Winter Camping

Hot Coals photoCold weather changes everything about the outdoors. Camping, hiking, or working in the cold demands preparation and good judgement. Screw up in sub-zero temperatures for very long and a simple camping trip can turn into an ordeal in which toes, fingers and even survival are at stake. Surviving the cold begins with understanding what cold really is.

There is no such thing as “cold.”

“There is no such thing as cold” is not a zen chant for when you are freezing your butt off.
It’s physics.

Cold, as we all know, is the ABSENCE of heat. That means you need to retain as much warmth as possible inside your clothes. There are 4 main pathways for heat to escape. The wind blows away heat (convection), and your body radiates heat away (radiation). The purpose of winter clothing is to keep a layer of still, warm air to block both these avenues of heat loss.

The third pathway of heat loss is conduction. Heat is lost through any part of your body that touches cold objects — tools you are holding, an outdoor seat, and of course the frozen ground on which you stand. To reduce conduction heat loss, your boots should keep your feet both warm and dry since water has a high coefficient of thermal conductivity (it sucks away heat) and evaporates later, chilling your feet.
Evaporation is the 4th means of heat loss, and its very effective — its the system your body uses to cool down.

You want to dress in layers or wear coveralls with zippers so that you don’t get overheated and sweat water inside your clothes. That water will come back to haunt you when the sun goes down.

Zippo Naptha Fueled Hand Warmer

First piece of advice: get two. 12 hours of toasty warmth in each pocket. You light the inner wick, put on the metal cover, put in the soft cloth bag, and put it in your pocket. When I first felt a hand warmer I could believe how warm it kept my hands. Refill with ordinary lighter fluid or Coleman fuel. Really works and runs on pennies a day.

Insulated Bib Overalls for Women

These are insulated only up to the waist, which offers many options for a jacket. Waterproof seat and knees.

  • 4 oz. Polyester Fiberfill Insulation.
  • Polyester Taffeta Lining.
  • Button Closure at Side Opening.
  • Double Knee Patch w/Water-Proof Barrier.
  • Zippered Bib Pocket w/Two Pencil Pocket Openings.
  • Ankle To Hip One Way Leg Zippers.
  • Insulated to Waist Only.
  • Adjustable Shoulder Straps.
  • Swing Front Pockets.
  • Water-Proof Barrier in Seat.
  • Reinforced at Points of Strain
  • Your Head Loses Heat Fastest

    According to specialists, the human head and face, including ears, radiate some percentage of heat that is more than any other part of the body. That percentage depends on your metabolism and other factors, which means I haven’t found a reference to give you the exact number. But if you have every seen an infrared photo, people radiate lots of heat from the head. Divers lose a lot of heat and wear a neoprene balaclava. ‘Nuff said. Get one and thank me later.

    Secret to Winter Camping

    Having done a fair amount of winter camping, I can tell you that heat loss through conduction rises dramatically when you lie down on the frozen ground, which is basically what cold weather camping is. You are sleeping on a block of ice. Even if you raise the temperature inside your tent, it still rests on a floor of solid ice.
    Your primary goal in winter camping is to put a thick thermal shield — leaves, pine needles, or, even better, an air or foam mattress — between you and the ground.
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    Winter Camping Secret: Dry, Warm Feet

    Keeping your feet warm helps your body’s core stay warm.
    When you are on the move, your feet sweat. When you stop, that moisture stays in your boots. Water conducts cold. Water in your combat boots is bad medicine in the cold.

    The toes and feet are where most frostbite occurs. When the going gets really bad your body seem to kind of give up on circulating blood to the extremities to protect your core. In short, your feet freeze before you do.

    You want thick wool blend socks to wick moisture away from your skin and create a heat barrier.

    These Dickies are great winter socks. I’ve worn them for years and they are good in warm temperatures, too. They wick away moisture and are thick enough to offer shock absorption and a barrier to heat loss through your feet. If you don’t have thick wool socks, put on two pairs of regular socks.

    Tip: When you are standing around, don’t stand in wet snow if you can avoid it. Remember the object is to reduce heat loss via conduction. Stand on leaves, a log or any raised object.

    When temperatures drop below freezing, the one warm place you can count on is inside your sleeping bag. On really cold nights, even inside the tent temperatures can drop well below 32 F (0 C).
    We learned to bring our clothes, especially socks, inside our sleeping bags.
    The same goes for any food you don’t want frozen – stow it in your sleeping bag. On one trip we got the bright idea of taking boiled eggs for an early breakfast without having to start a fire and cook. Surprise, the darned things froze solid!

    About the Author


    Camping experience (Order of the Arrow), includes sub-zero nights when a guy got frostbitten toes. Knows cold is a strange creature that doesn’t really exist.

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