Making the Most of Your Sleeping Bag's Warmth

You've done your research, invested some money and are now the proud owner of a top quality, cosy new sleeping bag. Alternatively, perhaps your budget was a bit tight and you had to settle for something cheaper than intended or perhaps you opted for a bargain basement sleeping bag which you are now regretting as you listen to your teeth chattering. Whatever the case, and no matter how much you have paid for your sleeping bag, there are always things you can do to maximise its warmth.

Although this doesn't mean your cheap and cheerful choice can easily be upgraded to suitably snug, it can alter your nights from sleepless to tolerable. Also, don't just assume that a top of the range, four-season sleeping bag will prepare you for anything. There are many factors which affect a sleeping bag's warmth and the comfort/season rating is only a small part of the equation.

Sleeping mats and pads

When chosen correctly the relationship between a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat is like a harmonious marriage. Their functions and efficiency are so dependant on each other that should your sleeping bag be top of the range and your choice of sleeping surface wrong then, no matter what, you are more likely to be cold.

A sleeping mat or pad is your insulation from the ground and if this is inadequate you will not be making the most of your sleeping bag.

The subject of sleeping pads and mats is covered in a separate article on this site.

Sleeping bag liners

Not only will a liner help you keep your sleeping bag clean it will also prevent body oils and grime from seeping into the sleeping bag's filling which in turn can affect its insulating properties.

A good quality liner can actually raise the season rating of a bag and add considerable warmth.

Sleeping bag size

As mentioned earlier a sleeping bag's comfort rating doesn't tell the whole story. For example, if you are some-one with a small build then the excess of spare space inside a sleeping bag means you, as the heat source, fuel it less efficiently. Opt for a bag with smaller dimensions that will fit you snugly.

What you wear in bed

Many people wrongly assume that piling on the layers of clothing will help with warmth. Not only does this make for a stifling and uncomfortable sleeping experience but too many clothes will actually prevent your body from heating up the bag which may stay cold all night long.

Keep moisture to a minimum

Although synthetic filled sleeping bags retain some insulating properties when damp or wet, down-filled bags most definitely do not. Ensure your tent is ventilated correctly to keep moisture to a minimum and avoid burying your head inside the bag when sleeping as the moisture from your breath will quickly accumulate.

Fuelling your body before bedtime

If you go to bed hungry or have eaten the wrong types of food then you may well find that you, as the internal battery of the sleeping bag, generate heat less efficiently. If you are not properly fuelled then there is no way you in turn can fuel your sleeping bag.

Protecting sleeping bag loft

Unless you are hiking or space is tight, don't transport your sleeping bag in a stuff sack or compression bag. However, should this be necessary, be sure to remove the sleeping bag on arrival at camp and give it a bit of a gentle shake and massage. These actions will help the sleeping bag's filling to retain its loft (the amount of air that can be trapped and circulate around healthily distributed fillings) – compressed fillings don't insulate properly.

How you store your sleeping bag between trips will also make a big difference and there is a separate article which discusses this.

Getting into your sleeping bag

The faster you can get some heat circulating inside your bag the warmer you will be. One of the ways to jump start this process is by getting undressed inside your bag. It may take a bit of practice and to some extent will be dependant on your own flexibility and the size of your bag. If this isn't possible then do lots of jiggling around or basic exercises to raise your heart rate and get some heat pumping round your body.