Do you have camping cryophobia?

ByUnsealed 4X4July 3, 2018
Do you have camping cryophobia?

Cryophobia  //  (noun) – An abnormal and persistent fear of cold, including cold weather and cold objects

Well, mine is not a phobia, but rather a “yep – I feel the cold”. You probably know my sort, the slightest hint of less than 10°C and I’m rugging up, while you’re still in shorts and thongs. I’m not alone in my cold sensitivity. There seem to be more female cold sufferers … although I think us girls express our feelings better – “Hun, it’s frigging cold out here!” – while the boys might just ‘tough it out’. Even if you are not a fellow reptilian, there’s a high chance that someone in your camp is.


You know it’s critical to be prepared and have the right gear for your fourby – well, it is also crucial for the occupants, especially in winter. Even with an aversion to the cold, I lived happily in the Snowy Mountains of NSW for six years. Being prepared for the cold, and having the right gear, made my time (sounds like a gaol sentence) in the High Country awesome. However, some of the coldest temperatures I have experienced camping have been away from the snow fields, where it plunges into freezing conditions under clear night skies. So, here’s more winter tips to heat up your camping trip (… no, that’s not what I meant).

A vested interest

The first place we often feel the cold is in our fingers and toes. While the natural thought here is to get socks or gloves, consider an extra layer for your core. As we get cold, the body’s natural defence is to look after the vital organs first, drawing blood (and heat) back to the core. Get yourself a vest to keep the blood flowing around.

Cold hands may mean a warm heart – but gloves are so much hotter

Because it’s all about the base

Pay particular attention to what you are sleeping on, to avoid a heat sucking problem. That cold ground wants to leach away your precious heat – consider a thermal self-inflating mattress, put a blanket down, even towels or newspapers can increase the barrier.

With the popularity of stretchers, don’t forget to consider an extra base layer if you are heading into the cold. We love using Thermorest blow up mattresses on top of stretchers in winter; it adds another layer between the cold air underneath.

Consider some sort of under-blanket on your mattress. Friends of ours use a sheep skin, which they also use to line their camp chairs against the chill at night. Using a sleeping bag instead of quilt and sheets adds another layer from below and the zipped sides help retain heat.

Don’t be held up by winter

Layer upon layer

Only having that massive puffer jacket may be too hot (and Michelin man-ly) at times. Getting a few other layers to suit different temperatures allows you to add and subtract as needed, avoiding chill-inducing sweating:

  • Synthetic wicking T-shirt – if you get active out there in the elements (read: sweaty), be aware that cotton absorbs moisture, which makes you colder
  • Lightweight jumper (I love my 10-year-old icebreaker)
  • Heavier jumper/hoodie
  • Fleece vest
  • Warm over-jacket

Beaniez meanz heatz

Get a fleece-lined beanie, and wear it to bed. That chunky knit may look ‘cool dude’, but the scratchy inner will have you ditching hipness quick smart. Avoid peaks, ear flaps and pom poms for bed – you want to sleep comfortably wearing it.

Go formal – jacket and gloves (and watch the melt factor by the campfire)

Make sure you have a windproof jacket and gloves in cold weather. It’s often not the temperature, but the wind chill that’s the problem. One of my favourite cold camping jackets is my woollen trench coat. My much ribbed “what time’s the board meeting, Mum?” woollen coat won’t melt near the fire, is long for wrapping into and I can put the collar up against the wind. Now don’t ever call it a dressing gown, but gee it’s nice to pop over PJs for a midnight run.

Add some gloves for that full formal look, and your fingers will love you. Because mittens keep all those digits together sharing their warmth, they are said to be even warmer than gloves. On the coldest ski days, I would wear massive mittens – not the best for dexterity, but oh-so-warm.

“Wow, that outfit’s hot” – and great under jeans!

I have a cool pair (actually hot) of thermal pants that are more like tracky-dax material. On cold mornings when I just can’t face getting out of my warm thermals, I just pop my cold jeans over the top, and get out of them later when things have warmed up a bit.

Avoid the morning hop

Expect frosty mornings

Get tomorrow’s clothes out the night before – the less time you spend searching for that clean pair of pants while freezing your butt off, the better. If you have a camper or tent, consider a small bath mat or rug to stand on instead of that cold floor.

Hot and scrunchy

You can stuff the clothes that you are going to put on the next morning into your sleeping bag overnight. They will be nice and warm (but designer crumpled) the next morning. But beware that too much clothes stuffing can affect the loft of your sleeping bag, making it less efficient by compressing the heat-holding fibres.

Sock it to them

The ski fields taught me very quickly that those little piggies go freeze, freeze, freeze all the way home. Get hot socks – spend the dough and get great thermal ones. I have a pair of thick Heat Max socks for in bed, and I keep them on inside the ‘Blundys’ when I first get up in the morning as well.

The naked truth, or is this a cover up? Can we put this to bed once and for all…

Should you lay down and bare all, or layer up?

4WDers love the mechanics of their prized vehicles, so spare a thought for the precision engineering that goes on in our own human machine. The intricacy, consistency and complexity of your two-leg drive (2LD) vehicle really is incredible.

