The Cold Factor: Ten Tips for Keeping Warm, Part 2

Now, I am not interested in how wet, or how cold, or how dark it is. If you are just going to be a fair-weather Patrol – well, that is hardly better than being no Patrol at all. – John Thurman

There is no denying it, it is certainly easier to stay home when the weather takes a turn for the worst. However, Scouting isn’t great because it is easy; it’s great because it is challenging. The challenges that are faced in Scouting force us to grow and improve our skills. I know this from experience: there is no better way to improve your ability to set up a tent than doing it at 2 in the morning when it’s starting to rain.

Though Scouts welcome challenges, we do it because we do our best to prepare for them. When it comes to camping this Winter, I hope that you and your Troop will not miss this wonderful camping season because of bad weather. It is a fabulous opportunity to improve your outdoor camping skills.

A while ago, I wrote in this post about three basic tips for keeping warm during a cold-weather camp out. Today, I’d like to continue that series with three more. These are a bit more specific and focus on sleeping in cold weather.

4. Insulate Below

An Illustration from “Scouting for Boys” by Baden-Powell

The first thought when sleeping in cold weather is often to pile on as many blankets and sleeping bags on top of you as you can. While having proper insulation above you is important, you should not neglect the equally important area below you.

First of all, forget the cots and air mattresses. When trying to keep warm on a cold night, you want insulation surrounding you equally. Any area that is not properly insulated will conduct heat away from your body. The reason why the insulation below you is so important is because your body weight tends to compress all insulation below you. When this insulation is compressed, it loses its effectiveness and helps conduct heat away from you. That is why anything that puts air beneath you (like cots or air mattresses) are a bad idea.

5. Go To Sleep in Tomorrow’s Clothes

In this series, I’m not going to go into details about good sleeping bag brands and the like. I’m not a gear expert, but I do know there are many good and many bad varieties of sleeping gear out there. I also know that early Scouts just used wool blankets for the most part. The point is, use what’s best for you. It doesn’t have to be high-tech or fancy, it just needs to work.

But whatever system you use, none of them do any good when it’s time to get up in the morning. The hardness of this task increases with the comfortableness of your set-up. Sooner or later, you are going to have to change clothes. The question is, do you want to change clothes when your metabolism is still high from the day’s adventures? Or do you want to change clothes when your metabolism has dropped to the cold rock bottom in the morning?

Of course, you could try an alternative such as keeping tomorrow’s clothes in the sleeping bag and then changing into them while still in your sleeping bag in the morning. However, this has never worked out really well for me (especially in a hammock!)

6. Use Low Cost Improvised Insulation

I’m a big fan of coming up with improvised solutions to problems. I’ve found that a little work and ingenuity can save you a lot of money in the long run. This is especially true with camping gear. There are many high-dollar, high-tech sleeping bags and pads out there, but what if you don’t want to put down your hard-earned life-savings just to stay warm? How can you upgrade your current, cheap sleeping bag without breaking the bank?

To solve problems like this we’ve got to back to the basic principles of the problem. It’s all about good insulation. Good insulation, in this case, is all about dead air space. Lots and lots of tiny pockets of air which make it hard for heat to conduct away from you.

So how can you create this dead air space? Two items: cardboard and newspaper. These things are pretty much free and can be great insulators. Four or five layers of cardboard below you and one above can really boost the insulation properties of your sleeping arrangements. A ton of crumpled up newspaper stuffed between your sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner will also greatly improve your insulation.

These are not the only options, either. You know the principles, and you know what you have available. Come up with your own solution! I’d love to hear any tip or tricks that you have discovered to keep warm.

These Scouts are building their own mattress out of grass and twine. This is something that I have successfully done and am happy to report works quite well!


So you can summarize this post by saying: “Insulate, sleep in your day clothes, and insulate some more (and get creative while doing it)!”

I hope this post was informative and enjoyable. Coming soon, I will continue this post series with Part 3, where I will share some more tips and tricks to keep yourself warm and take advantage of this wonderful camping season!

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.

As always,

Scout on!

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