How Cold Is Too Cold For Camping?

If you do not have specialized extreme weather camping equipment, conditions lower than 5°C (40°F) are generally too cold for camping. Even this temperature might be dangerous if it’s windy or if your clothing and sleeping bag are not thick enough. If you want to learn more about how cold is too cold for camping, read this article and follow our five simple tips to stay safe.

A red tent with a backdrop of mountains.

Pick The Right Sleeping Bag

A good-quality sleeping bag is the number one piece of equipment to keep warm at night. Before you go camping, it’s essential to check your sleeping bag’s temperature rating. This is usually printed on the cover or on a tag attached to the bag. 

Although you will see a lower temperature limit, you should not use this as a definitive guide. A sleeping bag might give 0°C (32°F) as its lower limit, but in reality it would be dangerous to use it at this temperature.

This is because, first, it is impossible to predict exact weather conditions. Although 0°C (32°F) might be forecast, the actual temperature might dip well below that at certain points in the night.

Secondly, if you add in wind chill or damp, your sleeping bag might not be able to keep your body temperature at a safe level.

For these reasons, you should always allow a significant margin when picking a sleeping bag. For example, if your sleeping bag has a 0°C (32°F) lower limit, you should not use it when the forecast is set to go below 10°C (50°F). 

If you’re new to camping and are unsure about how to stay safe and comfortable, this handy list of hiking tips for beginners is a must-read.

Insulate Yourself From The Ground

While your sleeping bag provides vital insulation from the cold air, it cannot stop warmth leaking out into the ground. When your body comes into contact with the earth, heat is naturally conducted away from your body. There is no layer of warm air to prevent this because your bodyweight is pressing directly onto the ground.

You may think that sleeping pads are just for extra comfort and that you can do without them. In fact, they provide vital insulation, protecting you from this process of conduction. They’re an essential piece of kit to help prevent your body heat from escaping into the ground, keeping you much warmer inside your sleeping bag.

We recommend choosing one that has plenty of air pockets. Thin yoga mats do provide some insulation, but they pale in comparison to more effective camping-specific equipment. 

Inflatable sleeping pads are one solution, but they are prone to tearing easily. Once they start to let air escape, they are useless.

For this reason, we recommend picking up a foldable non-inflatable sleeping mat like this BKS model. Covered in dimples that trap air beneath you, it both keeps you warm and provides a soft and comfortable surface to sleep on.

A hiker with a backpack looking at mountains.

Eat Before You Go To Sleep

Keeping warm takes energy. If you go to bed feeling hungry, your body will not have enough calories to keep you sufficiently warm at night. 

Chocolate and sugary snacks are good at quickly releasing calories that can be used by your body. But they will not provide a long-term energy source to see you through the night. For this reason, it’s essential to eat a proper dinner before going to bed.

Make sure to consume plenty of carbohydrates and meat, as these will slowly release their energy throughout the night.

How cold is too cold for camping? Well, you can tolerate colder temperatures if you've had a good meal!

Check out our list of simple hiking hacks for useful camping nutrition tips.

Change Your Clothes Before Sleeping

When you’re walking around during the day, your body naturally perspires. This means that the clothes you are wearing can lose some of their insulative properties when they become moist. Wearing clean, dry clothes is essential for not only a warm night’s sleep but also a comfortable one.

When deciding what to wear on your camping trip, bear in mind this one simple tip: avoid cotton at all costs. Cotton is very poor at a process called wicking, which is where fabrics transfer moisture away from your skin and into the air. 

woman-fastpacking-mountain

Instead of wicking, cotton becomes saturated quickly and loses its insulative properties. For this reason, it’s a bad idea to take it on a potentially damp camping trip. You could end up getting very cold.

For more tips on choosing and preparing clothes for a camping trip, read our article on packing minimally.

Don’t Put Your Head Inside Your Sleeping Bag

Exhaling warm air into your sleeping bag can feel like you’re helping to warm yourself up. But this effect only lasts for a short time. In the long run, it can actually have the opposite result, making you much colder for the rest of the night.

This is because your breath contains a large quantity of moisture. When you breathe out inside your sleeping bag, these moisture droplets condense on the inside of the bag. Moisture causes fabrics to lose some of their insulative properties, meaning that you’ll get colder quicker. 

If you bought your sleeping bag from a reputable brand, it will not contain cotton. But this loss of insulation through condensation can still lead to you being colder than you need to be!

How cold is too cold for camping? This woman made sure to find out before she headed into the wild.

Conclusion

If you’re unsure of how cold is too cold for camping, remember that, in general, it’s a good idea to avoid camping in conditions lower than 5°C (40°F). But if you follow the five simple steps in this article, you can give yourself a warmer and more comfortable night’s sleep.