11 Tips for Staying Warm While Backpacking in Fall

When you’re in the backcountry during the shoulder seasons, it’s no fun to wake up freezing cold in the middle of the night. You can’t just “turn up the thermostat” or grab an extra blanket from the closet. So, since shivering uncontrollably is only fun for so long, here are 11 tips for staying warm:

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1. Wear dry clothes to bed

If you go to bed in the shirt you’ve been sweating in all day, it’s going to be hard to escape the damp chill. I often pack a spare base layer, so that I’ll have something dry to put on just before bed, and I’ll put all my dry layers—including puffy jackets, hats, and gloves—on over it.

2. Set up camp in a protected area

Finding a campsite away from the wind is another way to increase your chances of keeping warm through night. If you’re doing a multi-night Pemi Loop, for example, you’ll be much warmer if you walk the extra mileage down to the Mt. Guyot tent platforms instead of camping in overflow sites right on the Bondcliff Trail. If you’re unfamiliar, these are located on the ridgeline and get exposed to wind all night long. By contrast, the Guyot tent platforms are tucked away a few hundred yards below the ridge.

3. Keep your stuff warm, too

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and trying to force your feet into damp socks and ice-cold boots. To prevent this, dry your socks in your sleeping bag overnight. And, if it’s really cold and your boots are soaking wet, consider putting them in a plastic bag—a grocery bag works well—and stuffing them into the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll stay warm enough, so that your feet won’t turn into icicles when you put them back on.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Zip your sleeping bag all the way up

It never ceases to amaze us that the person complaining about how cold the night was is also the same person who didn’t bother to zip his or her bag all the way up—or who wasn’t using the mummy hood. Pro tip: Wearing a hat to bed is a good insurance policy if you’re likely to squirm out of your mummy bag during the night.

5. Bring two sleeping pads

Although most focus on a sleeping pad’s comfort, it also serves an important insulating purpose by preventing conductive heat loss. I’ve found that the best combination for warmth and comfort is a closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, on the bottom with an inflatable, like the Sea to Summit Ultralight, on top. Pro tip: Closed-cell foam pads also work great around camp, and are much warmer than sitting directly on the ground or on rocks.

6. Make a heater

Fill your water bottles with boiling water before you go to bed, and then stuff them in your sleeping bag. They’ll act like a heating pad, keeping you warm all night long. Just make sure the caps are on tight!

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7. Bring a heater

Get yourself some Yaktrax Handwarmers. Disposable hand warmers are an awesome addition to your fall backpacking kit. It’s amazing how much warmth these little suckers add when tucked into your pockets, at your feet, or simply stuffed into your sleeping bag.

8. Pack and eat extra food

When it’s cold out, your body has to work extra hard to keep warm. To fuel your furnace, make sure to bust into that stash of cookies you hid in your partner’s pack.

9. Have something warm to drink

Hot liquids both increase your body’s temperature and work as fantastic morale boosters. If possible, avoid alcohol, which, in spite of the warm feeling it gives you, actually speeds up heat loss, and caffeinated beverages. The latter is known to dehydrate you—bad for circulation—and could send you on a cold run for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

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10. Get up and get warm

Good circulation is a sure way to beat the cold. If you’re hanging around camp, periodically get up to jog in place or do some jumping jacks—just try to avoid sweating—to increase blood flow and fight off the freezing temperatures.

11. Spread the love warmth

When the going gets tough, cuddle. If it’s colder than expected or you’re less prepared than you thought you were, there is always the miracle of body heat. You always wanted to get closer to your hiking partner…didn’t you?

 

Do you have a tried-and-true trick for staying warm in the backcountry? If so, share it in the comments.

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Pads Fly Free: The Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad

Two summers ago, we were preparing for a trip to California’s Mount Shasta. Our group of four had plans to climb up multiple routes—Avalanche Gulch as a “warm up” and then either Casaval Ridge or a glaciated route on the mountain’s north side.

But, as we began to pile the gear into duffels for our cross-country flight, we realized we had a problem: We needed to bring a lot of gear. As the duffels quickly filled with ropes, crampons, ice axes, tents, stoves, and sleeping pads, our concerns grew. How were we going to get everything across the country and then up the mountain?

Packing “Creatively”

Not wanting to pay through the nose for extra or overweight bags, we each began to look closely at the gear we truly “needed” to bring. A first pass allowed us to cull some stuff. Out went the mountaineering tent in favor of a tarp shelter, and we did the same for a second stove. Climbing gear was pared to only essentials. But, this only got us so far. Our duffels were still too many and too heavy.

One thing we recognized was that, while airline staff measure your carry-on, they don’t weigh it. So, we filled our carry-ons with all the heavy stuff. But, since most mountaineering gear is sharp, and thus can’t be in the passenger cabin, this too only got us so far. Furthermore, some permissible items, like our closed-cell sleeping pads, didn’t fit, no matter how creatively we tried to stuff them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Burrito-Sized Comfort

Enter the lightweight and super-small Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad.

It was around the time that Sea to Summit entered the sleeping pad market, and their first salvo looked like it already hit its mark. The pad packed to the size of a small burrito, and the regular size weighed just 12.5 ounces. When we saw it, a light bulb went on. It looked exceptionally comfortable and, more importantly, would fit in our carry-ons.

But, we were all initially dubious: Would the lightweight material stand up to several nights of rocky bivvies on Shasta, especially now that we had skimped on a tent with a floor? And, the thought of the pad popping, and a sleepless night at altitude before that all-too-early wake-up call left us wondering whether the expenditure was worth the risk.

Still Climbing

Turns out, the pad was way better than expected. It packed up as small as advertised. Due to its 181 Air Sprung Cells creating little pockets of air to lift you two inches off the ground, it also proved to be even more comfortable than we anticipated. Specifically, the cells help prevent the air from shifting under your body weight and provide even support across the entire mattress while never producing the bouncy-castle feel of other inflatable pads. Finally, durability wise, it survived several days on Shasta with ease, and has since become a fixture of our overnight kits. And, for those taking the pad to cooler climates, the insulated versions are sure to keep you toasty.

On our trip to Mount Shasta, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad more than paid for itself by helping us avoid extra baggage fees. And, over the years, it has continued to pay its way by keeping our luggage under the airline’s restrictions. Furthermore, having the pad in our carry-ons benefitted one trip in particular, as we had a near-miss with an airport bivvy.

These days, whether we’re doing a trip out West, a long hike like the Pemi Loop, or a stealth car bivy in a random parking lot, it’s a sure bet that the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad is there to let us sleep in comfort.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck