The Polar Sleeping System
The quality of your sleep can make or break any expedition and when the temperature outside is -40 (°F or °C) with howling wind, getting good sleep can be a real challenge. Here are a few tips on how to catch some quality Zzz’s on the polar trail.
- A good bag
Don’t skimp on a good sleeping bag. Down bags are much more expensive, but pack down smaller, and have a better warmth-to-weight ratio. Their weakness is moisture. Synthetic bags can be a bear to carry, but they will keep their insulative properties even when wet, and will leave much more extra money in your wallet for filling your gear closet.
Having an oversized bag is the best. There’s room for you to sleep with your boot liners inside, so you don’t wake up to rock-hard bootsicles. It’s also nice to have a bag that’s big enough to change clothes inside of, but don’t go TOO large, because your body has to warm up all of that air space while you sleep, so pick a good middle ground.
- The double pad system
In recent years, sleeping pad technology has come a long way. You can pay more for an inflatable camping pad than a nice used tempurpedic on craigslist. For our purposes, you don’t need the top of the line inflatable because we’ll get all of that juicy R-value (the measure of insulating power) from an old standby. Remember the good ol’ closed-cell foam eggshell pad your dad has lying around from the glory days of backpacking? Now-a-days it’s commonly referred to as a Thermarest RidgeRest, and in combination with your inflatable, will ensure the greatest warmth out of your sleeping system.
There are two ways to couple your foam pad with an inflatable version. Foam-on-top (FOT) and Foam-on-bottom (FOB).
If the temps aren’t too low, FOB is your best friend. The tacky surface of the foam pad locks the inflatable in place so it won’t shoot out from under you in the middle of the night. It also makes your whole arrangement quieter, silencing the swish swish of pad on tent floor when you move around.
If you want the warmest night’s sleep you can get, go FOT. This arrangement puts the superb insulating powers of the foam pad right next to your sleeping bag, so you don’t have to use all of that extra energy warming up the dead air space of your inflatable.
- The P-bottle
The art of peeing while remaining fully inside your sleeping bag is one learned over time, and I have to hand it to all the ladies out there because you are playing this game on Legendary Mode. It might seem silly (it is silly but you should do it anyway), but practicing this skill before crunch time is a good way to avoid some pretty serious mishaps when the game is on the line.
Never try to hold it in unless you are within an hour of waking up anyway. Your body is using lots of energy to keep that half-liter/liter of urine at body temperature and getting that liquid out keeps that energy around for warming the more important parts. Also once your pee bottle is full, you’ve got an extra hot water bottle! Which brings us to…
- Use a hot water bottle
If you’ve never used one, you aren’t living. You should use hot water bottles even when you aren’t camping! Seriously. You don’t know what you’re missing.
Wide mouth Nalgenes work great. Fill ’em up with boiling water, seal it tight, CHECK that it’s fully sealed, then toss it in a thick wool sock or bottle parka (like this from Outdoor Research). The better insulated it is, the longer the heat will last. Plus, if you wake up thirsty, you’ve got lukewarm water on hand. It’s a win-win-win.
Pro Tip – Don’t mix up your pee bottle with your water bottle. There are some scars that never fully heal.
If you’d like to further develop your cold weather skills, check out a PolarExplorers Training Course.