Applicational Hiking, Sleeping Bags or More Clothing?

hikeGreetings Hikers,

This is my fourth blog in a series on applicational hiking, where I purpose a small number of different situations and ask my readers to consider what works best for them, to get them to ponder on different approaching and techniques to hiking, and to offer my readers the ability to provide their own thoughts on feedback on how they approach the situation.

I would like to start off this article by saying that this will mostly apply to those who are XUL hikers. Please review this article for how I define the different weight categories if you are unfamiliar with how I define XUL.

A couple of summers ago I was preparing for a summer three day hiking trip, the day time temperatures where expected to be in the high 60’s(f) and the night temperatures where expected to be in the mid 50’s(f).

At these temperatures I gave a great deal of consideration to leaving behind my lightweight quilt (279 grams / 9.841 ounces) and instead taking slightly heaver base layer tops and bottoms.

It was an idea that is far from new and rarely done for a whole lot of reasons. On this specific trip I knew I would be within five miles of a road at any given time so if there was a drastic weather change I knew I could quickly bail out and get back to my truck and get home.

After a whole lot of pondering on the wisdom of it all I decided to give it a go and see how it worked out.

I would say that the strangest aspect of doing this was that most of us are so use to having a blanket/bag/quilt over us at night, that not having that blanket/quilt to reach for on a psychological level was a bit odd to experience.

Thankfully I never found myself shivering, I never found myself wanting to start a fire to get warm, and throughout the night my core temperature was able to stay consistent thanks to thermoregulation and the slightly heavier clothing.

The weight of the heavier base layer clothing was 181 grams (6.4 ounces) so I was able to save myself 98 grams (3.45 ounces) by not taking my 279 gram quilt, which is a significant percentage of total base pack weight when my total base pack weight was 872.64 grams / 30.78 ounces / 1.923 pounds.

I have given a great deal of thought on this matter over the last few months and I think that it was a great option, knowing that the weather would be close to what it typically is inside of my house, and with the knowledge that I could easily and quickly get back to a safe location and warm myself up should my core temperature fall below a safe level – keeping it mind it would have needed to drop 15+ degrees below the expected night time temperature before my base layer clothing was no longer able to help keep my body thermoregulation under control.

This is something I would only do in the summer time, with a firm understanding of the stability of the weather that we have where I live, and the ability to be back at my truck (and thus a heat source) within thirty or so minutes.

There are, of course, a lot of risks in doing this. If I were to injury myself, and if the weather where to all of a sudden fall below that 15 degree threshold I set with my clothing, than I would have found myself in a situation that I would now be looking back on and saying “that was really stupid John”.

Thankfully most XUL hikers have hundreds of nights spent on the trail and are at a point where they understand how to read the weather, have a very firm understanding of the limits of their gear, and hike in known areas. I am not sure I would attempt to go without a sleeping bag in any situation other then when those aspects are fully known and under as much control as is possible.

So that is my thoughts and experience on going out on a three day hike without a sleeping bag/quilt. If you have done it, I would love to hear about it, and what you have learned from doing it. Please be sure to list what the temperatures where at night, if the temperatures got colder then what  you expected, and if you found you needed to do something to stay warm please share what you did to do so.


4 thoughts on “Applicational Hiking, Sleeping Bags or More Clothing?

  1. Hey John, I love the fact that you think these thoughts and challenge the status quoe. My thoughts on the subject are actually the exact opposite. I think it is more efficient (in the world of XUL) to carry a heavier sleeping bag (at all temperatures) and leave the extra clothes at home. Glen Van Peski wrote a great article about this on under the heading “Wearing insulation a good idea?” (

    “There is some thought that one way to minimize your pack weight is to take a lighter sleeping bag, then take a puffy jacket to make up the additional insulation. In theory, this sounds attractive, but my contention is you can save even more weight by rearranging your schedule so you’re not standing around in the coldest part of the day (see Changing your hiking schedule), taking no wearable insulation to speak of, and putting the extra weight into a warmer sleeping bag:

