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You wake up in the middle of the night to the wisping wind cascading over your tent and rustling the nearby leaves. At first, you think it is a wild animal approaching, but after a couple of seconds, you realize it really was just the wind all along.
Pesky dream state always lingering over into reality for those first few seconds of being awake.
Once your heart rate calms down, you realize your sock must have fallen off during the night. Because your feet are freezing.
A quick glance reveals that, alas, your entire lower body slid off your inflatable sleeping pad and onto the tent floor. Only the third time that has happened this season…
A natural instinct may be to just place your inflatable pad inside your sleeping bag. Taking away even the possibility you could fall off of it. While at first, this may sound like an incredible idea, there are actually a few good reasons why you should avoid doing this.
Should you put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag?
The short answer is no, you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag.
I will dig further into why some people do and why you should not in a minute.
First, can a sleeping pad even fit inside a sleeping bag?
So most sleeping pads will fit inside a sleeping bag. The exceptions would be if you have a long or wide sleeping pad.
Additionally, a mummy-shaped pad would fit better within a mummy bag, and likewise for a standard-shaped set.
Why someone would want to put the sleeping pad on the inside?
There are a couple of main reasons why someone would want to put their sleep pad inside their sleeping bag.
First, their sleeping bag does not stay on top of their sleeping pad throughout the night.
If you toss and turn during the night then you may have woken up halfway of your sleeping pad once or twice. On top of being annoying and uncomfortable, you can lose a lot of body heat because of the cold ground. It is natural to think that putting your sleep pad inside your sleeping bag will solve the problem.
But, there are some better options than using your sleeping pad improperly.
One option is to get a larger sleeping pad. Wider pads have 5-6″ of extra space for you to roll around throughout the night. At only an extra ounce or two of weight, the extra room is well worth it.
The second option is to get a sleeping pad or sleeping bag that has straps. These straps either wrap around the sleeping pad or clip on to ensure the two pieces of equipment stay together. This option is a bit more limiting because this is not a widespread feature at this point.
The other big reason people put their sleeping pad inside their sleeping bag is because it is more comfortable.
This one is a bit more subjective, but it is a reason I have heard for preferring the sleeping pad inside the sleeping bag.
Some people prefer the material of the sleeping pad to that of the sleeping bag. (even though I think these folks are a bit crazy. I prefer not to sleep directly on my mattress at home)
I for one love being engulfed by my sleeping bag and all its warmth and coziness!
Why you should not put sleeping pads inside your sleeping bag
The simple reason that you should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag is that you are sacrificing warmth.
The bottom of your sleeping bag becomes irrelevant if it is around the outside of your sleeping pad.
Normally, the sleeping pad serves as the barrier between you and the cold ground. While you cacoon yourself inside your sleeping bag. Getting 360 degrees of insulation.
When you put the underside of your sleeping bag against the ground (underneath the sleeping pad), it loses its purpose. It does not prevent the cool temperatures from the ground from getting through. The sleeping pad still does its job, but without the layer of the sleeping bag between you, more cool temperatures get to your body.
Also, with additional weight on top of it, the bottom of your sleeping bag will compress more. This will cause your bag to lose some loft and insulation over the long-term.
In addition to losing insulation from your sleeping bag, putting your sleeping pad inside your bag will create much less space. This is a dealbreaker if you are a side sleeper because you will lose the ability to sleep on your side or rotate your body easily. (think if your sheets and comforter were tightly tucked in on all sides at your bed at home)
Ways to secure your sleeping bag to your pad
There are some sleeping bags that have straps designed to go around sleeping pads to prevent sliding off. My favorite being the quilts from Enlightened Equipment. They offer incredible versatility and can be customized to your exact needs. They include sleeping pad attachment straps that wrap around your sleeping pad to secure the two together.
You could also do a DIY version with any type of elastic band or strap. And even in a pinch you could tape, though I would not make a habit of this because it could damage your sleeping bag.
Don’t overlook getting a wider sleeping pad. A lot of sleeping pads create the sense that any movement will cause you to fall off because of their narrowness. Getting a wide sleeping pad will give you an extra ~6 inches which gives you a wider platform to sleep on. Doubles as a more comfortable experience and they make it much harder for you to slide off.
Ways to stay warmer at night
If you are thinking about putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, you may be dealing with being cold during the night.
There are plenty of ways to keep warm while camping in a tent, even when winter camping or at high elevations.
The best place to start is with your sleep system.
Make sure that your sleeping bag is rated for about ~10-15 degrees colder than the temperature you are expecting. Even if you are able to max out your sleeping bags temperature rating, it is best to have a little bit of a buffer.
The key to getting the most out of your sleeping bag is to have a sleep pad with a high enough R-Value for the conditions you are camping in. This ensures that more of the cold air coming from the ground is reflected away from your body. A sleeping bag does not reflect outside air away from your body. Rather it helps retain the body heat that you are emitting.
You should not put your sleeping pad inside your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag, even if it does fit.
You lose insulation from your sleeping bag and you have much less room inside your sleeping bag.
Putting your sleeping pad inside your sleeping bag may sound like a genius-level move, but it isn’t. You lose warmth and compress your sleeping bag down by doing so.
If comfort is the reason you are thinking about it, try a different sleeping pad. (I.e., switch to an inflatable pad if you have been using foam pads)
If you are tired of sliding off your sleeping pad during the night, try getting a wider pad or a sleeping bag that has a sleeping pad attachment system.
It is foolish to sacrifice body heat or the longevity of your gear to fix an issue that has multiple better solutions. Your sleeping bag and you will feel better with a permanent solution that allows you to continue exploring the outdoors!