Updated: Feb 22
On some of our multiday day mushing adventures we do some winter camping. This is a great way to experience the fresh air of an Arctic winter night, fully immersed in nature, under the shimmering northern lights.
**These tips are not applicable for our Aurora Overnight Glamping Trips, which utilize tents or cabins that are heated all night long **
What kind of tents do we sleep in? On trips that include a camp, we sleep in Arctic Oven tents heated with a small wood stove. These tents are famous for being 70F inside when it is -40F outside. When the stove dies down overnight (which it will, unless you feed it every hour), it will grow cold inside the tent. It will always be much warmer inside the tent than outside, but we still need to take precautions to ensure a warm and cozy night in your sleeping bag.
Follow these tips to ensure a warm sleep and a good night’s rest.
Dress down. Wear only one or two layers of long underwear & mid layers. No outer layers. This allows your body heat to warm up the air in the sleeping bag. Too many layers of clothing will prevent your body heat from radiating heat and your bag will feel cold. I like to wear base layers with a lightweight down vest. I tuck small items that need to stay warm (phone, batteries, contact solution) in my vest pockets.
Wear a hat and wool socks to bed. If you do not wear a hat and neck scarf, I can guarantee you that you will wake up cold. You lose most of your heat through your head. A neck gator helps conserve heat from your head and neck. I personally like to wear light wool mittens to bed; it makes me feel warmer right off the bat (I am a cold sleeper). I keep my “sleep socks and sleep mittens” in my bag to change into at bedtime. Toe warmers are also nice at night as feet tend to get a bit chilled at the end of the bag, so far away from your core.
Zip up. It is very tempting to fall asleep in a warm tent, a cozy fire crackling nearby, warming your face and body. In fact, it’s so warm, you don’t even need to wear a hat or zip up your sleeping bag. OOPS. The stove will die down overnight, and it will grow chilly in the tent. You will wake up chilled, too cold to properly warm up again without putting on all your gear and running around outside. When you go to bed, zip your bag up all the way. Put your hat on. Even if it’s super warm in the tent. You will not overheat. Sleeping bags simply insulate (i.e., hold in and trap) the heat your body gives off. They are also insulating you from the temperatures outside the bag, regardless if they are -20F or 80F.
Block the draft. Very important! Warm air will escape from your bag if you have a gap at the top. Be sure to block off this area completely — I like to use a thick sweater, using the body as a pillow and wrapping the arms around my neck to block the draft from outside. Or I’ll
pull my arms from the sleeves and push the sweater up around my neck. If you do not block the draft, you will wake up cold.
Go to bed warm. The Arctic Ovens are usually warm and cozy at bedtime, but in the instance you are a little chilled from standing outside looking for aurora, or sitting motionless around the stove, run around, do some push-ups or jumping jacks. If you’re cold, your body will try to conserve heat by shunting blood toward your core. Externally, you will not give off much heat and your bag will take a very long time to feel warm. Drink some hot water or tea before you go to bed. This heats you up from the inside.
Go pee. Go to the bathroom before you go to bed. Your body uses a lot of energy keeping your pee warm inside of you. This goes for any activity in cold weather — if you need to pee, go. You will be warmer for it. If you wake up in the middle of the night having to pee, it may take a lot of willpower to unzip that warm cozy bag, but go pee. You won’t regret it. Lying awake all night having to pee is torture. You need your sleep. Prep for this occasion by having your headlight, boots, toilet paper and jacket ready to go.
Don’t bring too much inside of your sleeping bag. Gloves or a pair of socks will dry if placed on your body or between your legs, but too much gear will limit airflow and make your bag feel damp and tight. Sometimes it’s nice to keep your mid layers inside of the bag (use them as a pillow or stuff them around your neck to block cold air from coming in). Then they will be warm and easily accessible in the morning.
Protect your pad. Your sleeping pad is key to your comfort and warmth. A sleeping pad elevates and protects you from the cold-sapping ground. The bottom of the tent floors are not insulated. The warmest sleeping bag in the world won’t work if you don’t have a good sleeping pad. When camping, we use cots and down insulated Exped mats. You need to be very careful to avoid sitting on these pads in anything other than your base layers. Zippers or rivets can tear them. When sleeping in cabins, make sure there is a layer of gear between your pad and the cabin wall to prevent the pad from brushing against the rough cut timbers and popping.
Trips that include a winter camping element :
We hope these tips make you feel confident and excited to winter camp in Alaska!
Comment below with your favorite winter camping tips & be sure to reach out if you have any questions or concerns!
🙅🏼♀️We have a zero tolerance policy for being cold 🥶