Nothing breaks the spirit like a bad night’s sleep in the backcountry. Matthew Cattin shares some advice to get you warm, comfortable and well-rested.
Prep your bed early
Down provides much less insulation when it’s compressed, so it pays to get your sleeping bag out as soon as you claim a bunk or get your tent up. Give it a good shake out, and unzip it to air out if there is a chance it’s damp.
The temperature will drop during the night, so make sure you keep extra layers, socks, gloves and a beanie next to your bed – nobody likes a midnight pack rustler. A headlight never goes astray either.
It’s harder to facilitate getting warm gear out of your pack when you wake up cold and half asleep and I’m often inclined to just roll over and ignore the chill – but in my experience, it always wins eventually.
Throw another log on your fire
Your warmest accessory in the wilderness isn’t your $700 sleeping bag – it’s your body, and in order to keep it warm, you need fuel.
Think of your body as a campfire; it runs hotter when it’s fed because the process of digestion generates body heat. Eating a snack or hot sugary drink before bed will help you to beat the cold.
Be wary of your intake, though. A pre-sleep sugar high or caffeine rush won’t work in your favour, and drinking alcohol may be relaxing and warming, but it actually cools you down.
The warming sensation you feel after a few wines is called vasodilation – the increase of blood flow to the skin – which decreases your core temperature as warmth is lost from your skin’s surface. If you are in a drinking mood, layer appropriately to trap the warmth.
Follow a routine
If you have a consistent sleep routine at home, you may sleep more easily if you replicate it in the backcountry. Whether it’s a warm face wash or flossing, your pre-bed rituals let your body know it’s time to start shutting down for the evening.
It can be difficult to fill the hours once the sun goes down, but if you’re not tired, it might be worthwhile reading or playing cards by torchlight until you feel drowsy.
If your body isn’t used to a lights-out time of 7pm, you might find yourself struggling to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
But if you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, a 13-hour hibernation might be just what the doctor ordered.
Pre-heat your sleep
Sleeping bags are passive insulators, meaning they trap your body’s warmth rather than provide active warmth, as a heater does.
This means the warmer you are when you hop in, the warmer you will feel as you drift off to sleep.
Pre-emptively layer up before you lose the heat of the day’s exercise and sun, and try your best not to lower your body temperature before bed.
For an extra boost of bedtime warmth, try a few star jumps before laying down, or bust out a burst of in-bag sit-ups to heat (and chisel) your core.
A top tip from professional guides is to fill a drink bottle with hot water and put this in your sleeping bag before you go to bed – it works just like a hot-water bottle.
DIY Plush Pillow
A decent pillow can make all the difference to your sleep, so here’s my trick for an incredibly comfy DIY pillow. All you need is a fleece top (the softer the better), and a down jacket. Done well, this one’s a game changer.
- Lay your jumper face up – you want your zip or buttons to be on the back of the pillow.
- Stuff your down jacket into the jumper, pushing it to fill the shoulders.
- Fold the bottom half of your jumper to meet the shoulders. If you have a hood, fold it down first.
- Cross the sleeves, and tie a half hitch to secure the pillow.
- Flip it over, and you’re all set – sleep well.