Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shivering shinbones it's cold out there!

I probably don't need to remind folks it's still February, and it's just downright cold in most of the continental United States. But with winter comes winter sports, and unsurpassed beauty through much of the continent. But how do you keep warm, especially when trying to sleep in the cold?

The process isn't as complex as it might seem, but it also isn't without effort, or expense... They are...

  1. You, and your equipment should be dry. Water is an excellent conductor, and conversely a lousy insulator. You do NOT want to be wet unless you want to be cold!
  2. Be properly dressed. Light shorts, no socks and a shirt or not might work in the summer, but could be a recipe for hypothermia in the winter... I like to wear sweats to bed when camping in the winter...
  3. Keep your tent size small in the winter! The smaller your tent, the more heat will be retained inside the tent. Don't go so small that you can't sit up and get dressed, but don't go any bigger than you have to. The small tent size in winter also relates to...
  4. Keep your tent ventilation to the minimum possible. You want to be able to draw your rain fly and vestibule is close to reduce drafts, while still allowing for moisture given off from respiration to escape effectively. While camping as a couple, Outdoor Dave, and Deb like to use a 3 person backpacking tent, specifically a Sierra Designs Sirius 3. This model has been superceded but remains a primary tent for our usage.
  5. If possible, leave the air mattress at home. Air mattresses are large chambers that effectively move heat away from the body. They are nice in the summer for comfort, and thermal help, but in the winter they are not worth the risks. We use self inflating sleeping mats, and for extra cushion and insulation, we tend to try to use a nice fluffy pile of leaves or pine needles under the tent floor to keep us comfy.
  6. Sleeping bag choice is critical. The closer to the body the bag stays, the warmer the sleeper stays. Likewise the less air movement the insulation allows, the better off you are for warmth. Now Outdoor Dave is a big man, and he tends to toss and turn in his sleep. With movement you need space, so you'd think that a suitable mummy type sleeping bag would be impossible to find. Sadly sleeping bag manufacturers change up their models from year to year, so keeping up with current models is next to impossible, but fear not, chances are there will be an effective bag for you on the market! The sales people at the sporting goods stores may look at you funny, but TRY OUT the bags. Slide into them, and see if you are comfortable with the amount of room. I found Slumberjack, and Coleman sleeping bags to be best suited to me. However there are many excellent options out there! Pick a bag rated to the coldest you will be exposed to, and even if you pick a rectangular bag, pick one with a pull tight hood to keep your head warmth inside the bag...
After you have all of this squared away, you might find yourself still cold in your sleep, you could try the following to stay warm as well..
  1. If you are camping with a partner, seriously consider a sleeping bag for two. The shared body heat will keep both of you warmer longer...
  2. Bring a shaggy dog with you, they put off lots of heat...
  3. More seriously, try heating up water and filling a hot water bottle to toss into your sleeping bag. I have done this in below freezing weather with a 40 degree rated bag and been comfortable while I sleep..
  4. Chemical heat pads. We have specifically used the Hot Hands brand hand / body warmers when the weather turned foul on us unexpectedly and were extremely grateful for the warmth. They kept us comfy when an unexpected storm got us wet and our bags weren't as sealed as we thought they were...
  5. This next item should NOT be taken frequently, but eat a rich, fat heavy meal for dinner. The fats generate heat during digestion, and can help keep you warm at night... This however is a VERY poor idea for cardiac reasons. Check with your doctor!
  6. When all else fails, there are portable tent safe heaters. None of the MFGs I am aware of recommend their use for when sleeping, there is a serious risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I have used mine to warm the tent prior to going to sleep, turn it off. If woken up by the cold, it will usually be at 5 or 6 in the morning. Fire the heater up for a few minutes to bring the warmth back up, then shut it off and finish your nights sleep, or if you are hunting that day, use the cold as an alarm clock, turn the heat on to make sure you don't freeze when you change to get out to the blind!
Now that you know how to keep from freezing in the wild, the only thing left to do is to go, get out there, and find your own road less travelled.