Joy of winter camping hinges on sleeping well

Posted on: February 7, 2018 | Bob Frye | Comments

Winter camping brings unique experiences.

Winter camping is actually enjoyable, provided you sleep well.
Photo: Pixabay

To the uninitiated, winter camping is not something to be enjoyed but endured, a Jack London-esque exercise in survival against harsh odds.

How wrong they are.

To pitch a tent in the coldest months, be it in a typical campground – if you can find one that’s open – or a backcountry forest is to know solitude. And peace, serenity and even magic and mystery.

Open your tent flap to a landscape bathed in fresh snow, unmarked by any footprints, and tell me there’s no beauty in nature.

But you do have to do it right.

Job one is staying warm.

That’s comparatively easy when you’re up and moving. Dress in layers, eat some hot food and be active – snowshoeing, skiing, hunting, fishing or whatever – and you’ll be fine.

Then, though, there’s the issue of sleeping.

Sleep well and your mornings will be wonderful. Don’t – because you were up all night shivering – and your mornings will be miserable.

It’s as simple as that.

Fortunately, it’s possible to stay warm at night, and sleep well, by keeping just a few things in mind.

For starters, make sure your sleeping bag is right for the conditions.

All bags come with a temperature rating. A summer bag, for example, might be rated good to 50 degrees. That’s not a winter bag, obviously, unless you’re in the Florida Keys.

Pick one rated for a temperature lower what you expect to encounter. If temperatures are to drop to the 20s, a 0-degree bag is a good choice, for example.

These will generally be mummy-style bags, complete with a hood for putting around your head. Use it. It can feel a bit claustrophobic at first, but the warmth you retain by having your head covered is incredible.

Next, add a liner.

Remember how we’re all told to dress in layers to stay warm? Because layers trap warm air between them, thereby keeping us warmer?

The same applies to sleeping bags. A liner can add eight to15 degrees of warmth.

There are commercial liners available, made specifically for stuffing inside another bag. They’re thin and easy to use.

But they can be a bit pricey, too.

If cost is an issue, take one of those fleece summertime bags and use it as your liner. It will be bulky, especially tucked into a mummy bag.

But better to be cocooned than cold.

Think layers underneath you, too.

An inflatable air mattress is good; two is better. An inflatable mattress atop one of those egg shell-type pads is better yet.

Combined they’ll keep you off the ground – the earth will suck the heat right out of you otherwise – and add more layers of warm air.

Dress for warmth when sleeping, too. A beanie on your head and dry socks on your feet will mean staying warmer.

Finally, prep for the next morning.

No one wants to roll out of bed in the morning and put on cold clothes. No one I know anyway.

So before going to bed, stuff whatever it is you plan to wear in the morning – a clean shirt, your pants, socks, whatever – in the bottom of your sleeping bag.

When you get dressed, you’ll be able to slip into something warm. That will keep your body temperature from dropping and allow you to greet the morning with a better attitude.

Unless you’re not a morning person anyway. In which case, nothing will probably help.

But that’s another issue.

In the meantime, sleep well, sleep warm, and you just may change your feelings on winter camping.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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