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    Sylphyn Gal


    Not all you guys here are probably going to identify with this, but some of you other hiking gals might…. I freeeeeze at night. Doesn't seem to matter what gear/bag/tent I use. I can kinda get to sleep ok, but about 1 am wake up with every external appendage absolutely freezing! Lay there the rest of the night shivering, staring at the top of my tent, and wondering why on earth I backpack! After about three nights of this, I stumble around during the day like Zombie Woman.

    I'd love to get the weight down on my gear, but geez. Have gone to a 0 deg. down bag (Sierra Designs), a pretty good two wall tent (Spitfire), a downmat pad, wear just about every piece of clothing I bring and a wool beanie. And this is for summer! Don't even have anything left to make a pillow. Thought about bringing some chemical warmer packs along but those are just more weight. Tried putting hot water in my nalgene and shoving it in the bag, helps for a couple hours. As you can imagine, my base weight is about 18 lb with all this stuff (and of course, my pack itself has to be heavier to schlep it all). Add a bear can (I usually hike in the Sierras)and you can imagine the situation. (I'm 5'3" and about 115 lb, so really don't want to tote a 30 lb pack!)

    One of my hiking pals said it's because I just don't eat enough. Could this be part of it? Really don't have much appetite in the mountains.

    Any suggestions appreciated!

    Travis Leanna
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wisconsin

    I ain't no doctor, but if you're using a 0F bag in the summer and still get cold, you might want to look into circulatory or thyroid issues. My wife sounded similar to you (though not as extreme) and as soon as she started with thyroid medication, her cold sleeping improved.

    Eating right before bed can certainly help, and I've heard of people stashing a candy bar in their tent to eat in the middle of the night when they wake up cold. But then you have the problem with bears.

    Are you always a cold person, or ONLY when you backpack?

    Greg Mihalik


    Locale: Colorado

    How high are the blankets piled at home? Seriously.

    At home, in a motel, visiting friends… cold at night, or fine with a normal amount of bedding?

    We need more clues…

    Sylphyn Gal


    Gosh, thanks for replying so quickly.

    Saw the doc, he says no medical issues, I'm healthy. Sleep warm at home with just normal blankets (I'm in So Cal, so really doesn't get that cold here anyways).

    Hmmm… Maybe that's part of the situation. Maybe I'm just not cold-adapted? Maybe I ought to sleep in the backyard for a few nights before heading into the mountains?

    Travis Leanna
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wisconsin

    A clean bill of health is always a great thing!

    Like you mentioned, you may just be more sensitive to environmental changes. I know that it takes me a few days to "get in the mode" and feel normal when on long hikes. One of the members here has noted in the past that he will sleep on his mat on a hard floor for a few nights before a trip to condition his body. Backyard conditioning will probably be worth a try.

    Some other things to consider:

    -Eat your dinner right before bed.
    -Have a warm cup of tea/water/coffee before bed.
    -Stay well hydrated throughout the day
    -Wear clothes that aren't too tight as to restrict blood flow.
    -Beef up your head insulation, possibly in addition to the wool beanie you have.
    -Make sure that your sleeping bag insulation is not compressed i.e. wearing too many clothes while in the bag

    Thats about all I have :)

    Good luck!

    Sylphyn Gal


    Thanks TL, I think you might just have something there.

    I may actually be wearing too much clothing, not leaving enough dead space.
    And even though I'd never bring food into my tent (somehow I always seem to attract bears anyway), I can certainly have an insulated cup of hot water to sip in the middle of the night when I wake up.

    Thought about maybe a vapor barrier. Does anyone know if this increases sleeping temps?

    Will try the backyard sleeping for 2-3 nights before the next trip also, with no tent.

    Could also invite the bear into the tent…certainly would be warmer. But they do tend to be a little smelly. :)

    Anyway, thanks everyone for the suggestions, and I'll give them a try!

    Travis Leanna
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wisconsin

    You're welcome.

    Vapor Barriers definitely do add to the temps, but they are an odd creature, and generally are not used until at least below freezing. Clamminess comes to mind! I think VBLs are a niche item for very specific purposes, but no harm done in trying them out.

