When it’s cold, no hiking is any fun. In the daytime it’s all right: it’s warm under the backpack, and it’s hot under the sun, even in freezing temperatures. But at night in the tent, it starts: you cannot sleep because of the cold, you shiver, you curl up in a ball and count the minutes until dawn. But there are tried-and-true tricks to keep you warm in your tent and get a good night’s sleep, even if it’s freezing outside. We tell you how to prepare for the cold in advance and what to do if you went to summer camping and ended up in the snow.
Getting ready for the cold in advance
If you’re going camping in winter or in the off-season, prepare for the cold and choose the right outfit. The right outfit means the right one for the specific conditions. Study the weather in the area, especially the night temperatures. If you’re going to the mountains, be sure to consider the altitude – so you won’t be surprised why in September in the south there was snow. After that, choose clothing and equipment.
Choose a suitable sleeping bag and mat
This first and foremost rule, if you comply with it, then you do not need to read further. Sleeping bag and mat should correspond to the conditions of the campaign, and if you are going to hike in the unpredictable off-season, it is better to take a reserve.
Temperature comfort sleeping bag should be 41-50 F (5-10 °C) degrees below the expected temperature in the area of the hike. That is, if you are going in autumn to low mountains, where you expect light frosts, take a sleeping bag for – 45-50 F (-7 … -10 °C). Frost-resistant people may be guided by lower comfort temperatures, but frosty people – are only by upper ones.
The R-Value coefficient shows the comfort temperature of the mats, the more it is, the better. When hiking in winter and in the off-season it is worth taking thick foam mats or 4-season self-inflating mats: they provide good insulation and comfort.
Never choose your sleeping bag for the extreme temperature. This is the temperature at which you won’t die. But you probably won’t fall asleep, either.
Use a warm liner
If for some reason you can’t get a warm sleeping bag, get what you have plus a sleeping bag liner. They come in thin, cotton or silk, and warm, made of fleece or other synthetic insulators like Thermolite. The former is used only for hygienic reasons – not to dirty the sleeping bag with dirty socks, for example. But warm liners significantly increase the temperature of comfort, thanks to the material and the additional air layer between the liner and the sleeping bag.
Take a catalytic heating pad
A catalytic warmer is an indispensable thing in winter and generally cold camping. It is a compact heater that will warm your hands, feet or any other part of your body, dry your boots or gloves, and most importantly, it will raise the temperature in your sleeping bag all night long. It runs on gasoline, and it is absolutely safe, because there is no open flame, and a special protective Thermo cover prevents getting burnt. It works simply: you fill the heater with fuel, ignite the wick, close and place it in the sleeping bag. It heats from a few hours to days, depending on the model and the amount of fuel. You can fill it with gasoline, popular among tourists, or with refined gasoline for lighters.
Make a sleeping bag out of two sleeping bags
A sleeping bag is two sleeping bags put together. Preferably they should be the same models with left and right zippers, although sometimes you can even stitch together sleeping bags of different brands – most importantly, check before hiking to see if it can be done. And a married couple who always plans to go on winter hikes together, you can buy a double sleeping bag and permanently solve the problem with the cold, also saving on weight.
If the cold caught up suddenly
It happens that you’re going summer hiking, and in the mountains suddenly hit frost – and no forecast didn’t know it. And you have only a summer sleeping bag and a thin mat. You have to improvise and insulate yourself with what you have.
Warm up before you get into your sleeping bag
Do not go to bed frozen – otherwise, you will not get warm soon (or not warm at all). The sleeping bag does not warm you up, it only keeps you warm, so it is important to have more of that warmth. Before you lie down in a sleeping bag, try to warm up in any way you can. If there is a fire, warm yourself properly near it, if there is no fire, do some exercises in the street (jumping, squatting), and drink hot tea in the tent (you can drink it in the sleeping bag, but carefully, don’t spill it).
Wear clothes to bed
Some people think that it is warmer to sleep without clothes in a sleeping bag. The question is ambiguous, and it really depends on the comfort temperature of the sleeping bag and the temperature outside. If it’s cold to sleep in thermal underwear alone, then insulate yourself. Bulky things like a down jacket are better not to put on, but throw it on top. If you often toss and turn in your sleep, put your jacket inside the sleeping bag, otherwise, it’ll slip, and you’ll have to unzip it and fix it. And wear wool socks or down stockings, fleece, pants, and a hat. Wrap up what’s coldest, for example, you can put your feet in a buttoned-up fleece jacket.
