Winter Camping Tips
Some tips to keep in mind when your troop takes on winter camping.
- Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail
- Always bring a bit more than what you think you'll need – water, food, clothes.
- Make sure that you have a good knowledge of the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. You should be able to recognize it in others and in yourself. Tell someone right away if you or another scout is showing signs of cold-related problems.
- Stay hydrated. It’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter. Eat and drink plenty of carbs.
- Keep out of the wind if you can. A rain fly for a tent can be pitched to serve as a wind break. The wind chill factor can often be considerable and can result in effective temperatures being much lower than nominal.
- Bring extra WATER. It’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter. You aren’t visibly sweating, so you don’t think to drink water, but since the air is so dry, you lose a LOT of water through breathing. Drink lots of water!
- Bring extra food that doesn’t need to be heated or cooked. Granola bars, trail mix, etc.
- Keep a pot of hot water available for cocoa or Cup-a-Soup – these warm from the inside.
- Always eat hot meals (breakfast, lunch, & dinner.) Dutch ovens are the best – they keep the food hot longer. It doesn't need to be fancy DO cooking. Meals should be 1-pot meals to keep cleanup to a minimum. Don't get too fancy with the meals - it's hard to chop onions & carrots at -10ºF with gloves on. Prep all meals at home in the warmth of the kitchen.
- Shelter the cooking area from wind (walls of tarps, etc.)
- Fill coffee/cook pots with water before bed. It's hard to pour frozen water, but easy 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, strip off layers to stay warm but no too hot.
L Layers - Dress in synthetic layers for easy temperature control.
D Dry - wet clothes (and sleeping bags) also loose their insulation.
- COTTON KILLS! Do not bring cotton. Staying dry is the key to staying warm. Air is an excellent insulator and by wearing several layers of clothes you will keep warm.
- Remember the 3 W's of layering - Wicking inside layer, Warmth middle layer(s) and Wind/Water outer layer. Wicking should be a polypropylene material as long underwear and also sock liner. Warmth layer(s) should be fleece or wool. The Wind/Water layer should be Gore-Tex or at least 60/40 nylon.
- If you’re camping in the snow, wear snow pants over your regular clothing
- Bring extra hand covering - mittens are warmer than gloves.
- Bring 2 changes of socks per day.
- Everyone must be dry by sundown. No wet (sweaty) bodies or wet inner clothing.
- Use plastic grocery bags or bread bags over socks. This keeps your boots dry and you can easily change those wet socks.
- Keep your hands and feet warm. Your body will always protect the core, so if your hands and feet are warm, your core will also likely be warm. If your hands or feet are cold, put on more layers, and put on a hat!
- Dress right while sleeping. Change into clean, dry clothes before bed. Your body makes moisture and your clothes hold it in - by changing into dry clothes you will stay warmer and it will help keep the inside of your sleeping bag dry. Wearing wool socks and long underwear (tops and bottoms) in the sleeping bag is OK.
- Put on tomorrow's t- shirt and underwear at bedtime. That way you won't be starting with everything cold next to your skin in the morning.
- Wear a stocking cap to bed, even if you have a mummy bag.
- Put tomorrow's clothes in your bag with you. This is especially important if you’re small of stature. It can be pretty hard to warm up a big bag with a little body, the clothes cut down on that work.
- Put a couple of long-lasting hand warmers into your boots after you take them off. Your boots will dry out during the night.
- Fill a couple of Nalgene water bottles with warm water and sleep with one between your legs (warms the femoral artery) and with one at your feet. Or use toe/hand warmers. Toss them into your sleeping bag before you get in. Some of the toe/hand warmers will last 8 hours.
- Eat a high-energy snack before bed, then brush your teeth. The extra fuel will help your body stay warm. Take a Snickers bar to bed and eat it if you wake up chilly in the night.
- Use a sleeping bag that is appropriate for the conditions. Two +20ºF sleeping bags, one inside the other will work to lower the rating of both bags.