    Wearable insulation is inefficient

    A sleeping bag is very efficient insulation. It’s contoured to your body, and there’s no wasted fabric with extra appendages. In fact, if you follow my lead, there’s no wasted down on the bottom of the bag, it’s all concentrated on the sides and top. So, in my regular sleeping bag, I have about 10 ounces of down in a 18 ounce bag, a ratio of about 56% down, with a loft of about 3 inches. Now look at a jacket, say the Montbell Alpine Light Down Jacket. A size medium weights 11.3 ounces, of which 4.0 ounces is down, a ratio of only 35%, and say a loft of maybe 2 inches max. Because of all the extra fabric, even a light, well-made jacket of light materials is inherently inefficient compared to a sleeping bag. So the combo of the jacket and sleeping bag yield (assuming the bag is sized to allow the jacket to loft fully) 5 inches of combined loft, at least for the torso, for a weight of about 29 oz. In comparison, my warm bag has about 14 ounces of down in a 22 ounce bag, a ratio of 65%, and a 5 inch loft. So, for a system that is at least as warm, probably warmer, I’ve saved almost half a pound! If you carry a nice warm jacket, it’s likely way too warm for actually hiking in, so you’re really just carrying it to wear around camp anyway. If you revise your schedule so you’re not hanging around camp, you don’t need the jacket, and the additional weight is much better spent in a warmer bag.

    Michelin man

    In a pinch, you can drape your bag around you in camp. If you run the foot through the hood drawstring, it will hold it together, and if you upsize your shell by a size, the bag will layer nicely under it as a body shawl. Sure, it’s not super convenient, but did you notice I just took a half pound out of your base pack weight? If you were at 8 lbs., that’s a 6% reduction, not too shabby!”

    What do you think?

    God Bless, Jeremy

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      Yep that is a great thing for a hiker to try out as well.

      There is also a number of other options out there that hikers should give a go at.

      In the end we just have to find what works for us.

      This entire article is just my attempt to get hikers thinking about how the approach hiking. I do not believe that the option presented in this article is the best solution – in fact I think it is one of the worst solutions, as it has too many risks involved with it, mainly with ones ability to maintain core temperature. But, it is something an XUL hiker should consider giving at go at, as there are lessons one can learn from doing it. It is always easy enough (to test out this option) to carry a sleeping bag and the extra clothing, and just use the clothing as described in this article. Should a hiker find their thermoregulation is suffering and their core temperature is reaching a point where they are shivering, pull your sleeping bag out and use it. Simple and fairly safe way to test out this option. Thankfully I live in an area of the world where the summer time day and night temperatures are usually less than ten degrees, that is of huge benefit to making this option work.

  2. A couple years ago on a trip where we were trying to cover 77 miles in two days I left the summer bag at home. It was July in the Northeast, and I expected a night time low of about 50 degrees. I had no use for warm base layers, as daytime temps were in the 70’s and 80’s. Also, I was after compactness almost as much as light weight. Instead I brought a mylar emergency bag (3 oz). At the last minute, thinking that if it were too warm and humid I would be very uncomfortable, I added a 4 oz silk sleeping bag liner. The weather ended up being perfect the first day and it was very clear that one night out. By the time we turned in, it was already below 50 degrees and heading down. I simply put the silk liner inside the emergency bag and stayed plenty warm as it dropped down to 40 degrees. Now 7 oz is not terribly light, but the set up turns out to be very versatile, covering temperatures from about 40 up to about 70 degrees, and is incredibly compact. It would work well for many parts of the Appalachian Trail during the warm months. After a colder night like that, you do have to dry out the liner, but it’s so thin that drying it only takes a very few minutes of sunlight.

  3. This is how many members of the infantry spend their nights in temperate environments. Most of their weight is in ammo and comms, not in sleeping bags and such. Extra base layer and rain gear and a sit pad and some leaves underneath them and so dead tired they pass out. This is where bushcraft begins to complement SUL.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s