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Cold Weather Camping Tips

Expecting cold temperatures on a camping trip? Since the Scout Motto is to “Be Prepared”, let’s take a moment to review some cold-weather camping best practices.

First, make sure to layer, layer, layer! 

Image result for clothing layering camping

Why say it three times? Because you should wear three types of layers:

1. Base (underwear) layer: wicks sweat off your skin. Thermal (or long) underwear that is made of polyester and nylon works best for this layer. However, natural fibers like wool and silk also work well.

2. Middle (insulating) layer: retains body heat to protect you from the cold. This layer consists of body-heat retaining clothing, such as fleece jackets, gloves, and troop beanies.

3. Outer (shell) layer: shields you from the wind and rain. Depending on your jacket type, your jacket may function as both layers 2 and 3, such as with the 3-in-1 troop jacket.

What other cold-weather gear should I bring?

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1. A 0-degree (or lower) mummy bag, such as this.

2. An insulated sleeping pad such as this. NOTE: You want something that is actually inflatable, but also not an air mattress. Regular roll out sleeping pads provide some added comfort, but very little insulation from the cold. The same goes for air mattresses. When choosing a sleeping pad, look at the R-value. The higher the R-value, the better the sleeping pad will prevent heat loss.

3. A small 2 or 3 person tent, such as this. The smaller, the better. The further down to the ground the rainfly goes, the better. Smaller tents with larger rainflys will retain heat much better than a larger tent, or one whose rainfly only covers the uppermost areas of the tent.

4. A sleeping bag liner, such as this. Even the cheaper liners will add about 5-10 degrees to your sleeping bag rating, which is essential at temperatures we are forecasted to have.  More expensive liners will add 30-40 degrees. Sleeping bag rating is not comfort temperature, but rather survival temperature. Comfort temperature tends to sit around 20-30 degrees warmer than the rating, depending on the brand.

5. A mug and lid, ideally ones that will retain heat when hot liquids are poured into them.

6. Heavy-duty water bottles, such as this. These are not just for proper hydration, but can also be used to warm your sleeping bag at night.

7. A tripod chair for Scouts, or a full-size camping chair for adults. This will help ensure that you are not sitting on the cold ground or a rock, which can siphon away body heat.

8. Extra clothing. At night, you will want to put on fresh underwear and socks. During the day, you may decide to change clothing mid-day. Why? Because as your body perspires, your clothes will absorb sweat and it will become harder for them to keep you warm. Eventually, you’ll find your clothes absorb so much sweat that they actually make you colder.

9. Tinder and kindling. Check the weather forecast for the week before the trip to check for rain or snow. If precipitation is expected before or during the trip, gather some tinder and kindling this week and place it in your tote or backpack, for faster fire lighting.

10. Face mask. Not only will these be required in any instances where social distancing cannot be maintained, but wearing them will help keep your face warm. The troop face mask does a great job at this and can be ordered here.

Not only will the gear linked above help keep you warm this weekend, but they can be used for just about every Scout event, including summer camp and high adventure.

What Can I Do At Camp To Stay Warm?

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1. Wear your layers.

2. Use your mug to drink warm liquids.

3. Eat a snack and drink lots of water. The extra fuel will allow your body to generate more heat.

4. Warm a water bottle before bed. You can do this by placing a water bottle near a fire. Just make sure not to put it so close it melts! Before bed, you can place the warm water bottle at the foot of your sleeping bag, to pre-warm your bag.

5. Wear as little clothing as possible in your sleeping bag. When you wear clothes inside your sleeping bag, your sleeping bag becomes less effective at reflecting heat, which leaves you colder than wearing nothing at all.

6. Change into fresh socks and underwear before bed. This will ensure that you are in dry clothes before crawling into your sleeping bag.

7. If you have to use the bathroom, don’t hold it! When your body has to generate heat, it burns through food and water faster than usual, which means you’ll need to use the restroom more often. If you wait, your body will lower heat production until you go, leaving you colder.

8. Pre-heat your clean clothes in the morning. Try to wake up 20-30 minutes before you have to get out of your tent. Then, grab the clothes you’ll be wearing that day, and stuff them in your sleeping bag with you. Your body heat will warm the clothes for when it is time to put them on. Make sure not to stuff them into a ball or they will not warm as well. 

9. Keep as much gear inside your tent as possible. The more gear you have inside your tent, the more you can insulate the perimeter and ground to prevent heat loss.

10. Don’t breathe or burrow into your bag. While you may be tempted to put your head inside your sleeping bag, resist the urge. Instead, use the drawstrings that mummy bags have built in to cover all of your head except for your nose and mouth. When you breathe into your sleeping bag, you exhale moisture into the bag. It is better to allow that moisture to vent into the tent, where it has a larger area to dissipate.

11. Vent your tent during the day. When you wake up in the morning, you will likely find that there is water on the inside of your rainfly, from moisture in the air and from you exhaling. By letting your tent vent, that moisture can escape, ensuring a warmer sleeping environment the following night.

12. Keep your electronics insulated. Batteries are typically not made to withstand temperatures below freezing for extended periods of time. So either stash electronics somewhere they’ll be warm, such as an inner layer during the day or your sleeping bag at night, or leave them at home this weekend.

13. Exercise. If you find yourself away from the fire during the day and starting to get cold despite the above suggestions, get your blood pumping. Do some jumping jacks or jog in the place. Increasing your heart rate will generate more heat, warming you back up.

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