Sleeping Warm: Tips for Winter Camping

We’re on to cooler temps and more unpredictable weather, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to hang everything up for the season just yet.  Fewer people, changing autumn colors, and vast alpine snow fields await! Here’s some tips for keeping warm in your bag as we head into snow camping season!

Take the right gear:

4-Season Tents: If you’re looking into extending your camping season to year-round bliss, a 4-season tent is a must. 4-season tents typically have two full faces of nylon, one as the body of the tent and one as a PU coated rainfly, though single-wall 4-season tents do exist.  Those lightweight backpacking shelters with full mesh side walls are great for 3-season use, but a 4-season shelter will trap your body heat and will retain a substantially higher air temperature than their lighter weight brethren.

The North Face Mountain 25

Insulated sleeping pads: In general, the higher the R value of a sleeping pad, the warmer you’ll sleep.  Most sources recommend an R value over 5 for any kind of winter camping. Technically, R value is a measurement of the insulation ability of a given material and in regard to sleeping pads we’re talking about how well the pad insulates the users from the conduction of sleeping on cold surfaces.  I currently use a Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm Max that has an R value of 5.7 and I’m very happy with it.  The Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated with an R value of 5.0 is on my list as well.  As a philosophical perspective on camping, my sleeping pad is the one item I never skimp on.

Colchuck in the dead of winter.

Sleeping bags: I’m a little relaxed in this department, but most sources will suggest taking at least 10 degrees more than you’ll need.  If it’s going to be 10°F you’ll need to take a 0°F bag.  In my experience, there’s room to play with this if you have a very warm sleeping pad.  For example, I’ve slept comfortably in 0° temps in a 15° sleeping bag on a 5.7 R value pad in a 4-season tent.  You can play around with your sleep/shelter system to a warmth to weight ratio that you are comfortable with.

Campsite above Snow Lake at the lower right third.

Pro tips:

Hot beverages all day: Boiling water for tea, coffee, and coco is a huge morale booster when the temperature drops and is a great way for you to stay warm.  Left over hot water can be placed into bottles and should go into your sleeping bag with you at night to act as heat sources.  Placing a hot bottle near your arteries (between your thighs and under your arms) is an easy way to warm blood traveling to your extremities.

Butter:  Eat fatty foods!  Add butter to everything!  Your body is constantly fighting to regulate its temperature and self-preserve, and dumping calories into your system is the only way you can stay ahead of your metabolism.  Butter is a great source of the fat your metabolism needs to burn hotter and longer.  Add a guilt-free pat to every meal when the temperatures are below freezing.

Add butter to everything…a guilt-free pat to every meal when the temperatures are below freezing.

Head, hands, feet: Lots of heat is lost through your extremities, so covering these parts of your body with quality insulators is a big factor in retaining body temps.  I was close to losing my toes a few times before I ponied up for some Feathered Friends Down Booties.  Never again will I snow camp without them. “Sacred Socks” are also a must: these are the extra high loft wools socks you wear solely around the campsite and to sleep in.  “You gotta take care of your dogs!”  Invest in a wool cap and some solid gloves to keep your digits!

Love my down booties!!

Sleep in/on your pack: Your backpack can act as an extra layer of insulation between you and the ground, or as an extra barrier against condensation.  If it’s really bitter cold, I’ll place the foot box and bottom half of my sleeping bag inside my pack.  If you can fit your sleeping pad inside your bag, go for it! Just don’t stuff yourself in there to the point that you are restricting circulation.

Don’t get in your sleeping bag cold: Sleeping bags do not create heat—they retain it.  So if you get into your bag cold expecting to warm up, you’re in for a rough night’s sleep.  Running around, doing jumping jacks, pushups, or some sweet dance moves before getting in your bag will kick start your metabolism and help you sleep warmer.

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