    Try this as a first step: On your next trip or backyard outing, try wearing thin plastic produce bags over your feet. Then over the bags, put on a warm pair of socks. Make sure your feet aren't pressing against the bottom of your sleeping bag (which will compress the insulation). In the morning, be ready for sweaty feet and possibly a ripe stink! One or two nights may not be that bad, but if you start living in a VBL, you might want to stay 100+ yards from other humans. :)

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    > every external appendage absolutely freezing
    > Really don't have much appetite in the mountains.
    There may be some clues here. Is your core temperature OK and just your extremities are cold?

    You certainly may be short on food. I would say highly likely. You need to eat a lot more when walking – ignore any diets for a few days. High fat foods and high calorie foods. If you find eating difficult, try drinking more water before and during meals. Known problem. My wife won't eat dryish dinners either: she wants big nourishing soups with lots of liquids.

    You may be wearing too much tight clothing in bed. ANYthing which restricts blood circulation when you are asleep is really bad news. Many of us sleep in nothing more than underpants in summer. In winter we sleep in soft thermals.

    Oh – I had better add here that so-called 'compression' clothing can be quite deadly. It's a gimmick based on a little research into those with absolutely medically wrecked circulatary systems and a whole lot of marketing spin. Endorsements in the press? $$$ for the names.

    Your wool beanie may not be enough either. Your head may feel warm – it always will, but your extremities will be the ones paying the price. Make sure your whole head is quite warm.

    But I think start with more food.


    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    For your head, you could get one of those Peruvian style wool beanies that cover your ears. Then put on a buff to cover your face. This is what I do and it works great.

    Greg Mihalik


    Locale: Colorado

    At "…5'3" and about 115 lbs…" how Does your sleeping bag fit? Is it sized for "petite"?

    Granted to many clothes could cause compression problems.

    But to much volume could also be a problem.

    Joe L
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cutting brush off of the Arizona Tr

    Minor altitude sickness could contribute to lack of appetite.

    How fast are you getting to higher altitudes? Are you hiking from mid- to high elevations, or driving to high numbers then starting to hike even higher?

    Others have written that to stay warm, do not get cold in camp before getting into your bag. Soupy meals may put more warmth into you than the same dish served hot and gooey, with cooler water on the side.


    "You need to eat a lot more when walking – ignore any diets for a few days. High fat foods and high calorie foods. If you find eating difficult, try drinking more water before and during meals. Known problem. My wife won't eat dryish dinners either: she wants big nourishing soups with lots of liquids."

    +1 Also, it is a good idea to eat a good amount of protein at dinner. The digestion of protein generates more heat than either fat or carbs, and it makes a lot of sense to utilize that heat to help keep yourself warm in your sleeping bag at night.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    I agree substantially with most of the suggestions made so far. I believe that I am the one who sleeps in a sleeping bag on a hard floor for a few nights before every backpacking trip. That kind of keeps my back in shape.

    1. There is an old Sierra Club saying that if your feet are cold, then put on a warm hat. If you are wearing a hat, then try a warmer one or else two. One snow camping trip leader I know wears two thick wool hats in cold weather. It looks kind of funny, but it gets him excellent results. For backpacking purposes, I would suggest using one thin stretchy synthetic beanie with one thick warm one over that. That way, you could split them and use just one at a time for milder weather. If you don't need the second hat, then stick it inside a stuff sack that holds your "pillow." If you don't have enough lightweight stuff to stick in to make the pillow, then carry along a few square feet of bubble-pak (the plastic bubble sheet that delicate stuff is shipped in). It weighs almost nothing.
    2. I don't know your sleeping mat. However, for most sleeping bags, if the temperature rating is good but it still seems cold, then the sleeping mat may be part of the problem. You might put some closed-cell foam mat in there and see if it helps.
    3. The food might be a problem. You have to carry food that you will eat, and you ought to be able to find food to carry that you can eat under any circumstances. One friend of mine taught college nutrition, and she always organized evening meals that were thermally hot as well as spicy hot. If that includes something like meat with a little fat in it, then that takes a while to digest, and that kind of helps keep you warm all night. Of course, plenty of other hot food and drinks are important also. Lots of people do not want to drink liquids in the evening so that they will not have to get up during the middle of the night. Well, OK. You decide which is worse.
    4. Yes, minor altitude sickness can inhibit appetite. But there are several other symptoms as well. You ought to be able to sort that out.
    5. I saw one backpacker who was super low on energy, could not carry her own pack uphill, had no appetite for dinner, felt super cold, etc. It turned out that she had been on a fasting diet for three days! Geez. Once we got a couple of hot meals into her, she came back alive.
    6. In general, it is thought that vapor barriers are effective for cold weather sleeping, but mostly when the temperature is seriously cold, like -10F or 0F. In Northern California I never see anybody using a vapor barrier any time when it is well above 0 F.


