Cold Camping

Tips for staying warm on a winter campout



Layers, layers, layers!  That includes head, body, hands and feet.  Start with polypropylene, then fleece or wool combination.  The outermost layer should be windproof and waterproof.


Most of your body heat is lost through the head, so be sure to wear a Fleece or wool hat.  For really cold and windy weather, wear a balaclava and a wool hat and your hood.  For 20 degrees F or less, keep the wind off your face and breathe through the balaclava.


Start with long underpants and long undershirt, then fleece pants and a fleece shirt.  When it's really cold, add a fleece vest and snow pants. Jackets or parkas should have hoods.  The outer shell which should be waterproof and windproof.


Wear glove liners, gloves, and if it's very cold, outer mitts. A lightweight waterproof glove comes in handy for setting up tents and cooking.


Socks - wear polypropylene under wool.  The colder it is the more socks you wear.  First a thin, polypropylene sock, then a medium weight wool sock, then a big, thick wool sock, then the boot liners, and lastly waterproof boots. 
If your feet sweat a lot, put a plastic shopping bag between your medium weight sock and the big woolly sock.  This will keep your big wooly sock, boot liners, and boots dry and your feet warm.  Dr. Scholl's foot-liners can add extra padding and warmth.


In extreme cold or during snowstorms, wear ski goggles or wrap-around sunglasses

DO NOT DO NOT wear cotton- Cotton Kills in the Cold.  This includes jeans and even old style scout uniforms, cotton underwear, and shirts.  Cotton is a very poor insulator when wet.
DO NOT wear sneakers.  You will be sent back home if you try to come cold weather camping only wearing sneakers

Before Sleeping


Change ALL clothes before going to bed.  Everything must be clean and dry.  Anything you've worn during the day will have slight amounts of perspiration and if it stays near your skin you'll get cold.

Don't go to bed cold.  Do jumping jacks or run in place to heat your body up.  20 fast pushups in your tent will work too.
Eat a power snack between 30 min to an hour before bed.  Fats are good.  A piece of cheese is an excellent choice.
Drink hot cocoa or decaffeinated tea.  This might make you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it's important that you are not dehydrated.  If you are dehydrated, you cannot generate the heat you need

 Sleeping Clothing


Layers, layers, layers!  (The same as during the day.)  That includes head, body, hands and feet.  Start with polypropylene, then fleece or wool combination. 


Wool hat or balaclava


Polypropylene, then fleece or wool.  Hot water in Nalgene bottle will help keep you warm if you keep it near your stomach. 


Gloves- polypropylene liners or fleece gloves or both


Chemical hand warmers can be put in the bottom of your sleeping bag.

DO NOT DO NOT wear cotton
Bedding and Sleeping Area


For real cold, your bed should be a sleeping Bag, on top of an Emergency Foil Blanket, on top of a Foam pad, on top of an Air mattress.  To stay warm, you need your "BEFA".  The foil blanket reflects heat back toward you.  The foam pad insulates and makes sleeping comfortable, the air mattress adds comfort but not warmth.  Foam pads should be closed cell foam because they don't absorb water.  Put all your extra clothes under your foam pad or over your sleeping bag for additional insulation.  Make sure you don't roll off your foam pad!

Sleeping bag

The bag should be rated for the lowest expected temperature- a 0 degree bag is a great idea.  If it's not, use a fleece or silk blanket as an extra liner inside your sleeping bag.  A mummy style bag is warmer than a rectangular since there is less space for your body to heat.  A down bag may keep you as warm as a fiber bag but only if it is dry. A wet down bag is ineffective and can do more harm than good. Use an appropriately temperature rated fiber bag, or take extra steps to make sure your down bag stays dry.
Make sure zippers are fully closed.  Pull the drawstring on the hood so there's just a small hole in front of your mouth.  To keep feet extra warm zip up your jacket and slide it over the bottom of your bag.  This also gives you a warm jacket in the morning. 

Tent or Lean-to

Ventilate your tent so your breath doesn't condense but don't let wind howl through it.  If sleeping in a lean-to, rig your poncho or ground cloth to keep wind and drafts off you.


Tell a leader immediately if you recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Abnormally slow breathing
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fatigue, lethargy or apathy

or notice if someone has the "umbles"

  • stumbles
  • mumbles
  • fumbles
  • grumbles

For more hypothermia information: