Tips for Cold Weather Camping

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The key to a successful winter camping trip is having the right gear and becoming an informed winter camper.

Make sure you have appropriate clothing. Wool socks, warm boots, thermal underwear and a warm jacket are essential, and don’t forget to bring gloves. Dressing in layers will help you regulate your body temperature and can make a big difference in extremely cold temperatures. Pack clothing according to the climate you are camping in; down garments are great in dry climates, but down is not always the best option in wet climates.

Dress Right.  If there’s one thing you remember about cold weather camping, it’s that cotton kills. When cotton becomes wet, either through sweat or from icy rain, it instantly becomes a deathtrap. It removes all insulation and is nearly impossible to dry.  Another trick to staying warm is to wear at least three layers. Your inner layer should be synthetic material. The middle layer is the insulator, so you should opt for something like fleece. The outer layer should be waterproof and windproof to keep you protected from the elements. These three layers set the base, but you should also add accessories like hats and scarves to prevent warmth from escaping from your upper body.  Wear only dry clothes, though, and remove excess layers if necessary to avoid sweating during physical exertion. Don’t neglect to include your legs when you’re planning your layers. Any type of hat will also increase your ability to retain heat and, if the had does not cover your ears, a scarf or balaclava will improve coverage and insulation. Gloves, knee-high socks and waterproof footwear are also essential. Nearly half your body heat can be lost through your uncovered head, and the heat lost through your uncovered neck, ankles and wrists is significant as well.

Jeans & Sweat Shirts – Bad Idea.  Both of these items are made of cotton.  Both retain much of the perspiration you create during the day and effect act as a thermal cooler sucking the heat away from your body.  Instead wear fleece, wool, or another synthetic material which will breath and let the perspiration leave your clothes layer.  Cotton  items when wet also exponentially steal heat away from you and will not dry by themselves.  You wouldn’t wear a wet bathing suit outside in winter would you?  This is the same thing just to a lesser degree.

Fully undress before bed.  This is crucial to having a warm restful sleep.  There is moisture trapped in your clothes and underwear.  Before getting in your sleeping bag you must fully undress and put on new dry clothes.  This will make you much warmer during the night.  This is the single most common mistake new camper make when dealing with cold weather and wake several times during the night shivering.  You wouldn’t pour a glass of water in your sleeping bag before getting in would you?  So why wear a glass of water to bed when camping in cold weather.

Moderate your temperature.  So if properly dressed you have multiple layers on.  As you change to different exertion levels though out the day you need to open or remove layers as you become too warm so you don’t sweat and retain sweat in your clothing.  The idea is be comfortable temperature wise with the level of exertion that you are performing.  Chopping wood, maybe you take your outer coat off, sitting eating lunch maybe you put your coat on.  Putting on a hat will increase your temperature, taking it off will help cool you.

Pack essential winter camping equipment. To be comfortable while winter camping, the right camping equipment is important. Make sure to select a sleeping bag that is rated for the temperature of your destination or warmer. Perhaps the most important piece of gear is your sleeping bag. This is the one thing that keeps the icy cold from bringing down your internal body temperature during the night. If you’re depending on a thin layer to warm you up, you’ll be in trouble. They make sleeping bags for general cold weather, but you need to get one for sub-zero temperatures when camping in extreme cold. The second thing that protects you while you’re getting much-needed rest is a camping mat. This is an underrated and oft-forgotten piece of gear. When you’re sleeping on the cold ground, it doesn’t matter how insulated your sleeping bag is, the cold will pierce it. A solid sleeping mat will keep your warmer and won’t cause the ground to dampen from your heat.  If you are snow camping, consider bringing an extra stove for melting snow into drinking water and be sure to pack extra fuel for your camp stove.

Prepare Hearty Meals. While sandwiches and watermelon are great for summer camping, cold weather requires a heartier meal. Canned soups or stews are great for lunches. And don’t forget to bring plenty of your favorite hot beverages: hot chocolate, coffee, tea or apple cider.  Cold weather survival requires a high-calorie intake to maintain adequate body heat. Foods high in carbohydrates with sufficient protein, combined with enough physical activity to keep your metabolism up, are crucial to making it through cold weather. Trail mixes and granola bars generally have a balanced mix of carbohydrates and protein, but avoid overly sugary foods unless they’re needed to stimulate blood flow during treatment of hypothermia. Also avoid food or beverages that can dehydrate you, like meat, chocolate, and coffee . Drink at least two quarts of water every day.

Make sure to triple check that your stove is in working order. It’s a pain when you find out your stove is busted in the summer when it’s warm out, especially if all you’ve packed are dehydrated meals. But it’s still possible to get by. In the winter, a broken stove is a disaster waiting to happen. Make sure it’s clean and in working order before you leave.

Pack extra fuel. In my experience, even if you’re car camping, it never hurts to have a little extra fuel when it’s chilly out. Even if you know how much you need to make warm drinks and cook, having warm food or liquids available whenever you need or want them makes a huge difference.

Take a Nalgene bottle full of warm liquid to bed with you. The bottle doesn’t hold the heat, which is exactly what you need to warm up my sleeping bag. Just make sure you bottle has a leak-proof seal.

Keep your water from freezing. If you’re in really, really cold weather, it’s amazing how fast even a full water bottle can freeze. Water with added ingredients like electrolyte mixes and Gatorade will freeze more slowly than plain water. If it’s below freezing and you know your water bottle will be sitting around for a while, turn it upside down so ice forms on the bottom, not in the mouth of the bottle.

Hand warmers in your sleeping bag.  A good trick is to place a hand warmer packet in a wool sock and distribute several in your sleeping bag.  It will warm up the bag and help keep you warm and comfortable during the night.  The reason for putting them in a sock is to help moderate the heat.  Some of them get how enough to burn your skin should you rest your leg directly on one for a period of time.

Proper gloves.  Having the proper gloves makes all the difference in the world.  She should be water resistant breathable gloves made of thinsulate or a similar material.  Shell gloves or similar do not provide enough insulating power to keep your hands warm.  Always have two pairs incase on set get wet inside.  Freezing cold hands leads the scout to put his hands in his pockets which if you fall or trip could lead to a significant injury without the aid of your trapped hands to brace yourself.  For those who have cold hands often get heavy insulated mittens.  Keeping the fingers together help keep all of them warmer and allows you to flex you fingers into a fist inside the glove to warm them up.  Remember synthetic gloves aren’t proper for handling fire or hot pots, then will melt or burn you.

Footwear has laces for a reason.  Keep laces tied on all footwear.  Not only does it reduce your chances of tripping or falling it will keep your feet warmer and help reduce water from flooding in should you accidentally step in deep water.