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How to sleep at -30C

Updated: at 06:11 AM

Dang it’s been cold at night around here lately. Temperatures have been pushing -38 C (-36 F) with a bit of wind. The sun goes down for 5 or 6 hours and without the sun the temperature plummets. We’ve been spending a bit of time in the Mess tent in the evenings, but eventually it is time to head out to our individual tents to sleep for the night. While those tents heat up nicely during the day, they have little residual heat by bedtime. All surfaces are cold. And, of course, there are the before bed activities like going to the toilet and brushing teeth that make you even colder, especially the hands. So how does one get from this very cold state into one that allows for sleep?

The first step is warm water bottles. I’ve tried other things in the past, like rice bags, but here we can readily make hot water, and the water holds the temperature for a long time. Two nalgenes full of near boiling water, in the coat pockets. Then outside for the last toilet and teeth brushing. Once inside my sleep tent the warm water bottles go into the sleeping bag right away to start the pre-warming process. Now comes the hard part…. Taking OFF layers of warmth to get into sleep clothing (which is usually just the lower layer of clothing that I’m already wearing!). Gloves off. Boots off and set in the corner. Outer coat off. Outer pants off. Body getting cold. Everything must be properly positioned under the sleeping bag.

I’ve got a cot that sits 6 inches off the floor, then a 1.5 inch thermarest topped by a 4 inch exped air mattress. Then there’s the -40 C sleeping bag… it’s pretty bomber. Now it’s finally time to get inside the bag, feet first. They work their way to the very bottom, ideally accompanied by one of those warm water bottles. Next it’s time to position the top layers. A big down coat wrapped over the top of my feet, above the sleeping bag. Possibly another down coat on my mid-section. Head tucked into the top of the mummy bag, where I have an inflatable pillow that fits perfectly. Most importantly, a puffy blanket thrown over the top of my upper body and head. All zipped up, face sticking out of the sleeping bag, but covered by the blanket.

You really don’t want anything exposed. But I also don’t like the suffocating feeling of something covering my face while sleeping. Thus, it is important to make little pathways off to the sides with folds in the blanket to allow some fresh air to make its way in. Now I can breathe without exposure. A 1-minute swim kick of the feet to get their blood flowing. A warm water bottle at my side that can move where needed to target any places where a bit of cold might seep in. It usually starts at my hands. A few deep breaths, and comfort.

This approach has worked quite well here at Raven and in past experiences. It gets me through the night in relative comfort…… until the morning when it is time to get out of that warm cocoon and get back into clothing that has been chilling all night. A bit of a shock, but it helps to get the day started. Who needs coffee?!