Sleeping bags are a mainstay of any camping trip, but you don’t necessarily need one in certain situations. Sometimes, you can stay warm and cozy at night without a sleeping bag by using a quilt, blankets, or other pieces of gear.
Your camping checklist is full of gear that you need to bring into the mountains: Tent? Check. Stove? Check. Water bottle? Check.
But what about your sleeping bag? Do you actually need one for your adventures?
The short answer? Yes, you can go camping without a sleeping bag, but only in certain environments and in certain situations. However, there are plenty of other alternatives to sleeping bags, especially if you’re car camping or adventuring in warm locales.
If you’ve ever thought about leaving your sleeping bag behind on your next camping trip, then this article is for you.
Coming up, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty details of whether you can go camping without a sleeping bag and still stay warm at night. We’ll introduce you to a whole slew of different sleeping bag alternatives so you can enjoy your adventures, even during cold nights in the mountains.
Can I Go Camping Without A Sleeping Bag?
Sleeping bags have historically been a mainstay of any camping trip. However, there’s no requirement that you bring one with you on a camping trip, especially if you have an alternative way to stay warm on cold nights.
For example, you could use camping blankets instead of sleeping bags while you snooze, especially if you’re staying at a roadside campsite. Alternatively, you could ditch the tent and sleeping bag system altogether and opt for a hammock-based adventure, instead.
However, it’s worth noting that very cold camping conditions warrant the use of a sleeping bag. On winter camping trips or any expeditions in below-freezing temperatures, you’ll be much better off if you have your winter sleeping bag with the right temperature ratings than with any of our alternatives.
Nevertheless, in warm weather or in car camping situations where you have access to an assortment of sleeping bag alternatives, there are ways to go camping without a sleeping bag. What’s important is that you choose a method that’s going to keep you warm at night as you snooze.
8 Top Sleeping Bag Hacks (For When You Don’t Have One)
Considering ditching the sleeping bag on your next outdoor adventure? Here are 8 awesome sleeping bag alternatives to check out for your upcoming camping trip:
Although they’re sometimes confused with sleeping bags, quilts are a type of ultralight sleep system for camping.
Unlike the quilt you might have at home, camping quilts are crafted out of down or synthetic insulation, which is designed to help you stay warm on cold nights. The difference, however, is that quilts feature no insulation at all on the underside of their design, unlike a sleeping bag, which provides full-body insulation. One of the best sleeping quilts out there is the Go Outfitters Adventure Quilt that will surely provide a cozy outdoor experience.
Why might someone opt for a quilt when they could get a sleeping bag? Well, by eliminating the insulation on the underside of the bag, quilts can help you cut weight on the trail.
Plus, most of the insulation on the underside of a sleeping bag gets compacted while you snooze, anyway. So, by using a quilt, you can decrease your pack weight without being cold at night.
- 20°F (-6°C) Temperature rating
- Can be used when hammock camping or tent camping
- With built-in foot box and quasi-hood feature
If you’re staying at a roadside campground, using camping blankets instead of sleeping bags can help you keep warm while outside. Although the weight and bulk of regular fleece or wool blankets make them impractical for backpacking, they’re an affordable option for car camping.
Of course, blankets don’t come with temperature ratings, so you’ll want to bring quite a few of them on your adventures to help you stay warm. Then, when you arrive at camp, you can simply make a little bed for yourself in your tent, just like you might do in your bedroom at home.
Do keep in mind, however, that cotton isn’t a great option for outdoor adventure. That’s because it offers no insulating value when wet. So, if you do want to bring blankets on your camping trip, consider using wool or fleece models, instead.
3. Sleeping Bag Liners
While sleeping bag liners are often used in conjunction with sleeping bags, some models can actually be used on their own in certain conditions.
Sleeping bag liners, like the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme are made from highly insulating fabrics that can help you stay warm in mild summer temperatures.
As a result, a liner can be a great alternative to a full-blown sleeping bag if you expect warm weather on your trip. Plus, if you ever find that you do need a sleeping bag on your adventures, having a liner on hand is a great way to add a boost of warmth in very cold climates.
- Adds up to 25 °F (14 °C) of warmth to a sleeping bag
- Lightweight, more packable than fleece
- Measures 82 in (208 cm) x 35 in (89 cm)
4. Bivy Sacks
Popular among climbers and ultralight backpackers, bivy sacks are a type of minimalist single person shelter that makes for a great sleeping bag alternative.
Bivy sacks often look a lot like a miniature 1 person tent and they’re designed to be water-resistant for use in a wide range of different environments. But, some models, like the Black Diamond Big Wall Hooped Bivy, are also fully waterproof.
