Cold Weather Camping

Cold weather camping - not for the faint-hearted! The key to cold weather camping is staying dry, warm and hydrated. If you need to make a fire to keep warm, then you are not dressed correctly. If you are beginning to feel thirsty, then you are not drinking enough water. Follow these tips to have a safe and fun cold weather camping trip.

  • Clothing is one of the keys to staying warm and dry. You need to layer your clothes, and be sure they are not too tight. Loose clothing is more insulating and can keep you warmer. Begin with long, thermal polypropylene underwear. If you do not have this, wool is your next best choice. Never wear cotton clothing when camping in the cold. It is not a good insulator, and if wet, will chill you quickly. Wool, Gore-Tex and polypropylene clothing will wick the moisture away from your body. Begin to layer your clothing, preferably with the types above. Do not use jeans, which are cotton and will become easily wet and cold. Old wool military uniforms can be found at thrift stores, and are good for this type of camping. Again, layer with loose fitting clothing. In an emergency, paper can be placed under clothing as an insulator.
  • Your choice of coat is important. Be sure it is meant for extreme cold, and is large enough to wear around your layers without being tight. A coat that has a hood will help to keep your body warm, and will keep rain and snow off of your neck.
  • Always wear a hat. In extreme cold, you may choose a ski mask for extra warmth. 90% of your body heat can be lost through your head. Keep a warm hat on at all times.
  • Always wear a scarf to keep the cold air off of your neck. Any skin that is unprotected will make your body lose heat. Keep every part of your body covered.
  • Although you will probably need gloves off and on to tend camp, keeping mittens on is best when possible. This will allow your fingers to touch each other and gain heat from each other.
  • For your feet, start with thinner wicking socks, and finish with wool socks over them. Any boots or shoes you wear should be waterproof. Do not wear tennis shoes, and do not wear tight leather boots either. Your feet need to be able to move - especially your toes. Big rubber over boots are good to place over shoes, with the socks underneath. Tuck your pants into your boots, and use duck tape to keep them in and snow out. If you are camping in snow, be sure to whisk off your boots before entering your tent.
  • Never kneel down or touch the ground - rather, use a camp stool. You do not want any moisture from the ground to wet your clothes.
  • If you are camping in moist cold, change your clothing several times a day.
  • Immediately before you go to sleep, change your clothing. Never wear clothes to bed that you have walked around in at camp. They have moisture in them and will chill you in your sleeping bag. Always go to sleep with dry, fresh and loose clothing.
  • Place your tent on higher ground, away from the colder air. Place a moisture-proof tarp or footprint under the tent. Do not let the tarp go past the tent, because if it rains, this will serve as a funnel for water to go under your tent. Place your tent where the sun will shine on it in the morning.
  • If you are camping in the snow, always keep sunglasses to avoid becoming snow blind.
  • Drink,drink, drink water! Plan on at least 2 gallons per day, if not more. If you even begin to think about being thirsty, then you are on your way to becoming dehydrated, which can lead quickly to hypothermia! Never eat snow, which can cool down your body temperature.
  • Eat complex carbs such as starches. Avoid caffeine and high sugar snacks such as chocolate.
  • Rely on a camp stove rather than a fire for cooking in cold weather.
  • Campfires can be built on metal trash can lids to avoid having the fire sink into the snow or wet ground. Again, if you are relying on your fire for heat, you are not dressed properly. Bring dry wood and tinder from home if possible.
  • Your sleeping bag should be synthetic and rated for cold weather camping. A mummy bag intended for 0 degree weather is good. You can find mummy sleeping bags that are malleable and easy to carry in a stuff sack. When you are back home, store your sleeping bag outside of the stuff sack so you won't compress the stuffing.
  • Never sleep on a cot in cold weather camping. This allows the cold air to touch every side of you. Purchase an insulated mat that will keep you off of the ground and keep you warm. If your sleeping bag does not have head protection, wear your hat at night. Never breath inside of the bag, which will create moisture and chill you during the night. You may line your bag with a wool blanket for further protection from the cold. Never use a space blanket when sleeping in cold weather - it is a cold conductor and will lower your body temperature.
  • Before you go to bed, place a hand warmer in the bottom of your sleeping bag. You can also place a container of warm water or drink inside your bag. You may also wish to place an empty bottle with a very tight seal in the bag with you, just in case nature calls during the night.
  • You may build a wall of sticks, leaves or snow next to your tent to form a wind break.
  • Air out your tent each day to remove the moisture it accumulated during the night.
  • If your flashlight batteries appear to be dead, warm them by the fire. Do NOT place them near enough to the fire to ignite them

Comments for Cold Weather Camping


Name: gary basehore
Time: Friday, December 9, 2011

Very informitive article.I look back on my early days in boy scouts and hunting and how we ever survived with out Goretex good insulated boots and underarmor and the old canvas tents with no floor.

Name: Tony Yates
Time: Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No mention of a Winter type tent or Insulated Tent (think Artic Oven tent from Alaska Tent and Tarp.) as opposed to using a 3-season tent. Three things I learned while in the Marine Corps;(1) In a 2 or 3 man tent, burn a survival candle (one with 3 wicks, just use one wick), (2) Fill a 1 liter Naglene bottle with boiling water to the brim removing all air, put it in the bottom of your sleeping bag. It and you will stay warm all night just wearing thermal underwear.(3) Put your clothing, if dry, between your sleeping bag and your insulated sleeping pad. Your clothing will not be freezing at first light.

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