How-to: Sleep Warm

Sleeping Warm_2written by Kelly Bauer

The leaves are dropping, flannels and chai lattes fill the local coffee shops, but to some, the change of seasons means something else entirely…winter camping.

Imagine crawling out of your sleeping bag to a landscape covered in glistening white snow and last night’s frost. You then boil up some water for your cup o’ joe that seems to taste better than it ever could from a Starbucks. As you hold the steaming mug in your hands you look around and see little tracks in the snow from critters that visited your camp in the night. You pack up, taking a couple breaks to rewarm your hands, then strap on your snowshoes and create your own path through the forest to a landscape that has been entirely untouched.

This daunting picture of winter camping doesn’t have to be reserved for the burly mountain men of lore…you too can enjoy all the wonders that winter camping has to offer, AND stay warm.

Having a good day in the backcountry starts the moment you wake up. Are you rested? Are you ready to embrace the day and see what few people venture out to see? Or, are you groggy, exhausted and weary from a night of restless sleep? For me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of crawling into my bag after a long day of hiking in the snow and knowing I’m going to get a good night’s rest. And on those cold, starry nights, sleeping well means sleeping warm.

So let’s break this apart, there are a few ways people gain and lose heat.

Ways to lose heat:

  • Conduction: Direct transfer of heat from one object to another – sitting on the cold ground with no insulation, picking up a cold object with bare hands, etc.
  • Convection: Losing the warm air trapped close to the body within clothing to the colder air outside through open collars, untucked shirts, etc.
  • Radiation: Heat is discharged through emission of infrared energy.
  • Evaporation: Wet clothing or perspiration has a cooling effect as it evaporates.
  • Respiration: Heat is lost through breathing; heavy breathing, particularly in cold weather, can cause rapid heat loss.

Ways to produce or acquire heat:

All of the ways listed above can also be used to acquire heat. Activity and physical exertion can also produce heat, and food makes great fuel, especially simple sugars that are quick to break down (think nuts, seeds, chocolate, etc.). It is also important to dress appropriately to maintain heat, and that means layers.

Sleeping Warm_3Layers, what to remember:

  • Several thin to medium layers are more valuable than thick layers as air is trapped between layers to act as insulation.
  • Wear materials that wick moisture next to the skin such as polypropylene and capilene.
  • Wear clothing that will retain warmth when wet such as wool.
  • Do not wear constrictive clothing, allow circulation to take place unimpaired.
  • Avoid wearing too many clothes while being active that will cause your clothes to get wet through perspiration and eventually cause cooling through evaporation. The best rule of thumb – “Be bold, start cold”.

So how does all of this help us sleep warm? What we do, how we dress, and most importantly, how we eat, will affect how we sleep at night. On your next winter outing experiment try some of these tips and see what works best for keeping you nice and toasty throughout the night.

  • Eat well before going to bed, making certain the meal contains plenty of carbohydrates and fats. They take longer to digest and therefore keep the furnace fueled longer.
  • Too many clothes can cause someone to perspire which then evaporates leaving you cold.
  • Urinate before going to bed if possible. And, if you have to “water a bush” at night, do it. The longer you wait because it’s too cold, the longer your body uses precious energy to keep your bladder and what’s in it warm.
  • Do light exercise like sit-ups or push-ups before going to bed which will heat you up before slipping in your bag. If you wake up cold, repeat.
  • Wear a hat to minimize loss of heat through your head.
  • Don’t wear damp clothes, even socks to bed. Consider keeping a pair of socks in your sleeping bag to only be worn in bed.
  • Be well insulated from the ground with a sleeping pad or clothes.Sleeping Warm
  • When hammock camping, consider the cold air around you and use an appropriate bag, underquilt and sleeping pad. There are sleeping pads specifically made to insulate in hammocks.
  • Hot water bottles at the feet and between the legs can provide warmth through the night. If cooking with a fire, bring a stainless steel water bottle and boil the water. Then scrape off any pine pitch on the ground and wrap the water bottle with a sock to avoid burning your skin.
  • Sleep under a low tarp or tent to trap warmth.
  • Let the coldest sleeper sleep in-between the group.
  • When not in bear country, consider keeping small amounts of trail mix near-by to continue to warm yourself through the night.
  • Have an appropriately rated sleeping bag and consider using a sleeping bag liner as well.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for your next winter adventure. As always, if you have any questions feel free to visit us in the shop.

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