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How To Stay Warm On Camping Trips

By Mark Wheeler

Are you like the thousands of campers trying to figure how to stay warm on camping trips? Have you camped in the past and laid in your sleeping bag all night hoping that morning comes soon? You may have a 20 degree below zero bag and still freeze your buns off at night. I have been camping most of my life and the thing that I dislike most about camping is getting cold at night while sleeping.

Family camping

Camping seems be one of those activities that you either hate or love. I ask many people what they dislike most about camping and it seems like the common thread is getting cold at night. My lovely wife fits in that category. After camping 16 years together as a family, we have collected a plethora of camping gear that keeps us warm, dry, and comfortable.

The Quickest Trick To Staying Warm Inside Your Tent

Trust me, it’s not the sleeping bag that is making you cold. The culprit is what you put between the sleeping bag and the ground.

Most people make the mistake of thinking a cold weather rated sleeping bag is going to keep them warm. Even the warmest sleeping bag on the planet is not going to keep you warm unless you place an adequate insulation source between yourself and the ground. The Earth acts as a heat sucking machine. It’s a well known fact among people living on the street to use cardboard boxes for both ground insulation and building temporary shelters. If you place a discarded piece of cardboard under your air mattress, you are on the way to a warmer night sleep.

Don’t Make This Mistake While Trying To Stay Warm Camping

I bought a huge air mattress for comfort and my wife kept on complaining that she was cold every night. To solve this problem, I bought two 20 degree below zero flannel lined sleeping bags that weighed over 8 pounds. We stored the sleeping bags on the floor the back of our Subaru. Even with the-20 degree below zero sleeping bag, my wife and kids still got cold at night. I had no problem staying warm since I tend to sleep hot. I thought the air mattress insulated us from the ground. The unfortunate truth is that it created a direct pathway to transfer the warm heat from our bodies to the cold ground.

Your Secret Weapon To Staying Warm At Night

Sleeping on a high R-Value camping pad or mattress will almost guarantee you a warm nights sleep provided that you are sleeping inside an appropriate sleeping bag. The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance of a given material. When buying a camping pad or mattress, the higher the R-value, the warmer you will sleep at night. The surface of the Earth is heat absorbing. If you don’t place a piece of insulation between you and ground, you are going to get cold.

The most important piece of camping gear to keep you warm is an insulated sleeping pad, mat, or air mattress. Not all camping air mattresses or pads are created equal. I prefer a 4 season camping pad with an R-Value over 5 because I never want to get cold. It’s important to choose a camping pad this is not only comfortable, but one that has a high R value. The higher the R-Value, the warmer the sleeping pad will be. Some manufactures will provide a comfort range while others provide the R-Value. When in doubt, choose higher than you think you will need. Most discount big box store air mattresses have an R-Value of approximately 1 and built only for comfort rather than for warmth. They are perfect for summer camping trips where the weather is warm and the temperature never dips below 70 degrees F.

Don’t get hung up in the scientific details of R-Value. Buy a pad with an R-Value greater than 5 and you will sleep better.

The Shocking Truth About Sleeping Bags

Most outdoor equipment companies assign a comfort rating for all their sleeping bags assuming that you are sleeping on an insulated camping pad. Without an insulated pad, even the warmest sleeping bag will not keep you warm. Even after you figure out what pad you need, everyone has a different body type. The comfort ratings are only suggestions. If you plan on camping where the temperature drops below 50 degrees F, then buy a 3 season bag rated at 20 degrees F. I have slept in a 20 degree sleeping bag for the past 25 years and have remained warm even when I wake up with frost on the ground.

Now that you have figured out what to sleep on, it’s time to get down to choosing your sleeping bag. I tend to sleep between 6 and 9 hours every night while camping. A good night’s sleep is your friend. Choose a sleeping bag that has a lot of 5 star ratings. I never buy anything less than a 3 season sleeping bag to keep warm in even if I am sleeping in a hot climate because you can always keep the sleeping bag open at night. Remember, temperature ratings on sleeping bags are actually made with the assumption you are using a sleeping pad! The combination of a decent pad and comfortable sleeping bag to match your pad cannot be beat.

Don’t settle for the big box stores cheap flannel sleeping bags. They are good for sleep-overs and slumber parties.

More than 30% of your camping trip is spent sleeping. I like down bags because they are comfortable, light weight, and warm. Synthetic bags are warm, comfortable, and fairly light weight. Unlike down, they tend to break down faster with age and eventually you will get cold at night.

I stopped buying cotton flannel lined sleeping bags long before I grew up. These are more or less slumber party bags and not made for real camping trips.

How To Choose A Tent That Guarantees You Will Stay Warm At Night

REI has a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. It’s worth the money to consult with experts at stores like REI. I have used the REI Base Camp 4 going on 9 years and I have never had a leak inside the tent.

I like brand named tents like REI, Eureka, The North Face, L.L. Bean, etc.

A high quality tent will cost no more than a 2 or 3 nights stay in a hotel. The good news is you get to keep your tent for year. My REI Base Camp 4 tent is going 9 years of super rough use and it still protects us. Don’t settle for the big box store specials or one that you found on the cheap at a garage sale. Additionally, stay away from those multiple room condo style tents. Buy a tent that is symmetrical, free standing, and easy to put up.

The tent is like a giant sandwich wrapper to protect everything on the inside. Think layers. Use a ground cloth under your tent. Sleep on an insulated sleeping pad, and wrap yourself inside a comfortable down or synthetic sleeping bag. Complete the package with a high quality tent that will keep you warm and dry.

Mark Keeler is a freelance travel and fitness writer. He blogs about his camping and travel experiences at CampwardBound. He lives with his wife and two boys in the Bay Area of California.