How to

14 November 2016

Sleeping Bags & Clothing: Keep Your Shirt On!

The nightmare scenario - Img source: Section Hiker
As you sleep, your body generates heat, warming the air around you. A sleeping bag with a thick insulating layer works by trapping this air inside the bag, rather than letting it escape; creating a nice, warm ecosystem in which you can doze. Unfortunately, some people have taken this basic principle to mean they have to strip completely naked in order to get a good night’s sleep. Now, regardless how you define Wanderlust, one thing is for certain: the ‘sleep naked while you’re camping’ thing is nothing but pure baloney. Let’s take this opportunity to debunk the famous fallacy, whilst laying-out exactly how you should dress overnight when the going gets chilly.

Merits of the Myth

The notion of napping in nudity most likely stems from the idea that, were you to wear too many clothes in your sleeping bag, you would compromise the outer layer by squishing it flat. Indeed, this is actually a valid concern: since the bag needs a layer of heated air inside the insulation to keep you warm, when it comes to staying toasty, the puffier the better. So, if you thought your chances of staying heated increased with the number of layers you were wearing, it seems, unfortunately, you might be mistaken: but, by the same logic, if you took to your bag wearing a massive coat, you probably would actually be better off starkers.

So, how should you dress when you’re sleeping in a bag?

Rule One: Keep Your Shirt On

Img source: Aussie Disposals
Thin base layers are the best thing to wear. If you have a thermal top or leggings, they should work great. Jeggings would probably work too, but are… best avoided.

But, at the same time, ensure they’re not too tight – you wouldn’t want to cut off the circulation to your extremities. Moreover, if you’ve been traipsing around the frozen wilderness all day, make sure you dry-out your clothes before taking them into your sleeping bag. Otherwise, the heat which could be used on the air will instead be taken up in causing water to evaporate.

Rule Two: Wear a Hat

Img source: Revista Matices
If your sleeping bag doesn’t have a hood, you’ll be losing a lot of heat through your head. Woolly hats, ushankas, and even balaclavas are great for counteracting the effects of a cold face and head. You could even poke a hole in the latter to stay make sure you stay dapper throughout your travels: cool on the outside, warm at heart.

Rule Three: Gloves and Socks

Img source: FlexiTog
Although they give you a cosy micro environment, warm air can still escape sleeping bags. So, it’s best to treat them as a very, very small room, inside which you’re trying to sleep and where the temperature is mildly warm. Therefore, you might do well to consider wearing gloves and socks in your sleeping bag; just as you would when sitting in a larger room of the same temperature. They’re not exactly the same experience: but if any part of your body is going to get cold, it will be your extremities which feel the pinch first of all. Keep them warm with gloves and socks. It’s not necessarily that thinner is better here; but again, nothing so big that it squishes the sleeping bag flat.

That’s the basic rulebook for sleeping bag attire. For any intrepid camper during the winter months, remember: keep your shirt on during the night! In other words: wear thin base layers, hats, gloves and socks. Nothing which squishes the bag’s down. There are plenty of other ways in which you can maximise the heat inside your sleeping bag: but getting the right pyjamas really couldn’t hurt.  

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.