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How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)?
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Confused Newbie

Locale: Northern CO
How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 14:32:45 MDT Print View

I'm a newcomer to UL backpacking, and pretty inexperienced at backpacking in general (I get out about once every two years). This weekend, I froze in my sleeping bag, and am wondering how you all would have done things differently.

This Sunday/Monday, I took my 9 year old son on a little overnight backpacking trip in the Snowy Range, WY. We camped at ~11,000', near a small lake at the foot of a mountain. A nearby SNOWTEL temperature gauge at 9500' recorded a low of 40deg, so it is probably safe to say it was in the upper 30s that night. It was an awesome trip, but I was very cold at night.

The relevant gear here is:
+ Tarptent Rainshadow 2
+ GoLite UltraLite 800 Fill 3-Season Quilt (
+ Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pad (

I slept in a medium weight set of long underwear and a fleece hat, and used an old down jacket as a pillow. Later I got cold and put the jacket on, but at that point it was saturated from condensation dripping off the tent. I then gave it to my son who was a little chilly, and he put it over his head to stay warm.

I did make a couple of mistakes with the tarptent. I didn't keep the outside flaps open to encourage air flow, and then we also slept the wrong way, with our heads near the foot of the tent.

With that all in mind, I am curious if anyone has advice about these things.
1) is condensation always a problem with tarptents, or was it just because I screwed things up. The next morning my son said, "Daddy, did it rain inside the tent?" because it was so wet inside (and the night was clear). It makes me worry what things would be like on a wet night if we had to close the front flaps all the way

2) What do you all typically sleep in if you use a quilt? I deliberately skipped taking a fleece this time to see if that was reasonable.

3) I really didn't have anything to put my head on, and found I missed it. Do any of you take inflatable pillows?

4) Maybe I had my quilt bag fastened to my pad wrong, but it seemed like I wasn't able to fully prevent air flowing in and out of the head of the bag as I moved (I like to sleep on my side). I had the cord at the top of the bag cinched down as best I could.

Looking forward to some sage advice! Thanks.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 15:07:35 MDT Print View

Derek, my opinion (I had this same issue a few years ago) is it was the Insulated air core pad. Though is says insulated, it only has a small amount on the top of the pad, the rest is just air. I owned this same pad, so I know the issues.
Here is the thread I started in 2008
Question of the Day

Your quilt is rated for 20* and I have the same quilt- I sleep cold and it works good for me down to about 30*. I shouldn't be the quilt. I don't fasten my quilt to my pad, I sleep with my quilt on top of my pad.

Should have needed fleece.

As for condensation, you need air flow!!!! Unless its raining side ways, stake and vent as open as possible.

Pillow- air filled can get cold also. Try a number of things, not many people have found a perfect solution, I'm still working on this- even after 30 years and trying most everything.

Also, search the forums- the BAIAC (Big Agnes Ins. Air Core) has come up a number of times for this very issue.

Oh, and welcome...

Edited to add link

Edited by bestbuilder on 08/15/2012 15:11:49 MDT.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
RE How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 15:07:46 MDT Print View

I can't address your questions on shelter/quilts but as to getting cold: I live in Alaska, I have camped year round including winter in snow shelters, tarps or tents. What helps me to stay warm when it's cold out is this: I sleep with a balaclava on (and always have one with me, summer or winter as our weather is unpredictable). The balaclava is better than a hat, for me, because it prevents heat loss from my neck as well as my head, and keeps my face warm which helps to prevent any inclination to bury my head in my bag while sleeping. Additionally, I boil water and take two hot water bottles (dropped in a sock each, so they don't burn me) and one goes in between my legs in the groin area to heat the femoral artery and one goes in an arm pit. To avoid any possibility of a spill, I ensure caps are on tight and orient the cap top-up. If I roll to my side at night, I just move the bottles so they remain oriented up. I have never had a leak. Along with wearing long johns and thick warm socks to bed, that should pretty much ensure you not only have a warm night's sleep but even in winter you'll wake up to still-warm water to make your breakfast with.

Henry Shires
(07100) - F - M
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 15:13:23 MDT Print View

There are some immediate things that jump out to me.

1) Camping in the open( I presume) on a clear night, in a low spot, next to water, with the temperature in 30's is a recipe for condensation. The air is saturated and the temperature is well below the dew point. You want to camp in places are out of the cold, saturated zones -- away from water, up out of low spots, preferably under trees which trap heat and keep your canopy warmer, and with a breeze (if possible).

2) Sleeping at the low end does not allow your breath to escape or mix with ambient air. Your warm, moist breath had no place to go and condensed on cold fabric.

3) Sleeping in a quilt when the weather is cold and learning to wrap up to eliminate cold spots takes some practice.

4 Wear a warm hat and eat some high fat food (peanut butter, for example) before you go to bed to keep the internal fire stoked.


