How To Sleep Warmly

10 steps to a goosebump-free night
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Lucky is the warm sleeper. You know you're a member of this club if you've ever slept blissfully through the night with the zipper to your bag wide open while companions with nearly identical sleeping bags complained of the bone shivering cold.

Warm sleepers and cold sleepers are indeed born that way, due in large part to metabolism and body size. But a whole bunch of other factors come into play that influence your ability to sleep comfortably through the night, such as how much water and food you consumed that day and how much insulation lies between you and the heat-sucking ground.

So, cold sleepers, don't despair. You can level the playing field with a few easy-to-follow tips to help you generate and conserve more body heat when the night turns frosty. Here's how:

1. Get enough"bag" for your buck. Select a temperature rating for your sleeping bag that's adequate for the nighttime temperatures you're likely to encounter. Head into New Hampshire's White Mountains in November with a 35-degree bag, for example, and you'll likely be a cold pup. For a more in-depth discussion on temperature ratings, see "Degrees of Comfort."

2. Hold onto your heat. A sleeping bag's design plays a big role in your ability to retain body heat. If you're a serious camper or backpacker, your slam-dunk choice is a mummy-cut bag for the simple reason that there's less empty space inside that needs to be heated and the close-fitting hood prevents heat from escaping. (Attention women: new women's bags conform to the realities of the female form and metabolism — narrower fitting in the shoulders, wider in the hips, shorter overall, and extra insulation in the foot area — to create a bag that's easier to heat up.)

Other warmth-enhancing bag features to look for: an insulated draft collar, which drapes or cinches around your neck like a gasket to seal in heat; a hood with loads of insulation as well as cinch cords to narrow the face opening; and an insulated zipper draft tube running the entire length of the zipper.

3. Get off the ground. The ground is always colder than you, so without an insulating layer between you and it, you'll be robbed of precious body heat. Your best bets in pads are either the closed-cell foam variety or self-inflaters. See "All About Backcountry Beds" for more about the buying considerations that go into selecting a pad. Tip: When camping on snow or frozen ground, the best formula for warmth is to carry two pads, a smooth, full-length closed-cell foam pad topped with a full-length self-inflater.

4. Eat before you sleep. Think of your body as a furnace that needs stoking with food to generate heat. Treat yourself to some high-calorie indulgences before turning in. For quick heat, carbohydrates like a cereal bar will rev your internal motor almost instantly, but the burn peters out after a few hours. That's where proteins and fats come in. Peanuts and beef jerky, for example, are like big ol' Yule logs that burn long and slowly to help generate metabolic heat into the wee hours.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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