My family and I love to go camping. There’s nothing like spending time in the great outdoors, away from the fast-paced rush of today’s hectic world. The peace and quiet, the sound of wind blowing through the trees and the occasional wildlife visitor is therapeutic and invigorating. The kids love running around exploring and building imaginary castles in the trees and we love relaxing around the campfire, telling stories about times long past. And when the evening comes, the campfire hypnotizes you as you sit long into the evening laughing, telling jokes and just enjoying one another’s company.
Then when the time comes to turn in for the night, there’s nothing quite like changing into your pajamas and sleeping into a cold sleeping bag, especially in the winter months. And if you’re like me, my feet take half the night to warm up, if at all. If this happens to you, I’ve learned a few inexpensive tricks for those of us who can’t afford those nice, expensive sleeping bags.
Let me start out by stating that I am in now way trying to compare this set up to some of the great (and expensive) sleeping systems out there (such as foam sleeping bags). Those are obviously better setups, but the following system has worked great for me, which is why I’m sharing it.
First of all, when I store my sleeping bag, blankets, etc. I store them ready to go for any season. And to make it convenient, I keep them all together in a bag so I never have to worry about forgetting anything. And this system is great for preparedness so that you always have your gear ready to go in case you have to leave immediately and don’t know where you’ll be sleeping.
I roll a wool blanket (bought Israeli army surplus) around my sleeping back and store it with my bag. This is my extra layer for extra cold nights. If I’m going to be sleeping in the snow, I usually throw in an extra wool blanket for each person. And if it’s a warmer night, sleeping on top of the sleeping bag with a wool blanket as your only cover is often the perfect solution. And I always keep a camping pillow rolled up in my bag just in case I forget a pillow or if I’m in a hurry to get out the door. The idea is to have all the “necessities” self contained.
Then for the inside of the bag, I’ve added a couple features that really keep you toasty!
A fleece insert makes a HUGE difference. They are said to add at least 10 degrees to the warmth. Sometimes this is just enough to change the environment from “survivable” to “comfy”. You can buy fleece sleeping bag liners with zippers that fit right in your bag. But I found some fleece blankets on sale that were a little thicker than the liners. And instead of adding a zipper, I folded them in half and had the bottom and 2/3′s of the way up the side sewn up. You do have to crawl in, but it seems to stay warmer and there’s no middle of the night bumps against that cold zipper. The ones I use seem to add at least 15 degrees to the temperature rating.
Next I took one of those surplus Israeli wool blankets and cut them in half. I then had the sides sewn up so that it fit over the feet of the fleece blanket (about 2 feet deep). I slid the fleece blanket inside this wool foot blanket and slid them both inside the sleeping bag. So when I get to my destination, I just unroll my bag and slip inside the fleece. The wool blanket will already be covering my feet and it doesn’t move, no matter how much I toss and turn through the night. (Hint: Don’t wear sweats or fleece pajamas or you’ll stick to the fleece blanket and get all jumbled up. Instead, wear something slick like basketball shorts, which allow you to twist and turn inside freely, without sticking to the blanket.)
If it’s really cold, I then throw the extra wool blanket that was rolled up on the outside over me. With this setup, I can sleep very warm down to negative 20-30 degrees. It would be survivable well below that, but would stay very warm at those temperatures even for Arizona wimps who get cold easily. Those polar bears out there would probably think this setup was for 50 below.
If I get to my campsite and it’s in the summer, I usually just sleep on top of the fleece inside my sleeping bag. It just adds to the padding under me. And like I said earlier, if it’s too hot, I sleep on top of everything and throw the extra wool blanket on top and sleep nice and cozy.
The great thing about a setup like this is that you can adjust the temperature based upon your needs.
And the last thing I want to add is regarding the pad you sleep on. This keeps you warm underneath. And if you don’t need that extra wool blanket in your gear, simply fold it in half and put it on your pad under your sleeping bag. Then you’ll have a really padded bed and be sleeping like a baby!
So if you want to enjoy both the days and night while camping in cold weather, plan ahead and make some simple adjustments in your gear.
Enjoy the journey!