The Key To Warm Winter Camping
Winter camping: it’s intimidating for one very crucial reason: The fear of being cold.
You can buy all the nicest gear and a sleeping bag with a negative-billion-degree temperature rating. But even then, in my experience, you’re still missing something that can make a big difference in your winter camping comfort. I believe that this one simple trick is the key to safe, warm winter camping – and you probably already can do it with the gear you already have.
Check out my video below, or keep scrolling to find out.
Layer the Quilts You Already Have
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 the quilts you already have.
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. Remember: the temperature rating of a sleeping bag or quilt is the survival rating. Your comfort rating is going to be at least 10º more than what the survival rating is. So, if you have a 30º quilt, you really shouldn’t be using it in temperatures below 40º.
But let’s say that your partner happens to have a 30º quilt also, like this one from Katabatic gear. 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. (See where I’m going with this?)
What most people don’t realize is that you can layer quilts together to get your temperature rating down to about -10ºF!
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.
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.
But there is something else you need to consider before hiking off into the snow.
Make Sure You Have the Right 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.
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.
I have my Nemo Insulated Tensor that has a really good R-value at 4.2.
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.
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
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.
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.