10 Ways to Sleep Warmer at Night

September 26, 2016

Cold weather arrived over the weekend in the Northeast. The season’s first frost crisped many an area in northern and interior New England. On the high peaks of the White Mountains, temperatures on Sunday didn’t even crack 30 degrees.

Cold nights have arrived.
Brenda Clarke CC-BY (Flickr)Cold nights have arrived. Photo: Brenda Clarke CC-BY (Flickr)

If you’re out camping or backpacking in this shoulder season, you need to prepare for some cold nights. If you’re pushing a summer-weight sleeping bag into the fall, here are 10 ways to sleep warmer each night.

1. Fully close your sleeping bag and use the hood

Duh. Zip your bag all the way up. Wrap and cinch the hood securely around your head to keep all your brain heat from escaping into the cold night.

2. Use the neck baffle if you’ve got one

A neck baffle is located near the top of the sleeping bag below the hood. It is designed to create a seal above your shoulders and keep all the warm air below it from being pushed out as you move around. In my experience it adds noticeable warmth at the expense of mild claustrophobia. I feel more trapped in the bag than I like and generally use it only on the coldest nights.

3. Wear a liner balaclava and/or hat

Add an insulating layer to your head and neck to increase warmth. A liner balaclava weighs almost nothing, insulates your neck, and stays in place no matter how much you toss and turn. If you’re wearing a hat, look for a style that fits securely and stays on even when you move around at night.

4. Pre-heat the bag with a chemical heat warmer or hot water bottle

About an hour before you go to bed activate and place a chemical heat warmer into the foot of your sleeping bag. Alternatively, place a bottle of hot water there instead—just be absolutely sure it will not leak during the night.

5. Use a sufficiently warm sleeping pad

One of the primary purposes of a sleeping pad is to insulate you from the cold ground. If you’ve been using a thin pad with an R-value of less than 3, consider upgrading to a warmer model.

6. Wear long underwear

Layer up inside the sleeping bag with a cozy set of long underwear for additional warmth.

7. Change your socks

Don’t wear your sweat-soaked socks to bed—the moisture will steadily rob heat from your feet. Carry and wear a dry pair for sleeping.

8. Invest in a sleeping bag liner

You can purchase a separate sleeping bag liner for placing inside the bag. A range of options are available, from lightweight polyester liners to heavy-duty fleece liners to battery-powered super-heaters like this new offering from Ravean. They can add considerable warmth but require additional weight, bulk, and inside-the-bag hassle.

9. Eat a high-fat meal or snack before bedtime

Fat is a longer-burning fuel than carbs and helps keep your internal furnace pumping all night long. If you wake up cold in the middle of the night, adding more fuel to your heat tank (a.k.a. a midnight snack) can work wonders. (Don’t keep food in your tent, though!)

10. Keep the bag dry

You sweat all night long, even if you don’t realize it. That moisture penetrates your sleeping bag and can slowly reduce its warmth over time. Whenever possible, dry out your sleeping bag in the sun. Also avoid breathing into your hood—your moist breath can dramatically compromise its insulation.

Happy fall!

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.