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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Stay Comfortable in Any Weather: Cold

Staying warm is easier than getting warm: Plan ahead.

by: Molly Loomis

Pick Your Conditions

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear | Where to Camp


Lose layers. If you overdress at the trailhead, you'll soon be sweaty. Instead, do jumping jacks or jog in place so you're not chilled for the first 10 minutes.

Stay dry. In extreme cold (below zero), manage your layers and pace with this legendary Arctic adage in mind: You sweat, you die.

Keep layers handy. You'll take them on and off frequently. When you're not wearing a hat or gloves, stow them in pockets, down your shirt, or clipped to a shoulder strap. Stash your puffy jacket and a shell in the top of your pack.

Breathe through your nose. In temps below 20°F, some hikers experience chest pain from cold air. Inhale through your nose and the air will warm up before it hits your lungs.

Take short breaks. Maintain the body heat you've already generated by resting briefly (and more frequently if needed). At breaks, put on an extra layer right away–don't wait until you're chilled.

Eat fast. Stash snacks in each pocket of your puffy jacket, so that when you put it on during breaks you can refuel without digging around. Keep energy bars from freezing by storing them with a hot-water bottle or hand warmer.

Sit on your pack. Conserve energy during rest stops: Sit on your pack (read: insulation) with your back to the wind.

Keep your feet warm. Prone to cold toes? Cut a square from a closed-cell foam pad (light and cheap) to insulate your feet during breaks. Always change into dry socks if your feet get sweaty.

Use chemical hand warmers. These have myriad uses beyond saving cold digits: Stuff them in interior pockets to increase core temp; pre-warm a sleeping bag by tossing one in an hour before bed; thaw frozen boots in the morning; boost stove output by taping one to the canister.

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Reader Rating: -


Feb 19, 2010

To keep your energy bars from freezing. You can put them in the pockets closest to your center body mass because that area produces the most heat. And if one does end up frozen, just stick it in your shirt against your skin. Or in the waistband of your pants to thaw it out.

Scotty 2 hottie
Feb 13, 2010

Use a lightweight fleece bag to boost your sleeping bag about 10 also put a bed of pine needles under your tent as a insulator.

Dan S.
Feb 10, 2010

To warm up energy bars, you can simply put them in your pocket or if you have one, the cargo pocket of your pants.

Instead of using chemical warmers to thaw out boots, simply put the boots in a garbage bag (you should have several...they're very handy!) and put them in your sleeping bag while you're sleeping. The same concept is good for stove fuel and water bladders as well. It's also a good idea for drying out used socks.

Dave Lorenzen
Feb 05, 2010

I just like to snuggle up to my man Marko

Dave Lorenzen
Feb 05, 2010

Butt sex with your "partner" helps also.

Ken Jones
Nov 15, 2009

Put a chemical hand warmer in your camera case when it gets cold. Keeps your batteries working and much better than stowing the camera close to the body and having it condensate.

Ken Jones
Nov 15, 2009

Put a chemical hand warmer in your camera case when it gets cold. Keeps your batteries working and much better than stowing the camera close to the body and having it condensate.

Oct 27, 2009

Put your boots in a stuff sack in the bottom of your sleeping bag. They will be toasty when wake up.

Oct 24, 2009

Carb up and stay warm all night..Before bed have some fatty food--mine is pepperonie and cheese on a Triscuit--just don't tell your heart doc about it.

Oct 23, 2009

For siting tents: in rain I avoid sleeping under trees as the drips can get very big and wet you if you get up during the night.

In snow: pitching your tent lee to a cornice but still close is a good idea as the cornice indicates an area of still air. This only works as long as the cornice formed in the same air direction as is currently or forecast to blow in.

We camped at a site like this on a long ridgeline and found the next day it was the most sheltered site on the whole ridgeline.

Oct 22, 2009

Bears should not be a problem in winter since they hibernate.

Oct 22, 2009

Bears are usually hibernating in the winter and dont usually venture into cold alpine altitudes. stick the candy in your bag, youll be safe and warm

Linda Morrison
Oct 22, 2009

Please be careful when you advise people to take candy bars into their tents to snack on during the night. In bear country you must hang all food items. The same advice goes for cooking and eating inside your tent. Bears have an amazing sense of smell.

Oct 22, 2009

Wear vapor barrier clothing to bed or use a vapor barrier sleeping bag liner.


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