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Backpacking Sleeping Clothes

Backpacking Sleeping Clothes

I carry a separate set of clothes to sleep in on backpacking trips because it feels nice to put something on that’s clean after perspiring in my regular daytime hiking clothes. They also serve double duty as an extra baselayer in cold weather or if I need to change into something dry after my regular clothes get wet, like when I have to hike in rain.

Wool or synthetic, it doesn’t really matter what kind of fabric they’re made of, although you probably want to avoid cotton unless you’re backpacking through a hot and dry climate like the desert where they can dry quickly if they get wet. I use a long sleeve synthetic jersey and long underwear (Lightweight Patagonia Capilene) because they won’t shrink in a dryer and they basically last forever. They also pack up small and are very lightweight. I also send them out for Insect Shield Treatment because they’re my baselayer when I sleep in a hammock, usually deep in the woods, in tick territory.

I also change into a relatively clean and dry pair of hiking socks each night and wear a fleece beanie cap, since I usually sleep in a hoodless sleeping bag if I’m on the ground or with a quilt, in a hammock.

Psychological benefits

While wearing sleeping clothes will help you keep your sleeping bag/quilt and sleeping pad cleaner, there’s more to wearing sleeping clothes than meets the eye. When I take off my daytime clothes and switch to my sleeping clothes, I relax. It triggers a psychological response and helps me kick back in preparation for sleep. I sleep really well outdoors and feeling “cleaner” has a lot to do with it. My daytime hiking clothes get crusty with salt, sweat, and dirt, and they’d be nasty to sleep in. While I wear a thin shirt and pants that I rinse and will usually dry (mostly) overnight, they’re wet when I go to sleep.

Health benefits

There are also health benefits to sleeping in cleaner and drier clothes at night, because they give your nether regions and feet a chance to gently reabsorb body fluids and heal. If you sleep in your salt-encrusted daytime hiking clothes at night, even if it’s just your boxers, the salt will continue to draw moisture from your skin. Wearing clean clothes and socks will reduce any ongoing irritation and help your skin recover its natural resiliency. Plump, resilient skin is much more durable, blister, and chafe-resistant than dry irritated skin.

Sleeping naked

What about sleeping naked on backpacking trips? Whatever floats your boat. I’d still recommend bringing along an extra baselayer shirt and long underwear that you can layer with if you get cold or wet, or you can use to augment your sleeping bags/quilts warmth on cold nights. I don’t bring any extra daytime shirts, pants, or underwear on my backpacking trips, so my sleeping clothes are my only fall backs.

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38 comments

  1. I am 100% on board with this. I carry sleeping clothes all year round. Started doing it a long time ago when sleeping bags went from cotton (or cotton like) materials to nylon base. After hiking the entire day it drove me crazy climbing in a sleeping bag and having bare legs and arms sticking to the nylon. Now I carry them for that original reason and all the ones you state above. I never thought about getting them treated though, which is a great idea, since all my socks, pants, shirts and hats have been sent away. Thanks for posting this.

  2. I like having separate sleeping clothing, too. Tops are easy, but I am on a long-running search for lightweight bottoms that don’t look like long johns. If I’m camping in mixed company, or with Boy Scouts, the situation calls for a little modesty. My wife has some LLBean really lightweight fleece pajama bottoms, but Bean doesn’t sell them anymore so I can’t try various sizes of those to see if something fits. Most things I find are running pants and are heavier than I want or need. I’ll keep looking.

    • Look for synthetic underwear labeled “silk weight”. Silk itself isn’t that great though because it’s a plant fiber like cotton

      • I’d like to find something pajama-like rather than underwear-like. I don’t know silk’s properties relative to things like cellulose plant fibers, but it is an animal product.

      • EMS carries a micro-fleece pants that are PJ-like and I’m sure others carry them as well. They are more looser fitting than base layers normally are, and very comfortable to sleep in.

      • Thanks for the lead, Roger. I will check those out.

      • Silk is NOT a plant fiber, it is a protein fiber composed mainly of fibroin and produced by certain insect larvae: the Mulberry silkworm cocoon, most notably. Probably why it’s so darn expensive.

      • I ordered the EMS Classic Micro Fleece Pants and the EMS Microfleece Pajama Pants. The former weigh 9.8 ounces, the latter 9.3. The pj bottoms are slightly more compactable, but the others are perhaps a bit more versatile because they’re not plaid pjs. Either one will work, but I’m still on a mission.

    • My go-to moderate-temperature sleep bottoms are Champion PowerFlex Tights. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H62DMYU/ref=twister_B01H62DJK2?th=1&psc=1
      Most people would wear them for running or going to the gym, so you could wear them hiking in a pinch without feeling self-conscious. They are inexpensive, lightweight, breathe well and wash/dry easily. I buy them a size bigger than usual, to be more comfortable for sleeping. In really warm weather, I might bring cotton surgical scrubs, while in cold weather the appropriate weight of thermal underwear.

      • I’d have to wear a pair of running shorts over those to feel comfortable! I ordered a pair of the EMS micro-fleece pjs. If they are somehow too heavy and/or bulky, I can always use them at home.

    • Yes, when camping with the Boy Scouts I avoid my typical base layer bottom and go for a PJ bottom. I actually found one at the Boy Scout shop that was all synthetic, relatively lightweight , and was PJ cut. Plus t has a little BSA logo on it :)

    • Patagonia Snap-T pants are nice.

  3. You didn’t mention cleaning yourself before getting into those sleeping clothes. I’d appreciate it if you could let us know if you do and how you do it. Thanks.

    • I run a wet cloth over the salty areas. Usually its my wet shirt, which I rinse out again and hang to dry. Its important not to wring out the water back into the stream/lake/pond you took the water from, but the ground so other people don’t have to drink your sweat.

  4. I was just thinking of looking for long pants, even in the summer. I generate a lot of heat and bring a spare pair of ex officio t shirt and boxers. In CO last week my legs would get sweaty and it was uncomfortable – I’d take my quilt off to “cool” off but then I’d get cold. The long pants could “be” the quilt in warm weather and “compliment” the quilt in cooler weather.

  5. I always carry sleeping clothes as well, and I am a pretty avid ultralighter. The benefits you listed are the primary reasons, but also if you have a lot of bears in your area, it is good practice to not wear your clothes that you were eating/cooking in. Also, I use a quilt, so it adds a bit of extra warmth and helps with drafts as well.

    • Great point about those bears.

      • Just make sure that you first cook/eat in the clothes that you’ve been hiking in before changing into the spare pair of “odorless” ones that will be used for sleeping. The dirty clothes, with food odors, should be placed in your bear back along with all your other smellables.

  6. Philip I just received my FF Flicker 20 and I want to keep it clean, just curios if you ever tried a bag liner and if you did what didn’t you like about it.
    Trying to decide what my best option is.
    Thanks

  7. Im trying to reduce bulk as well as weight. Does that synthetic shirt pack down pretty small?

    Thanks again for mentioning Insect Shield. I too send my clothes off to them. They are great to work with. I have a friend who was hiking this year in Pennsylvania. She pulled a couple of ticks off of her. She ended up in ER thinking she had Lyme since she had the classical symptoms. She tested positive for Erlichiosis. Its been a few weeks and is still sick. My dog tested positive for it this year and almost died. I guess its not just Lyme disease we need to worry about.

  8. I also include a pair of wool liner gloves and a thin wool toque. I agree with the psychological benefits including knowing I have a base layer if the needed.

  9. I must have missed the Insect Shield article or it predated my start of hiking. However, I did recently treat all my clothes with Permethrin. I was pleasantly surprised that while backpacking in the Great Gulf Wilderness I never once needed to apply any other kind of bug protection. Perhaps this winter I send my gear out.
    Question: would you send your hammock?

    • Pete – I once inquired about getting a pair of gaiters done and discussed it on the phone with someone at Insect Shield. The bottom line was that unless the item you want to treat can go into the dryer on high heat, then you should not have it treated. The process of bonding the treatment to the item so it lasts longer than a few washings, is due to the heat of the dryer. At least that was my understanding. So I did not send the gaiters, since an older pair I tested in my home dryer shrunk noticeably. I would suggest that unless you put your hammock in the dryer when you wash it, that you may just want to by spray and treat it periodically with that.