While most bivy sacks are designed to be used with a sleeping bag, they can also be used on their own in very warm conditions. That being said, you will likely want to bundle up in warm clothing if you plan to snooze in a bivy sack for the night.
- Great balance of size, weight, protection, and breathability
- Long bivy measuring 99 x 35 in (251 x 88 cm)
5. Space Blankets
Space blankets, also known as emergency blankets, are a type of lightweight insulating shelter that can serve as an alternative to sleeping bags in some environments
Most modern space blankets, like the Swiss Safe Emergency Thermal Blanket, are made from ultra-tough and highly insulating mylar. As a result, these blankets can help retain up to 90% of your body heat, helping you maintain your core body temperature on chilly evenings.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of space blankets is their affordability and packability. However, most emergency blankets are single-use only, so they’re not ideal for frequent adventures.
Furthermore, space blankets aren’t exactly a cozy thing to snuggle up with at night. But, for very occasional camping trips in warm environments, they’re a sure bet.
- Pack includes four advanced dual-sided aluminized mylar blankets.
- Lightweight and durable
- Designed to retain up 90% of your body heat
6. Insulated Hammock
If you’re keen to ditch the sleeping bag and tent lifestyle and sleep blissfully in between two trees, then consider an insulated hammock on your next adventure.
Hammocks are a super popular option for car camping and backpacking trips, alike, because they’re comfortable and highly portable. Furthermore, with the right hammock set-up and warm weather conditions, you can often camp without a sleeping bag.
In the middle of the summer, you can often get away with snoozing in a hammock with just a sleeping bag liner or blanket. Alternatively, if the temperatures start to drop, you can even insulate the underside of a hammock with a purpose-built hammock sleeping pad, like the Klymit Hammock V.
That being said, you still might want a sleeping bag for hammocking in very cold environments. But, it’s more than possible to get a good night’s sleep in your hammock in the summer without the need for extra insulation.
7. Warm Clothing
If you’re heading outside for an adventure, you’re almost certainly going to dress in layers. Therefore, if you’re trying to cut weight in your pack during your trip, you can always stay cozy at night by bundling up in warm clothing.
In fact, in mild weather conditions, packing an extra puffy jacket and a set of insulated pants just might be enough to keep you warm at night.
Packing plenty of extra warm clothing can also be a great way to supplement any of the other sleeping bag alternatives on our list. For example, if you want to camp in a hammock or in a bivy sack without a sleeping bag, adding a couple of extra jackets to your gear list can make a huge difference to your comfort levels at night. The options are truly limitless!
8. Bushcraft Shelter
Last but not least, if you’re looking to camp without a sleeping bag, you could always try brushing up on your bushcraft and survival skills.
Bushcraft shelters, like debris huts, snow caves, and the like, are designed to keep you warm, regardless of the conditions. As a result, you can comfortably camp in them without the need for a sleeping bag.
That being said, making one of these shelters can be a challenge, especially if you’ve never done it before. So, we highly recommend taking a bushcraft course to hone your skillset before you head outside.
From quilts to bivy sacks and camping blankets, there are plenty of ways to go camping without a sleeping bag. However, you should always consider whether your sleeping bag alternative is actually warm enough for the conditions you’ll face. If not, consider bringing a sleeping bag with the appropriate temperature ratings for your adventures.
Does Body-to-Body Warming Work?
Body-to-body warming does work in certain situations where your hands or feet are starting to feel very cold. However, body-to-body warming should never be used with severe frostbite (when the skin is hard or waxy-looking), and it should never be used to treat a hypothermic patient.
What Are The Signs Of Hypothermia?
The early signs of hypothermia can be called the “umbles”: mumbles, fumbles, stumbles, and grumbles. If you see someone who has a marked change in their behavior, a delayed reaction time, slurred or incoherent speech, and loss of fine motor skills, they may be hypothermic.
In these situations, it’s imperative that this person get rewarmed as soon as possible by removing any wet clothing and placing them in a dry sleeping bag. To learn more about hypothermia treatment, consider taking a Wilderness First Aid class.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Camping?
Technically speaking, there’s no such thing as weather that’s too cold for camping. While there might be temperatures that feel uncomfortable to camp in, that’s a matter of personal preference and the gear you have in your pack.
In fact, people camp in temperatures as low as -60ºF (-51ºC), but doing so requires specialized gear and advanced techniques. The important thing is to come prepared with the right equipment to help you stay warm in whatever conditions you might face.