Camping

Stay Warm Sleeping Outside—Even in the Cold!

Are you heading out for some winter camping, or would you go if you could figure out how to stay warm? A lot of campers give up sleeping outdoors in the winter months because they figure they will get so cold they’ll be miserable. However, it’s actually possible to stay warm all night so you can have winter adventures all day. Here’s how.

Buy a Sleeping Bag With the Proper Rating

Most sleeping bags are sold with temperature ratings. They might, for instance, be good between 30 and 45 degrees. Check the overnight temperature lows and get a bag that will keep you warm in those temps. You may be tempted to get a warmer bag, but this may make you sweat which can, ironically, cause you to get cold.

If you are someone who keeps a comforter on your bed year round or someone who only sleeps in a sheet no matter how cold it gets, adjust accordingly. You may need a bag that is rated warmer or colder than the listed temperatures. If you can borrow bags until you figure out what works for you, all the better.

Get a Bag That Fits

For optimal warmth, you want a bag that is neither too big or too small for you. If you try to sleep in a bag that’s too small, you’ll end up spilling out of it during the night. If you sleep in one that’s too big, your body heat won’t be able to warm the entire space and you’ll get cold.

A just-right bag will allow you to move around a little, to roll over and stretch out, but it won’t have a lot of excess space. You may decide that you want a bag that’s a little longer than you would normally get. Many people like to store the clothes they want to wear the next day, some water in a leakproof bottle, any electronics, and more at the bottom of their sleeping bag so these don’t get so cold overnight.

Choose the Best Sleeping Pad

Sure, a sleeping pad is designed to make sleeping outside a little more comfortable, but it also insulates you from the ground. Pads have R-values, up to 9.5. For sleeping in the cold, you want the highest R-value you can get. Some people choose to stack pads, since those that have the highest R-values are not often the most comfortable. Just remember that you have to trek in whatever you want to sleep on.

Wear the Right Amount of Clothing

You’ll want to wear enough clothing that you are warm without wearing so much that you start sweating. Sweat just makes the inside of your sleeping bag wet, and that will eventually make you cold. It helps to sleep in layers so you can tug some clothes off in the night if you need to.

Make sure that you wear wool or other breathable materials to bed so they will wick away any sweat that does occur. You will also want to dress your entire body at roughly the same warmth level, so you don’t end up with freezing legs but a roasting upper body.

Get Warm Before You Get in Your Bag

Do whatever you need to do to get warm before bed. Stand by the fire, run a few laps around your campsite, drink something warm, whatever. Sleeping bags are great at trapping heat and holding it inside, but they can’t create it. The more heat you bring to bed with you, the warmer you will stay all night.

Add a Warm Water Bottle

Heat some water over the fire, pour it into a leak-proof container, and take that container to bed with you. Use it to heat the cold spots in your bag or put it down by your feet to keep them warm all night. It won’t last forever but it can make those first few minutes in your bag so much more enjoyable. You can even set it up in your bag 15-20 minutes before bedtime so your bag is warm when you get there.

Wear a Knit Hat to Bed

The old wives’ tale is true: you lose a lot of heat out of your head. Since your head is designed to stay out of the sleeping bag (more on that later), you’ll need to keep it warm in other ways. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear several hats to bed since you have to do whatever you have to do to keep yourself warm.

Stay Away From the Tent Walls

Tent walls collect condensation and rubbing up against them can make your sleeping bag wet. The wall is also the coldest part of the tent, so touching it can transfer that cold air to your bag. Set your sleeping bags well away from these walls to avoid these problems. You may want to place your bags around the base of the tent, between you and the walls. This adds insulation and provides a physical barrier so you don’t roll into a wall during the night.

Exhale Outside Your Bag

When you exhale, you exhale a little bit of moisture each time. It’s not a lot the first time, but if you exhale in your bag all night long, you’ll end up with quite a bit of dampness there. Eventually, you’ll be cold and clammy in there. If your face gets cold, cover it with a bandana or a neck gaiter.


Every winter camper has to find the sleeping methods that work best to keep themselves warm. It may take some trial and error, but pretty soon you’ll know which of these methods work best for you and you’ll know how to implement them so you can continue your outdoor adventures all winter long.

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