Percale, Cotton Sheets, and Sleeping Bag Liners

Do you know the feeling of sleeping in a bed with cool sheets?  I love it, especially in warm weather, and I think I finally understand the formula.

Before I spell it out, I want to describe some of the many traps that have been set out for me.  I used to think it was a matter of thread count.  Thread count is certainly a factor.  A low thread count, like 180 threads per inch, results in bedding that feels coarse.  A higher thread count makes the fabric feel smoother and softer.  However, soft and cool are two different things.  In recent years, manufacturers have come up with numerous products that are very soft, even excessively soft, but which are not cool.  Thread counts of 500, 600, even 1000 per inch.  Sateen weave, which is shinier and lends itself to higher thread counts.  Microfiber.  T-shirt fabric.  All of these things are softer (actually, I have my doubts about t-shirt fabric, which seems simultaneously soft and course), but they are warmer.  While they may be appropriate for cold weather, they are not what I want in warm weather.

The formula is 100% cotton, in a percale weave, with a thread count close to 350 threads per inch.  The ideal cotton is probably extra-long staple pima or Egyptian cotton.

Wamsutta makes a product called Cool Touch for Bed Bath & Beyond, which in my opinion is just perfect.

An additional difficulty when looking for good bed linens is that many products are not labeled with these properties.  Percale is evidently a fairly common weave – so common that it is frequently not mentioned.  Fabric with low thread count frequently doesn’t even list the thread count.

If this is important in my bed, in my air-conditioned house, then how much more important is it when camping?  In a sleeping bag in hot, humid weather?  The lining of sleeping bags come in a variety of fabrics: flannel, soft polyester, slick polyester.  However, none of them feel nice against your skin when it his hot and sweaty.  For years, I have brought along a cotton sheet.  However, they usually end up wadded up to one side.  What I really need is a sleeping bag liner.

Unfortunately, most sleeping bag liners are intended to provide additional warmth.  They are made of soft polyester, or even polyester fleece.  Welcome in the cold, but unwelcome in the heat.  (Sea to Summit makes a liner made of Cool Max material: I’ve bought one, and I have yet to try it, but it is soft polyester.)  A few companies make cotton sleeping bag liners, but not one of them indicates the thread count, let alone the type of weave.  I bought one for camping this summer, and it was very coarse (not to mention that it had velcro tabs, which are very irritating against bare skin).

I finally gave up.  In the end, I bought one of the Wamsutta twin-size flat sheets.  Folding it in half, I stitched up the bottom and most of the side.  With the excess fabric from the bottom, I made a little draw-string bag for it.  I also bought matching pillowcases.  It’s very comfortable.