by Diane Spicer
Reading about the best backpacking sleep system?
That means you've graduated from day hiking to overnight or longer hiking trips.
But now you've got some hiking problems to solve.
One of the most important:
And that's why you found this page:
Your sleep system in your bedroom is your bed + bedding.
Breaking it down into individual components yields your unique sleep system:
Same idea goes for your backpacking trip, except you're hauling around your sleep system on your back (you did realize this, no?).
AND it needs to be warm and comfortable, just like at home, but also:
Geez, who knew, right?
But hang in here with me, and we'll get you on the trail to the perfect backpacking sleep system by the end of this page.
You have my permission to run away from anyone who tells you that there is one right answer to the "What is the best backpacking sleep system?" question.
You've got to find what works best for you!
I don't waste my precious time or money on gear that doesn't work.
Neither should you.
And I'm willing to bet cold, hard cash that you value your sleep every bit as much as I do.
That's why I'm going to put the best of the best outdoor sleep system components in front of you.
Ready to generate some Zzzzzz's?
Hey, wait! Not quite yet!
You've got some reading to do ;)
Your sleep system for a backpacking adventure has a few main components.
You'll customize the system for your particular trail plans.
Here they are:
Hammock sleepers have a few more choices to consider:
Some hikers consider warm clothing, a hat, a pillow, and a stuffed bear (not the live kind!!) as vital components of their sleep system.
Let's take a peek at each of these parts of a backpacking sleep system. I'll share recommendations for what works for me.
Did you car camp or go on sleepovers as a kid?
Then you know the drill:
And you probably remember this, too:
Now, as a backpacker, you need a lot more than that for sleeping comfort.
And as a woman, you sleep a little colder than your male trail buddies.
Time for a little reading, beginning with your body heat containment unit of choice:
Uncomfortable fact of backpacking life: Women are cold sleepers.
Except for that wonderful period of time when you get to "pause".
Think of menopause as a backpacking bonus.
But extra heat can't be a bad thing in a sleeping bag. Can it?
Here's a good tip:
Having backpacked through my teens and come out the other side of menopause, I know a few things about body heat.
Here are a few tips on choosing your "body heat containment unit":
If you're an exceptionally cold sleeper, you want a sleeping bag with extra features. Like a contoured footbox to trap heat around your toes and ankles.
Or buy a bag or quilt that promises lower temperature ratings. Even if that seems too extreme for the conditions you're facing.
REI Co-op Magma 30 Sleeping Bag
This bag has baffle positions in the toe box aimed downward, where you want the warmth.
It's rated for 29F.
But the general rule for women's backpacking sleeping bags applies:
Super light weight and compressible, which a backpacking woman will appreciate.
You'll also appreciate a sleeping bag or quilt that cinches down snugly around your neck. You want to prevent cold drafty episodes that wake you up.
The Magma bag above can be had in this Magma 15 version with excellent head and neck protection.
It's rated to 17F.
It's a bit more tapered.
So if you like room to turn from side to side, be aware that you'll be somewhat restricted compared to the bag above.
Note how the hood is contoured to trap your body heat.
Use the 2 internal drawcords on the hood to customize your adjustments as the night unfolds.
Or to avoid that pesky mosquito that always seems to get inside the tent!
You can also learn to use clothing as a deliberate part of your core warmth strategy.
Keep reading for tips, or skip down now.
There are many types of sleeping pads on the market.
They have various characteristics that might be important to your sleep comfort:
Start your reading here:
When I need to go fast and light but want to stay warm at night, I use this Big Agnes Q-Core Insulated SLX sleeping pad.
Love the toughness of it!
And it's higher R-value and tapered cut are great features to have in a sleep system.
Clothing and head covering, plus a pillow is completely reasonable to add to a sleep system.
Your goal: to achieve a good night's sleep so you can hit the trail hard in the morning.
Do they make inflatable cuddly bears? Hmm...
Why, yes, they do!
The extra 2.5 pounds in your backpack seems like a small price to pay ;)
The fastest way to a warm body is pulling on a hat.
A female hiker should have a repertoire of hiking hats, and sleeping is no different than the trail.
Over the years, here's what I've noticed works really well to fall (and stay) asleep in:
And then there's the nuclear option.
In other words, staying as warm as inside the belly of a star where nuclear reactions create massive heat.
Here's your best choice:
Your options for this complete coverage of head and neck are fleece and merino wool, just as with your hat!
This Seirus Hoodz is soft and cozy, and adjusts to be loose or tight around your neck with 2 separate drawcords.
Versatile, too, when you pull it up like a hood to fully cover your ears and head.
During the day, use it to cushion and protect electronics inside your backpack.
Or put it inside your sleeping bag hood for cushioning your head.
You can also go streamlined with this Smartwool Merino 250 clava.
Not as versatile, but not as heavy, either.
You pull it on in one smooth motion, and it's fitted but not claustrophobic.
Moisture wicking, breathable and soft!
I've found a good hack. A lightweight but warm pair of long underwear added to my sleep system serves me well at night.
I only wear this clothing inside the tent.
Here's a great pick:
|Smartwool Merino 150 Base Layer Long-Sleeve Top||
Sizes XS - SL
Six color choices
Comfy crew neck
87% Merino wool + 13% nylon for moisture wicking, fast drying and coziness
Pair this shirt with matching bottoms, and never shiver again.
Because I only wear this clothing for sleeping, it has lasted for many, many seasons.
Even if you put yours into regular rotation in your hiking wardrobe:
Some backpackers belong to the "I'll just cobble something together from clothing" school of thought.
Others take no chances with their sleep comfort.
They pack a pillow like this NEMO Fillo Backpacking Pillow.
Want another great option?
Read my review of the Outdoor Vitals ultralight backpacking pillow here.
Congratulations again! You rock!
Now it's time to start making a shopping list.
And heads up:
As your body ages, your hiking style changes.
might will discover that you need to change your sleep system components.
So get crackin'!
Or risk sleep deprivation from being cold and uncomfortable during the night. That robs you of full enjoyment (and safe decisions) on your backpacking trip.
Oh, and one more little thing...
You've got your backpacking sleep system dialed in.
Now turn your attention to how to haul it around a.k.a. choosing your backpack.
And there's one more system: your shelter.
Oops! One more!
Looks like you've got some more reading to do ;)
Enjoy the journey to a well stocked gear locker!
Best Backpacking Sleep Systems
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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