You place the trail map back on the table and walk towards the window, coffee in hand. Flakes of snow float gently to the ground until they settle onto the top layer of powder. Walking back to the table, you open up your laptop to check the most recent weather report. Nope. The temps won’t be getting above freezing this weekend. Not even close. Now, one of two things may run through a camper’s mind. The first response might sound like this: “Damn, this camping trip is going to be a cold one, maybe we should just stay home.” On the other hand, it might go something like this: “The peaks and pines will be so beautiful covered in snow. This trip is going to be EPIC!” The difference between these two responses? The right gear. So, let’s start with your winter sleep system.

choosing a winter sleeping pad

1. Choose a Sleeping Pad

Conduction is heat loss that occurs when you touch something colder than you are, like the ground. Your body will continue to lose heat to the ground, until the ground beneath you reaches thew same temperature, or “thermal equilibrium”. It’s a fight you aren’t going to win. This is where your mattress comes in. Our mattresses are all given an R-value, a measurement of the mattress’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulation provided.

When the Therm-a-Rest crew wants to keep things light for a night on the snow, we grab our NeoAir® XTherm™ NXT pad. With an R-value of 7.3 and weighing in at 15.5 oz, the XTherm NXT offers our highest warmth-to-weight ratio.

Already have a pad you love? An easy and cheap way to add some precious R-value is slapping a RidgeRest® or Z Lite™ SOL under your current pad. You’ll barely notice the pad on your pack (the Z Lite weighs in at 14 ounces), and the extra 2.0 R-value point will allow most three-season pads to be winter-ready.

setting up winter sleeping bag on sleeping pad

2. Choose Insulation

The tent is up, your pad is beckoning for you to kick back, but you still need to pull out your sleeping bag. You shiver a bit as you dig through your pack and begin to wonder how warm you will actually be tonight.

There is a lot to consider when picking a bag. When looking at our sleeping bags, we give you a range from comfortable to risky. This will give you an idea of what kind of warmth you might expect from our bags. For example, the Parsec 0F/-6C Sleeping Bag, has a comfort rating of 14°F and a limit rating of 0°F.

staying warm in tent in winter sleeping bag

Knowing the weather conditions and how your body heats will allow you to make the best decision concerning your insulation. Reading more on temperature ranges and the EN 1357 Standard will help you choose the best temperature rating for your body type.

Now, what if you check the weather and decide your bag is not quite warm enough? Just grab a quilt. Our quilts are not only staples for summer camping but can be an essential part of your winter camping kit. For those of you picturing one of your grandma’s colorful knit quilts, let us tell you about the quilts our team of engineers put together. While colorful, our quilts also feature a great blend of warmth, weight and packability. In the right situation, the Corus Quilt can add a significant amount of warmth to your sleep system. Pairing a Therm-a-Rest quilt with your three-season sleeping bag also provides a warm blanket to wrap yourself in as you get ready for a day of winter fun. Our quilts also feature loops that snap onto your bag without compressing the insulation.

The right gear paired with the right know-how

The gear is packed and the stoke is high, but before you take off, let us leave you with a few more tips on getting out in low temperatures. Things like staying hydrated and dry can be just as important as the right amount of insulation and a high R-value.

  • Staying hydrated and fed will help your body regulate itself normally. Make sure to pack plenty of food to give your body the energy that it needs to create heat while you sleep.
  • Keeping you and your gear dry is crucial. Let your gear dry properly in the sun anytime it is damp from precipitation or condensation.
  • Don’t store wet gear in your sleeping bag overnight. The moisture will make your insulation less efficient.
  • Wearing a dry base layer while sleeping will wick away sweat and save you from the chilling effects of moisture.

The right gear and the right know-how will not only help you rest better; it will help you play better.

See you out there!

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Updated. Originally Published December 1, 2020.