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Cold Weather Camping tips.

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This is a document we give to the Webelos 2s before taking them camping in the fall. This applies to our area of the southern mountains. It gets cold here but not Beavahland insanely cold.




Camp Comfortably

Hints for Cub Scouts and Webelos from the Boy Scouts Troop


Being comfortable on a campout is more about staying dry than staying warm. If you are cold, getting warm isnt too difficult. But if you are cold and wet, it can be much more difficult to get warm. Being wet even just the dampness from perspiration can turn a cold night into a life-threatening situation if you arent prepared.


Camping in the spring and autumn can be tricky because the days can be warm but the early morning hours surprisingly cool. This is especially true in the foothills and mountains where we are located. Here are some tips for staying warm and dry while outdoors:


 Especially in the fall and spring dress in multiple layers of light-weight clothes. As it warms up in the morning you can take off layers to stay cool. In the evening, you can add the layers back on to keep warm.

 If you are going to be active and sweaty, wear a layer of synthetic clothing against your skin. UnderArmour is one brand name but there many others. Polypropolyene or silk is good because they wick perspiration and moisture away from your skin and keep you warm even if they are damp. Avoid cotton as it holds moisture and make you feel cold.

 Its easier to stay warm than to get warm. On a clear autumn day, temperatures drop considerably when the sun goes down. Take time in late afternoon to find your cap and jacket. This is also a good time to find you flashlight and arrange your gear so you can find it after dark.

 If it is warm out, and especially if you are hot and sweaty, take a few minutes to cool down before getting in the sleeping bag. Towel off. Experienced campers know that a good shower before hitting the rack will make you sleep much better.

 Sleep in dry clothes. Dont sleep in the clothes youve been wearing all day. Before going to bed change into pajamas or the clean underwear and socks you have for the next day.

 Know the temperature rating of your sleeping bag and understand what it means. A bag rated at 40 degrees will feel cold if the temperature gets into the 40s.

 You can boost the warmth of you sleeping bag by adding extra blankets. Acrylic stadium blankets are inexpensive and lightweight. If you only have one blanket, put it under your bag. You loose more heat through the ground than you do through the air.

 For the same reason use a good sleeping pad. Not only will they make the ground more comfortable to sleep on, but will keep you warm. Self-inflating pads like ThermaRest are great but rather expensive. Closed cell foam pads are good and under $15. Avoid open cell foam pads as they hold water. Also avoid thick home-style air mattresses. They are so thick that the air in them stays cold and wont keep you warm.

 If your feet are cold put on a hat is an old expression but is true. You loose most of your body heat through your head. Sleeping with a knit cap is will help keep you warm.

 Dont over do it. A sleeping bag thats too warm will cause you to sweat which will make you feel even colder. This applies to sleeping in extra clothes, too.

 Your tent keeps you dry. Your sleeping bag keeps you warm. Sealing up you tent wont make you warmer. In fact, you should always sleep with the vents on your tent partially open to let the moisture from your breath escape. If the moisture stays in the tent, it will condense on you and make you cold.

 For the same reason, resist the temptation to snuggle down with your face in your sleeping bag. The moisture in your breath will condense in your bag and make you cold.

 Invest in good rain gear. A good poncho is about $25 and they are hard to outgrow. (On the other hand, a good rain suit can cost $150 and is sized like pants and jackets.) Cheap, plastic ponchos are good to have handy for a sudden shower, but if it is really raining, they wont keep you dry.


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Put some of those air activated toe/handwarmers in your socks at night.


Use cardboard or newspaper as a cheap insulator under your sleeping bag. You can burn it in the morning.


Eat a little bit of protein before bed; jerky, peanut butter, etc.. the digestive process will help keep your blow flowing and keep you warm.

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We found this list somewhere on the internet and it helps to get your brain thinking of what to bring, what to avoid, how to pack, etc.



Be prepared!! Know signs of hyperthermia and frostbite.

Drink extra WATER to avoid dehydration.

Bring extra snacks like Granola bars, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, etc.

Keep a pot on the stove or thermos of hot water available for warm drinks, cocoa, instant oatmeal or Cup-a-Soup. If you get cold, eat or drink something hot.

All meals should be hot meals

Dutch ovens keep food hot longer. 1-pot meals lower cleanup time. Prep at home.

Shelter cooking area with walls on dining canopies. Place tents to use that windbreak.

Fill pots with water at night. Frozen water is easier to thaw it if it's already in the pot.

Remember C O L D:

C Clean - dirty clothes loose their loft and get you cold.

O Overheat - never get sweaty, take off layers to stay warm but no too hot.

L Layers - Dress in layers for easy temperature control.

D Dry - wet clothes (and sleeping bags) loose their insulating ability.