- Use a bivvy sack to wrap around your sleeping bag. You can make a cheap version of this by getting an inexpensive fleece sleeping bag. It isn't much more than a blanket with a zipper but it helps lower the rating by as much as 10 degrees.
- Use a sleeping bag liner. There are silk and fleece liners that go inside the sleeping bag. They will lower your sleeping bag's rating by up to 10 degrees. Or buy an inexpensive fleece throw or blanket and wrap yourself in it inside the sleeping bag.
- Most cold weather bags are designed to trap heat. The proper way to do this is to pull the drawstrings until the sleeping bag is around your face, not around your neck. If the bag also has a draft harness make sure to use it above the shoulders and it snugs up to your neck to keep cold air from coming in and warm air from going out.
- Don't burrow in - keep your mouth and nose outside the bag. Moisture from your breath collecting in your bag is a quick way to get real cold. Keep the inside of the bag dry.
- Put a trash bag over the bottom half of your sleeping bag to help hold in the heat. A zipped up coat pulled over the foot of a sleeping bag makes an extra layer of insulation.
- Don't sleep directly on the ground. Get a closed cell foam pad to provide insulation between your sleeping bag and the ground. A foam pad cushions and insulates. The air pockets are excellent in providing good insulation properties. Use more than one insulating layer below you – it’s easy to slide off the first one.
- In an emergency, cardboard makes a great insulator. Old newspapers are also good insulation. A layer of foam insulation works too.
- Bring a piece of cardboard to stand on when changing clothes. This will keep any snow on your clothes off your sleeping bag, and help keep your feet warmer than standing on the cold ground.
- A space blanket or silver lined tarp on the floor of the tent or under your sleeping bag will reflect your heat back to you.
- No cots or air mattresses! Better to lay on with 30º earth instead of –10º air.
- Sleep in quinzees or igloos. These are warmer than tents since you’ve got an insulating layer of snow between you and the outside air, instead of just a thin nylon layer.
- If in tents, leave the tent flaps/zippers vented a bit, it cuts down on interior frost.
- Drain your bladder before you go to bed. Having to go in the middle of the night when it is 5 degrees out chills your entire body. Drink all day, but stop one hour before bed.
Mar 04, 2012 - Bob Harold George
i found this extremely helpful in teaching my scouts what and what not to do at snow camp.Dec 28, 2012 - robert richardson
It would be useful to point out that the proper size sleeping bag is important as well. A 12 year old, 80 lb. boy would be ill served using an extra large bag. I found this out the hard way, having bought a bag with "growing room" and almost ending up with a "scoutcicle". I found the information here extremely useful for instructing new scouts AND parents in cold camping in Texas where really cold weather is not that common. Thanks.Jan 01, 2013 - Jamie Perry
Having just returned from Winter Camp, I learned a few things the hard way. Even though we thought we were "prepared" as all good boyscouts are, we endured four of the coldest days our area has seen in a few years at winter camp. I will definately do more than just send an email to parents asking them to preview the boys' packing before the trip. Next year I'll require the boys to bring their packs to a troop meeting and do a shake down before the trip. While we all came back in one piece, we were definately chilly the entire time. The suggestions made above like using a zipped coat or a trash bag over the feet would've been a huge help had I thought of it. The heated water bottles would have helped out as well. The low night temps were in the 20 degree range but my boys were acclimatized to an unseasonably warm winter with temps the week before being in the 60s. Thanks for the good info on staying warm.Jan 07, 2013 - Drake Barr
thanks i found this very helpful for putting a presentation to gather for my fellow scoutJan 08, 2013 - John Wesolowski
-Fill the tent or cabin with as many scouts as possible. More body heat given off means a warmer tent or cabin. -Don't sleep in anything you wore during the day; clothes you wore contain perspiration even if you don't feel any. -Keep your bare feet outside the tent for a minute with your toes spread to remove all perspiration, then bring them inside and rub them with baby powder. -Check the temperature rating of your sleeping bag. Supplement with a sleeping bag liner if necessary.Mar 03, 2013 - Gary Coryer
