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I’m one of those people that always seems to be cold at night while backpacking. The sun sets, and I need to bundle up right away! After years of backpacking and camping, I’ve learned a few tricks for staying warm at night in the backcountry. There’s no need to be freezing all night long!
This list of tips is for when you need some extra warmth at night during Spring, Summer, and Fall backpacking trips.
While these tips will certainly be useful for winter camping as well, winter camping does require additional preparation and gear beyond what we’re going to talk about here, so just keep that in mind when you’re planning!
Ways to Stay Warm at Night While Backpacking:
1) Use the Hood on Your Sleeping Bag (or bring a hat)
The hood on a sleeping bag makes a huge difference when you’re trying to stay warm at night! Most backpacking sleeping bags come with a hood and collar, but a lot of people don’t use them.
The sleeping bag hood and collar can be synched down to seal in all that warmth. That way, when you move around at night, all the warm air stays in your sleeping bag.
Trust me, it makes a huge difference. If you haven’t been using these features of your sleeping bag, use them!
Now if your sleeping bag doesn’t have a hood, you can try bringing a hat, and that will definitely help too! Sometimes I even wear a hat inside the hood of my sleeping bag on really cold nights.
RELATED >> How to Choose a Sleeping Bag
The Sleeping Bag I Use >> Western Mountaineering Down Sleeping Bag (expensive, but I love it and use it all the time)
2) Use the “Nalgene Heater Trick”
I think this is the best tip on this list, but it’s also the riskiest because you definitely don’t want to get water in your sleeping bag.
For this trick, you’ll need an extra water bottle that can withstand boiling water (such as a Nalgene bottle) and an extra sock.
You can’t use any old plastic water bottle here! That would be a disaster because it would melt.
To make the “heater”, bring a pot of water to just below boiling. It doesn’t need to be a rolling boil. You’ll need enough water to fill your Nalgene bottle.
Carefully pour the boiling water into the Nalgene and close the bottle. You have to be confident that no water will leak from the bottle before moving on.
Next, take your sock and slide the water bottle into the sock.
The sock will just protect your skin and sleeping bag from the hot water bottle.
Put the sock-covered Nalgene bottle into your sleeping bag for a super warm “heater”!
I like to keep it at the bottom of my sleeping bag to help keep my toes nice and warm. In all the times I’ve tried this, the “heater” will last most of the night. It never gets cold. Eventually, it just comes down to the temperature inside my bag.
Like I said above, this trick is awesome, but you definitely don’t want to spill water inside your sleeping bag, so be careful and make sure you use a water bottle with a good tight seal.
3) Eat a Substantial Meal Before Sleeping
Your body is like a furnace, and when you eat food, your body can convert that into the energy needed to help keep you warm at night.
I’ve noticed that when I eat a good dinner and add a little extra fat into my meal, I’m warmer during the night, and ultimately sleep a lot better in the backcountry.
4) Pee Right Before You Go To Sleep
Even if you don’t think you have to, I recommend trying anyway! Most of the time when I’m camping, I get into the tent and read or hang out for a bit before I actually go to sleep.
It’s annoying, but I force myself to get back out of the tent and pee right before I’m actually going to try and fall asleep.
Here’s why – it sucks to have to get up and let all that warmth out of your sleeping bag and stand outside in the cold in the middle of the night.
I try my best to avoid having to do that on colder backpacking trips!
5) Bring Dry Socks and Clothes to Sleep In
Having dry clothes to sleep in is key!
When backpacking, I always pack an extra pair of socks to sleeping in, that way, I don’t have to wear the smelly sweaty socks I hiked in all day to bed.
In addition, I always back a shirt and pants to sleep in. I like to wear a thermal base layer at night that’s just for sleeping. If you ski or snowboard, the base layers you wear for that would work perfectly here.
If it rains during the day or I sweat a lot as I’m hiking, I know that I can take all those wet clothes off, and slip into clean dry clothes for the night.
Other Ways to Stay Warm While Backpacking
The tips listed above are simple things that everyone can do with whatever gear they have.
That being said, your sleeping bag and sleeping pad will greatly effect how warm you are at night. These are two pieces of gear that I think are worth investing in.
If you’re in the market for a new sleeping bag or sleeping pad, there are some things to consider before you buy in order to maximize warmth.
Sleeping pads have an R-value, which measures the sleeping pads ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more insulation the sleeping pad has, and the warmer you’ll be.
Without this layer of insulation in the sleeping pad, you would lose a lot of heat to the ground. If you’re always cold at night, the next time you buy a sleeping bad, buy one with a higher R-value.
RELATED >> How to Choose a Sleeping Pad for Camping
In the meantime, to increase your warmth, you can put a foam pad under an air sleeping pad and create a higher R-value for the night.
Sleeping bags also have temperature ratings.
The temperature rating identifies the lowest temperature at which the bag was designed to keep the average sleeper warm.
An important thing to note here are the words “average sleeper”.
For example, I’m not an average sleeper. I sleep a lot colder than the average person, so that’s something I factor in when I’m choosing a sleeping bag.
In general, you want a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that’s lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter.
I hope these tips on how to stay warm in the backcountry are helpful! They sure make a difference for me. If you have any questions, just comment below.