Winter camping skills- Clothing and Gear

As we get into the winter camping season, it is time to start looking at your gear.
The gear changes as we get into the colder season and the activity that we do out there.
Lets start with some discussion about clothing:

1. Cotton kills! No cotton clothing against the body. Cotton absorbs sweat and retains it. Once activity stops the sweat freezes and you are now wearing a fine cooling system.
Cotton socks and t-shirts are a NO NO! Cotton underwear (Briefs) are OK as that area of the body stays pretty warm and does not sweat like your torso and feet.

2. Wool is still in fashion. Yep.. Wool will keep you warm even when it is damp. You don’t want to stay in wet wool, but wool tends to dry as you wear it. Wool socks with liners are a great way to keep your feet warm, but make sure your socks are not to tight.. you need room to wiggle to maintain circulation.

3. Polypropylene or sweat wicking materials are king! The advances in clothing technology are great! Light weight clothing that keeps you dry and warm. You may spend a little more, but the pay off is incredible.

4. Boots. Water resistant insulated boots are a must in the winter. Your feet need to stay warm and dry to have a good experience in cold weather camping. Changing socks often is also a must. Dry feet in your boots will keep you warm. The use of gaiters are a good way to keep snow and water out of your boots. They also keep your laces from getting wet and later freezing. Walking in the snow without gaiters or high boots is a good way to get cold.

5. Remember when it comes to clothing- LOOSE IN LAYERS! Many layers that can be added and taken off as activity increases is the way to go. Regulating your temperature by adding layers and taking them off will keep you comfortable and warm.

6. Always wear a hat. A lot of your body heat escapes from your noggin. Cover it up and retain that heat!

7. Cover up your hands. Wear gloves. A good pair of water resistant gloves will keep your hand warm.

8. Coat. Layer your coat. A good fleece jacket and water shedding outer layer is great. Fleece is a wonderful thing. It is comfortable and warm, and it doubles as a pillow at night.

Now lets talk about some gear. We get into gear in more detail later, but some things that need to be considered when planning for cold weather camping.

1. Sleeping bag. We tell everyone in our Troop to buy nothing higher than a 20 degree bag. That is pretty good for 3 seasons and a mild winter in Oregon. You may want to consider a lower rated bag, 0 to 10 degrees will surely keep you warm. Sleeping bag liners are also a great way to add warmth to your bag. Most liners add 10 degrees to a bag (a 20 degree bag becomes a 10 degree bag) What ever bag you have you can add warmth by using more ground cover.

2. Foam pad. Most of us have self inflating pads. These are comfy and light, but that air gets cold. Add an additional ground cloth (Blanket or tarp) to the floor of your tent or shelter. This will provide some more insulation and keep you warm. Foam pads take away the “air factor” and do not require additional insulation. Weigh it out and go with what suites you.

3. Extra clothing. I know we are now in the gear section. But remember that Clothing becomes part of your gear once it is inserted into your Pack. Do not get caught in the cold without extra clothing… in a dry bag!

4. Backpack. Winter camping tests your packing skills. Clothing is bulkier, you carry more stuff, and if you are going with a winter sleeping bag, it will be slightly bigger too.
I do not suggest going out and getting a winter backpack, but what I would suggest is that you carefully look at every item you put into it. DO NOT take stuff you don’t need. Check and recheck your gear.
Take it if you think you may need it, but then second guess yourself.

5. Stoves. In most cases you will be taking stoves and fuel for cooking. Fires are possible in some locations, but in high use areas, it is best to rely on a stove as firewood can be difficult to find in the winter. Your stove should have good heat output. In order to insulate the stove from the snow (so it doesn’t melt itself into a hole) place something underneath it like a pot lid, or a piece of fiberboard. Since the burner is usually significantly smaller than the pot bottom, placing a metal pot lid on top of the burner can also help spread the heat more efficiently to the pot. Wind shields are also helpful in the winter to concentrate the heat. Canister fuel burns more efficient, but the cold makes it burn slow. Keep your fuel canisters as warm as possible. Put them in your socks at night or in your sleeping bag. In the morning your stove will work a lot better. Liquid fuel stoves need to be primed. Adding a little fuel to the burner and CAREFULLY lighting it will get the burner hot and allow for fuel to flow more efficiently.

Plan your fuel use carefully. You may burn more fuel just boiling water to drink. You will use 3 times more fuel in the winter than you do in the summer. A planning consideration not to overlook.

6. Tents. Your tent can be your friend. It needs to be tough enough to keep you out of the elements. Strong enough to stand up to snow and wind and water resistant enough to keep you dry. Guy lines are a must. Small repair kits are also a great idea for at least one person on the trek to have. A broken pole will make for a miserable outing. Adding a tarp to your tent is also a good idea. Use it either as a ground cloth or for additional overhead cover. Tarps are light and can be used in many ways. String it up between a few trees for a wind break in your cooking area. This makes for a more comfortable experience.

Planning and preparation is critical in winter camping. The more you consider your plan and evaluate your past experiences, the better time you will have winter camping.

Happy Scouting!

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