The 2LD maintains a body temperature of around 37°C (+/-), food being our fuel and metabolism being our engine. This thermal regulation happens during waking, as well as sleeping hours. Body temperature decreases slightly as a precursor to sleep (dropping by roughly 1°C) and warms up as part of waking up.

Sounds simple enough – to stay cosy while sleeping, we just need to maintain our body temperature at about 36°C.

There are variances between individual people in terms of how efficient their furnace is and how quickly they feel the cold, but there are also known difference between the sexes. Some female internal functions concentrate heat towards the core, resulting in extremities feeling the cold more. Women also tend to be smaller, so their surface area to volume is generally greater, allowing for more heat loss. Men tend to have more muscle, and ladies tend to have more all over body fat. While body fat can insulate you, muscle is known to generate more heat.

Unzipping the workings of a sleeping bag

Let’s get things straight here – a sleeping bag is not designed to warm you up, it’s designed to trap your body heat. It does this by forming a barrier against the cold and encapsulating body heat around us. The loft of a sleeping bag is designed to hold the heat in the spaces created between the loft fibres. It locks that heat up from transferring out and insulates our body from the colder temperatures outside. By locking in this heat, the sleeping bag cocoons us with air warmed by our body. These barrier and insulation properties also help avoid heat drain into other surfaces nearby, like the cold ground.

The hypothesis: Does sleeping naked (or nearly naked) inside your sleeping bag keep you warmer than layering up?


  1. Find relevant experiments – alas no scientific experiments were found to ratify or discredit the hypothesis above (anyone looking for a thesis topic?).
  2. Contact industry experts to ask for research and/or advice. I contacted 13 sleeping bag manufacturers and specialist outdoor gear retailers and asked them – Is nude sleep bagging hotter?

Result: A mixed bag (sorry – I couldn’t help myself). There were affirmatives, negatives and plenty of variables. So, if the industry can’t provide a definitive answer, how can you as the 2LD in a 4WD, decide between nude or layer? Let’s try and analyse some of the reasoning for the theory.

There is some naked truth

The naked theory suggests that without layers, your body has direct contact to heat the air around you, no layers to inhibit the heat transfer, leading to quicker heating up of the bag around you. Makes sense, as long as your body heat is sufficient to heat up the space around you, and your sleeping bag prevents any heat escaping at all, but we know that even the best bags can’t totally stop heat loss. The naked theory also relates to the fact that overheating leads to sweating, which leads to natural cooling of the body through evaporation. But this moisture doesn’t just disappear, it can seep into the loft fabric of your sleeping bag, reducing or compressing the heated air spaces, reducing the insulation properties of the sleeping bag.

So is the naked camp correct?

Well that depends on you, the individual, in terms of how hot you are (steady there Fabio, I meant at generating heat) and how suitable your sleeping bag is. If you are naturally a ‘hot bod’, you will find that layering up will make you too hot – resulting in sweating, and then feeling cold.

Have the layer lovers got it wrong?

Not at all, as any cold frog camp member will attest. We all know people who seem to have a completely different thermostat to us – they are in shorts when you are sporting a beanie. If you, like me, feel the cold, then it makes sense to retain as much body heat as possible. Thermal layers help maintain air warmed by your body close to the skin and help reduce this heat transferring out. But not too tight now – you want your layers to provide a little space next to your skin for warm air; too tight and there is no space, plus you can actually restrict your blood flow and therefore the heat.

Most of the industry experts I contacted did suggest at least a loose thermal layer for sleeping in the cold.

8 top winter sleeping tips


  1. Sleep with the experts (advice) and get an EN 13537 rating: If you need to buy a new bag, go to an experienced outdoor retailer and get the low down (or synthetic loft) from someone who deals with this every day. Tell them if you are hot or cool, and where you plan on using the bag. Remember that many temperature ratings in Australia are still self-declared, so a -5 bag from one manufacturer can still perform differently to another of the same rating. Some of the higher-end overseas sleeping bags have the EN 13537 rating – a standardised temperature test measuring energy used to maintain temperature of a thermal manikin.
  2. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Yes, they do make you feel all warm and cosy, but they increase blood flow to your skin as the vessels dilate – thus increasing heat loss.
  3. Don’t wet the bed: If you feel yourself getting too hot, remove a layer or open up the sleeping bag to cool down a bit. Avoid getting the sweats at all costs.
  4. Don’t wet the bed (2): Everyone hates getting up in the middle of the night to take a little wee walk, but a full bladder also increases the volume of fluid that the body needs to keep warm.
  5. Size is not everything: If you are going to camp in extreme cold, consider a smaller/tighter fitting sleeping bag. With less air to heat up around you, these designs often have drawstring hoods, and neck baffles to stop the heat escaping.
  6. Sweaty socks are a no-go: Don’t wear those nice warm socks that you have been in all day to bed – put on a pair of dry ones. The moisture in those warm all-day socks will chill your little tootsies quick smart. The same goes for what you have been wearing during the day.
  7. It’s getting hot in here: Getting into a cold sleeping bag can be torturous. Consider adding a hot water bottle or click heat pack into the bag a few minutes before jumping in. Or do a few star jumps to increase your body heat before getting in.
  8. Under – not over: Yes, an extra blanket can keep you warm, but consider putting it under the sleeping bag or inside. Squishing the loft can reduce heat storage capacity.