True North Blog

Tips: Cold Weather Sleeping

I know that it may be hard to believe, but activities that involve Winter camping offer some of the best opportunities of the year to enjoy the Great Outdoors.  There tend to be far fewer people on the trail, and one can, quite literally, see, hear, feel, and smell a world completely different than the one that more commonly exists during the warmer months.  But to be perfectly honest, I often need to remind myself of theses wonders in order to overcome my inherent resistance to sleeping overnight in the cold.  After all, sleeping when one is cold to the point of suffering doesn’t help make for a fun, or, from a wilderness survival perspective, a safe trip.

So here a few simple tips to consider:

  • M&MKeep your internal furnace burning all night.  Before going to bed, eat (unless you have some kind of medical restriction) a high-calorie snack that includes lots of simple carbohydrates and fats.  While, this may sound like heresy to our urban ears, which are constantly bombarded by a different set of dietary principles, in the outdoors, our body’s internal furnace needs the proper fuel to burn. Think, then, of carbs and fats as the kindling and logs that you would put in your fireplace.  And in case you wake up chilled, keep such snacks easily at hand.  This is when I have no guilt eating handfuls of M&Ms!
  • Stay Hydrated.  I know that it may sound incongruous drinking water (especially, cold water) when it’s already cold, but staying hydrated will help your internal furnace run more efficiently and, hence, help keep  you warmer.  Do you find that your water is frozen when you open the lid of your Nalgene bottle?  Then keep your bottle upside down (water freezes from the top down).  Better yet, keep your bottle (or your Camelback) in your sleeping bag with you.
  • IMG_2295

    Basic Wilderness Survival – March 2014

    Use a sleeping pad.  A sleeping pad isn’t really so much about comfort (although, yes, it can be darn comfortable) as it is about providing you the requisite insulation from the ground.  Even in mild temperatures, one can quickly become chilled sleeping on the ground, even in a sleeping bag.  So invest in a thick, full-length sleeping pad, ideally with an R-value of 4.0 (an R-value of 5.0 or more is ideal) or consider doubling up pads.

  • Wear a hat while you sleep.  I hate to admit it, but my mother was right to make me wear a hat when I played outside during the Winter.  Our heads contain a lot of arteries and vessels relative to the rest of our bodies, and because the blood flows inherently so close to the skin, we lose a lot of body heat through it.  So simply wearing a warm hat greatly improves our overall comfort levels, even if you are already wearing a coat.
  • Keep your clothes in your sleeping bag with you.  In my humble opinion, the hardest part of cold weather camping is making the transition from a warm and toasty sleeping bag to the icy air.  So I now share with you what Fred Gunter of Exkursion once shared with me … Keep your clothes in your bag and get dressed in it.  Simple, but sage!

Keep in mind, that these cold weather camping tips apply equally to a survival situation.  You may not have, of course, much of the equipment mentioned here, so you will need to improvise something similar, and adapt accordingly, because the cold can quickly put you at risk.


Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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