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Boy Scout Troop 78
(Huntington, New York)
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Winter Camping Guide

Cold Weather Camping Guide


Cold weather camping as defined by BSA is "camping in weather where the 
average daily temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and conditions are 
cold, wet or windy."

The most important thing to remember about cold weather camping is to KEEP 
DRY. Moisture will reduce the insulating properties of almost everything. To 
keep yourself warm, remember the word COLD.

C keep yourself and your clothes Clean.
O avoid Overheating.
L wear clothes Loose and in Layers.
D keep Dry.


  1. Layer your clothing. Wear several layers of lighter clothing instead of 
    one heavy layer. This way you can better regulate the amount of insulation. If 
    you get warm you can take layers off and add some more clothing layers if you 
    get cold. 
  2. Keep yourself dry, both from the weather and perspiration. 
  3. Wear loose fitting clothing, to optimize insulation. 
  4. Remember when buying clothes for cold weather that wool retains most of 
    its insulation properties when wet, while cotton loose most of its. 
  5. There are also excellent manmade fibers and insulation's that retain their 
    insulation properties as good as or better than wool. Other benefits include 
    light weight, wide design options & wind-blocking. 
  6. Remember your rain gear is water proof and will not allow perspiration to 
    exit. During rainy weather change your clothing several times a day. 
  7. Athletic shoes and nylon hiking boots do not provide enough insulation. 
    You should wear either mukluks, water-proofed leather hiking boots, rubber 
    overshoes or rubberized boots. 
  8. Waterproof your leather hiking boots with the appropriate commercial 
    treatment. Be sure to use only silicon-based products on leathers which 
    require it. Check the care tag that came with the boots. 
  9. If you choose to wear rubberized boots, remember they do not allow for 
    ventilation, therefore you will need to change your socks several times a day. 
    Also you may want to get some felt inserts for insulation. 
  10. Wear a pair of cotton and a pair of wool socks to increase insulation and 
    take the perspiration way from your feet. 
  11. Pull trouser legs over top of shoes to keep out snow. You may want to use 
    nylon gaiters (leggings), or tie or tape them to make sure of the seal. 
  12. Wear mittens instead of fingered gloves when you do not need independent 
    use of your fingers. This will allow the fingers to help keep each other warm. 
  13. Use a pair of socks to cover hands if mittens get wet. 
  14. Wear a stocking cap or other warm hat. One that covers the ears and neck 
    area is particularly effective. Remember, most heat loss is through the head. 
    Wearing a warm hat warms the rest of your body, too. 
  15. Wear a scarf to reduce heat loss around the neck. Use a "ski mask" or 
    scarf over your face for protection from the cold and wind. 
  16. In an emergency use your neckerchief to cover your ears. 
  17. If you need a fire to keep you warm you are not dressed properly. If the 
    heat can get to your body, so can the cold. 
  18. Paper is a good insulator and can be wrapped around the body (under your 
    clothes) to add insulation.


  1. Natural fiber sleeping bags do not maintain their insulation properties 
    when damp, down bags also fit here. A 3 to 4 pound synthetic bag will take 
    care of most of your needs. 
  2. A mummy style bag is warmer than a rectangular, as there is less space for 
    your body to heat. Also, most mummy bags have a hood to help protect your 
  3. If you only have a rectangular sleeping bag, bring an extra blanket to 
    pack around your shoulders in the opening to keep air from getting in. 
  4. Do not sleep with your head under the covers. Doing so will increase the 
    humidity in the bag that will reduce the insulation properties of the bag and 
    increase dampness. 
  5. Remember to air out your sleeping bag and tent, when weather permits. 
    Perspiration and breath condense in the tent at night and the water will 
    reduce insulating properties of your bag. 
  6. Wear a stocking cap to bed in order to reduce heat loss. 
  7. Wear a loose fitting hooded pull over type sweatshirt to sleep in. 
  8. Make a loose fitting bag from an old blanket or carpet padding to put both 
    feet in when in your sleeping bag. 
  9. A bag liner made from an old blanket, preferably wool, will greatly 
    enhance the bags warmth. 
  10. Insulate yourself from the ground as much as possible to avoid cold spots 
    at the shoulders and hips. 
  11. Use a sleeping pad of closed cell foam instead of an air mattress. 
  12. A good rule of thumb is that you want 2 to 3 times the insulation below 
    you as you have over you. 
  13. Use a ground cloth to keep ground moisture from your bag. Your body will 
    warm up frozen ground to a point were moisture can become important. 
  14. Space blankets, if used as a ground cloth, will not reflect the body heat. 
    Instead it will conduct the cold from the ground to your body. 
  15. Cold air will be above and below you if you sleep on a cot. 
  16. Put a hand warmer (in a sock) at the foot of your sleeping bag before 
    getting into it. 
  17. Fill a canteen with hot water (not boiling) and place at foot of bag to 
    keep warm. Be careful with plastic canteens. 
  18. Exercise before bedding down to increase body heat. This will help to warm 
    your bag quicker. Be careful not to start perspiring. 
  19. Remove the clothes you are wearing before bedding down if they are damp 
    with perspiration. Put on dry clothing or pajamas before entering the sleeping 
  20. Build a wind break outside your tent by piling up snow or leaves to a 
    height sufficient to protect you when laying down. 
  21. Hang your sleeping bag up or just lay it out, between trips, so the 
    filling will not compress and lose its insulating properties. 
  22. Before you get out of bed bring the clothes you plan to wear inside your 
    bag and warm them up some before dressing. 
  23. Place an empty capped plastic bottle outside your tent door for "night 
    calls." This will reduce your exposure when you have to answer that call. 
    Think twice before using it inside the tent, you do have a tent mate. Remember 
    to empty the bottle away from the camp in the morning.


