Shivering cold while laying in your sleeping bag has got to be one of the worst experiences while camping ever. Endless teeth shattering, toes that are near icicles, and the contemplation of just getting out to start a fire for warmth. It happens to inexperienced and experienced campers alike. This can especially be true during the shoulder season months (Sept - Nov and April - June).
These shivering cold experiences turn us away from camping in these colder weather conditions as well as the shoulder season months. And that is a shame! I truly believe that spring and fall are the best times of the year to get out there!
Never shiver through the night again! Break away from the summer camping grind and get into the shoulder seasons with these 4 important steps that I take to stay warm and comfortable during those frosty spring, summer and fall nights. Of course, there are many more methods, but these are my personal favourite and most successful options.
1. Get into bed warm!
Before you even think about going to bed you need to self-check. Ask yourself, “Am I warm enough to go to bed?” So many individuals that I have been in the outdoors with are literally shivering on a colder night, wearing their summer layers and expecting to have a warm sleep! THIS IS INEFFECTIVE!!! Your sleeping bag works by reflecting and storing your body heat to keep you warm through the night. If there is not enough heat coming from your body, you will not warm the bag and be cold! To solve this, simply get warm before you crawl into bed. I recommend properly layering up and getting some physical activity going. Sit ups, jumping jacks, and push ups are all full body exercises which effectively warm us up..A warm body crawling into the bag will help it warm up faster, be warmer, and stay warmer as the temperature dips on the shoulder season nights.
2. Dress in skin tight layers inside your sleeping bag
As the temperatures cool down overnight, layering ourselves inside the sleeping bag is a good technique to make sure you don't shiver through the night. A common mistake when people make this decision is putting on big bulky layers instead of thin skin tight layers. Those big bulky layers trap cold air which the body cannot warm up, cooling off our sleeping bags. However, if we are in skin tight, water wicking layers such as long john, undershirts, thick & tight socks, tighter sweaters and small down layers, we will be able to utilize the warmth from the layers and the sleeping bag. Keep the air space down so our bodies can warm up the sleeping bags as efficiently as possible.
We also need to remember where we lose most of our heat. Our heads. Keeping a set of tuque (beanie for all y’all yankees) and mitts only for your sleeping can go a long way for keeping your body warm. I personally love buffs. Also known as neck tubes. They are extremely versatile, lightweight, quick drying and light. I usually have 3 or 4 buffs with me per trip so I can cycle through them as I wet them out via condensation. A great piece of gear to add to the backpack.
3. Hot water bottle
Arguably one of the most effective methods to keep warm on those cold nights is the Hot Water bottle trick. And it is exactly as it sounds. A hot water bottle. When you are just about to call it quits for the night and crawl into your sleeping bag, boil a pot of water. Pour the boiling or near boiling water into your water bottle and seal it tight as you can. You don't want it to leak in your sleeping bag!! I usually put my bottle in an extra sock to keep it warmer longer and to stop it from burning me if it has direct skin contact. Once this is done, drop that little warm water bottle baby into your sleeping bag and place it wherever you need it to keep you warm. This trick is very effective and I have used it in negative double digit temperatures and will help you sleep longer and warmer. There have even been mornings where I wake up and still have heat left in the bottle! This is an effective, fast and reliable method to help keep you warm and camping no matter the season!
****Disclaimer, this method does require a Nalgene or similar type of water bottle that transmits heat but also is capable of taking near boiling water.
4. Match your gear to the weather
Regardless of the first principle of Leave No Trace (LNT) , which is Plan Ahead and Prepare (Click here to learn more about LNT!), you would be amazed at how many people still do not do this. They assume because it is July or August it will be warm overnight, or that the weather will be similar to the city or they simply forgot to check the forecast. Take 15-20 minutes and research to get a forecast that is close to the area you will be travelling into. Once you think you have a good picture of what the weather is going to be, match your gear to that forecast. If the weather is calling for night lows of 0, prepare for minus 5. If your gear is not sufficient, ask friends and family if they have something that will work. Carry extra packable blankets. Sleeping bag liners are a great light weight addition to help keep you warm. Check with local gear shops if they have rental programs for down sleeping bags and sleeping mats. If you are in the Calgary area, the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre rents 4 season camping gear all year round! There are gear options out there which don't break the bank to get you outside all season! Good gear will make your experience much better and will help you come back for more!
Personally, I believe a good night's rest is key to being able to make the most out of your outdoor experience. Staying warm with these simple tips and tricks listed above will extend your camping season with your friends and family. Enjoy the outdoors no matter the season! Get outside and have fun! Stay warm!