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Tips for keeping warm while sleeping in tent - base layers? sleeping bag upgrade?

Howdy - Went camping again in Pennsylvania. The weather was a bit windy but the temperature was OK. About 30F. I was very uncomfortable sleeping but not while hiking. I thought I was fairly cold-tolerant but perhaps my age is getting the best of me. I was wearing REI's Lightweight Base Layer Tops and Bottoms. My socks were Darn Tough Hiker 1/4's. My sleeping bag was a Trailhead Th II. Sea to Summit. And I now sea that the comfort level for the bag was only 40 F.  I really don't want to buy another bag.  Any suggestions on how I can  improve my comfort while sleeping in my Half Dome 2 Plus. Do I need to upgrade my bag? How about better base layers? If so, suggestions?  As always, thank you   P.S. I was using two very good pads under the sleeping bag

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6 Replies

Hi @flyeaglesfly , hmmm, my 'rule of thumb' is that whatever a bag says it's rated down to, I add 15-20 degrees, and that's the temp I think it will keep me warm to.

I believe most manufacturers today will give you a range of temps, for example, a north face bag I have gives a 'comfort', 'limit', and 'extreme' temp.

The bag's 'comfort' temp is 30f, so I plan on it being comfortable down to 45-50, and that's while wearing some layers and a hat.

So in my opinion, if the temps are going to hover in the 30's, you'll be better served with a 20f (or better) bag.

You'll get a lot of tips for bolstering the bags comfort, such as, more layering, better pads, down jackets, hot water bottles, hand warmers tucked down in the bag, sleeping bag liners (extremely problematic), vapor barrier liners, bivy sacks or even a down top-quilt, eating right before bed, exercising before bed to generate heat.

Use caution drinking hot tea before turning in, as you'll probably be getting up later, then when you return to your bag, you'll be cold and it's even harder to warm back up.

It's as much a science as an art form.

But if you're really warm (and dry) before bed, with what you have on, keep some of those layers on (or all) and the bag becomes a warm supplement.

The struggle is real. lol

good luck!

REI Member Since 1979

@flyeaglesfly  @Philreedshikes  Phil has really covered the options available.  I would concentrate on th pad you had underneath, and possibly on wearing a heavier base layer.  I have had good results with both supplemental liners and with bivvy sacks, but ther are differing opinions.

How much cold weather usage do you anticipate?  If the cold will be in your future, the best course may be to acquire a warmer bag.  Light, warm, cheap - choose two out of the three possibilities.

My personal experience has been that is well worth the expense to go for warm and light.  My first bg lasted for twenty years - until it was stolen, and I still have its replacement, which as been good for the last forty years.  with decent care, a quality sleeping bag is a long term investment...

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@flyeaglesfly  Probably you need a better sleeping bag. You might get by using a better pad.  You shouldn't need two unless you are sleeping on snow in the winter.

What "very good pads" where you using?  What R value did they have?

@flyeaglesfly  Hey there!

All the advice given so far pretty much covers what I know about good heat-retention methods, but I did want to add that if you don't plan to embark on enough cold weather excursions to justify upgrades, a good sleeping bag liner or camp quilt may do the trick!

Both are much cheaper and offer a little more versatility than a straight bag or base layer upgrade, a quilt more so than a liner.

I recently purchased the Thermolite Reactor liner and, though I doubt the 25 degree boost it advertises on line as much as the 32 it has on the physical packaging, I was still happy with the amount of additional warmth it provided! A quilt would allow more shifting and adjustable coverage throughout the night, though.

Hope this helps!


@flyeaglesfly Thanks for reaching out!

You've gotten a lot of really good information from @Philreedshikes@hikermor@OldGuyot, and @Shinie. I'm going to add in a few other tips that have helped to keep me warm in some pretty cold situations over the years.

To begin, the best advice I ever received regarding my sleeping bag was a reminder that a sleeping bag doesn't produce warmth, it simply insulates whatever temperature is inside the bag. Meaning, if you are cold before you get in your sleeping bag, you will remain cold inside it until your body is able to warm itself up, if at all. As such, a big step towards being warm in your sleeping bag is being warm prior to getting in.

There are several ways to accomplish this: Taking a brisk walk, doing jumping jacks or sit ups, making sure you have emptied your bladder, and eating a snack that has saturated fat (some butter in hot cocoa is a favorite of mine) are different ways to get your heart rate up, circulation going, and warm yourself before going to bed. Additionally, you can use hand warmers or bottles of hot water to pre-warm the bag to help the process along.

Before considering purchasing another sleeping bag, I would also think about thicker base layers and socks, or even sleeping with an insulating jacket inside your bag when the temperatures begin to push the limits of the rating of your sleeping bag. I've used these tricks to stay warm in a 45° sleeping bag when temperatures unexpectedly were below freezing at night. 

Next time you are sleeping in cold temps, pay close attention to where you are getting cold first as that can tell you a lot about where you are vulnerable. If your sleeping pad is the issue you'll feel cold underneath you. If warm air is escaping from the sleeping bag around the collar you may feel it around your neck or upper body. The zipper baffle is another spot where warmth can escape.

Lastly, when I'm sleeping on the cold ground (and definitely on snow) I typically will use two pads; an inflatable sleeping pad and a closed cell foam pad. I have never seen or heard of anyone else doing this, but I feel like I sleep significantly warmer when I put the closed cell foam pad on top of the inflatable pad. 

Hopefully some of the advice you've gotten here helps out the next time you head out. Please come back and let us know how it goes, thanks!


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@REI-JohnJ wrote:

To begin, the best advice I ever received regarding my sleeping bag was a reminder that a sleeping bag doesn't produce warmth, it simply insulates whatever temperature is inside the bag.


All the tips about warming up before getting in are great, I just want to add don't stop moving once you're in the bag! Wiggle around a bit, kick your feet, pretend you're a worm, whatever. Not only are you making the muscles do work, but the friction from rubbing against the bag is also additional heat you can capitalize on.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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