    If at night you get cold, let the adult leadership know so action can taken before injury from cold weather health problems occur. In other words it's better to be kidded about forgetting your sleeping bag than risking hypothermia. 
  1. Organization and proper preparation is very important in cold weather 
    camping. Good meals, proper shelter and comfortable sleeping arrangements make 
    for an enjoyable outing. 
  2. Drink 2 quarts of fluids per day besides what you drink at meals. 
  3. Learn to recognize and treat cold weather health problems. These include 
    frostbite, hypothermia, dehydration, chilblains, trench foot, snow blindness 
    and carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  4. Use the buddy system to check each other for cold weather health problems. 
    Notify the adult leadership if symptoms do occur. 
  5. If you feel cold gather some wood or do some other type of work. Working 
    will help warm you. 
  6. Eating ice or snow can reduce your body temperature and it is not pure. 
    Don't eat it. 
  7. Snow and ice can be used for drinking water but only after boiling. 
  8. No open flames (candles, matches, etc.) inside the tents. Wiggling your 
    toes inside your boots will help keep feet warm. If your feet get cold put on 
    a stocking cap. 
  9. Take and wear dark sunglasses if snow is in the forecast. The glare of the 
    sun off the snow could lead to snow blindness. The sunglasses will reduce the 
  10. Use the solid fuel hand warmers. They are cheaper and you can light them 
    yourself. Adult leaders must handle all liquid fuel. 
  11. The solid fuel hand warmers tend to have a flair up of heat after burning 
    for a while and then they start to cool down. Placing them in an old sock will 
    help to protect you from this "hot spot". 
  12. Keep off ice on steams, lakes and ponds. 
  13. It takes longer to cook food in cold weather, so plan accordingly. Before 
    going to bed pour enough water for breakfast into a pot. It is easier to heat 
    the pot than a plastic water can. 
  14. Keep your matches in a metal match safe as plastic can freeze and break if 
  15. Gather twice as much fuel as you think you'll need for fires. 
  16. Carry tinder from home. It may be hard to find in snow or wet conditions. 
  17. Gather your wood and tinder for the morning fire in the evening so that 
    you will be able to start the fire quickly in the morning. 
  18. Space blankets make good wind shields only. The metallic properties take 
    over the insulation properties in cold weather and become cold conductors. 
  19. Carry extra plastic bags in cold weather. They can be used as personal 
    wind shields and ponchos by slitting a hole in the top for your head to go 
  20. Carry extra matches because the more you need a fire to warm up the less 
    likely you will be able to start one easily. 
  21. Flashlight batteries are effected by cold. You can revive a dead battery 
    by warming it up near the fire. 
  22. You may want to take a bottle of propane into your tent with you at night. 
    This will keep it warmer and make it easier to light your stove for breakfast. 
  23. Heaters inside your tent can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cold weather camping references: 

  • BSA Field manual 
  • BSA Snow Camping Venture manual


Select the proper type and amount of clothing. Regulate your clothing 
according to your activity rate. This is the most effective way to ensure 
comfort. Pay attention to your bodies' signals. Don't wait until you are cold to 
put on more clothing. Act when you first begin to feel cooler.

Clothing layers:

  • Long, thermal underwear. polypropylene 
  • Shirt or inner layer 
  • Sweater, light jacket 
  • Wind or rain gear 
  • Long, thermal underwear. polypropylene 
  • Inner pants wool, wool blend 
  • Wind or rain pants 
  • Wicking inner socks polypropylene 
  • Insulating socks wool or wool blend 
  • Boot liners insulated insoles 
  • Footwear, boots waterproof, loose-fitting, mukluks or snow boots 
  • Head coverings 
  • Gloves and mittens
I'd like to offer a few reminders for cold weather:
  1. Wear long-johns under the uniform pants during the day. If you have uniform pants on, you can also wear snow pants over the uniform.
  2. I always wear thin nylon socks underneath wool socks. Nylon, not cotton, will wick moisture away from your feet. Wool is good because it keeps you warm even if its damp or wet. I can't think of anything made of cotton that will do you ANY good in winter camping. Jeans are the worst!
  3. Waterproof boots. That means rubber higher than the snow you'll be walking in. Leather hiking boots are water-resistant, not waterproof. Big difference. Keep your feet dry!
  4. Have an extra pair of gloves. Mittens are better for warmth but it's hard to tie knots unless you're really good.
  5. Hats MUST have earflaps, or if you're wearing a woven wool cap, it should be be big enough to pull down to meet your coat collar. There will be an abundance of silly looking hats…no matter how dopey you think YOUR hat may look, look in any direction and you'll always see someone with a sillier hat. Embrace the goofiness…dress for warmth, not fashion.
  6. At night, change into clean thermal underwear and clean, dry socks (nylon under wool). Wear a knit cap. Resist the temptation to bury your head in the sleeping bag. With your head buried, when you exhale, you breathe out moisture that will be trapped in the sleeping bag. As soon as you open the top, cold air will rush in and that humidity will change into what feels like iceicles.
  7. The ground is a heat sink that will draw heat out of your body. A sleeping pad helps, of course, but if you have an extra wool blanket to put under the sleeping pad or under the sleeping bag, you'll feel much warmer. If your bag isn't great, consider bringing two…put one inside the other. I've tried a "space banker" under the sleeping pad. It doesn't help much and the cracking sound will keep you up all night. Don't bother.
  8. Anyone doing cooking might consider wearing surgical gloves so you have manual dexterity, grip plus some protection from the cold.
  9. It's everyones job to watch each other for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Fingertips, nose, ears, toes should be pink, not white. Irritability and disorientation are also signs something might be wrong.