Camping in the cold can be downright miserable. Trying to act like a “tough guy”, braving the elements is a recipe for disaster. Nothing ruins a camping trip faster than failing to prepare for the weather. You don’t even need cold weather gear to stay warm, just throw on a few layers and you should be good all night.
What should you wear in a sleeping bag? Wear clean and comfortable clothing in your sleeping bag. I usually wear a t-shirt and boxers/shorts to bed regardless of the season. You might want to wear extra layers in the especially cold weather.
Campers can’t seem to make up their minds on whether or not they should wear layers in their sleeping bag. Some people like to sleep naked in their sleeping bag while others throw on jackets, base layers and pants in a hope to boost warmth.
Should You Wear Layers in a Sleeping Bag?
Personally, I tend to fall somewhere in between the two extremes(not a huge fan of sleeping in the buff). In the winter I like to wear long johns and short sleeve t-shirt, but it depends on the weather.
As long as you purchased a sleeping with the correct temperature rating you should be good either way. You might want to check out my post explaining sleeping bag temperature ratings for more info.
Everybody Has Different Needs
When discussing whether or not you should layer sleep clothing it’s important to remember that everybody has different needs. Obviously, what works for a casual camper won’t work for a mountaineer.
If you’re camping in extremely cold weather you should definitely sleep in multiple layers. It’s those chilly spring/fall nights that sleeping systems get a little less obvious.
How to Layer Clothes in a Sleeping Bag
Spring and Fall Weather is Unpredictable
Cold weather camping gear can be downright expensive. It really doesn’t make sense for most campers to buy extreme cold weather gear. However, problems start to arise during the spring and fall when weather is unpredictable.
Go With a 40-Degree Bag
If you don’t plan on camping in the winter you can probably get away with a decent 40 degree sleeping bag(this is my favorite). Throughout the spring and fall temperatures tend to swing wildly from one night to the next.
Throughout March/April temperatures will swing 30-40 degrees from one night to the next. You’ll have to adjust your sleeping plan from one night to the next.
How to Layer Clothes in a Sleeping Bag
Most of us can’t afford to buy gear designed for only one season. What works during the summer isn’t going to work in early April so layering is your only option.
Layering allows you to use 3-Season gear for a wide variety of applications. Sleeping in multiple layers allows you to use the same sleeping gear throughout multiple seasons.
If you have a tent, sleeping bag, liner and pad there’s no excuse to be cold. You’re just not wearing enough layers to bed. On those cold nights I’m going to be wearing multiple layers.
It’s Easier to Remove Layers
Every additional layer adds more insulation between you and the cold outside air. Try to keep heat close to your body and regulate temperature by zipping and unzipping your bag.
Throughout the night the temperature will probably swing 10-20 degrees. If zipping and unzipping your bag isn’t enough you can always pull take off a layer. In the middle of the night, it’s always easier to take off a jacket than put one on.
- Long Underwear: In the spring/fall I always sleep in long underwear. You don’t have to spend a ton of cash. A cheap pair of Hanes moisture wicking underwear work perfectly(these are perfect). These are perfect for early morning pees before everybody else wakes up.
- Jackets: If you sweat a lot throughout the night you’ll probably want to skip the jacket. My girlfriend normally wears her Columbia Fleece jacket to bed and that seems to work perfectly.
- Winter Pants: Some people like snowboarding pants while others rely on sweat pants. Just make sure your pants don’t have a ton of zippers that will inevitably jam into your side.
- Socks: We lose a lot of heat through our feet so socks are a must on cold winter nights. If you hate sleeping in socks or have circulation issues consider diabetic socks. I really love these Doc Ortho Diabetic Hiking Socks.
- Winter Hat: From Fall-Spring you want to sleep in a winter hat.
Sleeping in The Buff
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping in the buff. Only time I sleep naked is when my girlfriends in the tent. That being said there are a lot of campers that prefer sleeping naked.
Sleeping bags are designed to keep you warm so why should they wear layers? This line of thinking works really well in the summer, but it gets complicated in cold weather. Your best bet is to pair your bag with a liner so you have a little more flexibility.
Other Ways to Stay Warm in a Sleeping Bag
Nobody wants to freeze! Some of my worst nights camping could have been easily avoided with a little planning. Instead of freezing your butt off you might want to try a few of these tricks.
1) Setup Camp in Grassy Areas
Try to setup your tent on grassy or leafy areas that offer a little bit of insulation from the cold ground. It might not seem like a lot, but a little bit of grass will significantly increase the temperature of your tent.
2) Use a Sleeping Pad
Sleeping pads don’t just make the ground more comfortable. A thick sleeping pad (here’s my favorite) will lift you up off the ground putting some space between your sleeping bag and cold ground.
With a R-Value of 3.2 a sleeping pad will significantly increase the warmth of your sleeping bag. If you tend to roll off your sleeping pad you might want to consider putting your pad inside your sleeping bag. The pad fills up space and seems to trap more heat inside your bag.
3) Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
If you don’t already have a sleeping bag liner you’re missing out. Even a cheap sleeping bag liner (like this one) will increase the temperature rating in your bag.
Bag liners will add between 12 and 35 degrees to your temperature rating. Plus they protect your bag from dirt and moisture which will significantly increase the lifespan of your bag.
I use the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme Bag Liner which adds 25 degrees to my temperature rating. During the summer I actually ditch my sleeping bag and use the liner instead.