    doug thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: Eastern Iowa

    I have generally the same problem. I fall asleep fine, but wake up later freezing. I have found that if I take a couple of hot hands type things and put them between my feet and my socks, I sleep fine, that is except for the late mire potty breaks.

    Linda Alvarez
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    I feel your pain…I'm a cold sleeper too. The things that helped me most are (as has mostly been covered above), eating well before bed (I don't have much appetite either at altitide but I force myself), hot drinks, layering up in camp before I get cold, and getting into bed before I am chilled. You already use a downmat but that would have been my first suggestion. I was stunned how big a difference going from a Prolite to a DAM made. Maybe you need a thicker one with > R-value (or a full length one if yours is short). Along with a warm hat, I would also recommend down booties. I use Goosefeet but there are several options. finally, I sleep with my down jacket inside my sleeping bag with me, but not worn, and unzipped. I find its useful to be able to shift it around in the night to areas that are colder–sometimes I lay it over my chest but other times I slide it down to give my legs or hips more insulation.


    BPL Member



    Are you drinking enough water? I find most people lose their desire to drink enough water in the colder temperatures and this will negatively affect your thermoregulation. While easier said than done, warm up your drinking water and store in an insulated container when you can so you don't waste calories heating it up from the inside.

    You are (based on your description) gazelle sized. Your body mass to surface area ratio is working against you in colder temperatures. Nothing you can do about that except to compensate by adding layers or pack on a couple lbs of subcutaneous fat before winter; I realize that this is a tall order for SoCal. My weight fluctuates and I'm (ahem) on the plump side. I am less resilient to the cold by a noticeable degree when I've lost a few pounds.

    As mentioned above, I'm also a believer of insulating the brain housing group. There are a few articles supposedly debunking the percentage of heat loss through the head myth but none of them are suggesting that you should stop wearing appropriate head gear. Regardless of the data out there, I'm still a believer of the "warm your head for cold feet" logic because it works for me and I couldn't care less if that is because of a psychosomatic response.

    I also couldn't agree more with the "plastic bag" solution mentioned above for your feet. I thrash around too much to use plastic shopping bags so I use whatever liner I have in my ruck. I haven't slept with cold feet since I've started using this technique in the winter. I'm going to try using my rain jacket for this purpose but can't report on that yet.

    There's an abundance of information about food/calories posted in BPL. I can't add to that topic other than to say that I find calories to be twice as important for me in the winter than summer.

    I believe Skurka made a comment to the effect that all things are possible with a spreadsheet (paraphrasing of course). I'd look at your shelter/pad/sleeping bag combination to determine if you are getting the best bang for your weight penalty. Take internal/external temperature comparisons of your shelter to see if it is delivering the goods. It's entirely possible that you need to invest more of that weight towards your sleeping system and less towards your shelter. Maybe you need a CC pad under your down pad.

    Good luck.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    > Your wool beanie may not be enough either.
    And following on from what Bob G wrote: try maybe a fleece balaclava with a fluffy wool or fleece beanie over the top, and get your SB hood over your head as well.

    And eat.


    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    "And eat."

    Any good Jewish mother would tell you to do that much.


