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less clothes, more sleeping bag
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Jason Priem
(jasonpriem) - F

Locale: Florida
less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 11:50:16 MST Print View

One of the most common "techniques" of UL backpacking has got to be sleeping in all your clothes. The idea, of course, is that by integrating your daytime clothing into your sleep system, you can carry a lighter bag: dual-use gear, check and mate. I've dutifully followed this approach for some time, and I'm starting to think that maybe I've got it all wrong.

Here's why: I don't generally hike in my warmest clothes. Unless it's really, really cold out (and then this Florida boy is stayin' home), 30 minutes of intense walking/climbing has got me shucking clothes like they're on fire. Then they stay in my pack, to become part of my sleep system that night. But here's the thing: 12oz of warm jacket--which is lots of shell and some insulation--is way, way less efficient than 12 oz. of extra insulation in my bag. In other words, heavier bag ftw.

Now, it's true that your warm clothes are good for puttering around camp. You're not pumping out heat from exertion, and you're not sleeping in your bag. But I find that I want to spend less and less time "in camp." I don't cook, and I can eat in my bag. If I'm going to sit around for a while, I find it's more fun to do it at midday, when it's nice out and you can admire the scenery.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to have thought of this, and since no one else seems to do it, I reckon I'm missing something. So, any thoughts?

Edited by jasonpriem on 02/27/2009 11:51:56 MST.

Chad Miller

Locale: Duluth, Minnesota
Less clothing, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 12:24:22 MST Print View

I agree with you.

When the weather turns cold I use a heavier sleeping bag rather than a lighter bag combined with clothing. My reasons for doing this are lighter weight, simpler, and not having to worry about compressing the insulation of my clothing worn to bed.

A quick look at the math using typical ultra light product weights:

0 degree Down bag: 2 lbs 13 oz. (28 oz. of fill)
Total weight is 2 lbs. 13 oz. (28 ounces of down)

25 degree Down bag: 1 lb. 12 oz. (14 oz. fill)
Down Jacket : 1 lb. 10 oz. (9 oz. of fill)
Down Pants: 1 lb. 1 oz. (6.2 oz. of fill)
Total weight : 3 lbs. 7 oz. (29.2 oz. of down)

In this example the heavier sleeping bag is 10 ounces lighter while providing the same amount of warmth. Please keep in mind that while wearing clothing to bed may be heavier it can also be more efficient way of insulating your body due to the smaller amount of air volume that is required to be warmed by your body (I’m sorry but I don’t have any hard data on this). It is important to note though that this will only work if your bag and clothing system are perfectly sized as to not compress any of the insulation.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 12:57:16 MST Print View

I don't think anyone has ever advocated using a particular sleeping method just because it's part of the club motto and secret handshake. You just use what makes sense. It's the old HYOH thing. And it's really hard to compare apples to apples, if you wear a down jacket and pants in a 25 degree bag, it's probably a -10 degree bag, but who knows. Bags and people all sleep and resist cold (or not) differently.

Edited by skinewmexico on 02/27/2009 13:01:01 MST.

Jason Priem
(jasonpriem) - F

Locale: Florida
another disadvantage of sleep-system clothing? on 02/27/2009 13:00:30 MST Print View

yeah, I'd like to see some sort of data on the relative warmth of clothing vs. a bag, too. As you point out, the nice thing about close-fitting clothing is that it mostly eliminates heat loss from convection in the space between the insulation and your skin.

But there is another side of that coin, too: where I can press skin to skin (like arms against torso, legs against one another), I'm in effect getting (nearly) 100% efficient insulation. Since the surfaces are (pretty close to) the same temperature, they're in thermodynamic equilibrium i.e., I'm not losing any heat at all there. To put it another way, I'm decreasing the surface area available for me to lose heat (sleeping in the fetal position would be even more efficient, but not so comfy).

Any insulation between parts of my body, then (inner arms, legs)is at best wasted: it's insulating me from myself. In fact, it's even worse, because even good insulation allows a certain a amount of convection within it, which skin-to-skin contact wouldn't.

It's tough to say how significant this effect is, but I've often heard old-timers say that sleepin' nekkid is your warmest option. I always discounted it before, but now I wonder. Counting the inner half of each arm, the inner half of each leg, and a bit of side-torso for good measure, and using the "rule of nines" ( ) to figure surface area, we're talking about nearly a third of your area.

