“Fourth-season camping isn’t like grab-and-go spring or summer outings, when you can shake off a shivering, sleepless night after forgetting an extra sleeping layer.” 

Gretchen Sparling, Scouting Magazine

That question sums up the whole idea of camping in the winter—you gotta think. “It’s a thinking-man’s camping. There are repercussions for your actions—whether it’s something you do or something you forgot at home,” Mark Kelly, associate director of programming at BSA’s Northern Tier, home of BSA’s OKIPIK, cold weather camping. Kelly continues, “If you’re comfortable outdoors when it’s negative 20 degrees, well then you’re prepared for pretty much anything in life.”

winter-camping-sledgesTroopLeader.org has these suggestions: “In winter conditions, dressing correctly can do more than keep you comfortable—it can keep you alive. Dress in layers, so you can add or remove articles of clothing to regulate your temperature. And be sure to include layers that wick (absorb moisture), block the wind, and keep you warm.

  • Wick—Your innermost (base) layer should be made of material that wicks, or draws, moisture away from your body.
  • Wind—Your outermost layer should block the wind.
  • Warm—Your middle layer or layers should trap the heat that your body generates.

Avoid cotton, especially in your base layer, because it will trap moisture and make you feel colder.”

Loose and Layered

layeringIf you want to go camping in the cold, you need to have the right frame of mind.

“Why?” you ask.  First, our brains are a powerful tool. Second, we need to think through what we will do to optimize the trip. Of course, clothing will follow this theorem, but it’s a mindset you need too.

If you are thinking about camping in the cold, the Fieldbook says this about your state of mind: “Thriving in the cold demands greater awareness of one’s self and one’s surroundings… you will need to monitor warmth, fluid and food intake and energy levels” all while paying attention to the condition of those with you. Layer one is your mindset, and layer two is your companions. You all came in the backcountry for fun and fellowship. The Fieldbook continues “patience and a good sense of humor Will go far in making your cold weather adventure successful.

The second area of loose and layered all all about staying warm.

Staying Warm

When it’s cold outside, our brain signals the body to constrict blood vessels, which keeps our internal organs warmer; it’s an automatic survival instinct. However, this instinct can lead to frostbite if ignored.

A Man’s Guide to Cold Weather Dressing provided by Antonio Centeno,  Founder Real Men Real Style (at the left), is a great tool to help you understand the Fieldbook when it states: “Wearing several layers helps your body stay comfortable; for example you can peel off a sweater as you warm up while hiking, or pull on a hat, mittens or parka as you begin to cool down. The innermost layer should wick away moisture, while an outer layer blocks the wind. Layers in between should insulate for warmth” (see Wick, Wind and Warmth in video above).

“Clothing keeps you warm by trapping heat radiated by your body and holding it close to you. Perspiration can crowd out warmth by dampening surrounding fabrics and reducing their insulating value. Do all you can to avoid perspiring by loosening or removing clothing layers before you become overheated. Move at a pace slow enough to keep sweating at a minimum.”

First and foremost, you need to have enough clothing, and the clothing needs to be loose. Maintaining circulation to your feet and hands are critical to staying warm. Remember loose and layered apply to hands and feet along with other gear from this list in “Gearing Up, “Fieldbook pp. 25–30:

  • Long-sleeved shirt (wool or synthetic blend)
  • Long pants (fleece or wool)
  • Sweater (fleece or wool)
  • Long underwear (polypropylene)
  • Waterproof boots, preferably those with warm insulation and removable liners
  • Socks (wool or synthetic)
  • Insulated parka or jacket with hood
  • Stocking hat (fleece or wool)
  • Mittens or gloves (fleece or wool) with water-resistant shells
  • Wool scarf
  • Rain gear
  • Extra underwear (for longer trips)
  • Suspenders to hold up your pants (a belt constricts and keeps heat from rising to your core)

Remember this:

Safety-pause-cardBefore you begin any cold weather activity, implement a Safety PAUSE, plan and train for your outing and really think it through; consider all that that means for a group of youth campers to be out in frigid elements.

Other posts in this series:

Other Resources


Darryl Alder
Darryl is a retired career Scouter with more than 30 years of service. However, his pride in Scouting, is his volunteer service as an Associate Advisor, Varsity Scout Coach, Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Chartered Organization Representative and Commissioner.


  1. Darryl Alder
    Darryl Alder ( User Karma: 9 ) says:

    After I reread the post, I realized there was a place for a Safety PAUSE, but this should not ever be an after thought. Before you begin any cold weath­er activ­i­ty, imple­ment a Safe­ty PAUSE, to make sure you have thought it all through

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