Short, Cold, & Frugal Camping Tips

Sleeping bag

Get the shortest bag that fits your body

Any empty space in the bottom of your bag is not only wasted space and wasted pack weight, it is actively bad for you because it will turn into a cold air bubble that sucks precious warmth from your iceblock feet.

Get a bag rated to 20F or better

Sleeping bag ratings are “survival ratings”, not comfort ratings. They also assume you will wear all your clothes to sleep.

Off-the-shelf options

To my knowledge, REI makes the best affordable off-the-shelf youth (5'-5'3") sleeping bags, ranging from $70 for a bulky synthetic 25F bag to $150 for a down-filled 25F bag.

Other options

  • Bring every blanket you already have at home. Extremely bulky and heavy, but free.
  • Stack together multiple cheap sleeping bags. Bulky, heavy, and affordable.
  • Find a warm secondhand bag on eBay, at an REI used sale, etc. Can often get 20–40% off this way. Wash old down bags with down wash ($10) to restore loft.
  • Get a custom bag. Very expensive ($200+), even if you get lucky on a secondhand one ($120–150).
  • DIY your own bag. Usually doable at half the MSRP of an equivalently good off-the-shelf bag. Search “MYOG sleeping bag” for patterns and tips. The best balance of easy/affordable/performant DIY insulation is Apex Climashield, a sheet of super-insulating synthetic material that you can sew into a cover material. However, it does not compress well.

Extending your bag’s warmth

  • The most straightforward free method is to wear all of your clothes to sleep, especially your socks. But as an iceblock, this will still not get you anywhere near the bag’s warmth rating.
  • A sleep sheet will extend your bag by about 5F. Silk ($35) offers excellent weight and wicking, but you can also bring a literal bedsheet from home and wrap it around yourself before sliding into your bag.
  • A blanket or puffy quilt can be stuffed in with you to give you maybe another 5–10F of warmth. (If you don’t already have one, Costco often sells good $25–30 puffy packable quilts.)
  • If you are totally desperate for more warmth, you can also borrow a second sleeping bag and stack it.

Sleeping pad

Its most obvious purpose is for comfort, but it serves another very important purpose: insulating you from the cold ground, which wants to suck away all your body warmth. There are many options, but the short-cold-frugal holy grail options are:

  1. inflatable: Klymit 3/4-size sleeping pad (50" long, $45)
  2. closed-cell foam: Thermarest Z-Lite Sol Small (51" long, $40)
Fun fact: compressed insulation is not effective. If you lie on a sleeping bag directly on the ground, the compressed fluff under you will not adequately protect your body heat from the ground. This is why many people like quilts, which are open at the bottom! Hot air rises! I personally avoid quilts due to potential air leakage when I toss and turn, but might consider a sleeping bag with the insulation removed from the bottom.

BONUS TOPIC: Hammock camping

I stopped ground sleeping when I got into hammocks. Before you interject, let me answer the most common FAQs that everyone inevitably responds with.

Q1: But you can’t sleep without trees to hammock from, right??

A: Mostly true (with some hardcore exceptions)!

Q2: Isn’t it uncomfortable to sleep in a banana shape?

A: Correct! That is why we do not do it.

Illustration from Tips for Pitch-Perfect Hammock Camping | The Ultimate Hang

Q3: Doesn’t your butt get cold at night?

A: O ye of little faith! Do you truly believe that a perpetual iceblock such as myself would willingly endure a sleeping setup without a solution for supreme warmthiness?? Observe:

My personal favorite short-cold-frugal hammock underquilt, the AHE Jarbidge.
  1. Under $150
  2. Under 1.5 lbs (22oz)
  3. Comfortable down to 40F (specifically for my permafrost body)

Budget options

Having searched the entire internet before settling, I can say with confidence that the AHE Jarbidge is, by a huge landslide, the best hammock underquilt insulation deal you will find as a short, cold, frugal person without DIYing your own quilt. I sleep better in my setup than I do in a bed.

  • Tie a random blanket underneath a hammock. This works ok for me down to 60F. Many hammockers have converted Costco’s packable down quilt ($25–30) into a cheap summer-weight underquilt.
  • Tie an exceptionally warm blanket, such as a military doobie ($30), under a hammock. Some warm-blooded hammockers have been known to take this to 30F, but if you’re a human iceblock, I doubt you will get further than 45–50F.
  • Borrow an extra sleeping bag, unzip it all the way, and tie it under your hammock. This will look very silly and not quite be the right shape for bottom coverage, so you may experience windchill, but it works if it’s all you’ve got.



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autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before