep my face in the bag, as I hate having a cold face through the night.  My solution has been to use a Buff Bandana over my face at night.  Keeping my face and breath out of the sleeping bag ensures that moisture from my breath doesn’t seep into the bag, and that the only air in my bag is the warm air heated from my body.  The sleeping bag stays dry, cold air doesn’t get a path into the bag, and I stay warm and comfortable.

Second, we added a second sleeping pad for trips where we can, and when we expect particularly chilly nights  Below our air pads, we now place closed-cell foam Z Lite Sol Thermarest pads and even sometimes wool blankets.  This has made the tent floor particularly comfy, while also aiding in our insulation from the cool ground.  When backpacking shorter distances, depending on the forecast, we’ve carried in the Z-lites.  Though, the Z-lites are a better fit for our overland ventures.  

Third, we added in sleeping bag liners.  We chose the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme liners.  This was the step I was most leery of, though it really does make a difference.  Paying so much for such a small thin piece of fabric still makes me cringe, though waking up after sleeping sound through a 25 degree night sure made it seem worthwhile.  Given their small size and relatively light weight, this is the option we’re most likely to pack along on a longer backpacking trip.  

Sleep Warmer Outside Camping

And our biggest upgrade, reserved for our 4×4 pursuits, is our Mr. Buddy Heater.  I was very hesitant to use such a heater inside our tent, though we vent the tent liberally and pump the heat only before going to bed and when waking up in the morning.  When the outside temperature is down below freezing and you can crank up the interior heat to 70 before going to bed, it makes quite a toasty sleeping environment.

I’ve also made a few diet modifications that have made a world of difference.  I have learned to moderate my liquid intake in the evening to ensure I never need to leave the tent to empty my bladder at night.  I’m also sure to eat a protein-rich treat about 15 minutes before heading into the tent.  I’ve learned the Snickers fit this bill quite nicely.  The Snickers digestion ensures my ‘internal furnace’ so to speak, keeps pumping through the night.

While these items and tactics work for us now, we’ve certainly got our eyes on Magnolia or Tepui rooftop tents and may some day try out hammock style camping as Shug has schooled us on their cold weather potential.

Using these tactics together, or piecemeal as needed,  we’ve learned to enjoy comfortable nights out extending our camping season longer than we thought possible.