Should You Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?

Have you ever been told that you should sleep naked in a sleeping bag? Should you ditch your long johns and sleep naked the next time you go camping? Or is it a myth that we just can’t let go?

Should You Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag? I don’t recommend sleeping naked in a sleeping bag. Wearing layers will be warmer and cause less wear on your bag. If you decide to sleep naked you should protect the sleeping bag with a bag liner.

The idea that sleeping naked in a sleeping bag will make you warmer is just an old wives tale. It’s a pretty safe bet that whoever started it just wanted to see people get naked. Insulation is the only way to stay warm on a cold night.

Is it warmer to sleep with clothes on or off in a sleeping bag?

In 99% of camping situations, you will be warmer sleeping with clothes on. Just think about it for a minute. Putting a few layers between your body and the cold outside air will almost always add warmth.

Of course, there’s always a little bit of truth behind most rumors. There are a few times when it could be warmer to sleep naked. The only time it makes sense to sleep naked is when you need to reduce moisture buildup.

Your clothes could be soaked, the bag could be too hot or you could just be an excessive sweater. Just do yourself a favor and buy a sleeping bag liner (this one is great for the price).

Sleeping Naked in a Sleeping Bag

So should campers really sleep in the nude? It might be nice during the hot summer months, but it won’t keep you warmer than long underwear.

During those chilly spring/fall nights you should definitely throw on a pair of sweatpants or long johns. It’s a myth that sleeping naked will keep you warmer.

Personally, I can’t sleep in a shirt, but I wear the same long underwear that I bring on hunting trips (On Amazon). They’ve kept me seriously warm on freezing nights out in the field.

That being said there is some truth to this myth. If you wear too much clothing to bed you can actually over-compress the insulation in your sleeping bag, which will make you colder. There needs to be a little bit of air that will warm up between your body and the bag.

There is One Major Exception

The only time you might want to consider stripping down is in an emergency situation where one person is hypothermic. Skin-to-skin contact will warm up the body of the hypothermic person and possibly save their life. Sometimes you just have to try anything to survive.

Sleeping Naked Will Ruin Your Bag

Backpackers really shouldn’t wash their sleeping bags between every trip. Washing between every trip will significantly reduce the lifespan of your sleeping bag(especially with down filling). So how can you keep the bag from getting nasty?

If you insist on sleeping naked you need to protect your bag with a sleeping bag liner. This is actually a great idea even if you don’t plan on sleeping naked. Bag liners will stop your body oils and sweat from soaking into the bag.

Personally, I would go with either a cheap Coleman sleeping bag liner or a premium Sea to Summit Liner. You really can’t beat either of them for the price. They add a ton of warmth to your bag’s temperature rating and can be used on its own during the summer.

Check out my post on sleeping bag temperature ratings.

Don’t Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?

Sleeping bags are designed to trap your body heat and prevent it from escaping. The same thing can be said for long underwear.

Wearing long underwear is just going to increase the layer of insulation between you and the cold, therefore increasing the R-Value (the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow) You’re just increasing the insulation between you and chilly air.

It’s Just Like a House

Unless you’ve spent any time in the construction industry you probably don’t have a lot of experience with R-Value. Insulation with a high R-Value will stop heat from escaping through walls, ceilings and windows. So high R-Value walls will stop heat from escaping on cold winter nights.

In a sleeping bag, your body is the primary heat source that keeps the bag warm. Your body is constantly producing heat and long underwear will trap it close to your skin (increasing R-Value). So wearing long underwear is just increasing the insulation between your body and the outside air.

There are a Few Exceptions

With everything in life there will always be exceptions to every rule. There are times when wearing extra clothing will actually make you colder. These rules will rarely apply to the general population.

  • Wear Too Much Clothing: Wearing so many extra layers that you start compressing the insulation will reduce the R-Value. When you compress the down/fibers in your sleeping bag the it will reduce the insulation value.
  • Cutting Off Circulation: Tight socks and long underwear might cut off circulation in your body. With less blood going to your arms/legs your body is going to feel colder.
  • Special Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure cause circulation problems. Extra layers are going to further exasperate the problem.
  • Moisture Buildup: Never get into a sleeping bag fresh out of the shower or with wet clothing. Moisture on your body soaks into your bag and reduces insulation.
  • Excess Sweating: You’re the only one that knows how much you sweat at night. Personally, I can’t sleep in a shirt because I sweat like crazy. I actually use a sleeping bag liner to protect my bag while increasing warmth.(my budget sleeping bag liner)

Staying Warm in a Sleeping Bag

Staying warm in a sleeping bag really isn’t all that difficult. Just remember that not all sleeping bags are going to have the same R-Value. You don’t want to use the same bag in the spring/fall as you do in the summer. (my favorite cold weather bag)

The Best Way to Sleep!
  • Wear a dry base layer to keep your sleeping bag to keep you warm and keep your bag clean. Choose a loose fitting outfit that will keep you warm without cutting off circulation.
  • Use a sleeping bag liner to both protect your bag and add another layer of insulation. Bag liners are easier to wash and will significantly increase the temperature of your bag. When the weather is warm you can even ditch your bag completely and use the bag liner instead. (here’s a budget bag liner that adds 12 degrees to your bag)
  • Buy a bag with enough room to move around. Bigger guys aren’t going to be comfortable in a small sleeping bag. Get a bag designed for larger guys if you’re 6ft or taller.
  • Never sleep in wet clothing. If your base layer is wet you’re better off ditching your clothes and putting on a dry outfit. Without access to dry clothes you’re better off sleeping in the nude.
  • Use your zipper to regulate the temperature in your bag. If you start to sweat unzip your bag and zip it back up as you get cold. Your body heat changes throughout the night so you might need to zip back up in a few hours.

Other Gear That Keeps You Warm

  • Sleeping Bag Liner: Sleeping bag liners will turn a cool summer bag into a cool weather bag. Cheap liners (like this one) will add 12 degrees to your bag, while warmer liners (like this one) adds up to 25 degrees to your bag.
  • Sleeping Pads: Sleeping pads don’t just add padding to the ground, they also lift you off the cold hard ground. They add an additional insulation layer between you and the ground. (My favorite Pad)
  • Cold Weather Bags: Not all sleeping bags have the same R-Value. You need to buy a bag that’s specifically designed for winter use.
  • Eating Before Bed: Eating before bed will slightly increase your body heat.
  • Winter Hats: In most sleeping bags your head is going to be exposed to the cold air. Throw on a winter hat on those especially cold nights.

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