Your sleeping system includes your sleeping bag, insulating mat and perhaps a waterproof cover (or tent). A sound understanding of how these items work to keep you comfortable will help you select the correct system for your needs.
If you're cold at night, do some sit-ups to generate heat - it will soon get you - and the sleeping bag - warmed up
Different sleeping bags provide varying levels of insulation to keep you warm in temperatures ranging from a cool summer's evening to the coldest arctic night. This insulation is rated in 'seasons', where 1 is for low-level summer use only and 5 is for serious expeditions in harsh environments.
As an example, most people who are active throughout the year use a 3-season bag, as this is sufficient for valley camping in winter with a tent, and summer bivying. A sleeping bag's warmth is created by the amount of still air that it can trap. As air is a poor conductor of heat, any heat that leaves your body remains close by, trapped by the bag's insulation materials. Extreme season bags tend to be bulky affairs, to trap more air.
PHD down sleeping bags
In order to maximise a bag's insulation you must warm the insulation first. Just your own radiated body heat usually achieves this. If you are very cold before you get into your bag, you will feel that the bag is slow to heat up. Doing some sit-ups to generate some initial heat will soon get you - and the bag - warmed up.
Staying hydrated and eating a big meal will also help, along with wearing dry clothing, a hat and warm socks. But if you wear too many bulky clothes you can actually prevent your radiated heat reaching the bag's insulation, which will slow down the warming process, and you do not want to be sweaty in your sleeping bag either.
The two principal insulation materials used in sleeping bags are down feathers and synthetic fibres. Down is lightweight, compressible, durable and long-lasting. It is luxurious and comfortable to sleep in, and is generally easy to look after, even in wet environments. Its low weight and low bulk are greatly appreciated on long trips. However, down has two drawbacks - it is costly and it loses its insulation properties if it gets wet.
Down has two drawbacks - it is costly and it loses its insulation properties if it gets wet
Synthetic fibres are heavier, bulkier but less expensive, and bag construction is cheaper compared to down. The big advantage of synthetic fibre bags is that the insulation properties are less affected by moisture. They are very good for more extreme camping, and due to their low cost, are popular for those on a budget and first-time campers.
Sleeping mats make a significant contribution to your comfort. An alarming amount of body heat can be lost to the ground; a sleeping mat inhibits this heat loss and considerably increases your comfort. The most common type of mat is the closed cell mat (or 'Karrimat' as it is popularly known, in recognition of the first manufacturers, Karrimor), constructed from closed cell foam. These mats can be constructed from a single sheet of foam, multiple sheets of different densities laminated together or formed in ridges to increase comfort and insulation. This construction is very light, incredibly robust and inexpensive, but bulky. Most users strap them to the outside of their packs to carry them.
An alarming amount of body heat can be lost to the ground; a sleeping mat inhibits this heat loss and considerably increases your comfort.
If you prefer a little more comfort then an open cell, an inflatable mat will provide far more cushioning and insulation. Once unrolled and a valve is opened, they inflate by themselves. These mats also pack down smaller but they are more expensive and less durable than their closed-cell cousins. It's worth taking two mats with you on winter or extended camping trips, for the extra insulation and comfort, a combination of inflatable and closed cell foam gives the most flexibility.
There are three types of camping stove: Trangia burns methylated spirits. This is the simplest stove. It is lightweight, reasonably compact (consisting of a simple burner complete with its own pots, pans and windshield) and relatively safe but slow. It is popular for both groups and individual campers.
Gas stoves are very popular due to their ease of use, compactness, quick boil time and low price.
Liquid fuel stoves work well if you are venturing into areas where gas canisters may not be available, and so they are popular for travelling and expeditions. Most require a bit more skill and nurturing to use, as they need priming and regular cleaning, but they are by far the most field-maintainable and robust. Most liquid stoves run on white gas or Coleman fuel, but the most versatile designs can burn a variety of fuels including paraffin and petrol, available in one form or another all over the world.
Aluminium is cheap and light, but can suffer from surface corrosion and is prone to denting. Stainless steel is very corrosion resistant, heats evenly and is very robust. Titanium is very light, totally corrosion resistant and tough, but extremely expensive - and aluminium is actually lighter. Non-stick coatings are fairly popular, although the rough and tumble of the outdoors can damage the coating. Most campers use at least two pans, with one nestling inside the other, plus a lid that doubles as a frying pan.
Miniature coffee makers and percolators are great for those early starts
Specialist camping cooking accessories include cutlery, plates, mugs, folding spatulas, serving spoons and drainers, made from everything from ultra strong plastic to titanium. If you can't live without a strong dose of coffee in the morning you'll find several companies produce miniature coffee makers and percolators - great for those early starts. If you're a big fan of bread or pizza then look out for the portable 'outback' oven, a portable unit that uses your stove and a folding heat reflective cover, to form a tiny oven.