When researching online for a decent but good value sleeping bag earlier this year, I saw a few comments from people complaining that they’ve camped in a three-season bag in four degrees and had to “wear clothes”, suggesting that the sleeping bag was not a good product. I thought this was therefore the perfect opportunity to offer up some hints and tips for keeping warm in a sleeping bag when camping.

Sleeping bags are designed as one layer in your camping gear. Just as you would put on and take off layers of clothing when out and about, you should do the same when you are settling down for a night under the stars. There are a number of pieces of kit that you will carry to help you have a comfortable night.

Sleeping Bag

The most obvious bit of kit you need to keep warm in a sleeping bag is, well, the sleeping bag itself. Buying the right bag in the first place will make a big difference – and advising on this is a whole series of blog posts in itself. In short, you should check the temperature ratings of the bags you’re looking at match with the kind of camping you’ll be doing, and get the best bag that you can afford. Mummy bags are supposedly warmer because there is less space around your shape for the air to cool down in, but lots of rectangular sacks are coming with the technical specs these days which is great for those who tend to move around a lot when they sleep. I recently reviewed my own sleeping bag, the OEX Fathom 300, which might be useful if you are in the market for a good value three-season bag.

OEX Fathom 300 sleeping bag.

Sleeping Mat

The ground is cold, and even if the air is warm, the ground will sap your heat quickly and it’ll feel like you’re lying on a cold stone in no time. The first thing you need, therefore, is a good base. A good sleeping mat will keep you both nice and comfortable and provide a barrier between you and the ground. There are so many options around these days, but most people gravitate towards the air-filled self-inflating mats (SIMs), especially if space in your bag is a premium. I have the Alpkit Dirtbag which has been my base for three years now; 5cm of air and foam insulation which provides a decent mattress for me to lay on and packs down nice and small. The market leader is probably the Thermarest NeoAir.

Alpkit Dirtbag sleeping mat.

Wear Thermals

I’m sure the people complaining they had to “wear clothes” weren’t actually sleeping naked, but I do wonder if they had adjusted their normal night time wear to something more suitable for the outdoors. Whatever you normally wear at home, when camping you should don thin but warm clothing. Forget nice looking pyjamas; I generally sleep in an old pair of thermal leggings (not tight fitting/compression leggings) and a long-sleeved tee when I’m camping, or a thermal top if it’s very cold (I’ve recently got one of these from Zero Fit and it’s really lovely to sleep in – the inside is all soft and fluffy!). I also have a pair of thin and loose-fitting socks as I know I get cold feet. If the weather is really bad, add more layers – a down or synthetic down jacket will serve you well in extreme conditions. These things also pack down small, and work well as general camp clothes so you’re not taking extra evening wear when on a multi-day hike or similar.

The North Face Thermoball jacket and Odlo thermal leggings.

Keep Your Head Warm

A beanie hat and/or a neck tube are camping necessities. I personally dislike sleeping in a hat, but always have one on standby for if it’s super cold. At the very least I have it on until I’m bedded down in my sleeping bag, and have it ready to put back on first thing in the morning. My advice on hats – pack one without a bobble as that always gets in the way!

Sleeping Bag Liner

For cold nights, I team my sleeping bag up with a simple silk sleeping bag liner. It adds warmth and comfort to any sleeping bag, giving you an extra degree or two of heat that can make all the difference. Sleeping bag liners are also great for very hot nights, when you can sleep in just the liner, or for when you’re in a hostel and don’t trust the linen provided. I have the Quechua Trekking Silk Sleeping Bag Sheet from Decathlon, which I bought on price but has been doing the job very well for over a year now (when doing my research I found this one by Lifeventure is the one that most people seem to recommend). They are super small and lightweight, and the silk (rather than cotton) is moisture wicking and odour resistant. I tend to pack it ready inside my sleeping bag, although they do generally come with their own stuff sacks that will slide into even the fullest of packs.

Quechua silk sleeping bag liner.

Does a Pillow Help?

I doubt having a nice comfortable pillow helps you keep warm, but it does help with comfort, and that can help keep you asleep which means you don’t notice the cold so much! You can, of course, roll up your clothes in a dry bag or sleep on your down jacket, but I have found nothing works quite so well as an actual pillow. I recently treated myself to a Thermarest Compressible Pillow which is an utter revelation – memory foam while camping, pure luxury.

Camping pillow. Luxury.

Warm Up First

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given about cold weather camping is to get into your sleeping bag already warm. A few star jumps, or jogging back from the campsite loos, to get the blood pumping before you get in your sleeping bag will get you off to the best possible start. Insulation in sleeping bags and other thermal layers works by trapping the air you have warmed up using your own body heat – if you start nice and warm you will be toasty and cosy in your sleeping bag all night.

What other tips do you have for keeping warm when camping? I’d love to hear your tried and tested gear recommendations and other tips – comment below.

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