The Cold Factor: Ten Tips for Keeping Warm, Part 1

It was 4 o’clock in the morning. I was in the middle of the canyons in West Texas during the cold time of year. I didn’t have a tent or a sleeping bag, just a tarp, some rope, and a blanket. A few hours ago, I arrived in camp past midnight. Everything was dark, and it took an hour+ to help everyone else get their tents set up and make sure the Troop gear was properly laid out. I then hastily threw together a tarp shelter to  sleep under, as some drizzle had started to fall from the sky. 

I was warm enough when I was walking around and working, but I soon found myself lying under my tarp at 4 in the morning hoping desperately that the sun would soon come up. I had been working hard enough in setting up earlier that I started to break out into a sweat. That, plus the light drizzle that was coming down everywhere, had left me damp all over. The slightest breeze seemed to chill me to the bone, and the blanket I had brought with me did not seem at all thick enough.

Fortunately for me, I was used to roughing it, and although I suffered from some discomfort and loss of sleep, that was the end of the matter. But this is not how it should be. At the very least, I should have had the knowledge and skills to make myself comfortable. An old Scout can “find his way out of any difficulty or discomfort”, like Baden-Powell said in the quote I wrote about here.

So what did I do wrong? Well there are a handful of things that I could have done to keep myself warm, but the most important was being properly prepared. As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” As the Winter Camping season starts to draw near, it is important that we are properly prepared to deal with the cold so that we don’t miss this excellent camping season. There are many tips and techniques I have learned over the years that will help keep you warm even on the coldest of outings. In this post series, I would like to share 10 that I have found to be the most important, starting with the first three in this post.

1. It is better to overestimate than underestimate.

Some of my favorite camping is during the winter time. Make sure you are prepared to get the most out of this Winter.

I’m a big proponent of packing lighter on Camping Trips. But packing lighter means leaving at home what you don’t need, not what you do need. Of things like food, water, and clothes, it is important to have an ample supply. Take a little bit more than you think you’ll need.

Keep in mind that if you know how to pack properly and what your priorities are, taking more doesn’t mean loading yourself down with tons of things you won’t need. A good example of overestimating rather than underestimating is bringing along a jacket even if you think the weather will be great. Even with all of our technology, weather is still unpredictable, and storms or sudden changes can always happen. Think you’ll only need two pairs of socks? Take three. What if you accidentally step into a puddle on the hike?

While being prepared with enough of the proper gear is important, overestimating when preparing mentally is the most important. Think your group knows how to put up tents? How about in the dark with rain coming down? Never skimp on preparing yourself and your group with all the needed skills. Don’t just read about it; practice it! Make it a competition. Do it with your eyes closed or with one hand.

2. Stay nourished and hydrated.

You’d be surprised on the difference an empty stomach can make on how you feel the cold. Going to bed on an empty stomach is a sure way to get cold. The body must constantly keep its temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is colder, it takes much more energy to keep this temperature, and the body burns many more calories.

Keeping hydrated is also extremely important, not so much to keep you feeling warm, but to keep up your health on colder outings.  When it is cold, you will lose more water through your breath, and this must be replenished.

When planning your meals, choose stuff that you cook over a fire. Not only will the fire warm your food up nicely, it will warm you up as you’re cooking! Hot meals raise the level of comfort tremendously on a cold-weather camping trip. After a nourishing hot meal, you will be in better spirits and more confident to face the day.

3. Dress in layers.

I’m sure most of you have heard this before, but it is surprising how many people don’t follow this advice. I know I heard it many times, but I didn’t follow it that time on the camp out. A good way to dress in layers is to follow the three W’s: Wicking inside layer, Warmth middle layer(s), and Wind/Water shedding outer layer.

The Wicking inside layer is designed to draw the moisture of perspiration away from your skin. Wet skin is cold skin, not to mention very uncomfortable. choose light, moisture absorbent, and close-fitting clothing for this layer.

The Warmth middle layer is designed to do the heavy insulation needed to keep you warm. This layer will vary in thickness depending on how cold it is out side. For this layer, choose thick, fluffy, loose-weave clothing that will provide as much dead air space as possible for insulation.

The Wind/Water shedding outer layer is important to keep you dry and protected from wind. Dampness is one of the greatest enemies to staying warm, so good rain protection is a must. In addition, wind will draw the air away from you that your body warms. It also causes sweat and dampness to evaporate which can chill you very quickly. Choose very tight-weave waterproof, or at least water-shedding clothing for this layer.


I hope this post was informative and enjoyable. Coming soon, I will continue this post series with Part 2, sharing some lesser known secrets for staying warm, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading! If this post was helpful, please help me to spread this to as many Scouts as possible by sharing this post with your friends.

Scout on!

Update: You can read Part 2 of this series in this post.

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