Keep your head warm
Usually, everyone insulates their legs but forgets about the head. But meanwhile, the head also escapes heat through it – sometimes it is enough to put on a hat or pull the hood and warm collar of the sleeping bag to get warm. For the particularly frosty: if you have a lot of warm clothes, do not put it all on yourself, but insulate your head and neck, for example, wrapping them in a fleece or down jacket. This way you also prevent the loss of heat from the sleeping bag.
Insulate your sleeping bag from the cold ground
If the frost hits suddenly, and you only have a thin foam, put everything under the mat that you do not put on yourself. Put a backpack under your feet, some spare clothes under your back, a seat under your waist (or you can take away seats from your friends with warm mats and make a second rug out of them). If you have a rope – great, climbers sleep on it without any mats, so you can cope with it too. It will be uncomfortable, but warm. As a last resort put some folded sleeping blanket under your back – it’s not as effective as a normal warm mat, but better than nothing.
Make a bottle warmer
If you don’t have a catalytic heating pad, you can put a makeshift one in your sleeping bag – made from a plastic bottle or flask. Warm water, pour it into a container and put it in your sleeping bag. If you don’t save gas, you can make two of these warmers: one for your feet, and one to cuddle with. You can always take the flasks from those who don’t freeze. This heating pad gives the heat for a few hours, and then it is better to take it out – it is not very pleasant to sleep in the cuddle with cold water.
Do not pour boiling water into a plastic bottle, or you will have to throw it away later. Just don’t bring water to a boil, or cool it down a bit if you’re not careful.
Try not to leave the tent
Every time you go outside it cools you and your tent, especially if the entrance is against the wind. Once you’re out, all that hard work on the heat is gone. So try not to leave the tent without an important reason. Before you go to bed drink less tea, and if you really want to go to the bathroom, adapt an airtight container for this case – for example, a plastic bottle with a wide neck. There are special devices for girls, too, just in case you can take. There is no time for ceremonies.
And if you still have to go out, remember the paragraph of the need to warm up and do at least a dozen squats, to lie in a sleeping bag warmed up.
Camping is not a time for dieting. Calories are directly related to warmth, not extra weight. When camping in the cold, it’s best to take high-calorie foods that are rich in fats and carbohydrates. For example, peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, pemmican… Some foods can freeze in the cold so you can’t chew them (for example, chocolate bars with peanuts), so plan your snacks carefully. Ghee, on the other hand, is very handy in the winter: it doesn’t leak or melt. Hot soup with pemmican and ghee is a great example of a proper dinner for a cold evening.
Eat hot food as often as possible, because cold food takes energy from the body to warm it up. It should be the other way around: the food warms you, not you the food.
Can I heat my tent with a burner?
All manufacturers of tents and burners explicitly prohibit it, but tourists are still so warm. We don’t recommend it either, but you won’t listen anyway, so we’ll tell you how to do it as safely as possible.
- Open all ventilation windows: it’s easy to burn yourself (or get choked by condensation) in an unventilated tent.
- Keep an eye on the flame and never sleep with the burner on!
- Use only tested and partially used gas cylinders (new and untested ones often “blow up”).
- And remember: the tent burns in less than 1 minute.
Among gas burners, the MSR Reactor looks the most attractive for heating – there is no open flame, the flame is covered with a “cap” of porous ceramic, and the gas consumption is minimal. But it is these burners that generate more carbon monoxide than others, which can be deadly. In fact, everything turned out to be not so terrible: experienced mountain hikers conducted a study by measuring the carbon monoxide content in a tent with a working “reactor”. The conclusion was that the burner without a pot generates almost no CO, that is, it is safe to warm up and dry off. The main thing is to remember to ventilate the tent. Admittedly, it does waste heat, so there’s not much point in such a method.
So, the best way not to freeze at night in the tent is to choose the right equipment. A sleeping bag and mat should fit the conditions of a campaign, then there’s no need to fumble with bottles or shaman with a burner. But if the frost hits suddenly, and you have a summer sleeping bag, you know what to do.
Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by travel. I inherited this passion from my parents. Since my college years and to this day, I have had a passion for traveling in a motorhome. I am here to share my experiences with you.