When planning for a trip, generally one would check the weather to ensure they have the proper gear. I can confirm that I am typically one who completes this vital task. What I was not prepared for on a recent camping trip was the fact that my sleeping bag was not rated for cold weather. I didn’t know! I was so convinced that my sleeping bag was good for any weather that I did not bother to actually check it’s rating. Typically I’m usually an obsessive over packer and over planner, I’m sure I’ll have an entire post dedicated to that, but this time, I did not plan well.
The first time I realized I might be in trouble was when I was camping in Crater Lake National Park in late August 2020. I’m not sure why I didn’t think it through, the low was going to be 45 F (approx. 7 C) – so it was probably going to be pretty freaking cold overnight with no sunshine to warm me and me only in a tent, not really a secure or warm shelter. After one night in the tent I abandoned camping and decided the backseat of the rental car was an excellent shelter option for the rest of my trip. It was at that point that I looked at my sleeping bag and found that it was rated for, at lowest, around 45-50 F.
An ounce of anxiety settled over me upon the realization that one day after I returned home, to Florida no less, which is almost like the surface of the sun, I would be jetting off to Yellowstone National Park. Even in the second week of September the lows were going to be all the way down to 27 F (approx. -3 C). Below freezing…I didn’t have time to buy a new sleeping bag that I would like or could easily travel with. I had some good wool socks, a sleeping bag liner, and a nice fleece, I figured I was as prepared as possible (spoiler I was wrong).
My friend and I set off to Yellowstone with hopes that everything would turn out alright. We made camp, which was a mess on all on its own, and when we were finally set up with our individual tents the sun was down and the temperature was dropping dramatically. We built a fire and roasted marshmallow and tried to keep warm. We settled in for bed and the reality of the cold set in. I fell asleep relatively easily, but I awoke multiple times because: 1. my feet were unbelievable cold, 2. my air mattress kept deflating and the cold from the ground woke me up, 3. my face was cold from where my sleeping bag was open, 4. all of me was cold, 5. I had to decide if I wanted to partially emerge from my sleeping bag to blow up the air mattress to get off the ground, but then expose myself to the cold, or suffer the discomfort of the hard packed earth.
The next day we made sure to stop at the Yellowstone General Store to pick up blankets to shove into our sleeping bags. I’m not sure the exact feelings that my friend had about the temperature, but we were both 100% ready to buy 6 blankets each if that would make sleeping easier, we each bought 1 fleece blanket. We essentially repeated our nighttime performance from the first night, save camp set up, and somehow the night felt better. The third night felt much the same as the second night, I was actually sort of comfortable overnight, though it was still colder than I would have liked.
The fourth night was the breaking point. I got ready for bed in the same way, layered myself into my blankets, my fleece, and my sleeping bag – it was awful. I woke up prior to sunrise and could not fall back to sleep because of the cold. I started to search for hotel options near us because there wasn’t a chance that I was going to be getting back into a tent on our trip. I got out of my tent when it seemed an appropriate hour and stood next to my friends tent.
“Megan,” I said, “we have a problem…”
“Okay.” She replied from inside her tent, clearly confused about where I was going with my conversation.
“I can’t do this anymore. We have to stay somewhere with walls,” I declared.
She replied without hesitation, “Thank goodness. What did you find?”
We found a hotel for the night and changed our next campsite at the Grand Teton National Park to a rustic cabin. I also found out I had enough reward points to book 2 nights at a hotel instead of 1 for our foray to Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve never been so excited to abruptly change plans (planning might be almost as much fun for me as the experience).
In conclusion – make sure that you are actually fully prepared and have the proper equipment for camping and hiking. I’m working on being more prepared for my next adventure.