“Cold” weather camping: Testing

I’m not what most people would term a ‘hardy’ person. If it really is cold (below 0F), I’m probably miserable. But ‘cold’ is a relative term too. 40F is quite cold to someone from Arizona or Florida. Here in Illinois up by Chicago, 40F is the temperature where we say, “Hey, it’s actually kinda nice out today!”

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Passage 1 tent set up in my back yard.

So when it reached a high of 55+ degrees yesterday during the day and the low for the night was slated to hit 40F, I said to my wife that I would probably sleep outside in the tent set up in the back yard – basically to test my equipment, and see how comfortable I am with what gear.That’s one of the things I never really know when I go hiking: Which gear should I bring? Will I be warm enough? Will I be cold at all if I don’t bring XYZ piece of clothing?

Being right outside my house to test this, if I ever actually got cold, I could just walk inside.

On top of that, we had just driven 600 or so miles that day to drop off our daughter with her aunt, so we were tired, and it was dark when I got home. I put on my headlamp, brought the REI Passage 1 tent outside, and also practiced setting it up in the dark.

That part was pretty easy. I guess I’m good there. 🙂

For the sleeping itself, normally I’d probably use my Exped UL7 Downmat. But I was tired and didn’t feel like figuring out how to use the ‘schnozzle’ to blow it up. Instead I took out my blow-up Thermarest pad. It says it takes just 10-15 breaths to fill it up, but I have pretty good lung capacity, and 20-24 is more like it! (It’s probably because I own the large pad.) The NeoAir is supposed to offer an insulating value of R-3.0 due to the reflective surface on the inside. Given the conditions, I figured this was fine to test this one.

Here’s the basics of my set up for last night:

  • REI Passage 1 tent (no footprint used)
  • Kelty Cosmic Down 21 sleeping bag
  • Thermarest NeoAir Trekker, large
  • Regular pillow (yes, I cheated a bit here – I was tired)
  • Heavy wool socks
  • Heavy fleece lowers
  • Light fleece, partial zipper uppers
  • Skull cap

That was pretty much it. I decided to change from my regular ‘street’ clothes of jeans and the pullover I’d worn that day into the ‘hiking / camping’ type gear I’d be more likely to sleep in. Might as well practice how to change in the small tent, right? After swapping clothes, I settled into the sleeping bag, and felt…. warm, almost hot. It was 50F when I went to bed, and no breeze to speak of, so I left my arms outside the bag and the flap slightly undone and folded open.

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I fell asleep fairly quickly (again, tired) but do recall waking up at one point to zip the bag up, but that’s all I recall as the next thing I heard was the birds singing and it was morning. My feet were a just a slight tad chilly, but not cold. Of course my face was cool, being exposed (I always cover my eyes with my cap). But otherwise I was mostly comfortable.

Conditions in the morning were as follows:

  • Low temp: 40F
  • High wind gust: 10 mph at 6:18 am
  • Dew point: 37F
  • Humidity: 87%
  • Barometer: 29.97

Despite the high humidity and dew point, there wasn’t much dew on my tent – none inside, in fact, and very little outside. I didn’t ever feel a breeze inside the tent – with a high wind of 10 mph at 6:18 am, that means all wind was below that from at least 12:00 am forward, and I went into the tent around 11:00 pm.

One thing I DO notice when  I camp in cooler conditions like this is my feet after I get out of my warm sleeping bag. I was fine changing back into “street” clothing, oddly enough – well, putting the jeans on was eye-opening, they ‘felt’ colder than the nice fleece pullover did. But even with the heavy wool socks I had on, my boots really did feel cold. That’s the one thing I may need to bring along is hand warmers to put inside my boots right when I wake up, to warm them up on the inside. So by the time I’m ready to put them on, they are warm and my feet are warm too.

As I sit here typing this at 8:10 am, a good hour and a half after getting up, my feet still feel that coldness, despite the fact that I’ve been inside my house for well over an hour. So that is one thing I will have to work on so that I feel warm. Coffee doesn’t warm up my feet, even if it makes the rest of me feel better (the caffeine constricts blood vessels anyway). I suppose there’s the possibility of building a fire, or doing jump jacks to get my blood moving again, but a couple ounces of hand warmers for the relatively short backpacking trips I’ll be doing is probably worth it for the cooler times I’m out sleeping.

In any case, it was a good test, and this post is meant to document that for me for future reference (and for anyone else interested). As a “cold” sleeper who tends to need a lot of warmth to sleep well, I feel great about any mild-weather situation sleeping in 40F overnight temperatures having this gear with me. I might want to have slightly warmer gear if it is going to be more damp or windy, but for how things were last night, this was almost ideal.

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3 thoughts on ““Cold” weather camping: Testing

  1. Trying things out is the only way to really know for sure! It sounds like the experiment was a success and that you’ve got a pretty solid sleep system to me. I usually have trouble with my feet. They are always cold, but also sweaty. It makes for a challenging combination in the winter months!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep – at least for the 40F ovenights (and warmer), I’m in good shape. Like you, my cold/sweaty feet are usually an issue too. My wife likes to tease me about it, because I buy so many socks, but hiking socks with 70 to 75% or higher merino wool content do really well for me. And in colder conditions, a thin liner sock with a heavier one over it works pretty well. I also change into dry socks for sleeping.

      Liked by 1 person

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