Sleeping outdoors when it's cold



To stay the night outdoors, is a fun project and an easy way to get more time in nature. Some even make it a challenge, to sleep outdoors one night per month. By now, I've lost count on my nights outdoors, but then I've also lived in a tipi, and that's something different. I mean, I'm impressed by those who each month packs their stuff, get themselves out, only to go back home next morning to take care of everything. It takes something else than go home to the tipi, make a fire, cuddle in the sleeping bag and fall asleep. Sleeping outdoors every now and then or on a regular basis takes planning, routine and disciplin of another sort. 

This article is for you who never slept outdoors when it's cold before but dreams of doing so, or simply haven't found a routine that you like yet. This time we'll go through the practical stuff, like gear and tips on how to keep warm. Next time I'll share more about sleeping problems outdoors and mental training when sleeping alone in the woods.

Practice at home

First things first, especially in December when days are short here in the north. Make friends with your gear at home, in your living room or at least in daylight. Practice putting up that borrowed tent, tarp or hammock in your garden. And don't worry - your neighbors will be way more busy looking a their phones than out their windows. Unless you live in the countryside and there's a car passing by ...

Bjœrnvattn, Kirkenes after a canoetrip at Ivalojoki-Inarijärvi, 2017 Photografer: Jonas Sjöblom
Bjœrnvattn, Kirkenes after a canoetrip at Ivalojoki-Inarijärvi, 2017 Photografer: Jonas Sjöblom

Things to sleep upon

A plastic sleeping mat is cheaper and not as sensitive to sharp stuff on the ground. It works perfectly well with one or two of them during winter. One of our followers on Instagram @ellba29 also uses a woolen blanket underneath to help insulation from the ground. I think the plastic sleeping mats works fine as long as the ground is pretty soft, like covered with blueberry bushes or heather. But it can also be a matter of age. Until two years ago I could tell myself "it's just one uncomfortable night in my entire life, that's not so bad". And it worked pretty well! Though, there's been a lot of uncomfortable nights.

Inflatable sleeping mats comes in many models. Those that are 2 cm thick and inflates themselves - for a while. And thicker mattresses that you need to inflate yourself, some with an integrated pump - others require some lung capacity. If you've got the sensitive back of an otherwise badass outdoor-princess/prince, you might want to consider one of these.

Photografer: Sanna Eriksson, mars 2013, Avesta
Photografer: Sanna Eriksson, mars 2013, Avesta

Rein deer hide - Warm and beautiful. Hold your horses vegans. A plastic sleeping mat will spread micro plastics and hurt animals as well. A rein deer hide comes from a rein deer, who'd surely wanted to live it's dear life in the mountains, but if you care for the hide properly - it will last for many years. The day when it's moulding or shredding on all your belongings, you can tear it to pieces and put it in your compost. Give it back to Mama earth instead of spreading trash. At least, that's how my past, vegan self was thinking when purchasing a hide from a Sami crafts-worker in Jokkmokk. Unfortunately my rein deer hide didn't survive living in a tipi by a lake. Too damp.

Sleeping bag

First some sleeping bag anatomy: Most sleeping bags have two drawstrings by the opening that you want to keep track on. One to regulate the size of the opening and another to regulate the stuffed collar inside the sleeping bag, that help you keep the heat. Extra important in winter sleeping bags, are the stuffed cover along the inside of the zipper. Also check if there's a small pocket on the inside. if so, that's where you want to put your phone, camera battery and head torch. If there isn't or if it's too small, don't worry. Simply put your stuff in a small bag and put it in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Makes your alarm in the morning more effective - and more annoying as well.

If you borrow or rent a sleeping bag that is too long for you, (which means you can't touch the bottom with your feet and look out through the opening at the same time) you can tie of the lower part of the sleeping bag. Remove the knot when you're not sleeping in the bag though, so you don''t squeeze the stuffing more than necessary.

How do I know if the bag is warm enough?
Inside modern sleeping bags, there use to be a small patch attached on the inside with a small chart. There you can read alla about Extreme temperature and comfort temperature. Choose sleeping bag based on the comfort temperature. The extreme temperature only tells you how could temperatures you're expected to survive in the sleeping bag.

