Should you carry a separate pair of sleeping clothes on backpacking trips? Is it worth the added weight? What about when it’s really hot or humid at night and you’re having trouble staying cool?
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. Cooking dinner while wearing cold wet clothing is the worst!
What sleeping clothes should you bring?
- Shirt – long sleeve or short, depending on temperatures and personal preference
- Long underwear – silkweight for hot weather and heavier weight for colder conditions
- Extra socks – set aside one pair to wear just at night
- Beanie – warm hat or insulated balaclava, even if you sleep in a mummy sleeping bag
For 3-season use, I wear a Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt and a pair of Patagonia Silkweight Capilene Long Johns (no longer made), plus Darn Tough Hiker Boot Socks (same as I wear hiking), and whatever lightweight fleece beanie I have sitting around.
Does it matter if sleep clothes are wool or synthetic?
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 thin synthetic jersey and synthetic long underwear because they don’t shrink in a dryer and they basically last forever. They also pack up small and are very lightweight.
I also change into a dry pair of wool hiking socks wool (the same pair repeatedly) each night because wool stinks less even after a few days of use. I also 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.
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.
It feels and smells better
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. I also like to rinse out my daytime clothes before going to sleep and hang them to dry, so they’re not available to hang out around camp or sleep in.
There are 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.
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 fallbacks.
Keep your sleeping bag/quilt clean
If you’ve been hiking all day and sweating or you’ve slathered suntan lotion and bug dope on your skin, the last thing you want to do is to transfer that crud to your sleeping bag or backpacking quilt. While you can rinse yourself before bed, it’s hard to get really clean on the trail. Wearing sleeping clothes helps keep the inside of your sleep insulation cleaner so you have to wash it less often.
You’ll be warmer
Sleeping clothes provide an added thermal benefit when worn inside a sleeping bag or under a quilt. In fact, sleeping bag temperature ratings (and the testing protocol) are based on the assumption that you are wearing long underwear (top and bottom) and an insulated hat. If you’re a cold sleeper, wearing sleeping clothes will help you get the full insulation value that your sleeping bag is rated for.