Whether you are leaf peeping or putting in first tracks, your time on the road does not have to end just because summer is over. Learning how to car camp in colder temperatures is not just about sleeping comfortably but staying safe as the temperatures begin to drop. Never miss out on a camping trip with these tips on sleeping warm even on the coldest nights. Stay snug as a bug in a rug while you sleep on the road year-round!
1. Layer Up
Your success all comes down to how you layer, and how efficient your layers are depends on your baselayers. The ideal base-layers are comfortable and match what kind of sleeper you are. Do you typically sleep warm? Or cold? If you answered warm, then match your comfort with a lightweight set of merino wool leggings and top or go the synthetic route. Synthetic tends to be a little more affordable and cooler on the skin, perfect for all those oven-hot sleepers out there. If you answered cold, then we recommend skipping synthetic and sticking to wool. Your base-layers will be warm on your skin beginning the second you put them on. We prefer wool when on the road because it will stay fresh longer and give you the best moisture wicking.
Do not forget to pack a pair of base-layers specific for sleep. This way you can avoid stinky, sweaty base-layers in your sleeping bag or sheets. It will keep you and your bedding fresh longer, and give your day-time, activity base-layers a chance to breathe.
Fast Fact: Avoid tight-fitting layers that may restrict blood flow. Cold temperatures cause blood vessels in the extremities to constrict which results in icy fingers and toes. Constricting clothes further reduces circulation by making it especially hard for your warm blood to reach smaller extremities. While it may seem counterintuitive to layer loosely in the cold, we promise your little piggies will be much warmer.
2. Prevent Moisture
Moisture is public enemy #1 when it comes to sleeping in a car. Condensation is largely due to trapped breaths accumulating throughout the night. Dampness is especially a bummer when it comes to down sleeping bags or comforters. Moisture of any kind compromises the loft of down insulation decreasing its effectiveness. It takes a long time for down sleeping bags to dry, so the negative effect of moisture will literally haunt you in your sleep. The easiest way to combat moisture is to prevent moisture. The best way to prevent moisture is to crack one of your front windows an inch or so. Even the smallest space will allow adequate air flow and help cut down on condensation.
3. Location is Everything
So you arrived to camp and found the best campsite down by a creek. Great job! However, you just set yourself up for colder temperatures than if you were “dry camping”. Clear nights in the desert and campsites in narrow valleys or canyons will also treat you to brisk, frosty mornings. We are not saying that you should pack up and move, but it is worth preparing for these colder temperatures, instead of being taken by surprise. If you are looking to give yourself the best chance of success and comfort, it may be worth planning a site away from water and positioned to get morning sunlight. Location is everything when camping. Camp warmer with a warmer campsite.
4. Beat the Chill
Do not wait until you are cold to bundle up. Be proactive and layer appropriately before you cool down. Warm hats are great in keeping body heat from leaving out of your head. Warm socks keep heat in at ground level. Preemptive layering as the temperature drops will maintain comfortable body heat as the night chill sets in. It takes much less energy to keep your body warm than it does to warm it back up. Before you go on your run or hike, we always say “be bold, start cold” to avoid sweating. At camp, it is more along the lines of “beat the chill, layer up so you aren’t miserable.” Or something like that. Bottom line: bundle up. You will thank us later.
5. Eat Up
Carbohydrates fuel your internal furnace as your body generates heat to keep you warm. Make sure to not go to bed hungry when car camping in colder temperatures. Your body stays heated by burning calories, so eat a warm, hearty camp meal for dinner. Beware of meals incredibly high in protein as they can tend to call in the troops for digestion, and distracted circulation will not always prioritize keeping you warm. Stick to the easy to digest, yet filling meals. Go ahead and eat that fourth s’more you were contemplating earlier, we will allow it. Check out a few of our favorite cold weather recipes.
6. Make Your Bed
Set up your bed way before it is time to climb into your sleeping bag. Sleeping bags perform better once they have had time to loft from being stored or compressed during travel. If you are sleeping with a sleeping bag liner, go ahead and tuck it into your sleeping bag. Throw in your sleep base-layers so that they have time to warm up as well. If you are sleeping with sheets and blankets, go ahead and make your bed as you set up camp. This will not only help keep the cold air out, but it is just the bee’s knees climbing into a made bed.
7. Relieve Yourself
Yes, it is exactly what you are thinking. Do not make us say it twice. You should always pee before you go to sleep. Believe it or not, a full bladder will lead to additional heat loss, and relieving yourself will help to conserve your body heat. Ever notice that you pee more when you are cold? You can blame this on cold diuresis, better yet you can blame your kidneys. There is not one answer to why we have to urinate more when we are cold. However, to avoid this turning into an anatomy and physiology class, the best thing you can do to sleep warmer when car camping is to pee.
8. Avoid Burrowing
Resist the temptation to burrow deep into your sheets or sleeping bag. Your warm breath will feel great at first, but doing so will trap moisture inside and create a chilly dampness later. Instead, keep your head, mouth, and nose outside of the bag while sleeping in your car. We recommend wearing a warm and comfortable hat to bed or sleep in a balaclava. Check out our favorite balaclava here: Original Turtle Fur Shellaclava.
Fast Fact: It’s all about the extremities! Your head, hands, and feet are sweet spots when it comes to sleeping warm. Keeping these three areas of your body comfortable can dramatically increase how warm you feel throughout the night. Warm hats are absolute game changers—our bodies lose 7-10% of body heat from our head so keeping the cranium covered is a top priority.
9. Insulate With Gear
Form a makeshift barricade against outdoor temperatures by strategically stacking your belongings around the perimeter of your trunk rather than in one big heap. This blockade will trap the precious body heat you generate and reinforce your line of defense to insulate against any pesky drafts from outside. If you plan to tackle winter car camping, it would not be a bad idea to make your own window insulation. Thinking about environmentally-friendly and safe options here is important since it will be used in a confined space. We really like 3M Thinsulate, it is essentially what you find inside your puffy jacket, but a more affordable option is SmartSHIELD Reflective Insulation. For the side windows, cut out sections to fit each window, and use Luno Car Window Screens to hold the sections in place. You might have to get a little craftier when insulating your rear window, but it is easy to find a market sun reflector screen for your front windshield, which will help keep heat in overnight.
10. Invest in Your Mattress
Last but certainly not least, the biggest trick to sleeping warm when car camping is to have a good mattress. A well-insulated mattress will help keep your body heat in and the cold air out. This could be an inflatable sleeping pad with a high R-value, something that would also work for winter tent camping. This could also be investing in a Luno Air Mattress. Whatever it is, at the end of the day, your mattress will hold the fate of whether or not you sleep warm.
Fast Fact: Throw a foam sleeping pad on top of your mattress to increase the warmth.
Well that is it for now! Go further. Sleep warmer. Stay out longer as you pursue year-round adventure this off-season. Wishing you safe and warm travels!