Sleeping bags are on most campers’ lists of essentials, but what if you don’t have one?
Maybe you’re planning a camping trip and don’t want to buy a sleeping bag because you don’t think you’ll use it often enough to make the purchase worthwhile, or maybe you have a small apartment and don’t want a bulky sleeping bag taking up space in your already-crowded closets.
Alternately, perhaps you will be hiking out to your campsite and truly need to pack as lightly as possible. Or, maybe you do have a sleeping bag and intended to use it but, as you’re unpacking your car at the campsite, you suddenly realize you forgot it at home.
Whatever the reason, there are some simple hacks that can make camping without a sleeping bag doable. Take a look at the suggestions here; some will be more feasible for those who are still in the planning stages of a trip and can pack alternate supplies, but others will work even for those who are already at the campsite and have accidentally forgotten their sleeping bags at home.
Before beginning our list of hacks, there is one caveat, though. In truly cold weather, you won’t want to cut any corners and many of these hacks likely won’t suffice to provide enough warmth.
With safety in mind, make sure to consider just how low the temperatures fall at night in your chosen camping location before deciding on a plan to keep warm.
With that said, though, these hacks are great for keeping warm without a sleeping bag on cool or moderately cold nights.
1 – Use a Backpacking Quilt Instead
This hack is best for those who want something lighter in weight and easier to store than a sleeping bag. A backpacking quilt is designed to be as lightweight as possible while still keeping you warm at night.
An added benefit is that high-quality backpacking quilts tend to be less expensive compared to similar quality sleeping bags, so these are a great alternative for frugal campers as well.
Adventure Alan has a really comprehensive guide to backpacking quilts that is worth reading through if you’d like to consider this option.
2 – Make Your Own Sleeping Bag
If you’d just rather not buy a commercial sleeping bag, you can always make one yourself. If you don’t have any sewing experience, a project like this will probably be a bit too much, but seasoned crafters can follow a simple tutorial such as this one from Instructables which will guide you through the process.
Make sure you use high-quality goose down because this is what will help make your homemade sleeping bag warm. Goose down is also great because of its ability to provide significant warmth without adding a lot of weight.
3 – Rent a Sleeping Bag
What many people don’t realize is that you can often rent a sleeping bag for a relatively small fee. This can be a great option for many campers.
Rentals are often available through large sporting goods or camping-gear specialty stores. Some campgrounds even offer rental camping gear, including sleeping bags; just make sure to confirm availability with them beforehand.
Renting a sleeping bag is a particularly good option in colder seasons when you need a bag that is rated highly for the coldest temperatures. These tend to be quite expensive, so renting one can be a great way to save money.
4 – Sleep in Warm Layers
In warmer weather with nights that don’t get too cold, sleeping in warm layers of clothing can help you stay warm with just a blanket, as opposed to needing a sleeping bag. Try a mid-weight base layer like long thermal underwear and then add layers on top of that, depending on how chilly it is.
Also, consider wearing a warm knit hat to bed and don’t forget thick socks. As a side note, it is very important that all of your clothing, including your socks, are completely dry when settling down for the night. Wearing damp clothing can cause you to lose a lot of heat.
5 – Get as Warm as Possible Before Settling Down For the Night
If you’re already warm when you cover up with your blanket, it is easier to retain that warmth than it is to heat up if you are cold to begin with.
Wait until just before bed to put out your campfire. Then try doing some simple exercises like an enthusiastic round of jumping jacks. Also, consider having a small snack and drinking a hot cup of tea right before bed.
6 – Sleep with a Hot Water Bottle Between Your Legs
This hack can help keep you warm for hours. Just fill a hard, plastic water bottle with hot water right before bed. Then sleep with it between your legs.
The idea is that it the heat will be touching your femoral artery which is helpful in warming your whole body. If the bottle is too hot against your skin at first, try wrapping it in a small towel or even putting it inside a thick sock.
Summiteer blog has a good write-up about this hack which also contains some helpful information on potential risks and alternatives.
7 – Use Hot Rocks From Your Campfire
This one is slightly tricky because, obviously, you don’t want to get burned or start a fire. But, as long you’re careful, this can be an amazing hack.
Take a few dry rocks that weigh about five pounds each. You can actually put them in your campfire, or you can line them around the perimeter of the fire. Once you’ve put out the fire for the night, carefully roll the rocks into old pillow cases or wrap towels around them.
In a pinch, you can use clothing as well, but you run the risk of leaving scorch marks on the clothes, so only do this with something old that you aren’t worried about ruining.
Now just place these hot rocks inside your tent. They will radiate heat for hours and help you stay warm. Try to keep your tent closed up once you have these hot rocks in place; each time you open the tent door, you will lose a great deal of heat.
8 – Use a Space Blanket
Sometimes also called emergency blankets, these are the lightweight blankets that look kind of like aluminum foil. They come in many first aid kits and small camping tool kits, so if you’ve forgotten your sleeping bag, you may still have one of these with you.
If you don’t, check with neighboring campers, as many people bring along the first aid kits which contain these. A space blanket won’t keep you very warm on its own, but it can be helpful when layered with a regular blanket.
Space blankets—much like good sleeping bags—are designed to keep out moisture which is extremely important when it comes to staying warm. They are also specifically made to help hold in your body warmth, reducing heat loss.
9 – Don’t Sleep Directly on the Tent Floor
You need a buffer between your body and the cold ground and, without a sleeping bag, the thin bottom of a tent isn’t enough. Sleeping pads are your best bet here. There are a few different types including air pads and foam pads.
REI’s How to Choose Sleeping Pads provides a comprehensive overview of the different types of pads and the pros and cons of each. This is helpful depending on your own specific trip and requirements; certain pads work best for backpackers who want to travel as lightly as possible, while others are better for cold weather.
If you don’t have a sleeping pad, or don’t want to purchase one, consider bringing some old rugs along to line your tent floor. Anything that provides a barrier between you and the cold ground will help.
10 – Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
You can also use a sleeping bag liner which is separate from the sleeping bag. These are sold as stand-alone products and many people use them inside their sleeping bags.
In warmer weather, though, you may be able to get by with using just a liner and a warm blanket or layers of warm clothing.
If you’ve forgotten your sleeping bag, check with friends or neighboring campers, as many people bring liners along with their sleeping bags, and they may be willing to loan you one.
If you would like to buy one, you may want to check out The Adventure Junkies’ sleeping bag liner reviews which provide pros and cons of each type of liner along with information regarding whom each kind of liner will work best for.
Don’t Like Any of These Hacks?
Not everyone will want to actually try these hacks for coping without a sleeping bag. Maybe you still don’t want to buy a sleeping bag, but after reading the possible hacks, you’ve decided this just isn’t for you.
Aside from borrowing a sleeping bag from a friend, sleeping in your car, or just camping somewhere that’s already very warm at night, you can always consider using a tent cabin or even renting a traditional cabin.
This won’t appeal to those campers who like to rough it in the wilderness but can be enjoyable for those who want to spend time out in nature while still having some of the conveniences of home.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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