    • Pete, Permethrin is the same as insect shield. Soak in a light solution (like a .2% to .5% for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then wring out and hang to dry. Then you can rinse the cloths out and launder normally. Drying is important because as the water evaporates it increases the concentration of permethrin in the solution. Synthetics do not pick it up all that well. Nylon does a better than Poly clothing. Wool does better than nylon. Even you sleeping bag can be done the same way because down will pick up permethrin and prevent bugs, worms, ticks, etc from ruining the down.

      DO NOT pour the excess solution down the drain. DO NOT pour rinsed solution down the drain. It goes through the waste treatment plant unaffected and is deadly to fish, amphibians, as well as insects, It is safe for all mammals except cats. DO NOT get wet permethrin near cats, however once it is on a set of cloths and laundered, there are no effects. To GET RID of permethrin, spray it around your foundation (eliminates spiders, termites, ants, etc) or put it in a flat pizza pan/paint tray in the sun. UV breaks the permethrin down in a day or two. DO NOT pour it on open ground. Without UV, it can get into ground water. Or, put it in spray bottles and use it on your gear when you return, let it dry, then wash it. Used solution is usually around .1% and bonds quickly with your clothing.

      A light solution of permethrin is much like a dye. The target has receptors that will take this up in preference to water. So, even washing it or wading through streams will not effect your clothing. Think of how many times it takes to wash out a dye from your cloths. You usually cannot, all you get is a little the first rinse, and the sun fades it after that…it doesn’t wash out. You can bleach it however, but you shouldn’t use bleach on down, nylon and synthetics, nor wool.

      Some people think that permethrin changes it’s chemical make-up when added to clothing. They buy ONLY “Made for clothing” permethrin. Not true. Permethrin is only a chemical that if changed is NOT permethrin. You can use all kinds, but avoid mineral spirits, oil based animal products, etc. It is difficult to clean out the smell and irritation of the oils. Any water based permethrin, or, chalk based permethrin (sold as ant killer, plant spray, etc) will work. Look it up for more info…

      It has been used to treat scabies and lice for years. a 5% (five percent!) solution is expected to produce a 2.5 person per 1000 people allergic response. So, I recommend testing on something innocuous, first…say a bandana. Personally, I do not believe this is not much of a response, though. Note this is based on continuous application, not intermittent exposure due to clothing, and, not bonded permethrin in cloths, rather raw FIVE percent permethrin.

  10. I certainly appreciate and wear camp clothes to for the reasons you described, and perfectly I might add! A bit off topic, but I also bring slip-on camp shoes for the same reasons, even though I wear trail runners. I love taking off what I have been wearing all day, including the shoes. Such simple pleasures are the best.

  11. Been using Terramar Thermasilk. Very light, comfy, and just works.

    Not something I’d want to wear in mixed company, but when I’m in my tent, who cares. For the record, I’ve seen pantyhose on my wife that are thicker. Using a small microfiber towel and about half a bottle of water, I can get a pretty decent removal of sweat and other yech off and then slip into these to sleep well on whatever combination of mat/bag/throw/etc I have. Towels typically don’t dry overnight (too damp) but hung on the back of the pack during the day usually gets them dry by lunch.

    Yea, I’m one of those hikers that has stuff hanging off his pack. Never understood how people have everything all tidy and stowed after day 1. (^_^)

  12. Dry socks after hiking is key! My last WFA instructor said that as long as you sleep with dry feet it doesn’t matter if your feet are wet all day. I haven’t tested this over more than a couple of days but having dry feet after even a day of wet feet makes me happier than just about anything else I can imagine, even food or beer! I will always carry at least two pairs of socks on a backpack, one that I use *only* to sleep in, and an extra pair for hiking in if my feet get completely soaked during the day. Worth it.

  13. Do you use the lightweight capilene year round? Or do you go for something heavier in winter? I’m thinking the lightweight would be good if the person has chosen an adequate sleeping bag, but I wasn’t sure if maybe you went heavier since it’s also your backup baselayer.

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