So maybe that's another reason (beside duplicated weight of shell material) to go bag-heavy, clothing-light.

Jason Priem
(jasonpriem) - F

Locale: Florida
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 13:08:09 MST Print View

@joe: yeah, I don't think there's any secret handshake, either. Indeed, I think UL backpacking's origins as sort of a backpacking reformation (Jardine as Luther? hmmm)have discouraged an orthodoxy so far. I've worn my clothing to sleep in till now because I thought it was the warmest for the weight. I'm just wondering if there might be a more efficient way and I like to hear what other people think.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 13:40:16 MST Print View

Qualifier: I'm talking about cold weather here. (Cold that Chad can relate to, I don't know Joe's or Jason's experiences)

I look at it from the point of view of the entire day, not just the night.

It's D**M cold exiting from a sleeping bag at 0*F and packing up while wearing only the clothing that is appropriate while moving on the trail.

Add the normal morning bio needs followed by preparing a hot (or at least warm) breakfast and I have at least an hour of being uncomfortable and perhaps getting stupid (the cold does that). Yes, cooking is option, but I find it worthwhile in cold weather.

And then, since I find hiking more enjoyable if I take a break every couple hours I'll get chilled again ... repeatedly.

And chilled then again when I get to tonight's camp ... even if I were willing to hike a couple hour's in darkness, I will have more hours in camp than I can sleep.
Spending those extra hours cocooned in a mummy bag just isn't my hike.

When it's all said in done, I'll be bringing the clothing anyway ... might as well use it to lessen the weight and bulk of my sleeping bag.

Edited by jcolten on 02/27/2009 13:42:10 MST.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 13:50:50 MST Print View

I think Jason makes some good points. When I started backpacking over thirty years ago I always carried a sleeping bag that kept me warm sleeping naked at the expected low temperatures plus clothes that would keep me warm in camp and in the sleeping bag if temperatures were colder than normal. I found that a close-fitting sleeping bag was warmest with the clothes draped on the outside if necessary. I've experimented with wearing clothes in roomier bags and decided that, for me, sleeping naked in a close-fitting bag is the most comfortable and weight efficient ("naked" is modified to mean boxer shorts and base layer in temperatures below around +25F). Because I'm mostly in cold, wet and windy places in camp tends to mean in a shelter so my sleeping bag is often used as an item of clothing - pulled up to my armpits and the drawcord tightened - so clothing to keep my warm in camp usually means an insulated jacket.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
different clothes for different situations on 02/27/2009 14:13:19 MST Print View

There are situations where it makes sense to bring insulated clothing. For example, when shoeshowing and moving at a reasonable pace, then you can go with just a base and and maybe a shell. But lets say you are moving downhill on a slope with obstacles, that could take you several hours to complete. You need to slow down and take your time. This may require insulating layer(s) to keep you warm. Now the less vs more may not be the optimum setup.

This is one of the downfalls of UL travel. We need more gear to handle different types of trips. For years I had one pack, one bag, one of just about everything. Now I travel much lighter, but have 3 or 4 times more equipment.
All this equipment makes my wife happy, because she has the justification to buy more shoes, more purses, and more outfits. :)

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 14:20:49 MST Print View

Putting all your insulation in your sleeping can work if you don't spend time hanging around in the morning and evening. If you can get up, pack in a few minutes, and walk all day until you bed down in the evening, you can definitely save weight. For me, though, that wouldn't be any fun. Some of my best experiences in the wilderness have been in the "magic hours" in the morning and evening, when I'm doing photography or just looking around. To be comfortable in the mountains at those times, I definitely need some kind of torso insulation. So If I'm carrying the insulation anyway, I may as well take a lighter sleeping bag.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Agree on 02/27/2009 14:35:31 MST Print View


I agree!! I have been on trips where unseasonably cold conditions rolled in. Oh, I stayed warm, but it can get boring when all you do is hike all day, immediately get in your bag, and then do it again day after day.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 18:24:23 MST Print View

You get more warmth / weight from your sleeping bag or quilt than you will from a mix of warm clothing and a lighter weight bag/quilt because of the weight is in the insulation and less in the fabric, zippers, etc.

My generate recommendation is to figure out how much clothing you need when not in the sleeping bag/quilt, and then bring enough sleeping bag/quilt to let you sleep well while you are using your clothing.

