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Are you ready for Winter Camping?

If you live in a climate like Miami, Florida, where the average low temperature in the coldest part of the year is higher than 60 degrees, getting outside in winter isn’t a problem.

For the rest of us, getting outdoors in those months takes a little more work. Maybe there’s a feeling that you’d rather just stay in.

Our advice: Don’t do it.

You can still go outside in the winter, no matter how cold it gets.  Scouts and Venturers gather each winter for the Pine Tree Council’s Okpik program, where they build snow shelters, explore the area on skis and snowshoes, and generally learn how to have fun in the freezing cold.

Trust us — if they can do it, you can, too.

Here’s how.


If you were making a top-10 list of the best ways to stay warm in winter, staying dry would be Nos. 1-5.

You absolutely have to stay dry.

Always have an extra set of dry clothes handy if you get too wet and too uncomfortable. And always make sure your clothes are made of the right materials.


Two words: Cotton kills.

When you’re gathering your gear for a winter outing, repeat those words over and over. Sweatshirts, blue jeans and even some jackets can’t keep you as warm as wool and man-made materials that are designed to dry fast.

The middle, insulating layer traps heat close to your body. And the outer, waterproof “weather” layer blocks wind, rain and snow and anything else Mother Nature throws at you.


Most winter camping newbies are to learn that it is very possible to overheat in the winter. This is bad. When your body gets too warm, it produces sweat. When you sweat, you get wet. And remember what we said about staying dry?

The wicking layer will do its part to keep the sweat away from your skin. But even it can become saturated if you don’t take action.

“If you get too warm, you can take off a layer,” “If you get too cold, you can throw a layer back on.

Lots of guys make the mistake of getting all bundled up before they go outside so they’re nice and warm. What they fail to realize is that once you start snow-shoeing, skiing or building a shelter, your body will warm up significantly.

That’s why it’s OK to be a tiny bit cold when you first start. Not miserable cold. Just a tiny bit cold. That way, when you really get going, your temperature will be just right. You should always have extra layers you can add just in case you get too cold.


Your body is like a furnace. A furnace doesn’t work without the proper fuel, right?

A healthy, hearty meal and plenty of water will go a long way in helping your body maintain its core temperature when you’re outside in the cold.

“It’s not always something people think about,” “Your body uses up a lot of energy to stay warm.”

No matter how many layers of clothing you’re wearing, and no matter how dry you are, your body can’t keep itself warm without healthy food.

Another common mistake is not drinking enough water. In fact, dehydration is one of the leading causes of hypothermia, the condition in which your body is losing heat faster than it can replace it.


Keep your eyes on each other and watch for signs of the umbles.” Fumbles (the inability to perform tasks), grumbles (confusion), mumbles (slurred speech) and stumbles (difficulty walking) are all early signs of hypothermia.

The first step to treating someone showing symptoms of hypothermia is to get them into dry clothing (see the first tip). Keep them away from wind and rain, and make sure he or she is bundled up with the correct clothes, and maybe even a sleeping bag.

Warm fluids are awesome, but even cold water is better than nothing. Make sure they have access to food that can quickly generate heat.

If the symptoms don’t improve soon, seek medical attention. Hypothermia is not something you want to mess with.

Other Tips to Keep You Warm

• Don’t be afraid to change clothes often, especially socks. If your feet get wet, it becomes really hard to keep your body warm.

• Keep a clean set of winter clothes in a waterproof bag, and sleep with them in your sleeping bag at night. That way, you’ll have a warm set of clothes to put on in the morning.

• When you put your water bottle down in the snow, place it upside down. Water tends to freeze at the top first, so if the bottle is upside-down, you can flip it over and drink with no problems if it has begun to freeze.

• If you have access to warm water, fill your water bottle and stick it in your sleeping bag in the evening. When you go to sleep, your bag should already be nice and warm for you. You may also want to be sure to use a sleeping pad because that will help insulate you from the cold ground, which will quickly suck heat from your body; (2) consider sleeping in warm clothes, like a set of long underwear and wool socks. 

• Sleeping with a hat on is good. But don’t bury your entire head in your sleeping bag. If you breathe out in your bag during the night, the moisture from your breath can cause your bag to get wet.

• If your clothes get wet, have a place to store them in a backpack where they won’t get every- thing else wet, too.

• When you’re snug in your sleeping bag at night, the last thing you want to do is go outside and pee. Take an empty water bottle. Label it “P.” Use it at night. Do not drink out of it again. Ever.

Lastly, keep in mind, the temperature ratings on sleeping bags and liners are just general guidelines. It’s up to you to determine at what temperature you can still sleep comfortably in your sleeping bag.

Okpik (pronounced “OOK pick”) is the BSA’s cold-weather adventure program. There’s an Okpik program at the Northern Tier National High Adventure Bases, and there are Okpik programs at several council camps across the country.

Get tips on winter-shelter building at Link


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