Camping in the cold is adventurous and fun. It poses challenges and requires more training to ensure a safe, fun time spent in the winter camping.
I love cold weather camping, it is perhaps some of my favorite camping. Since becoming a Scoutmaster, I have taken pride in sharing that love of winter camping with the Scouts of my Troop. On average, we camp about 3 times a year in a cold weather environment. We have been very successful during these camp outs because of the training that we do before the outing.
So what do we do to make our winter outings successful? Training, accountability, and skills development.
Cold weather camping all starts with good training. We have a rule, not a policy, that if a Scout does not attend all of the training he does not go on cold weather camp outs.
We do this simply for safety. The safety of the scout and his buddies. Any high risk activity requires training above and beyond your typical camping skills.
Cold weather injury prevention takes a good portion of the training. We teach the Scouts first how to prevent cold weather injuries.
Developing the skills of the Scout to prepare for camping in the cold, identify those symptoms of cold weather injuries and then treatment. It should be noted that as stated we average about three cold weather camp outs a year as a Troop, and when I refer to cold weather camp outs, I am talking about sub freezing temperatures. For the past ten years we have been using this training plan and have never had a cold weather injury. I suppose I should pay respect to my Scouting friends in Alaska and Minnesota.. we do not get the temps you all get and I would think you all have similar training programs. Cold weather injuries are cold weather injuries no matter where you are.
Subjects under the topic of cold weather injuries include; Hypothermia, Frost Bite, Chill Blains, Frost nip, snow blindness, and immersion foot.
We move on from injuries to layering and proper wear of clothing. We discuss how and when to layer up or down and the right clothing for the outing. When it comes to clothing, we teach that it is easier to stay warm than to re-warm. The idea that re-warming takes time and energy that you may want to save.
Clothing plays a major role in Cold weather camping. Not just a lot of clothing, but the right clothing. Moving from cotton shirts that keep moisture on the body thus cooling you, to synthetic shirts that wick the sweat away from you. Jackets that insulate as well as protect from the elements. A layering system that allows you to move as well as stand around. Gloves that work for completing camp tasks as well as keeping your fingers, hands, and wrist warm.
Hats that warm and protect from wind while keeping your head dry.
There is a lot more that goes into developing your clothing list. Keeping in mind that you still have to carry it in your pack, bulk plays a part in your packing list. Extra socks are always a must, consideration needs to be made as to when you are going to change them, where you carry them, and how many do you need. A thick pair of wool socks to sleep in may be packed in with your sleep system while your smart wool socks worn for hiking and moving around camp may be packed on top for easy access.
If you are like me, once your feet get cold, I am cold. So maintaining warmth by frequent changing of socks is a must for me.
Part of the training program is a discussion of using existing gear. Using a three season tent to stand up to heavy snow and winds. Adding a layer in a sleeping bag to give an additional ten degrees of warmth. And how to make your stove the most efficient it can be in the cold.
A big area of our preparation for cold weather camping is the matter of accountability. This is a touchy subject for some, but it is a matter of safety and therefore non negotiable. A Scout must attend the four meetings leading to the first winter camp out. This way he gets the training required and has an opportunity to work with the rest of the troop on the skills needed for winter outings.
Being accountable to one another is an important part of this process. The Scouts are accountable to one another. When they understand that they can not have a “me” attitude, they start to pay close attention to what their buddy is doing and how they are a member of that team. We teach that cold weather injury prevention is a leaders responsibility. Leadership and Discipline are the two key components in cold weather camping. Leaders that care for their patrols will keep an eye on them. They will watch for the signs of cold weather issues. They will keep their patrol motivated an on task. They start building that high performance team with the understanding that they are all in this together. It takes the whole patrol watching out for each other, pitching in with camp chores, set up, take down, meal prep, etc. that makes the experience one they won’t forget.
When we talk about accountability we need to ensure that the Scout understands that he is an important part in the safety of his buddy and himself. Most Scouts will go through their Scouting life following the leader. Cold weather camping forces the issue of leadership on each Scout.
Accountability starts with the Scout being required to attend the meetings and training. If the Scout fails to attend the required meetings and training the result is the Scout not being able to attend the outing. When it comes to this we stand firm. Training and developing the required skills are important, when a Scout does not get the training, he is setting himself up for a possible injury or at least increasing the risk of himself and his buddies.
The Scout is accountable for his attitude. A lack of enthusiasm for the outing or having a negative attitude is not a good fit in the group dynamic in the cold weather environment. Being able to keep that positive outlook is important. You will need it when the conditions seem to be fighting you and you feel as though the task is out of hand. Understanding that you can and will get through the conditions is mostly in your attitude.
We will leave this discussion right here for now… we will pick up with the skills discussion in our next post.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
COLD WEATHER TIP
Warm up socks and boot insoles by keeping them in the sleeping bag next to you.