How much clothing largely depending of the camping style. Some people are go, go, go and basically never stop. For them, taking clothing which is designed around high output active makes good sense. I have several friends who take this sort of approach. The address the early morning issue by eating breakfast 1 hour onto the trail and trying to stop for the night just before a big uphill section so they will warm up quickly in the morning.

This is very much a HYOH sort of issue.


Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 20:19:13 MST Print View

My generate recommendation is to figure out how much clothing you need when not in the sleeping bag/quilt, and then bring enough sleeping bag/quilt to let you sleep well while you are using your clothing.

Nicely and succinctly said.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/27/2009 20:25:51 MST Print View

"Some of my best experiences in the wilderness have been in the "magic hours" in the morning and evening, when I'm doing photography or just looking around. To be comfortable in the mountains at those times, I definitely need some kind of torso insulation. So If I'm carrying the insulation anyway, I may as well take a lighter sleeping bag."

My sentiments, exactly. All a matter of style, though.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 02/28/2009 20:54:14 MST Print View

I had always believed you should change your clothes before you go to sleep otherwise any wetness in your clothes would chill you.

Then on the PCT I got really tired of the effort and started just sleeping in my clothes. I did it for convenience, not for warmth. But I realized that sleeping in my clothes did not make me cold at all. I sent home the long johns and that's where I reduced my weight.

I will usually get cold in the wee hours and put on my jacket and go back to sleep. I'll wear it when I'm not hiking dawn to dusk, too. So I make use of my jacket and would not go without one.

I find the warmest way to sleep is to lay on my stomach with my arms under my stomach and legs and my whole body straight. Sometimes it is the only way I can warm up if I've gotten chilled before going to bed.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: less clothes, more sleeping bag on 03/01/2009 00:00:31 MST Print View

> I find the warmest way to sleep is to lay on my stomach with my arms under my stomach

Ah, there's a much warmer way to sleep than that! But you need a partner with you, to whom you can really snuggle up...


(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
sleeping naked. on 03/01/2009 13:57:49 MST Print View

My army trainers insisted we sleep naked in our Canadian Forces issued bags in the Canadian Winter. I never felt all that confortable sleeping that way. The bags came with a full vapor barrier liner. Maybe there was some logic to those suggestions.

How much clothing I bring tends to vary with the seasons. Summe rint he mountains I will just hope in the sleeping bag, primarily because I can stay up later moving because there is more light. In the Andes closert to the equator and 12hr days and in the shoulder seasons I can;t hije as long because it gets dark much sooner and I need to hang out in camp longer, so I bring more clothes and sleep and use it to supplement my sleeping bag.

Where, when, and how you hike all influence the sleep system that will work best for you.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: sleeping naked. on 03/01/2009 14:38:06 MST Print View

Sleeping naked is pretty hazardous when you are a middle-aged women who needs to get up 2-3 times per night and leave the tent. Not really a matter of style,

And like others have said, some of the midnight adventures I've had are priceless, and would have been impossible without some warm clothing to wear. That's a matter of style. To me there's just so much more to hiking than walking from dawn to dusk and then falling into bed.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: Re: sleeping naked. on 03/01/2009 14:49:25 MST Print View

One argument in favor of sleep wear is to keep the sleeping bag or quilt/pad clean. On long hikes it makes a big difference.

When conditions permit (low humidity, no dew)I sometimes sleep in my daywear to dry it. Often I take it off and put on sleepwear at my first wake-up. Usually it is dry by then. Drying clothing while sleeping does not work if conditions will lead to condensation inside the quilt insulation, and certainly when temps get so critical that dry clothing is needed to extend the quilt's temp range.

Unknown abc
(edude) - F
"less clothes, more sleeping bag" on 03/01/2009 15:34:32 MST Print View

Hey, Vick, that's what cotton sleeping bag liners are for!

I'm going to in trouble for saying this, but sometimes on car-camping trips I'll take a cotton sleeping bag liner and my 'natural' suit. It is comfy when the weather is warm.

martin cooperman
(martyc) - M

Locale: Industrial Midwest
Sleeping Naked on 03/02/2009 08:33:57 MST Print View

The old idea of shedding clothes before entering your sleeping bag came from a time when many people used cotton or other materials that were more water absorbent than today.

In that case, it would use considerable body warmth to dry them out in the sleeping bag and could get the bag unacceptably wet.

Today things are different, and wearing modern gear in the sleeping bag will generally dry them out just fine.

The limitation here might be long winter trips where sleeping bag loft could be compromised after a week or more.

Marty Cooperman