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I have an insulated sleeping pad that I like. Has anyone successfully combined warm sleepwear with a pad for a comfortable sleep at or near freezing night temperatures?

I'm referring to a tent that can retain some heat due to the rain/dew cover.

Another advantage of sleepwear that is warm enough to be comfortable throughout the night seems to be that you can wake up (e.g. to pee) and stay warm.

Do some people camp like this without a bag/quilt? What did you use? Thanks.

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    consider how thick your sleeping bag is versus the clothes you wear
    – njzk2
    May 30 at 20:39
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    I have slept out in winter (for a charity sleep out night) in just my Frank Thomas motorcycling gear. And it was a bit too warm, so I had to unzip it a little.
    – Rory Alsop
    May 31 at 17:34
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    Anything's possible with a big-enough fire, sure.
    – Roger
    Jun 1 at 3:51
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    Never done this in a tent but I've slept in a car in winter in full winter clothing and a down blanket (caught up in a bad freezing rain and the road was closed). That didn't work very well. Your body produces about half heat sleeping than awake, so you need twice the insulation. Wearing anything less than that makes you unable to sleep continuously. Jun 1 at 8:25
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    @Roger: build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life. :-) Jun 1 at 17:03

6 Answers 6

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I'm sceptical that it would be good, or efficient on packing.

I have slept under cover (bus shelters, on wooden benches) in cycling gear suitable for the conditions, even for sitting outside to eat and drink, plus a fleece jacket and fleece hat.

It wasn't very successful. I woke up really cold after a few minutes, and had to get moving again to warm up, which wasn't quick. I normally run quite hot including when I sleep, though less so after exertion.

I'm not saying it's not possible, but you'll need a lot more clothing than you think, and while you can carry a down jacket in little space, your lower half will struggle (down salopettes would be your best best but then the bulk and weight would be comparable to a down sleeping bag, and the price higher).

All over base layers are enough to get up briefly when it's really quite cold - a few degrees above freezing and all I reckon you need is enough for decency* or to get around an organised campsite with toilet facilities if you're getting back into your sleeping bag soon. Even the latter is far less than you'd need to sleep all night.


*this could mean anything from nothing at all (e.g. wild camping solo or in a couple), or covering top and bottom halves (campsites, popular wild camping spots, remote wild camping with mixed gender friends), and it can vary within a trip.

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    In many situations I doubt you have much need for decency--the fact that equipment weight is an issue means backpacking and thus remote locations. Unless you've gone to an established campground you're likely in darkness other than whatever light you're using--and that means a hypothetical observer likely can't even tell what you're wearing. May 31 at 2:09
  • @Loren absolutely - that's why I didn't specify what, as needs vary with solitude, and, if in company, gender and location. My last lightweight trip had wild camping spots with no one around, more popular wild camping spots, and a couple of commercial campsites (I needed a shower and laundry by then).
    – Chris H
    May 31 at 9:33
  • +1 for surprising amount of clothes needed May 31 at 16:03
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No, we have not slept outside in near freezing temperatures in no sleeping bag and in only warm pjs plus a tent. But YES, we have done something similar. We have frequently slept outside without a tent, and in only a sleeping bag and hiking clothes. Temperatures were often well below freezing (in our experience about 15F or about minus 9C). And under clear skies too, so there was significant radiative cooling.

A good sleeping bag even without a tent does an excellent job of retaining heat, and protecting against dew and air currents. And if it is below freezing, the air moisture will condense as frost. We have awakened in the morning to find our sleeping bags looking like skating rinks!

All that being said, I suspect that, in your scenario, you will be chilly because the tent alone will not provide a heat radiation shield or a circulation shield close enough to your body. Another way of saying this is that your body, which is about a 100 watt heater, will have to heat a much larger volume of air to keep you comfortable without a sleeping bag, even in a tent, than if you are tucked into a sleeping bag.

The only way to find out is to experiment. Different people have different tolerances for cold or heat.

Weight is of course a consideration. In most climates, going without a tent or tarp is risky because of rain.

As for your last point: slithering out of a sleeping bag is easier than getting out of a tent.

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    This. Cooling over your body is a function of surface area--and clothes have a lot more surface area than a sleeping bag. Thus you need a lot more clothing for equal warmth. I can't imagine a scenario where your daytime clothing needs would be as great as what you would need at night, thus you're carrying extra weight no matter what. May 31 at 2:07
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    "sleeping bags looking like skating rinks": I usually put up a tarp less against radiative loss but so that dew or frost are captured by the tarp and I can pack a dry sleeping bag. Moist sleeping bag is no fun... May 31 at 16:37
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    Plus 1. I have done both at or near freezing: slept outside with a sleeping bag, and slept in a tent without a sleeping bag. Outside with a sleeping bag was WAY more comfortable (I've done this many times). Inside the tent without a sleeping bag but with warm clothes and a coat I was cold all night and ended up going to the car, turning it on and turning the heater on.
    – mgarey
    Jun 2 at 16:32
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A bivy bag, a pad and lots of warm clothes with no sleeping bag can be done. I can't say it was warm or particularly comfortable. It's not an uncommon thing for climbers going very light.

It's probably best to test that style of experience before doing it for real. Bring a bag along over night and don't use it and check your limits.

I've done that a few times experimentally and a couple times in real life when my down sleeping bag got wet and was useless.

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Disclaimer: I haven't tried.

But I do have clothing in which I can sit still at freezing temp and be comfortable, even after an exhausting day. They include ≈3 additional insulated layers (like thick fleece, padded outermost layer) compared to what I wear in the sleeping bag. That many layers also mean that you'll need the outer layers at least a size bigger than you usually wear - otherwise it will not only be uncomfortable but also inefficient since you'd compress the inner layers.

I'd think it substantially less comfortable in such thick clothing (it's like Michelin man) compared to thin clothing and sleeping bag.
Also, if the clothing is good for sleeping, getting up without taking off some would easily get me sweating which will be somewhere between thoroughly uncomfortable and outright dangerous later on.

To me, the most comfortable way is to sleep under an open sleeping bag (used like quilt). Which has the additional feature that I can close it for more insulation should the need arise.

In terms of volume and weight, more sleeping bag insulation is much better than the same insulation provided by clothes.


You can also look at what hunters wear when on an open stand. Note that many of them take blankets or bags as well, though their bags are typically thinner than sleeping bags since they are used over full clothing.


I rarely use my tent, and have always set it up to be quite "drafty" to have good air exchange. I find this helps to keep stuff less damp (don't underestimate how much water one exhales in a night, even if there should be no sweat).

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Alpinists do this with some frequency. It's called a bivouac. Ideally they'll have a warm jacket, probably down. Rather than a tent, they will often have a "bivi bag", which is just a wind and waterproof sack, with no insulation, big enough to crawl into. Sometimes it's planned, and sometimes it's bad luck. It generally varies from merely uncomfortable to "not survivable".

I'm not an alpinist, but I've slept out at 7,500ft in the North Cascades of the USA in good weather, in the middle of summer, in just my down parka and a windproof bag. Temps probably got down to the low forties (F). It was not comfortable and I didn't get much sleep. I've also done it in similar conditions with a warm sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and an extra tarp over the bivi bag, and that was not bad at all.

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I have slept outside in a warm jacket and jeans with a fire going in near freezing temps in very humid locations, never done it alone though, always had the heat of other humans lying nearby and the warmth of the fire, have done it without any bedding at all but still had a tent with everything inside incase it starts raining heavily etc.

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