The transition from summer to fall is always a little bittersweet. Maybe it's a throwback to childhood, when the turning leaves mean it's time to go back to school instead of playing outside all day. Fortunately, for those of us no longer in school, the chillier months can still yield plenty of camping excursions. It takes a little more planning, but there's something magical about sitting by a crackling campfire in the crisp air, then snuggling up in a toasty sleeping bag. Not quite ready to stow your camping gear until next summer? Read on for our best cold-weather camping tips.
One of the keys to not staying cold? Not letting yourself get cold in the first place. If you're sitting around at camp in the evening, take breaks to do some jumping jacks or jog in a circle—whatever gets you moving long enough to get that heart rate up. Bursts of movement push blood out to your extremities and are a great way to keep hands and feet from becoming too cold to recover. If you wake up cold at night, a few sit-ups will often do the trick.
Dressing in layers is crucial to staying warm in the wilderness. A non-cotton baselayer, and insulating mid layer, and a waterproof outer layer generally work well together; you can adjust based on the conditions. When you're moving, take those outer layers off so you don't get damp with sweat. When you stop moving, layer back up to prevent getting chilly as your sweat evaporates.
Fires stay hot when they have plenty of fuel, and the same is true of the human body. Foods that are high in fat and protein are like hardwoods: they take longer for our metabolism to burn, so they sustain warmth for longer than high-carb foods. And for those dreaded middle-of-the-night wakeups: just get it over with, and you'll be warmer when your body isn't expending energy on keeping the liquid in your bladder warm.
Sleeping pads provide a softer, more comfortable surface beneath our sleeping bags, but their real purpose is to insulate you from the cold ground. Humans lose heat through conduction (touching another object, such as the frozen forest floor) when it's cold, so adding an extra layer between yourself and the ground is key. Using a closed-cell foam pad might cut it in the summer; now, add an inflatable pad on top for extra warmth.
Those who spend lots of time outside swear by the “sacred socks," a pair of socks that never leave their place in the sleeping bag, thereby guaranteeing there's always a pair of dry socks to warm up cold feet. When it gets cold out, it's worth expanding that mindset to include everything you sleep in, rather than damp, sweaty hiking clothes. In the chilly morning, it's tempting to keep them on, but opt instead to leave them in your sleeping bag, where they’ll be ready to keep you warm the next night.
- Double Up On Sleeping Pads
When it’s really frigid outside, it’s hard to resist battening down the hatches and making your tent into a cocoon. But this leads to condensation buildup, which can freeze overnight—and what’s worse than having little ice crystals rain down on you every time you move?
- Make Your Tent Work For You