Greg F
(GregF) - F

Locale: Canadian Rockies
similar experience on 08/15/2012 18:14:05 MDT Print View

I had a simikar experience a few weeks ago in the same tent with 3 big guys. The first night was by a lake as dispersed camping was not permitted. There was frost the next morning. Talking with other groups everyone had some condensation issues whether double or single walled so it isnt just a single wall tent issue. The next night camped about 30m above the next lake there were no issues. So being a little further up definately goes a long way in reducing the problem

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
cold on 08/15/2012 19:56:08 MDT Print View

Don't worry too much about it. My first few times I was cold too ...

1. do the hot water bottle trick. Start a fire and put a pot of water on it... when the water is HOT but not boiling , and not giving off much steam, put it in a 1L bottle. Nalgene and most backpacking bottles can handle boiling water. Most other bottles can handle it too but some can't. However, the water you're putting in it will not be boiling. When it is filled throw it in your sleeping bag. It will stay warm MOST of the night. It will probably be too hot to touch so wrap it in a sock.

If you're having a fire ANYWAY it's a good trick...

2. Don't rule out sleeping next to the fire. I did this a few years back when we had a cold snap. It was quite nice.

3. If this is a life threatening situation, make a large fire or consider making a smoke blanket. It's basically two long lines of fire that you sleep between. Do this on DIRT and next to a water supply. It will heat you from BOTH sides. Next morning dump TONS of water on both fires, stirring the water into the dirt with a stick. Take the ashes, WITH OUR HANDS that are now wet and cold, and spread them out into the woods to leave no trace.

4. Take lots of pine needles and put them under your sleeping pad. They will act as further insulation. (I haven't done this trick yet).

Will Webster
Fire on 08/15/2012 20:11:26 MDT Print View

I don't see a significant difference between going to sleep with a fire burning, and walking off and leaving it. In a true survival situation it may be justifiable with precautions but otherwise it just doesn't seem right.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 20:14:03 MDT Print View

Camping next to a lake is begging for condensation. Try to be a little above the lake, or upwind so the moisture blows away from you.

I wrap my quilt around me instead of the pad. Shake the down away from the edges if you can.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/15/2012 21:07:55 MDT Print View

location,location, location...
Camping is about (temporary) real estate after all
I have a mate that loves to camp next to water , he does not care about condensation, but I do...
So I usually manage to find a good excuse (better view, softer ground,better bush cover...) to pulling him a bit further up .
In the end I still tend to camp somewhat higher than him.
here is an example:
Camping by water
Just a creek but on this side of the bridge it is flat and a large bog. (there is a hut there too)
That night two tents where set up in that flat area, both where saturated in the morning.
my mate and I got a bit of condensation but not much at all.
Apart from the colder and more saturated air, often enough, flat ground next to water can be damp ( as in the pic above...) and or prone to flooding when it rains.
So before setting the shelter up, look around and look up (branches..) see if you can figure out where water will flow when it rains and where winds come from but yes the lowest point is the coldest.
BTW, NO unattended open fires , ever...

Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/16/2012 00:09:39 MDT Print View

Sounds to me like it was a draft rather than just ambient temperatures that chilled you.

You could try using a liner or master the art of rolling over whilst keeping the quilt tight around your neck :) I use pretty much the same method as Dan in this thread

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/16/2012 04:45:16 MDT Print View

Hi Derek,

Been there done that! ;-)

Location, location, location plus orientation and ventilation!

1.) Was there any prevailing wind or breeze that night?

2.) Were you camped downwind of the lake?

3.) Was your Tarptent pitched in an open area or behind some natural windbreak?

1.) The feet go at the foot end.

2.) The foot end of the Tarptent should be faced at / into any prevailing wind.

1.) Think of your lungs as the air intake of an engine. Engines need to vent the "spent" combustion air.

2.) Some airflow through the Tarptent will help remove the condensation of of your exhaled breath. Too much will serve to chill you.

I hope this helps.

Party On,


Paul Mountford
(Sparticus) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic Canada
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/16/2012 05:07:10 MDT Print View

I find that a pee bottle when it is cold helps a lot. If I have to get out of my quilt and tarp / tent to do the business, I always find that I'm fighting to get warm when back in the quilt. A pee bottle allows minimal disruption to your heat.

Hot water bottle is a good idea, but I find that I don't need it when I go to sleep. It is when I wake up a little cold that I really need it. If above or around freezing, I have water in my jetboil ready to go, and if I wake up cold, in two minutes I have water for a hot water bottle. I usually need to pee as well, so when combined with the tip above I can get back to warm sleep pretty quickly.

Edited by Sparticus on 08/16/2012 05:10:39 MDT.

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/16/2012 08:23:32 MDT Print View

Remember that your body is working hard keeping your core temp at 98.6 degrees F.

