How to Sleep Warm At Night When Backpacking

How to Sleep Warm at Night When Backpacking

Have you ever spent a cold night shivering in your sleeping bag under a backpacking quilt because the temperature dropped lower than you expected? Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to sleep more warmly using the gear and supplies you have on hand.

    • Change out of any wet or damp clothes and put on dry ones. Dry clothes will keep you warmer because they can trap more warm air.
    • Wrap a jacket or sweater around your neck in order to seal the top of your sleeping bag (or quilt) so hot air warmed by your torso doesn’t escape around your neck. This produces the effect of a draft collar and it really works. 
    • Put on all of your dry clothes, including your rain gear, inside your sleeping bag or under your quilt. Wearing more layers will help increases your warmth at night. In dire circumstances, loosely stuffing dry leaves inside your sleeping bag (under your quilt) will also help. 
    • If you sleep on an inflatable sleeping pad lie flat on your back, not on your side. Your back will heat up the sleeping pad and keep it warm better than your side because more surface area is in contact with the pad. 
    • Move around in your sleeping bag (or under your quilt). Do sit-ups or crunches or leg raises to burn some calories and generate more body heat.
    • Wear a polar buff over your neck. This will keep you warmer at night because it insulates your neck and the veins that flow close to the surface of your skin.
    • Wear a fleece or wool hat, even if your sleeping bag has a mummy hood. Your head radiates a lot of body heat because so much blood flows to your brain.
    • Shield your sleeping bag or quilt from the wind by sleeping in a shelter, inside a bivy sack, or even a trench dug into the snow.
    • Boil some water and pour it into a Nalgene bottle or water reservoir. Place the bottle or reservoir between your legs over your femoral arteries where they flow close to your skin. This will heat up your blood and make you warmer.
    • Stuff any extra clothing or gear into your sleeping bag (or under your quilt) with you. By filling up space, your body has less work to do to heat up the insulation. 
    • If you have a pack liner, like a plastic garbage bag, stick the lower half of your body inside it like a bivy bag. You may perspire inside because you’ll get warm, but it will block the wind and prevent your body heat from escaping. If you don’t have a pack liner, you can use your backpack instead. This really works!
    • If you have a tent, especially a drafty tent, pitch it really low in order to block out any drafts. In an emergency, you can ditch the tent poles and wrap yourself up in the tent body or tent fly like a bivy bag. Don’t worry about condensation. You just need to get through the night.
    • Don’t lie on wet ground. It conducts heat away from your body/sleep system 25 times faster than dry ground.
    • Eat some fatty food like a candy bar or sip away at your olive oil during the night. Your digestion will generate heat to make you warm. 
    • Stay hydrated. The resulting increase in blood volume will retain more body heat. 
    • If you have to pee, pee. Your body will operate more efficiently if you rid it of waste products.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide and is 98% of the way through a second round. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

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