Be dry by sundown. No wet (sweaty) bodies or wet inner clothing.

Use plastic bags over socks to keep feet and boots drier, change wet socks.

Put on tomorrow's t- shirt, long underwear & wool socks for bed. Dont start the day with putting on cold clothes. Put tomorrow's clothes in your sleeping bag with you.

Put hand warmers into your boots to dry them at night.

Fill water bottles with warm water and sleep with one between your legs (at femoral artery) and one at your feet. Or use hand warmers in several places

Eat a high-energy snack before bed to give your body fuel to keep warm.

Keep mouth & nose outside your sleeping bag so your breath doesnt make the bag wet.

Use a trash bag or zipped up coat over the end of sleeping bag for warmer feet.

Leave the tent flaps/zippers vented a bit to cut down on interior frost.

Drink all day, but stop drinking 1 hour before bed. Go to the bathroom right before bed because getting out of tents in the middle of the night chills your entire body.

Sitting still to eat makes you cold; be sure you have on enough dry layers before meals.


What to pack:

Use the 3 W's of layering

o Wicking inside layer should be polypropylene long underwear and sock liner.

o Warm middle layer should be fleece, wool, or warm sweatshirt.

o Wind/Water outer layer should be waterproof Gore-Tex or nylon jacket and pants/ or snow pants over your regular clothing

Bring more clothes and food than you think you'll need.

Put a foam pad under you; a space blanket under you will reflect your heat.

Cots & air mattresses have you sleeping over air that is colder than ground temperature.

Two sleeping bags, one inside the other will work to lower the rating of both bags.

A blanket on the outside & inside sleeping bag traps warm air like layering clothes.

Wear a hat to bed.

Remember Cotton doesnt wick moisture well.

Wearing several layers of clothes will keep you warmer than one big bulky coat.


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Good lists.


Our key points-No cotton, especially socks. Bring extra socks too.


Depending on where in the country you are, cold can be quite different. I used to live in Michigan and once camped at -7. Where I live now, I don't think it's ever gotten colder than that. But here is a more humid cold that bites through you.


Sleep in a stocking cap. Have a pair of gloves nearby. If it's super cold, I like to wear ski goggles too. Keeps my face warmer.


Use at least one foam sleeping pad, not an air mattress, unless it's cold rated and insulated


Definitely keep tents ventilated.


Our SPL, my son, taught his troop a great idea. When ya gotta go in the middle of the night, an empty Gatorade bottle is your best friend. But, make sure your aim is good.


Spend a couple meetings teaching the scouts about winter camping.


Don't spend too much time too close to the fire, you start to sweat and get cold.


Oatmeal is good food for winter camp. Stays warm in the bowl for a while and is easy to cook. Eggs cool off immediately.


Don't use metal plates. The aluminum is a heat sink and sucks the warmth right out of the food.


Inspect footwear before leaving. Improper footwear means no trip. No exceptions.


On a couple of occasions, I wea rainpants on the exterior. Not insulated but keeps dry.


Sunglasses are recommended if there is snow.


If it's a 4 man tent, put 4 men in it. Body heat means comfort. Leave gear bags outside in large trashbags


Have the scouts bring something to do in the tents beofre they go to bed. Gets dark quicker so sometimes they just hit the tents early


Winter camping is an adventure that probably 90% of campers never do. Celebrate that and their accomplishment.




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On the SM side of things ...


Stash that extra sleeping bag or fleece blanket(s) in your trunk. Someone's gonna forget theirs. (Or not pack their dad's!) Know where the nearest department store is so you can dash out and for rubber boots for the kid who shows up in tennis shoes.


Make sure the boys all can tell you the signs for hypothermia.


When fishing in the morning, keep a rag/shammi in your pocket so it is warm when you need it to wipe the ice that accumulates on the eyelets of your pole. Use rubber lures that tend to bounce/skid over the thin layer of ice. (Think combination sport: angling+curling.) Choose colors brighter than usual to compensate for light blocked by ice. Snag it? Leave it! No lure is worth the precarious walk on early ice to retrieve it. When cleaning the fish, have warm water for your hands.


Astronomy? Instruct the boys not to stick their eye directly on the telescope lens! Aside from ruining the focus for everyone else, the cold 'scope can be a bit of a shock.


Teach the boys to pay attention to the wind and stay out of it. Set up camp on the lee side of a boulder, or lash together a small wind-break.


Boots dried by the fire are only as good as the holes not burnt into them! Instruct boys to keep a safe distance an check whatever they are trying to dry frequently.

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That's a good point about the boots. We had a kid in our troop "dry " his in a cardboard box oven after the cooking was complete. We smelled the rubber burning from across the campsite.


Lay boots on their side to dry them, the air will circualte inside better than standing. How often do you feel the wind blow straight down?

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