When you have to go, Paul's suggestion makes very good sense for a number of reasons.

1.) Relief! ;-)

2.) Not having to brave the cold and then get warm again.

3.) Why make your body work harder than it has to by trying to keep that excess fluid as well as your core at 98.6 ?

Party On,


Tim Heckel
(ThinAir) - M

Locale: 6237' - Manitou Springs
Gloves on 08/16/2012 10:40:17 MDT Print View

The only thing I can add is wear gloves. Even just a light glove liner will help.

Confused Newbie

Locale: Northern CO
Thanks folks on 08/16/2012 13:46:30 MDT Print View

Great comments--thanks all for setting me straight. Clearly there was some significant operator error: namely, I should have camped a bit uphill from the lake, and slept the right way around in the tent. For what it's worth, it was essentially a calm night, and the ground was dewy the next morning.

I hadn't seen the discussions on the Big Agnes pad. I love that it is so comfortable and small. As a slide sleeper, I don't really like the little closed-cell pads, and thermarests seem rather bulky and heavy. Any recommendations anyone cares to give on sleeping pads would be well-received, although I am sure I can learn more by looking at older posts.

The low temperature recorded that night at a SNOWTEL site at 9500' was 40F. So, if we were at 11,000', I presume the low was about 33-34. I'm curious what the quilt sleepers out there would find sufficient for sleeping attire. I think I would have been okay in my down jacket had I worn it from the outset and not given it to my son; but it also makes me think having a down hoodie would have been nice and conmfortable and toasty.

I have used the hot water bottle trick when winter camping. This time I brought only bottled water bottles to save on weight (trying to pick up UL tips and tricks) because I hadn't expected it to be below 40. But we did boil water for drinking, so it would have been very easy to do.

The pee bottle suggestions are well-taken, but the best part about getting up in the middle of the night is you often get to see spectacular stars!

Thanks again.

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
BAIAC on 08/16/2012 15:16:54 MDT Print View

For cold weather (40 is the lowest I've been and my BAIAC was fine) the general suggestion is to supplement with a thin closed cell pad. 1/8 to 1/4 inch seems to be the norm. This adds insulation value while the BAIAC provides the comfort.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/16/2012 16:16:46 MDT Print View

Although many people love the freedom a quilt gives them, I have never really felt toasty in one in cold conditions, unless I also carry a bivy bag. It doesn't have to be a heavy or waterproof bivy bag. Mine has a 0.33oz cuben bottom and 0.8oz breathable nylon top. It also has a 'hood'. This is enough to A) keep the quilt in place around me and B) block any breezes that may come into the tent. If I am carrying a quilt, I also always carry a balaclava. But honestly, when all is said and done, I mostly don't use a quilt anymore due to the above 'added' weight making it no lighter than a full zippered bag with hood, and the fact that a zippered sleeping bag can be opened up and used as a quilt if conditions permit. Not meaning to start a war on whether a quilt or bag is best, just saying my experiences. I also always carry a closed cell sit pad, which can boost the warmth of my mat in a pinch. The sitpad is part of my Gossamer Gear Gorilla, so I carry it anyway, but an extra sitpad only weighs 2oz at most, and is nice for sitting around at rest stops and in the evenings as well, without worrying about puncturing an inflatable. It also doubles as an emergency backup if my inflatable mat ever did spring a leak...I don't use/need a pillow, so can't comment on your best options there.

Confused Newbie

Locale: Northern CO
How would you have done this differently (I was too cold)? on 08/17/2012 14:23:04 MDT Print View

Thanks again for everyone's comments. I'm not sure where the transition from quilt bag to mummy is for me, but I think I was close. I don't have a good mummy bag--that's next on my list!

Brian Reyman

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Mummy Bags on 08/17/2012 20:32:26 MDT Print View

I also prefer mummy bags. As a side sleeper, I LOVE my Montbell bag. It's stretch factor really does work - I have the room when I need to move around but it closes in to keep me warm. I've found their temp ratings to be pretty accurate.

If you don't need as much wiggle room, Western Mountaineering has some fantastic options.

I like the idea and comfort of Big Agnes bags, but still haven't found one that is near to its rating. I have one rated for 15 that really only keeps me warm down to 35-40.

Alice Hengst
(Moondust) - MLife

Locale: Southern Sierras
Sleeping warm on 08/17/2012 22:56:12 MDT Print View

My first air mattress was a BA IAC. I was always cold, even at 40 degrees. I got so freaked by being cold that I got the Exped Downmat 9 and a zero rated quilt. The Downmat 9 is hefty (about 34 oz) but so comfortable and toasty!! The past few trips I wanted to carry less weight so I used the Thermarest All-Season Neoair. Very lightweight, not quite as thick as the BA but I find it very comfortable and I haven't bottomed out sleeping on my side. It is also narrower than the BA but seems to be much warmer.