9 Tips To Survive Cold Weather Camping

Just think:

You could be staying much warmer than you are when you go camping in the cold.

When it comes to cold weather camping:

Some folks love it. Some not so much.  It’s my suspicion that for those who don’t, it’s because they’ve have some miserable experiences before being:

  • cold
  • wet
  • tired

Or some combination of all three. And that’s a recipe for misery. Why? Because they exacerbate each other. Sure it stinks to be really cold. And I’m not talking about minus 40 Antarctica type temperatures here.

What am I talking about? The “normal” type of cold that the typical outdoorsman like yourself would tolerate on a camping trip. So what can make it miserable?

When you combine the factors together.

You see…

If you’re cold, you can warm up. But if you’re cold and wet? The misery meter creeps up. Cold, wet, AND tired? Then you’ll be grinding your gears.

So we’ve brainstormed some of the most common things that can make being cold when you’re outdoors so miserable. Whether hiking,hunting, or camping, you can be prepared ahead of time.

Tip #1: Stay Dry

This rule applies above all else. And here’s why. Generally speaking if you’re  cold you can tolerate it. Maybe you’ll put on more layers. Or climb into your sleeping bag. Sit by the fire. Or cuddle with your spouse. But if you’re cold and wet?

Then all bets are off. It’s going to feel extra chilly real quick.

It will feel colder than it is. The cold will seep through whatever layers you have (unless it’s a bunch of waterproof stuff). And will feel like it’s seeping into your bones.

You’ll start to shiver.

It’ll be small at first. But slowly the shivers will get stronger.

The best way to fix it? Getting dried off. Then staying dry.

Now, staying dry comes down to having the right gear.

So more on that below.

Tip #2 Invest In Good Socks

This tip is inspired by Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump.

There’s a scene when Forrest Arrives in Vietnam. He’s meets Lieutenant Dan for the first time. Dan gives him the rundown. Thing she should do. And not do.

For example:

Always change your socks. Keep your feet dry. Whenever they stop. Why? Well, if a grunt’s foot rots in the boot, that can put him out of commission fast.

And in an environment like Vietnam?

With lots of walking in the wet jungle?

That can happen pretty quick.

And the same is true when you’re camping or hunting in cold weather.

If you’re socks don’t stay dry, or generally stink for the matter…

You’re going to feel a whole lot colder.

So, do yourself a favor.

And get some quality socks.

Your feet will thank you.

Tip #3 Become a Master Fire Maker

Now, when you’re spending any time outdoors when the weather is more than a little bit chilly…

Say, anything less than 50 degrees.

You’re going to want to have a way to warm up with an external source of heat. Something that more than putting on extra layers. Or climbing into your sleeping bag.

After all, you can’t stop what you’re doing and go crawl into your sleeping bag.

And there’s only so many layers of clothing you can put on before it’s 1. Too many and you can hardly move around or do anything ,2. You’re wearing all the clothes you brought on the trip.

That’s when man’s oldest friend for warming up comes into play:

Fire.

On a cold day when your bones are chilled so much you’re practically shivering, there’s nothing better than thawing yourself next to a warm, crackling fire.

And if you need to warm up quick, it’s one of the fastest ways to do so. So it pays to become a master at building a quality,stable fire in no time flat:

So the question becomes: How can you become a master fire maker? Especially if you don’t have the luxury of practicing daily?

Here’s 4 tips:

  • Pack plenty of fire starters
  • Keep your firewood dry (or dry it out)
  • Pack your own tinder and kindling
  • Build teepee fires for warmth, log cabin fires for cooking

Tip #4 Bring The Giant Ziplock Bags

Now, packing ziploc bags might seem like conventional wisdom. And I wouldn’t disagree with that.

But there’s a reason so many recommend bringing a variety of plastic bags for different reasons.

 Sure, it’s a good habit to have on hand. But for me, the main reason to pack it may be different from what you usually hear.

You see…

Many folks think ziploc bags are just for organization.

But it’s not only about that. Especially if you’re doing any cold weather camping.

I’d say the biggest reason ziploc bags come in handy for cold weather camping is this: They become the biggest asset in following Rule #1. You can keep essentials dry when you encounter any precipitation at all.

And so it pays to bring a variety of ziploc bags indifferent sizes. Extra small, small, medium, large and extra-large. You can roll them up together so they pack small.

Because even if you don’t end up needing or using them?

There’s a good chance someone in your camping crew might need a spare one. And like I said, not only for storage.

So I’d recommend packing a few essential cold weather-clothing items in their own ziploc bags. In case you get hit with a downpour or your tent collapses from the snow and all your stuff gets wet, you’ll still have some dry stuff.

With a few essentials squared away in a ziploc bag you’ll be able to get warmed up with some fresh, dry clothes in no time.

It’s a solid best practice.

Tip #5 Layers, Layers, Layers and MORE Layers

Image result for shrek onion layers gif

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. I don’t know,But I have a different take than the common wisdom. And there’s a reason for that.

