Staying warm at night is important not only for comfort, but also for safety. Hypothermia is a very real risk if you are sleeping in a cold environment without heat. Sleeping bags or warm blankets along with layers of warm clothing can make the difference between being comfortable and dangerously cold. As nomads, many of us travel with the weather to avoid extremes, but what do you do when the weather turns unexpectedly cold and your gear is not adequate?
This situation actually happened to me in the fall a few years ago as I was camped above 7,000 feet near Flagstaff, Arizona. The days were still nice, but the nighttime temperatures started dropping into the 20s. Since my sleeping bag was designed for warm weather, I was suddenly unable to keep warm at night, even wearing several layers of clothing. The worst part was that my feet were cold all night no matter what I tried.
I hit upon a crazy idea one night as I was in bed trying to stay warm. Why not line the sleeping bag with a scrap piece of Reflectix that I had in the trailer? The next day I slid the Reflectix into the sleeping bag toward the bottom. That night I slept comfortably, even though the temperature was still only in the 20s.
Reflectix is an innovative, reflective insulation material that is manufactured by Reflectix, Inc. The material is thin and light, but works surprisingly well. Essentially, Reflectix is a layer of plastic bubble wrap sandwiched between two layers of foil. Despite being thin, it does a great job of reflecting heat. Whether you want to keep heat in or out, this material is amazing for its weight and density.
Using Reflectix as a sleeping bag liner helps to keep body heat inside the sleeping bag so you can stay warm. This is a simple and inexpensive way to sleep warmer at night when the temperatures drop.
Since Reflectix does not breathe well, you should use some caution to avoid condensation buildup. Moisture in your sleeping bag or clothing will lead to rapid heat loss. Using a single layer instead of wrapping it around you will help avoid condensation. It may also be worth taking it out and opening the sleeping bag to air out during the day if you are concerned about condensation.
Ultimately, it is preferable to have the right gear so that you do not need to resort to tricks like this that might introduce condensation problems. In a pinch though when you are caught off guard by a sudden change in the weather, this trick may make a significant difference in being able to sleep comfortably.
Thanks Robert. That’s a great tip!
I only needed to use this trick for a few nights on that one occasion when we were caught by surprise with the cold snap. I upgraded my sleeping bag not long afterward, but this worked to get me through for a few nights.
I never thought of that!
So far, I’ve done well with a good blanket. I wrap it around me or roll up in it, and that’s good down to freezing or a bit below. For those who have a person available, cuddling helps.
The good blanket or sleeping bag is definitely essential. The time when I figured out this trick the weather cooled off suddenly and caught me off guard. We ended up moving to a lower elevation several days later, and I upgraded my sleeping bag not long afterward!
Rob & Sylvia Redman
Good article Robert and an innovative idea for when we are caught in the cold. We still rely on the trusty hot water bottle for the cold feet when camping, though sometimes Madame gets too hot, which is never good!
Thank-you both for all your efforts, it’s a true pleasure spending time with you on your adventures.
I have heard many people mention the water bottle trick. That would probably make a big difference too for the cold feet problem! Thanks for reminding me of that trick.
Anybody know why it’s so much colder at dawn than it is the night before? Exactly the opposite of what I expected to experience while stealth camping inside our van.
I don’t actually know why that happens, but it does seem to be true most of the time. Maybe another reader will have some insight into that phenomenon.
I have a Reflectix liner, but even with it I can still feel the chill from the ground cutting through my blankets. It helps, for sure. But its only an R-1 material. I still prefer my insulated camping pad.
27″x64″ one side reflectix with mid-grade hardwood floor underlayment (black) glued together with edges taped with shiny gorilla tape once glue is cured. Tested in -22 with ground sheet, MSR Hubba Hubba NX II Tent, then this above homemade pad, with Deerhunter R 4.3 sleep pad on top of that. Slept in a -12 comfort rated sleeping bag -20 limit with fleece insert, and slept wearing one piece long underwear with trap door. Slept like a baby all night, warm and comfy. The homemade sleep pad is super light weight and really does help staying warm. The underlayment helps in creating that right barrier for the reflectix to do what it is designed to do.