Your Winter Camping Sleep System: Sleeping Pads

Prepared Winter Tent SiteLast year I wrote a “How-to” set your tent in the snow to maximize warmthyness whilst winter camping. To be honest, that is where your cold-weather sleep system begins. If it’s too humid, too drafty, unprotected (assuming there’s wind protection available), or in any other way susceptible to the harsh winter weather, you’re gonna have a bad time. But since you read my post and admired my exquisite 3D CAD drawings, you know exactly how to protect against all of those things.

So today, I start a series on your entire sleeping system. First up: Sleeping pads

Winter Camping Sleeping Pads

Which pad(s) you choose to bring with you very much depends on the other activities surrounding your winter camping experience. If you’re doing some legit winter mountaineering, you’re probably sleeping in a snow cave and trying to cut pack weight and pack size. Or even if you do bring a tent, size and weight is still an issue.But let’s say you’re a beginner. You’re doing a more casual winter camp and can carry more gear. Perhaps you’re car camping and pulling right up to the tent pad, or maybe you’re just going to snowshoe in a mile or so. OORRRRRRRRRR, you’re not a beginner and you’re doing something totally rad like ski-touring and pulling a pulk sled.

All of these things matter when choosing your sleeping pad(s).


This is the rating used to determine how much you’ll be insulated from the ground. For winter camping, the higher the R-value, the better. You’ll learn more about this later on, ya heard?

Closed-Cell Foam Pad

If you fall into the first category of activities I mentioned, I’m probably wondering why you’re reading this as you’re already sufficiently badass. But just in case you’re not, all you reeeaaalllllly  need is a closed-cell foam pad. The thick layer of snow beneath you will insulate you from the frozen earth, and the closed-cell foam will insulate you from the snow. In this case, a very very warm sleeping bag is very required.

The R-value of a closed cell foam pad is right around 2, give or take a few digits after a decimal point. i.e. 2.x. This is why a heavily insulated sleeping bag is required if you’re just using a foam pad, but fret not, there are hundreds of millions (if not billions) of mountaineers that get by with just this every single day. Emphasis on the billion mountaineers.

Inflatable Insulated Sleeping Pads

Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Big Agnes Storm King
Big Agnes Insulated Air Core inflatable sleeping pad and a Big Agnes Storm King 0-degree bag

If you fall into the second category of activities,  you can tolerate the extra weight. In this case, I say bring two (2!!!) sleeping pads for true winter camping luxury. Not only can you more than double your R-value, but sleeping on a cushion of air is much more comfortable than a thin little piece of foam.

You can find insulated inflatable pads at R-4 or higher depending on your needs and budget. Typically, the higher the R-value the more the pad will weigh and more space it will take up. Again, not a big deal if you’re hauling it on a pulk sled or driving up to your site, but if you determine what you can really get away with, you might be able to sneak an inflatable with you on your mountaineering trek. When I am afforded the option of bringing two pads, I never leave the house without a combined R-value of 6 or higher.

Sleeping Pad Bonus Tip

I am not the first person to ever write about sleeping pads for winter camping, but I will say I haven’t ever read anyone suggesting this. This was born out of my own sleeping system and discovered the hard way. Read: freezing my butt off at night.

Most other posts you’ll read will tell you to put your closed-cell foam pad down first, then the inflatable one, then your sleeping bag. I’m saying this isn’t ideal.

R-values are additive regardless of how you use them so in that regard, it doesn’t matter what order you put them down. But let’s logically look at each pad.

A closed-cell pad is solid foam, through and through. An inflatable pad is only insulated directly on the external material, and the rest is filled with air. Air that can become chilled and cold and eventually end up as the same temperature as the outside temperature. It’s winter, remember? That outside air temperature can easily be in the teens or single digits. Do you really want that cold air right against your sleeping bag/body? I didn’t think so.

Just like the foam pad would insulate you from the cold snow, it can also insulate you from the cold air that filled your inflatable pad. So I always put my inflatable pad down first, then the closed-cell pad on top, and then my sleeping bag.

The combined R-value is still 6 or above, and I still get the added comfort of floating on a pillow of air while I sleep. If this ain’t genius, I don’t know what is.

Next in the winter camping sleeping series: Sleeping bags

Stay tuned!

Gear Review: Arc’Teryx Atom SV Hoody

Here’s some unneeded background info: I was motivated (and unable) to write this review a week and a half ago when the Arc’Teryx social media rep replied to one of my tweets and asked to see this review when I was done. Then life got in the way, and it never happened. That made me sad. Fast forward to last night, and I’ve been notified that I won their monthly gear giveaway contest! Woot woot (as my fellow nerds used to say, or do they still say that?)!! So, once again, Arc’Teryx is on my mind. Let’s get to it…

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Winter Camping on New Year’s Eve at the North Shore of Minnesota

Howdy, howdy! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? I can assure you, it’s not because I haven’t been doing anything outdoors. There’s been plenty of that, mostly deer hunting stuff. (Which reminds me, I need to post about that on here…) I figured I should write about this outting because it was the most awesomest New Year’s Eve celebration I’ve ever had.