This camping tip has lost the specific context needed to make it effective.

People have heard this. But they don’t understand it. So they do what they think they know. Only to do it incorrectly.

And the result they get?

They end up still being cold.

The cold weather camping experts say things like “wear lots of layers!”

And people hear this. So they pack a few layers. Or three. Or four. A shirt, a fleece, and a coat.

And they think: “I’m wearing layers!”

Hardly.

That’s barely any layers at all. So let me be clear:

When we’re talking about layers: We’re talking about MANY layers.

On a cold day? Five, six or seven.

That’s a good start.

Now, you may be thinking “I won’t even be able to move if I wear that many layers!”

…well, if that’s the case, then you’re doing it wrong…

So let me explain: I’m talking about thin layers here. With a few thicker layers on top for good measure.

What could this look like? Here’s some ideas:

A layer of thin, pre-long underwear . Plus smartwool socks on your feet.  Then long under wear. Your pants and a thick flannel shirt. Then a light top shirt. On top of that? A heavy sweater or fleece. Even better if you combine them! 

Do this:

And you’ll be on a better to staying warm when it’s freezing out.

Tip #6 Bring Your Premium Thermos

I was reminded of a saying recently:

Warm beverage, warm heart. Now, I don’t know where I heard it. Maybe it popped into my head this morning.  

But there’s a lesson in this saying for cold weather camping.

When you’re cold and need to warm up, warming up on the outside will only get you so far. Extra layers have limits.

Layering up, sitting by the fire, or climbing into your sleeping bag will only do so much.

At a certain point, it becomes clear: You need to get warm on the inside.

And the best way to do that?

Quickly?

Drink something HOT. 

Or at least more than a little bit warm. Now, I suppose you could eat something hot too. But in my experience it’s more effective to drink something hot.

So you need to plan ahead here. To have a way to prepare and pack beverages to warm up.

At a minimum this means having a high quality thermos. And an easy way to prepare a hot drink. If you’re staying in camp all day, you can use your cookware.

But if you’re going to be on the trail for hours?

It’ll mean either packing a backpacking stove, or some matches, tinder, and kindling in case you need to make a fire.

Plus, it’ll mean packing the ingredients you need to prepare said drink.

Whether it’s coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or something else:

I recommend adding this tip to your camping “toolbox”.

When the temperatures drop below freezing and you feel chilled to the bone…

You’ll thank me.

Tip #7 Wake Up With Your Clothes Warmed Up

In camping or outdoor circles you might hear variations of this advice:

Put your socks in your sleeping bag. Keep them warm overnight. Wake up in the morning and put them on.

And it’s not bad advice. I’ve done it many times myself.

But there’s more to it than that.

In fact, I have an approach that can help you take your warming strategies to the next level. Which is perfect when you’re spending long amounts of time in the cold.

My approach:

Put all your clothes for the next day in your sleeping bag. Or this variation: If you can’t put ALL your clothes in your sleeping bag, at least put in your core under layers. Say, long underwear and the next layer.

That way:

You’ll have a warm under layer to climb into before you have to crawl out of your sleeping bag

Fold ‘em if needed to avoid wrinkles.

Stop starting your limited days on your next hunting or camping trip by crawling out of your nice warm sleeping bag and into freezing air.

Instead, have a nice warm barrier protecting you from the get go.

Better.

Tip #8 Read Your Tent Manual Before You Go

When did you last read the manual on your tent?

Or did you even read it at all?

If you answered “never” to either of those, stop reading this blog post right now. And go find your manual. Pick it up, take 20,30 minutes (or an hour) and read the instructions.

Why?

Well, you might be surprised. You might think you know how to set up the tent correctly…

But you probably don’t. How to know for sure? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Your tent is wet inside in the morning
  • The outside of your tent underneath the fly gets wet
  • You can see water coming into the tent when it’s raining

These are all indications that you’ve set your tent up incorrectly. Now sure, it could be the tent itself. It might be time to buy a new tent. Especially if the one you have isn’t of very good quality.

But if it is decent (for example one of these cold weather tents), and you’ve had one of these things happen, then it’s time to re-read those instructions.

So you set up your tent correctly next time.

And stay dry and warm against the cold night air.

Tip #9 Have A Backup Plan For The Night

If temperature drops, and it suddenly starts raining, and then suddenly your tent gets wet inside:

Are you going to have a backup plan for the night?

Or, let’s say a bad storm comes along. Blows camp over. And suddenly you realize: it’s freaking cold out and you don’t have a warm place to sleep.

Will you be ready?

I hope so. That’s why it pays to have a backup plan for the night.

Because you never know what’s going to happen. Now, certainly the probability of these terrible things happening is low.

But backup plans aren’t about statistics. They are – it’s almost controversial to say – about the opposite of statistics.

The freak accident.

The unexpected.

The rare change.

That you end up in a worst case scenario.

And in cold weather camping?

Nothing could be more important than having a backup plan.

So if you don’t have one…

It’s time.

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