Hot tips: Keeping warm in your sleeping bag

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By Andy Souder

Getting a good night’s sleep can be the make-or-break factor on summit day. Being well-rested and full of energy will make sure you’re set up for success. The most common people don’t sleep well is they run cold or are not used to sleeping on snow. Fortunately, the guides of Alpine Ascents are seasoned pros with some hot tips for staying warm:

Sleep on Insulation
Use an insulated pad rated for the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter. Mats and pads with an R-value of between 3 and 4 are intended for three-season temperatures—generally, above freezing—while those with an R-value of over 5 are intended for use on frozen ground in below-freezing temperatures. Often, our gear lists call for both a foam pad and an insulated air pad. The closed-cell foam acts as a barrier between you and the snow.
Wearing fresh layers
The two biggest areas of heat loss are from your head and feet. Wearing clean, fresh socks and a clean beanie (toque if you’re from north of the border) will help keep that heat in. Wearing a hat while sleeping is an art form, give it some practice. Go for a style that is low profile, snug, and comfortable.
Hand Warmers
If you have leftover handwarmers from the day, dropping a few into your bag can provide additional heat . Remember, the main heat source in your sleeping system is YOU! Getting heat from other sources will take planning.
Use a Hot Water Bottle
Place one of your water bottles filled with hot water in the foot of your bag. If that’s not enough, put a second bottle filled with hot water in the middle of your bag. Make sure they’re sealed tightly and NOT insulated. An insulated or vacuum bottle would not release any heat, negating any benefit. Best practice is a Nalgene or similar hard plastic bottle.
Pile Extra Clothing
If your feet get cold and fresh socks aren’t helping, take advantage of the layers you’re not wearing! Draping your parka over the foot of your sleeping bag can help trap heat. If you are cold all over, placing your parka over your chest can help as well.
Empty that bladder
Your body is constantly trying to keep everything at the same temperature, and a bladder full of liquid warm is a lot of energy and heat. Empty your bladder just before tucking in for the night. If you feel the urge in the middle of the night, a pee bottle
Work it out
Light stretching or breathing exercises can be just the trick for kicking up the heart rate just enough to keep you warm. Don’t go so hard that you break into a sweat all over again, be gentle!

Be aware of overheating when using these strategies. If you get too warm in the middle of the night and break into a sweat, you start the evaporation-freeze cycle all over again, and you’ll be cold. Go for goldilocks, juuuust right.

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