IGetting a good night’s sleep on a hike is very important. Sleep helps repair the muscles and tissues that are trained while trekking. It also improves your performance on the next day of trekking. In this article, I’m going to share some tips on how to keep warm and sleep comfortably in a sleeping bag.
First, let’s understand how a sleeping bag works.
Many people have the misconception that a sleeping bag provides warmth to your body while you sleep. It’s just the opposite, your body creates heat that the sleeping bag traps to keep you warm. In doing so, you need to practice a few do’s and don’ts in order to maximize the efficiency of a sleeping bag, to keep you warm, and to have a sound sleep on a hike.
1. Wear an insulating pillow / trekking mattress
This is absolutely necessary in order to be able to sleep well on a hike. The sleeping bag and the insulating pillow go hand in hand. While the former prevents the loss of body heat in the air in the form of radiation, the latter prevents the loss of heat in the earth in the form of heat conduction.
Always wear an insulating pillow / trekking mattress. Photo taken by Vishwas Krishnamurthy on the Rupin Pass hike
There are many fancy and expensive options out there, but a simple closed foam mattress works just as perfectly as a natural insulator.
If you hike with us, you will receive a foam mattress and sleeping bag in your camp.
Protip Closed cell foam mattresses are cheaper and better insulators than inflatable mattresses and are readily available in the market.
2. Never sleep on an empty stomach
During sleep, your body can only maintain its core temperature through its basic metabolism. Food gives energy, which in turn keeps your body warm.
Include high calorie foods high in complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your dinner. Nuts and dairy products are good options because they take longer to metabolize compared to simple carbohydrates. Therefore, they can provide energy for longer. Also, eat as soon as possible before bed.
Protip If you wake up in the middle of the night feeling cold, eat foods like cheese or nuts.
3. Warm up before going to bed
If you get cold in the sleeping bag, your body needs time to heat the sleeping bag. So warming up before bed helps. It is a good idea to do activities like brisk walking or jumping before entering the sleeping bag. Don’t over-exert yourself when you have just finished eating.
I usually advise trekkers to do what I call “windmills”. To do this, you need to vigorously rotate your arms 5-6 times like a windmill. Blood rushes to the extremities and you feel warm immediately!
Protip Change clothes for the next day and pack your backpack before you go to sleep. So you don’t have to wear cold clothes the next morning!
Warming up creates body heat to keep you warm in the sleeping bag. Image by Pratibha Kini
4. Cover your body extremities
Most of the heat from your body escapes your extremities. These are your body parts such as your fingers, toes, and head. So it is important to cover these areas when sleeping on a hike.
Use wool socks, fleece / wool gloves, and a wool hat to keep your extremities warm. These are also the first body parts to cover up after a day of trekking.
Protip This also means your socks are warm to wear in your cold shoes the next morning.
Here is a trekker showing what all the parts make up the extremities of a human body. Image by Vishwas Krishnamurthy
5. Do not cover your nose with the sleeping bag
Covering your nose in the sleeping bag can cause moisture to become trapped in the sleeping bag. This can cause moisture to build up in the sleeping bag. Wet or damp fabrics in the sleeping bag lose their ability to store heat.
In addition, increased humidity due to breathing makes it difficult to breathe after a while. Put on your sleeping bag so that there is a small opening or blowhole around your face.
Protip Instead, use a loose balaclava or scarf to cover your face while you sleep.
6. Reduction of the surrounding space in the sleeping bag
This will ensure that your body has less room to warm up in the sleeping bag. It also minimizes the loss of body heat to air in the form of radiation. Think of it this way, you layer yourself in such a way that there is the least amount of air space between your body and the layers.
Put all of your belongings on one side of the tent and make a mate like a pack of rats. Sleep as close together as possible. The idea is to minimize the outer surface of the sleeping bag that is exposed to the cold air in the tent and to maximize the area that touches your tentmates’ warm sleeping bags.
Protip For people with smaller heights and children, fold the sleeping bag under the legs from the foot side.
Trekkers with their sleeping bags in their tents on the Har Ki Dun Trek. Image by Utsav Sriram
7. Put a hot water bottle in the sleeping bag
This works as a heater in your sleeping bag. Many people put the hot water bottle around their feet. But you can’t keep it right here. Place the bottle near the important areas: the core, between the thighs or the chest. Make sure that the water bottle cannot be accidentally opened.
Protip This way you have a liter of warm water to drink first thing in the morning, which will keep you hydrated and stimulate your metabolism.
8. Prefer dry-fit clothing over cotton
If you are warm in your sleeping bag, you will sweat in your sleep. Sleeping in cotton clothing is not recommended as cotton absorbs this moisture and stays wet longer. This will make you feel cold.
Instead of cotton, wear wicking materials like wool, polypropylene, and polyester. A clever option is to change into a dry piece of clothing after reaching the campsite.
Protip Be sure to remove any damp layers before you go to sleep.
Remove damp layers before bed after an intense snow fight. Image by Vishwajeet Chavan
9. Do not postpone urinating
Your body burns extra calories to keep the urine in your bladder warm. Take the tough call of leaving your warm and cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the night. An empty bladder ensures a better and more restful sleep.
Protip Urinate half an hour before bed and just before bed. Also, don’t consume too much fluids after dinner.
The toilet tents are not far away. Image by Aseem Yash Bhatiya
So those were the 9 pro tips for staying warm while sleeping on a winter hike. All of these tips have helped me and many of my hikers. I hope you find them useful too. If you have a helpful tip that other trekkers can benefit from, feel free to drop it in the comments section below.