Keeping Warm While Camping

It is actually fairly easy to stay warm at night if you prepare in advance.   My dad is a mountaineer who has climbed Mt. McKinley several times and was on an expedition to K2.  He has given me lots of advice on staying warm, and it worked in Antarctica. Here are the practical things to consider:

1) Bring two sleeping bags or a warm sleeping bag and a warm comforter.  I often sleep in two sleeping bags when it is cold.  I have a down one that I put inside a light weight synthetic bag.  My dad has lots of reasons why this is a good system that are related to month-long climbs, but the main point is that two sleeping bags are more than twice as warm as one.  If you only bring one and a comforter, the comforter provides more insulation if you put it inside the sleeping bag around you rather than over the top of the sleeping bag.  However, over the top is better than none at all.

2) Wear a hat and warm clothes while you sleep.  I’ve had a couple of funny conversations with people about whether or not wearing clothes helps keep you warm – IT DOES!  More insulation helps as long as it’s dry.  If you don’t wear warm clothes, you lose more heat.  The inside of your sleeping bag is warmer because your body is warming it up.  However, all that heat is better kept right next to your skin by the warm clothes.  On expeditions, my dad has worn all of his clothes inside two sleeping bags trying to stay warm.  The clothes really help.

3) A good sleeping pad is not just for comfort.  It keeps you from losing heat to the ground.  A good one is both comfortable and insulating.  Again, a lesson from my dad:  When it’s really cold, he piled all of his climbing gear under his sleeping pad and slept on all of it for the extra insulation.  That includes ropes, packs, etc.  That adds discomfort, but staying warm enough is very important.

4) Multiple people in a tent keep it warmer.  Everyone loses some heat, and if the heat of multiple people is combined within a tent, it is warmer.  A small tent with more people is warmer than a large tent.  This is less true if everyone has two sleeping bags and wears a warm hat because they lose less heat, but it is still true.  However, you should also consider the other comfort, space, and privacy issues that lead to a good night of sleep.

5) The super duper, best secret ever:  A hot water bottle in the sleeping bag with you is heavenly – all that extra heat!  There are several important points to pay attention to, however.  The water bottle must be a high quality bottle that seals very well.  (A wet sleeping bag is not warm.)  Also, you want one that isn’t harmed by hot water.  One option is to bring an actual rubber hot water bottle that you can buy at a drug store.  Here’s what you do in the field:  Bring water to near boiling soon before going to bed.  Fill your bottle and close tightly.  Dry off the outside.  Put the bottle in your sleeping bag to start warming it up.  Finish getting ready for bed. Check the bottle for leaks – fix any problems.  Go to bed with the bottle.  It will stay warm until sometime in the early morning, longer if you have two sleeping bags.