The Key To Warm Winter Camping

The fear of being cold.


That’s probably the number one thing that keeps people from winter camping. 

And sure, you could buy a -1 billion degree sleeping bag, and all the nicest gear, but even then, you’re still missing something really simple that makes a big difference. So much so, that I believe it is the key to safe, warm, winter camping. 

You might even be able to do it with gear you already have. Check out my video below, or keep scrolling to find out.

Let’s assume you don’t have a few hundred dollars to drop on a 0º (or colder) sleeping bag that you might only use once or twice per year anyway. That’s okay, because you can actually stay warm at the same or even colder temperatures by simply …

Layering Quilts

Layered quilts

So, let’s say you have a 30ºF quilt, like this one from Enlightened Equipment:

It’s good for early fall and late spring backpacking, but it’s not going to get you into the colder months. 

But your partner happens to have a 30º quilt also, like this one from Katabatic gear:

Katabatic Gear Palisade

What a lot of people don’t realize is you can actually layer these quilts to get down to about -10ºF! 

The only difference between a 30º sleeping bag and a 0º sleeping bag is the amount of insulation. By layering or stacking two quilts, you are essentially doubling your insulation. 


Now, it’s important to do this with at least one quilt. Don’t try to do it with two sleeping bags, because insulation works by lofting, and if you try to cram a sleeping bag inside another sleeping bag, there isn’t going to be enough room for the inner bag to loft. It’s just going to get compressed, reducing its warmth.

You can do this with two quilts, or you can do it with a sleeping bag and a quilt on top. No matter how you do it, you want the quilt you put on top to be a little wider, like this Katabatic Palisade that is a long, wide quilt.

Katabatic Palisade quilt

That way, it can completely cover the other quilt to make sure you have double insulation from side to side. 

You can do this with any two quilts, and depending on the temperature ratings, you can get down to some pretty cold temperatures. In fact, follow this link, to see the approximate temperatures two different quilts can achieve.

A Proper Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pad

Even with layered quilts, there is still one really important factor you really CANNOT ignore.

It doesn’t matter how cold your sleeping bag or quilt is rated. It doesn’t matter how many quilts you layer on top of one another. If you don’t have a proper sleeping pad, you are still going to freeze. 

When you lie inside your sleeping bag, all the insulation that is below you is going to get crushed under the weight of your body. If insulation can’t trap air, it can’t keep you warm. In fact, this is the whole reason quilts don’t even have a back, because it’s really just a waste of insulation. 

Now, you could buy something like this Thermarest XTherm that has the highest R-value on the market at 6.9. This will keep you warm at the coldest temperatures. 

Thermarest XTherm

But it’s not cheap at almost $250. And again, how often are you going to use it?

Or, just like quilts, you can layer R-value to get a warmer rating.

Layered sleeping pads

I have my Nemo Insulated Tensor that has a really good R-value at 4.2.

Nemo Insulated Tensor

That’s good for spring or fall down to just above freezing. But if you want to go colder, you can actually put it on top of this closed-cell foam pad that has an R-value of 2. 

Tensor layered on top of closed-cell pad

Unlike quilt temp ratings, you just simply add R-value together. So the 4.2 of my Tensor and the 2 of the closed-cell pad will give you a combined R-value of 6.2, which is perfect, even for really cold temperatures.


So the secret here is layering! Layering helps you get more versatility out of your gear. It doesn’t matter if you are layering clothing to help you regulate heat on the move or layering quilts and sleeping pads to get more warmth out of them. Layering is the key to safe, warm, winter camping. 

Protect Your Head

Katabatic hood

But do be careful, because you will still need to keep your head warm. If you have a sleeping bag under a quilt, the hood may function well enough to keep your head warm. But most quilts are not going to be long enough to pull up over your head, so I recommend something like this down hood from Katabatic gear.

They have two versions: the Windom and the Crestone. The Windom is good down to about 20º, while the Crestone is good down to  -40º. 

Stay Dry

And the last thing is, you need to make sure that you are protecting your down from getting wet. Once again, you can do that without spending a bunch of money, like I talk about in this video

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