Three tips that will make your sleeping bag live longer and happier:
  • Be lazy when packing it. Don't roll it - just stuff it in the bag little by little. Then you'll squeeze the stuffing differently everytime.
  • Ventilate your sleeping bag while eating breakfast. Pull it inside out and hang let it get some sunshine.
  • Don't wash it more than necessary. Use a liner instead (see below). I washed my sleeping bags once a year when living in the tipi all year round.

Additions to the sleeping bag

Liner, this will keep your sleeping bag fresh and prolong it's life. It also increase the temperature of the sleeping bag by 1-4 ° depending on material. In its' simplest form, it's just a big bag, you can make one easily yourself from an old duvet cover. If you know you want to hike a lot in the mountains, it might be a good idea to make it in some lighter material or buy one.

Sleeping bag cover, is exactly what it sounds like. A bag that covers your sleeping bag when you're sleeping in it. It's practical when sleeping under the clouds and to keep some extra warmth. My classmates in school bought some gore tex-covers from military surplus, since these were supposed to be water proof. They were waterproof. Problem was they kept the condensation on the inside, making the sleeping bags damp. As I recall, they were pretty heave as well. Now I'm kind of bias, since I'm not a fan of sleeping bag covers. I think it's to messy and I always manage to turn so I get it in my face and wake up. But if I'd like sleeping bag covers I would have made one of cotton, so that I would dare sleep close to the fire. 

What should I wear when sleeping?

This is very individually, depending on if you're a living stove or an ice cube - and of course due to season. My best tip is: go to bed warm and wear a little too much rather than too little. It's ten times easier to strip off piece by piece in the bag, than bringing up enough motivation to get out in the cold and put on some more clothes. 

This is how I dress when sleeping outdoors in autumn, winter and early spring ( like + 5° C to -28° C) First of all, I want these clothes to be dry. If I have space and copes to carry it, I bring a "pyjamas-bag" with clothes for sleeping only. 

  1. Complete undergarment made of wool
  2. Scarf/buff (wool)
  3. Woolen cap
  4. Two pair of, dry woolen socks. 

Is it possible to dry clothes in the sleeping bag?

No, don't. At least not during the cold seasons. Damp socks won't dry. They'll only steal your precious body heat. In summer on the other hand, I put damp, small clothes between the bag and the sleeping mat. Much easier to get rid of them that way if they steal to much warmth. 

How to keep warm


A sleeping bag works similarly to a thermos, if you're cold when you snuggle down, you'll freeze. Before I snuggle into the bag I do some squats until I get my pulse up or jump around a little. Once you're warm without breaking sweat, it's time for bed.  

Warm water bottle

If you're aware that you freeze a lot, or Fimbulwinter is upon you, pour some hot water in a pet bottle, close it up, put it in a sock and put it in your sleeping bag. I use to put a cup of cold water in the bottle first, so it won't shrink ... 

Another benefit using this method, as @northern_scandi reminded me of - next morning you'll have drinking water ready. Or water for your morning coffee. It's great! Especially when the world around you is frozen. 


A friend of mine, freezes a lot around her hips and feet. She use to bring a small piece of sheepskin as reinforcement and a pair of felted woolen slippers. 

Winter hacks:

  • When I slept in cold temperatures on regular basis, I used to put some fat salve to my cheekbones and nose. It prevented the moisture from my breathing to go into my skin. Or maybe it was placebo. It felt good anyway. 
  • Will you sleep in a tent when it's freezing? Close the outer tent, but leave the inner tent open (unless you're in a snowstorm, of course). If you close the inner tent, the condensation will snow on you and melt on your sleeping bag. 
  • Keep your things in order. All gear should have it's own place. It's also a good idea to pack in bags in different sorts of cloth. By practice you can recognize your gear by touch, making it easier to find what you want in the dark. 

Some other things to bring

  1. Thermos with tea/coffee/hot chocolate or mulled wine. And something nice to eat.
  2. Toothbrush, toothpaste.
  3. Sandwiches for breakfast, unless you're a big fan of oatmeals. 
  4. Head torch/lantern - makes things easier to find, from gear in your pack to the path. It's also good not to waste too much battery on your phone using it as a torch. 
  5. A good friend. Usually i would say the more the merrier - but keep to local restrictions.

Eager for new adventures? Or did i miss your best hack? Please, comment, here, or at Instagram and tag @tracelessintiveden in order to help us inspire others to get outdoors! We're also very curious on what you would like to read about here in the future! 

Snuggle in peace!