Just did a winter weekend campout with night temps in the mid 20's sleeping in a tent pitched on snow. Two of the ridged closed cell foam pads were my only significant isolation from the snow. I might have been laying on my heated living room floor for all I could tell. Definitely worth the minimal weight of a second pad.Mar 25, 2013 - Grant W Wood
Putting a trash bag or space blanket over your sleeping bag is not a good idea because it will cause your perspiration to be trapped inside the sleeping bag which will make you extremely cold during the night. Having camped out in winter in Canada I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to go to bed dry. If possible warm your clothing that you are going to wear to bed close to your fire. Warming will help to drive off moisture.Mar 26, 2013 - Scouter Paul
Grant - Wrapping in plastic would be a vapor barrier as you say. But, covering the foot end of the bag allows moisture to escape while keeping the foot end drier and a bit warmer. When dealing with extreme low temperatures, there is some point in the insulating layer between your body and the air where your perspiration condenses and freezes. Wherever that point is, it will become a frozen, saturated layer. Safely dealing with extreme temperatures for extended time requires specialized gear, such as internal vapor barriers or insulated shelters.Dec 31, 2013 - Gary Vadnais
For many years our troop would have atleast 3 winter campouts every year.We always had a troop ( BEL ) Basic equipment list. This list was a basic and simple list.. more importantly, a proven list. All our winter camps were here in Northern Michigan with lots of deep snow and we made our shelters.Feb 09, 2014 - Scoutmaster Barry
Great tips and ideas. A must read for scouts and leaders. Don't forget sunscreen and sunglasses too because of the reflective properties of snow!Feb 10, 2014 - Raj
@Gary Vadnais - Would it be possible to share the Basic Equipment List. Overall ,very useful information in this page.Mar 13, 2014 - H.B.
This was really helpful, because I am going snow camping soon. So thanks!Nov 13, 2014 - Tom Comer
Sorel-type boots are the best for snowcamping.They should be one size larger than your normal shoe size to accomodate the synth.liner and wool outer socks you will need to wear.It is also nice to have a spare set of the wool inserts for the boots to keep in the foot of your sleeping bag for the next day.That's why vet winter campers use long sleeping bags to accomodate the extra gear.You must remember to open up the laces as wide as possible so you can get your warm boot inserts into your frozen boots in the morning! Great article!!Dec 15, 2014 - The doctor
Thanks for this post, I'm the SPL of my troop, and I've been needing help with getting stuff to talk about at meetings, this really clears it up.Jan 24, 2015 - John Kirkland
The best thing I ever did for winter camping was slipping my winter coat over the end of my bag(s). We just got back from a winter camping trip where it was 5 degrees over night. I had a 20 year old 20 degree bag inside a 40 degree bag and slipped the winter coat over the end. I was super warm. We go camping every month during the year.Ever since using the winter coat over teh feet thing, my feet have NEVER been cold since.Feb 10, 2015 - Dawn
This tip list is awesome and I love everyone else's tips too. Here are two of my favorite tips: 1) Down booties: My feet are frequently cold in my sleeping bag, no matter the season. Wearing down booties in my bag helps keep my toes toasty warm during cold weather camping. 2) Over-sized flannel shirt: Most of my camping buddies and I wear very nice (and expensive) down coats when we're hanging out around our camp kitchen area and the fire. To help protect the coat from food splatters, flying fire embers, etc, we wear over-sized flannel button-up shirts over our coats. I bought mine at a second-hand store - the size is mens tall XXX-L, this way it's sure to fit over my big down coat.Mar 01, 2015 - Optimum RV
This is a fantastic list. If you are going to be hiking in the winter keep in mind layers are your best friend. We stay in an RV and then take day hikes from our "base camp".
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