Q&A: Keeping a young kid IN their sleeping bag?

A Kid Project reader recently asked:

 How do you make your toddlers stay in their sleeping bags? My 21-month-old rolls all over the crib and she hates to wear any sleeping bag that covers her feet. She wears a Halo sleepsack at home but it won’t be warm enough for camping. Any suggestions?

Ahhh! The madness! This is what I wanted to yell many nights out camping. You have uncovered probably the biggest obstacle to warmth and good sleep when it comes to family camping! For our family, this has been a huge problem. Can any one say case-of-the-wiggles?!?

But we have had a few victories.

When our kids were very young, infant through age three, we did ALOT of layering in order to keep them warm at night. First, I must say our kids were just never good at co-sleeping, or sleeping with mom and dad. That is probably the #1 way to keep them warm at night. But because that wasn’t an option for us, we had to figure out what did works for us through trial and error.

Babies campingLike you mentioned in the question above, we used Halo Fleece sleep sacks at home and naturally brought them camping as well. I would layer heavily underneath: long underwear, a shirt with a well-fitting hood (like the one pictured), fleece one-piece pajamas all under the Halo Sleep Sack. But I agree with you, that wasn’t enough. On top we tossed a small down quilt (ours was Bed Bath and Beyond) but you can find a variety of backcountry down quilts designed for just this purpose (Check out EnlightenedEquiptment.com). The free movement of the quilt meant it stayed on top through a lot of wiggling.

On really cold nights we add a down jacket on top of the sleep sac. I even bought my youngest’s jacket a size big for this purpose… I sort of figured it was like a wearable sleeping bag. 🙂

It is important to note (if the down quilt thing isn’t an option) that wider sleeping bags help toddlers stay inside them as well. The only kid specific bag I’ve noticed being wide is the Big Agnes Little Red or Haybro, but you could also go with an adult bag and tie it off at the bottom to limit air flow and increase warmth.

And of course don’t forget the camping pad underneath. Keeping them ON it will be as much of a challenge as keeping them in or under their covers. For us the insulated air chamber pads like Big Agnes Air Core and Kelty Recluse 2.5 have worked very well. They are designed so that the air chambers on the perimeter of the pad are larger than in the center, creating a cradling effect that helps you stay in place. And this has really worked for us!

Sleeping systems like the Big Agnes Little Red, where the sleeping pad slides in a panel on the bottom of the bag have worked as well. And if you don’t want to invest in new sleeping bags, you can often slip sleeping pads inside a normal sleeping bag. If you are handy with thread, add tie loops on the outside of the bag and use elastic to make-your-own straps the pad can slip into on the bottom side of the bag.

Lastly, while we’ve never tried it, I’ve heard from other parents that winter bunting, like the Patagonia Down Bunting, work great for sleeping on cold nights too!

Best of luck!


Girl in Deuter Sleeping Bag, in tent


6 comments on “Q&A: Keeping a young kid IN their sleeping bag?
  1. Can you tell me what you used for a “well-fitting hood”…I’m thinking this would work great and stay on better than the hat we use – or maybe in tandem would be best. thank you for the suggestions on pads…we will need to get one before next winter.
    We’ve taken our 11m camping a few times this winter and the bunting works great. The only “issue” is diaper changing time – BBBRRRRRRR!
    When he was younger we used an adult sized down jacket – arms pulled in and tied off at the bottom – but that only worked through 8 or 9 mo and then he was too long.

    • Nicki- This is a hard one. The shirt pictured is a Patagonia Infant Capilene shirt. The BEST hooded shirt ever. Only I’ve noticed in the last year that I don’t think* they are making them anymore. It is a lightweight synthetic shirt… the sunlight hoodie could work, though I think the hood is loser fitting. What you are looking for is a hood that fits tighter around the face, like their Synchilla® Cardigan. I totally agree that hooded shirts/jackets stay on better during sleep than hats…
      AS for down jackets, buy them big! We love the REI down jackets. We always bought them 2-3 sizes big so they could be worn while sleeping in a tent, then I’d layer up the legs really well.

  2. Thank you so much for turning it into a post. We went camping in Gros Morne NP last September. My daughter was 15m at that time. None of us sleep well during the trip. We tried REI down bunting suit at the beginning — It was too warm for her to sleep. We tried co-sleeping the next night. My husband and I zipped our sleeping bag together and let my daughter sleep between us. It did not work either. There wasn’t enough room for three of us to sleep comfortably in two adult sleeping bags. Any movement will wake her up and she will be mad and cry…..Sometimes she crawled out the sleeping bag and roll all the way to the corner of the tent and ended up crying because of cold. We are planing a road trip to North California and would like to visit Yellowstone NP and some NPs in Utah (Arches, Canyonlands and maybe Zion) between late April to mid May. We bought a travel crib and is training her to sleep in it so we don’t have to worry about keeping her on the sleeping mat. Not sure if layer up would be enough for camping in Yellowstone. Will it be warm enough to camp in Arches, Canyonlands and Zion in May?

    • Definitely warm enough, I’d say. We camped near Zion at the beginning of May and it dropped into the high 40s at night but was blissful during the day. Just keep your eye on the forecast. If you are worried, it is 10-15 degrees warmer in St. George than Zion and only a short drive away. Check out Adventuretykes.com for more specific info on Moab. Yellowstone could be quite cold still in May! Have fun!

  3. Houstonclimber – WE are planning a trip to Arches/Canyonland in mid May! Well, really debating between there and Fruita. But I’m pushing for the NP’s. Hope it goes well!

  4. Pingback: Best Tips for Family Camping Round-Up — BonBon Break

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