That means you can’t overlook the essentials when it comes to combating the cold. Here’s a few pieces of key guidance on how to stay warm when you’re outside: what to pack, what to wear, and how to keep yourself safe from the elements.
Do: Plan ahead.
Use a reliable weather forecasting service (check out Weather Underground, which forecasts with data from 180,000+ weather stations across the country). Take note of the temperature range for the specific location(s) in which you’ll be camping—especially the lowest temperature that you could experience.
Don’t: Leave your extra layers at home.
When it’s cold outside, you want options. Think about every aspect of your body: feet, legs, core, arms, hands, neck, head. Do you have something warm for each segment? To play it safe, bring an extra pair of all the basics: base layers, socks, gloves, hats and neck gaiter. If you’re starved for space, prioritize extra socks, gloves, and hats, as you’ll want to ensure your extremities stay warm (they’ll be the first body parts to get cold).
Do: Bring insulation.
In cold temps, your body needs help retaining its heat. Wear synthetic or down insulation around your core to maintain your healthy, internal temperature. Synthetic insulation is best for when you know you might be getting wet; down insulation can be lighter and warmer, but its performance can be hampered when wet. In addition to an insulated jacket, look for insulated pants, booties, neck gaiters, and beanies if you’ll be exposed outside for long periods of time. (Don’t forget your sleeping bag, always an extra insulator when needed.)
Don’t: Be fooled by sleeping bag ratings.
Read the fine print. Sleeping bags come with several ratings, usually the marketed temperature rating, the comfort rating, and the lower-limit rating. Look to the comfort rating for a better indication of how warm you’ll feel using the bag. For example, a sack marketed as a 20°F sleeping bag will likely have a comfort rating of 32°F, so you might still feel chilly if temps drop to 20 degrees, though you won’t freeze to death. If you’re a cold sleeper, this comfort rating is much more important than what’s stamped on the bag’s marketing materials.
Do: Pack emergency heat sources, like hand or toe warmers.
Activate hand or toe warmers by opening the packaging and shaking them. They’ll emit heat for a couple hours and can drastically improve conditions inside a cold sleeping bag. While standing or hiking in cold weather, keep them in your pockets for your hands, stick them inside your shoes, or stuff them inside your clothes wherever you need a temperature boost. They’re light enough they won’t weigh you down even if you don’t use them.
Don’t: Place your must-be-dry items at the top of your pack.
In case you set up camp in the rain or snow, don’t pack items that must stay dry (sleeping bag, clothes, some foods) at the top of your backpack—pack them at the bottom. That way, they’re the last things removed at camp, reducing the likelihood they’ll get wet. Also consider packing these essential items in a dry sack or zip-locking bags to ensure they stay dry no matter what.