Be Prepared…for Cold Weather Camping!

When the temperature drops, fair-weather campers pass on opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the wilderness. Boy Scouts however, practice their motto to “Be Prepared” and plan accordingly for a safe, enjoyable experience.  Here are some helpful tips for cold weather comfort.

Pre-Trip Planning

As with all outings, plan ahead to ensure you have the gear and supplies necessary for forecast weather and troop activities. When the temperature drops below about 45 degrees, shelter and sleeping requirements shift from lightweight 2 or 3-season gear to warmer 4-season tents and bags. Wet conditions demand a waterproof outer clothing layer, over one or more thermal layers. More energy is burned keeping warm in cold weather, so scouts should plan calorie-rich meals easy to prepare with gloved hands. When outings include snow, scouts should plan for sledding and building snow forts! Finally, leaders need to be trained, ready, and watching for cold weather health concerns like hypothermia and frostbite.


The layering system should be one of the first outdoor skills that scouts learn, ensuring that they have a safe and comfortable experience in all conditions. Clothing in the system consists of layers; base, middle, and outer. The base layer is moisture-wicking long underwear made from synthetic or merino wool material. Unlike cotton (“cotton kills!!”), these materials dry quickly and encourage moisture to evaporate quickly. The middle layer is insulating down or fleece with increasing thickness and additional layers as the temperature drops. The outer layer is a waterproof/windproof barrier made of breathable GoreTex or similar laminate material, or a less expensive, non-breathable polyurethane coated material. Core and underarm vents allow moisture to escape instead of accumulating and reducing thermal effectiveness through conduction.

Beyond the system of upper and lower body insulation and protection, consideration should be given to hands and feet where the majority of frostbite occurs, and to the head where 40% or more of body heat is lost. Snow boots and gloves are a safe bet with good insulation and waterproofing, or waterproof mountaineering boots when hiking. Mittens tend to be warmer than gloves, and a suitable hat will keep your head warm while enjoying the evening campfire.

Shelter and Sleeping Bag

Most scouts start camping with inexpensive, single-wall tents, or large family cabin tents. These shelters are great for summer outings, but aren’t suited for winter camping. Double-wall tents have rain flies that cover the shelter to the ground, creating an insulating thermal layer, and are small enough that body heat will warm the inside somewhat. Look for features found on the Eureka Alpenlite 2XT or the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tents.

Starter sleeping bags also tend to be less expensive, with materials and “fill” for summer temperature ranges above 35-degrees. Winter bags have ratings of 10-degrees or less, and more fill power material (i.e. 700+ down fill). A good option is to purchase a mid-cost 3-season bag with about a 15-degree rating, and add an insulating liner or fleece blanket when cold weather camping. Another tip is to use a good thermal barrier sleeping pad that isolates you from the ground. Never use an air mattress, since it sucks heat away from your body through convection.

Food and Kitchen

Your body will burn extra fuel in staying warm during winter activities, so plan for energy-rich foods that emphasize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; meats, dairy, eggs, nuts, legumes, pasta, and breads. Avoid sugar-rich candies and foods that process through your system quickly. Maintain energy throughout the day by eating/snacking more frequently, between primary meals and after activities, drinking just as often to avoid dehydration. Consider planning for quick one pot freezer bag meals that don’t require extended cleanup.

Additional References

Don’t let cold weather stop you from the adventure of Scouting! Get outside and enjoy the outdoors, even when the temperature drops below freezing.  Here are some links to more information:

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