Tips for quality sleep in the backcountry || SD LIVE (May 12, 2015)

SD Live: Sleeping Comfortably in the Backcountry from Sierra Designs on Vimeo.

In our May episode of SD LIVE, Sierra Designs Brand Manager Michael Glavin and I shared our tips for getting quality sleep in the backcountry. This topic should be of great interest — I know many backpackers, especially first-timers and beginners, struggle to replicate their at-home experience when they are sleeping on the ground — or in the air, for you hammock sleepers.

A quick run-down of our talking points:

  • Characteristics of great campsites
  • Site selection in the context of your sleeping style — back, side, stomach
  • Bed-making: shelter/ground cloth, pad, bag, pillow, and knee rest
  • Types of sleeping bags and sleeping pads
  • Bag ratings
  • Insulation types
  • Sleeping clothes

We closed the show with “measures of last resort” — basically, undesirable but effective ways to eek out another few degrees of warmth at night. For example, putting a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag works really well, but relying on this strategy each night is not recommended.


Our next eposide

SD LIVE will air next on Wednesday, June 10 at 11:30 AM PDT. I will be discussing backpacking food: types, amounts, recipes, storage, and other related topics. Register here to join us.

Posted in , on June 4, 2015
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  1. walter on June 19, 2015 at 12:38 am

    Volume really low on my replay. Unfortunately little else to say.

  2. Craig on June 19, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Per request in the video: reasons I wake up in the backcountry.

    Side sleeper with a ccf ridge rest. it can be difficult to sleep on my shoulder for long.

    In sub 25F temps, I start to wake up because my face gets cold. I sometimes try to drape a banadana over my face to avoid this draft.

    I’ve been considering switching to the Big Agnes Double Z. 16 oz, for 4 inches of support. My gf tells me she will start calling me princess if I bring a pad that thick though.

  3. Susan ITPH on September 25, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I have been considering purchasing a 20F twin quilt for me and a partner to use. Would you recommend it for three season use? Or is the adaptability of the quilt undermined by two sleepers of different sizes and genders?

    • Andrew Skurka on September 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Define 3-season use. If you live in the Mountain West, a 20F would probably be okay, though warm in the summer. If you live in the East, it’d be too hot for most of the year.

      Your second question is unclear. Can you give more detail?

      • Susan ITPH on September 30, 2015 at 8:43 pm

        Yes, mountain west, with shoulder seasons being in SE Utah and the Colorado plateau. I sleep cold, my partner sleeps hot. I guess my real question is how temperature ratings play out in duo quilts/bivy systems. I have read that you can push as much as 10 degrees more if you have someone else’s body heat in there.

        • Andrew Skurka on October 1, 2015 at 7:32 am

          In the case of the Duo, I think the temperate rating accounts for the extra body heat. (Unlike a solo bag that has the option of zipping up with another one, the Duo is never meant to be used just by one person).

          If you can sleep together in the same bed, I would bet that you can make it work with a 2-person bag, too. Your partner will definitely want a venting option, however, in the event they get too hot, so I would recommend you avoid any 2-person system that does not offer this option.

  4. Peter on February 16, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    Andrew, what do you make of the “hybrid” sleeping bag Patagonia released this year? The idea is that you pair it with your down parka (ideally a really heavy belay parka, but I’d bet it’d work well just wearing all your warm layers on a backpacking trip.)

    • Andrew Skurka on February 16, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      Not sold. For it to work (i.e. to stay warm at night) you need an insulated jacket. But jackets do not provide as much insulation per weight as a sleeping bag, due to the relationship of surface area and volume.

      To be warm in, say, 30 degrees with this system, you’ll need a winter-worthy parka, which weighs 1.5 pounds. But you could have a dedicated 30-deg mummy for that weight.

      The other issue is sleeping comfort. It’s odd to sleep in just a jacket. Try it sometime. It’s much more natural to sleep in a bag or with a quilt. Maybe you’d get used to it, not sure.

  5. Rick Thomas on March 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Sleep is so important in Back country and I see a lot of information on gear but very little on nutrition and hydration as it relates to sleep.

    Over the years I have found and agree a midnight or before bed snack really pays off to keep warm.

    I would hydrate during the day and would have clear urine which led me to think I was hydrated ?

    Another thing I found to do is drink water before going to bed. Many times I would wake up needing to pee and be hot and tacky with perspiration I would not pee very much and the color was dark yellow ??? then I would have trouble falling back to sleep. The color led me to think of dehydration ?

    I started drinking about a quart of water between dinner and bed time. I no longer wake up hot and tacky and I get up and go like a race horse then fall back to sleep quickly.

    Many people have told me of their sleeping problems. (I work in the out door industry) When I suggested drinking water they thought I was nuts. After trying my suggestion most poor sleepers reported good results.

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