One of the most frequent questions I here asked, especially by people relatively new to camping, is how to keep warm at camp – particularly while sleeping in a tent?
This is an age-old question that has affected campers throughout history…
There are several aspects to the answer to this question, which we will take a look at below.
The initial myth to bust is that this question doesn’t apply to summer camping… it can get very cold at night in the summer, at least here in the UK, and so the measures that we will discuss below will apply all year round – but at different levels.
Cold From The Ground
The main problem that new campers have is not realising that, for the main part, the cold actually comes from the ground while sleeping… many will pile on the covers on top and even sleep in their coat and woolly socks, but all this won’t help if the cold is seeping through your sleeping bag…
So what’s the solution…? The minimum requirement is a ground mat to stop the cold from penetrating through, however there are more comfortable solutions – such as air mattresses and the like and we’ll be discussing the different options and their pros and cons below.
Shake Your Sleeping Bag
The majority of sleeping bags keep you warm by trapping pockets of air within the insulation and therefore by shaking it before you sleep – you will make sure that the filling is spread evenly and not compressed, thus preventing these pockets of air being trapped.
Choosing The Right Sleeping Bag
There are a number of different types of sleeping bags and there are also different ones for different times of the year…
If you are camping in summer, then you should you use a summer sleeping bag and for colder weather, a winter one…
Have a look at this post on the different types of sleeping bags and which ones to use when – this will point you in the right direction.
Hot Water Bottle
Whenever you’re feeling cold at home, you take a hot water bottle to bed – so, why not do this at camp too?
If you place a hot water bottle in your groin area – it will heat your core region and spread to your extremities, warming up your whole body faster.
Obviously, it’s important to be careful when dealing with hot water so as not to burn one’s self.
Venting Your Tent
Venting your tent in the colder months is a very good idea… now you might be wondering why you would want to allow cold air into your tent – wouldn’t it be better to close everything and keep the cold out?
Well, as you breathe – hot air is released and will condensate on the cold walls of your tent, which will then freeze and eventually melt resulting in a wet tent.
Opening the vents of your tent, even partially, will help to prevent this.
Keep Your Head Out
It’s natural to cover your face with your sleeping bag when you’re feeling cold, your warm breath warms the air around you and you feel nice and cosy… the problem is that this also causes the moisture from your breath to condensate on the inside of your bag, making it damp and reducing its insulating effects.
You should keep your mouth and nose in the open to prevent this from happening.
You could even wear a balaclava to keep your head warm but your mouth and nose open.
Less Is More
It may be tempting to sleep in as many clothes as you can possibly manage, including your winter coat – but this is actually the opposite of what you should do…
If you sleep in everything you have, you’ll have nothing to add on to warm yourself up when you unzip your sleeping bag and step out into the cold morning.
What you should do is wear as little as possible and use the techniques laid out above to keep yourself warm… then when you wake up and get out of your sleeping bag, you can add your layers and your coat and feel nice and warm.
Ground Mats, Air Beds Or Self-inflating mats?
So which one is best for a good night’s sleep?
A basic ground mat will do a good job of stopping the cold seeping through, but it won’t add any comfort to your sleep… if you’re looking for something to also give you a bit more comfort, then you’ll want an air bed or a self-inflating mat.
An air bed is an inflatable mattress that is inflated by blowing into a valve either with your mouth or with a pump.
They are typically very comfortable, but can sometimes lose air and become a little deflated over time (my experience with one is that it did this during the night, so that by morning it wasn’t as inflated as when it had just been pumped).
Self-inflating Mats (SIMs)
A self-inflating mat consists of a layer of compressible foam contained within an airtight envelope of fabric with a sealable valve.
When the valve is opened, air is sucked in and the foam expands… after a couple of minutes the mat is semi-firm. Then you add a few breaths of air to make the mat firm enough to sleep on.
So Which One Is Better?
I’ve tried both over the years – I had an air bed for many years, but as I mentioned before it would always deflate a little through the night resulting in it being less firm by morning…
Now, of course, this could just have been the particular air bed that I had and there maybe others out there that would keep inflated for longer – but generally speaking, air beds will deflate over time… it just depends on how long it takes for that to happen.
After my experiences with an air bed, I got a self-inflating mat and I absolutely love it… I don’t think I’ll ever go back to an air bed again – the sim is extremely comfortable and warm.
Have a read of our review of the Trail 5cm Self-inflating mat.
Following the above tips and techniques should make sure that you stay warm at camp, thus allowing you to enjoy your trip and ensuring that you don’t end up having a miserable time.
I hope you’ve found this post useful.
If you have any questions or comments, then please leave them below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.