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Describe your winter sleeping arrangement when the weather is below 0

This came up in another thread but I thought since it is winter, this might be a useful point of discussion for all of us.

Even though everyone has their own specific needs and ways they go about things, it might raise some interesting ideas some of us may not have thought of or tried.

To keep this more universal, and because it makes more sense, we will keep this to 0 Celsius.

My typical setup is:

If 0 to -5, Mountain Equipment Helium 3.8 SIM, if -5 and below its an Exped Downmat 9, and if on rougher terrain I add a Thermarest Ridgerest solite as well.

Sleeping bag is a Force 10 Altitude 750 down bag (comfort rated to -11). I add a thermolite liner for colder temps, or just a silk liner when hovering between 0 to -5.

I sleep in merino baselayers, unless it gets really cold, then I sleep in my hiking pants and a fleece.

When it is really cold, or my feet feel especially cold, I wear a pair of Rab (Integral Designs) Hot Socks, which are packable primaloft booties.

I would think that for the most part, this is a fairly typical set up.

The downmat 9 is perhaps overkill, but anyone who has slept on one will attest to its incredible comfort! Synmat 9 would be a lighter and more economical option while being just as comfortable, with the only real difference being that it cant go to as low a temperature.

The Hot Socks might be an item most people dont use, but I highly recommend. They pack down to about the size of typical heavyweight wool socks, but are so much warmer (and lighter).

Hmm, well my cold temp sleeping kit is pretty simple:

Neoair All Season pad & Western Mountaineering Lynx bag rated to -23 C / -10 F

I usually sleep in cheap boxers and a cotton t-shirt with that bag; last year the lowest temp I camped in was about -5F (-20C) and I did have to keep on my smart wool base layer top and bottom plus thickest socks


If it is just going to be freezing (0°c) I don't really change from my three season system of Neoair Xlite and my 40°f Ventra down quilt but will add a fleece pullover.

As temps go down I keep adding layers and eventually a down jacket along with a TR Trail Pro pad on the bottom. I have taken this down to 15°f and been pretty comfortable. With the new top quilt on order I'm expecting to be able to go sub zero, but I have a feeling those middle of the night nature breaks are going to sting a bit :)

I use an inflatable pad on top of my ridgerest then bring a 2nd lightweight sleeping bag that I unzip and to toss over the top of me and my partner as a blanket.

Great question, but up here the temperature often drops to freezing (0C) even in the summer. Winter temperatures are more like minus 30C or less for months on end.

Gone are the days when I used to sleep on a spruce bough bed next to an open fire.

My sleeping arrangement for the past 3 decades includes the following:

Ridge rest ¾ length. This I find is more than adequate for any temperature down to about minus 5C.

My three season sleeping bag was always a Blue Kazoo from TNF. However I recently (within the past 10 years) replaced this with an REI bag, name unknown, but with similar temperature rating. It also has a WB outer. At this temperature I have also used my FF Rock Wren and Integral Designs South Col bivy with good results.

I will take, and sometimes use, my VBL but once again 0C is not that cold and I often sleep naked or in a thin wool base layer. For longer trips of a week or more the VBL is important in keeping moisture from getting into the down.

I also bring a wool toque just because.

The thing to remember at around freezing is keeping your gear dry. In a tent moisture seems to hang in the air leaving condensation on everything.

All this changes though at around minus 15 C. That’s when I start thinking winter gear.

Most of my below zero sleeping has been in hunting camps. For contrast, I will describe the kind of bed used by mule packers in cold weather. Start with a canvas bedroll made from one large piece of canvas doubled over with a foam pad. Then I add a Thermarest that is at least 2 inches thick, with a down bag rated to around 15 degrees. I bring 2  Pendleton  wool blankets which are held in place by the canvas. A wall tent with a wood stove is the normal shelter. It allows all of the clothing and bedding to be dried out everyday.  It is a tried and true system that works well for trips of 7-10 days  or longer even in snow and below zero conditions.

SLEEPING BAG-> Mountain hardware -20 F. synthetic bag (until I find a good -20 F. down bag with down DWR.)

MATTRESSES-> Thermarest Trail Pro on top of Ridgerest

HEAD COVERINGS-> balaclava and Psolar face mask 

SLEEPING BAG FOOT COVER-> GTX mountain parka zipped up, arms pulled inside and parka slipped over foot of bag to protect bag from melting frost on tent wall and wetting bag. Gives a bit of warmth too.

