Contrary to popular myth, sleeping naked in a sleeping bag is not warmer than wearing additional clothing. There are actually many good reasons not to sleep naked in your sleeping bag if you want to stay warm and preserve the investment you’ve made in an expensive bag.
Let’s assume the you have a sleeping bag that is properly rated for the temperatures that you’ll be using it for. The next biggest factor in whether you will be warm or not is the insulation rating of your sleeping pad. Unless, you have the right amount of insulation below you, the ground will absorb most of the radiant heat vented by your sleeping bag and you’ll feel cold at night. You can prevent this by using an insulated sleeping pad like the Big Agnes Air Core or the Exped Downmat 7. These pads contain primaloft and down, which trap the warmth you generate at night and reflect it back at you. This is necessary to compensate for the fact that you are lying on your sleeping bag, which compresses the down or synthetic fill, eliminating most of it’s loft and heat retention capabilities.
The next most important factor in staying warm at night will be a hat, even if you are sleeping in a mummy bag. It is estimated that 20-40% of the your bodyheat is lost through your neck and head, so covering them up can keep you warmer.
Now suppose you’ve taken all these steps and your are still cold. Well, now is the time to start putting on clothes. Start with long underwear, socks, and then a coat with additional insulation. All of these will descrease the amount of room in your sleeping bag taken up by air and increase your warmth level because your body has to heat less air in the sleeping bag around you. If you are still freezing, you can stuff more of your gear inside the bag with you, to further reduce the amount of air in sleeping bag.
More advanced techniques for staying warm utilize vapor barriers. These are primarily used by moutaineers or winter campers in extreme environments.
Finally, if you have invested a lot of money in a sleeping bag and you want to keep it for many years to come, it is advisable that you bring along a pair of long underwear (top and bottom) on backpacking trips, that you only use for sleeping in. These clothes will help keep the inside of your sleeping bag clean and prevent the dirt, oil, or chemicals such as DEET, that have collected on your body after several days, from ruining your bag. These clothes can be used in emergency situations when all of your others are drenched or they can help prevent bugs from biting you if you need to vent your bag in hot weather.
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