    Michael Cockrell


    Locale: Central Valley, Lodi-Stockton, CA

    My wife steals my warm socks, even at home she loves wearing them in bed!

    Very light & warm!

    Acorn (poly-fleese). Very compactable, can even wear in hiking shoes if needed.

    I had to buy more!

    Michael Ray
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    > You already use a downmat but that would have been my first suggestion. I was stunned how big a difference going from a Prolite to a DAM made. Maybe you need a thicker one with > R-value (or a full length one if yours is short).

    This was the first thing that came to my mind aside from not eating well enough. You can test it by added a cheap CCF pad or two to your current pad. Some don't agree with whether those should be above or below the pad so try both and see what works best for you. If it does help, then get more down in your pad or a thicker one.

    Bogs and Bergs


    Locale: Newfoundland

    You're getting the usual good advice here, I'll chime in because I'm you (same size, same food thing). Being small means smaller reserves, obviously. ProBars are a godsend, almost 400 calories in a few square inches. Even if I only manage half, that's 200 calories of nuts, seeds and chocolate (Cocoa Pistachio!) in just a couple tasty bites. No fuel, no fire. I keep one warm in an inside pocket.

    I make sure not to lie down already chilled. A short trot or a few jumping jacks, not enough to get sweaty, last thing before turning in. I do layer a CCF (SOLite, reflective side) with the inflatable, but have found that even a mylar emergency blanket on the floor of the tent under the pad helps significantly.

    Did somebody already mention sleeping in gloves, as well as hat and good socks? And making sure not to breathe into your bag? My personal downfall, hard to fight that burrow instinct. Buff or balaclava helps.

    Otherwise, what they said. Avoid the temptation of wearing too much. If your bag has a lot of dead space, fill it with clothes, or get a smaller one (check 'youth' sizes, bonus: cheaper!). Maybe reconsider the chemical warmers, they're not that heavy if the alternative is suffering. Good on you for not letting the cold keep you indoors!

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    "Maybe I'm just not cold-adapted? Maybe I ought to sleep in the backyard for a few nights before heading into the mountains?"

    It definitely takes me 2-3 days to adapt to hot or cold environments. Few people were born and bred as Californian as I was (5G SFer), but now I live in serious snow country. Everyone in snow country notices that the first freezing day in the Fall feels MUCH colder than the last freezing day in April. (the odd 35F in March and people are wearing shorts and feeling warm enough). Likewise 0F feels really cold in November but no big deal in February. Our bodies certainly adapt and change to our environment and while that takes a while, for me, a few days really helps.

    I'm pretty sure I can accelerate the process with my dress and environment before a trip. If I dress a little light, skip the jacket for around-town errands, etc; then I seem to adapt to lower temps more quickly.

    M B
    BPL Member


    The human body adapts physiologically to altitude, and heat, etc.

    There is no physiological adaptation to cold by humans.

    Anything you experience, is only mental.

    Except to pack on fat.


    I think i remember reading somewhere that native Siberians had some kind of subtle but definite physiological, average/common genetic, adaptation to their extreme cold environment/climate.

    Re: mental–it's not something i would underestimate. Mental can definitely influence physical–it's been shown in a number of ways, a number of times, and by a number of different people. For starters, look up Wim Hoff or Tibetan Monks and Tummo meditation.

    "Mental" (and i'm sure physiological conditioning as well) is what allows Wim, and people like him, to survive temperatures and extremes that would kill most people fairly quickly.

    Doug Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central CA

    Add me to the list of Dougs in this thread that use the "hot hands" for my feet.

    I've always had poor circulation and suffer the same thing of going to bed fine and waking up freezing a couple hours later, mainly my toes and feet. I recently started putting one or two of the hot hands in the foot area of my sleeping bag and it made a world of difference in my camping comfort for the night.

    I'm curious about the comment that humans can't acclimate to the cold. I can tell you for certain that I felt MUCH better my second winter living in Canada than I did my first, even though it was a colder winter. After one month of sub-zero temps we would wear our shirt sleeves and leave the parkas at home when it got up to the mid 30's F. If it is all psychological, the mind must be a pretty powerful thing. ;-)

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