A hat should be part of winter sleeping gear. Many people wear watch caps, alpaca Peru hats, etc. Winter sleeping took a decided turn for the better when I started wearing a rabbit fur lined Mad Bomber hat to bed in the cold.

ppine said:

A hat should be part of winter sleeping gear. Many people wear watch caps, alpaca Peru hats, etc. Winter sleeping took a decided turn for the better when I started wearing a rabbit fur lined Mad Bomber hat to bed in the cold.

 I find I cant sleep with a hat on.... I always start with good intentions but I get too warm, and am too fussy with how it feels. I tend to run fairly warm though.

I use mummy bags though, and that keeps my head warm enough. For the quilt sleepers, I imagine you couldnt go without one.

coldest I've ever slept in was 0f. have an rei bag rated to -5f so it started to get a little chilly. put on my thickest thorlo socks, exped weight polypro long undies and my balaclava. wasn't cold then. was sleeping on a thermarest on top of a ridgerest pad. it doesn't get too cold in the local mountains around here.

I like to bring a couple of those chemical hand warmers when I know it is going to be cold.  Then if I find myself getting cold at 4:00 I can open one up.  Just one adds a surprising amount of heat.  Sometimes the weather is way colder than it the weather calls for.  I recall one night when the weather report said the low was 30, but a thermometer when we got up showed 12.  

I keep a close watch on the weather forecast, and then say, "Forget this! I'm sleeping in my bed at home."  :P

When its below freezing I stay home in my warm room and bed. I have not winter camped since my last hikes in the Grand Canyon in 2003.

My last true winter camps during Jan to May 1980 I had a -30 degree sleeping bag, a large North Face VE24 mountain tent, down booties, down clothing and wool clothing.  I was rarely cold camping in Yosemite's High Sierra. 


What temps are you talking about when you were too warm?

ppine said:


What temps are you talking about when you were too warm?

Temperatures hovering around 0 F. I am from Ontario though, so am no stranger to the cold and usually fare quite well in it.

We are talking about temps below 0 F. It is hard to be too warm when it gets that cold, especially on longer trips.

I'm learning a lot from this forum, but to be honest, it takes a LOT of arm-pulling to get me to do an overnighter in the freezing winter temps. As I get older, the less and less I'm drawn to overnight trips in the winter, but growing up in the snow belt and in scouting, some of my fondest camping memories are from winter campouts.

I'm pretty new, but my set up is a ridgerest pad underneath an insulated mattress. Then I have a North Face Darkstar -40 degree bag. We were in Ontario this past week where the temps got extremely cold and dipped close to -20F. The bag did well and I only had a slight chill.


One issue I'm running into is my insulated pad slipping out from on top of the ridgerest pad.. Any suggestions to keep this from happening? Its annoying as all get out.

Rob Keith said:

One issue I'm running into is my insulated pad slipping out from on top of the ridgerest pad.. Any suggestions to keep this from happening? Its annoying as all get out.

 One approach that works well is to get a couple of long straps and put them around the two pads. They do not need to be tight enough to compress the pads, just tight enough to hold the pads together. Place them at the 1/3 and 2/3 locations. A couple companies make such straps especially for their pads.

There are sleeping bags that have a "pad pouch". None that I have seen in the -40° range or of more than mediocre quality.

Then again, you could train yourself to lie very still with no tossing and turning, no rolling over, no getting up for midnight potty breaks, etc. This also requires a dead-flat, perfectly smooth location, no slopes, no bumps or other irregularities in the ground.

2x ridgerest pads, both closed cell foam.  mountain hardwear ghost sleeping bag, size tall, rated to -40.  an older model, so it's regular, untreated 800 fill power down.  I wear baselayers and a light beanie and socks.  I usually have my inner boots in the foot of my sleeping bag, inside a stuff sack, plus damp glove/mitt liners and hats inside the bag, so they dry out some while I'm sleeping. 

this setup is fairly warm at zero degrees, so i'll usually have my head not fully buried in the hood.  have been down to -35, and this works well.  the sleeping bag is outstanding. could try putting a few drops of silicon or seam sealer on the ridgerest.

I dig a snow cave whenever possible at this temp.  Much warmer than camping on the snow.  Quieter too, no tent flapping in the wind.  Otherwise I use a pretty typical setup: a bag rated to the expected above ground temp, two 1/2" blue foam pads stacked, and sleep in top and bottom skin layers and socks all used only for sleep (thus not sweat saturated which will make you cold) and a balaclava.  

Eat something substantial just before turning in.  The heat generated by digestion is a significant source of warmth.


Thanks for the advice Bill and Joe. I'll try out your suggestions this weekend.



September 28, 2020
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