The chick with the tent (Anh) and I aren’t too huge on monsterous NYE parties in the city, and none of our friends invited us to an NYE party at their place (that I know of). So we decided to take matters into our own hands. We planned our New Year’s Eve party up on Minnesota’s North Shore at a campsite wearing warm clothing next to a fire and celebrated outside. Don’t worry, there was extravegant food and champagne. We weren’t exactly “roughing it”.

Fun Stuff

I took off the Friday of New Year’s Eve, and Monday following New Year’s Day was also a vacation day. So, that meant we got to spend 4 days and 3 nights on the North Shore.

We were pretty lazy getting ready on Friday morning, but we eventually left the cities and made it to Temperance River State Park just in time to gather some (wet) firewood and get our tent set up before it was pitch black….at 5:30pm. I cooked some dinner, we fought the fire, and went to bed. For the end of December, mid-20’s at night was a welcomed surprise.

We slept in until 8:30 or 9:00 on Saturday. I hardly ever am able to do that, much less when I’m in a sleeping bag. We cooked some breakfast and headed up to Grand Portage right on the Canadian border to look at a frozen waterfall. We were excited that there was more snow up there than down in Mineapolis, though not nearly as much as there should have been. On our way back, I checked the weather on my phone and there was a winter weather advisory for 2″-5″ of snow that night (New Year’s Eve). This caused us some concern, having wet wood and not tying down our tent, so we stopped at a gas station to grab a tarp and a portable shovel. Whilst there, the cashier told us it was probably more likely that we’d get 8″ overnight (!). Rather than making another stop at George Crosby Manitou State Park, we decided to get back, gather some dry wood, and batten down the hatches for the ensuing storm. We even made sure the car was accessible in the middle of the night, should our 3-season tent collapse under the weight of 8″ of snow!

As we woke up around 8:30 or 9:00, again (so weird), there definitely wasn’t 8″ of snow. Or 6″. Or 4″. Or even 3″! My best guesstimate is that there was somewhere between 1″ and 2″ of snow. How weak?! It was now New Year’s Day and our last full day of camping. We went to Cascade River State Park and hiked a mile or so along the river and then came back and hiked around the shore of Lake Superior at our campsite in Temperance. The excitement for this night came in the form of single digit temperatures and below-zero windchills. Again, we somewhat cut our fun activities short in order to get ready for some cold and 25 mph winds!

We tried setting up a wind break with the tarp from the night before…

And by the end of the night, it looked more like this…

So, back to freezing our pants off…

We grabbed extra clothes to put in our sleeping bags, climbed in, and hoped for the best, in that we hoped our gear is as good as the marketing says.

Disaster nearly struck around 2:30am when I started to get a bit of a chill, and I had to go to the bathroom. Luckily, Anh did too. I didn’t feel so bad for waking her up. We did our businesses (separately), I put on some extra clothes, and then back in the bags we went. The next time I poked my eyeball out of my sleeping bag, I could see daylight, and it was 8:00. We made it! I checked my phone for the current temperature (no idea how accurate it was), and it said that it was 9 degrees F with windchills of -15 deg F. Whoa! That’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

It was so cold that we didn’t bother with breakfast or coffee. We just threw everything in the car (literally) and got out of Dodge.

As I said before, it was, by far, the best New Year’s Eve weekend I’ve ever experienced! Thanks, mostly to whom I spent it with.

Food and Booze!

As you saw above, we had some pretty decent food. The first night there, we had polish sausage over the campfire and some dehydrated soup. It tasted pretty good, but it wasn’t fancy enough to waste digital space on a camera. We did, however, take a picture of the beer that accompanied the meal. Ayinger Weizen-Bock. It’s pretty good for a wheat beer. I don’t like wheat beers.

For breakfast the first morning, we had breakfast burritos. Pretty much anything tastes good wrapped in a tortilla shell.






The appetizer on New Year’s Eve was steamed king crab legs. The main dish was shrimp and green beans in a white wine, garlic sauce (shown above) with crusty bread. The wine you see in the pic is Barefoot Winery’s Chardonnay. I think desert was some croissants and Nutella.


It wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without champaign. I went all out and bought some from Cook’s for $6 per bottle. I’m a high roller here, folks. We kept them chilled in our cooler.

On the morning of New Year’s Day, we had some bomb-ass bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on English muffins. We didn’t take any pics, but dang were they good! (My guess is that it was primarly due to “deep frying” them in the bacon grease. Just a hunch…)

I guess we didn’t take any pictures of supper on the last night either. Jeeze, I’m gonna have to talk to our photographer. I’m paying her waaay too much. It was venison steak with foil potatoes and onions. It was too cold to mess with making two packages of steaks, so instead, we went with an equally classy substitute: family-sized Spaghetti-o’s with meatballs. True story.

We did bring more booze than we actually drank. I was a little saddened by that, but now it’s sitting in my fridge waiting to be consumed. This is what I originally had planned:

I’m really looking forward to the Surly Smoke and LaGunitas Cappuccino Stout.

Gear Junkies

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the gear we used. This will be brief, please stay tuned for the rest of the pics.

All of these products, if interested, can be purchased through my links to or

And now, the rest of the pictures!

(P.S. A simple request after the picture gallery. Make sure you scroll down to see it. Pretty please?)

I’ll be really impressed if you made it to the end of this post, and if you did, I want to know what you did. Leave me a comment, eh?!