By Steve Gillman
Staying warm in any environment is a skill you can learn,
and is useful not only for ultralight backpacking in comfort,
but also to protect you in an emergency. Start by camping in
the right places. Tops of hills are windy and cold, while cold
air also fills the valleys at night. Find level ground somewhere
in between, out of the wind, even if it means hiking a little
out of your way. A light backpack makes this easier to do, in
In an emergency you can sleep between a fire and a rock wall
that will reflect the heat back at you. Use this technique only
for emergencies, though. There are enough beautiful rocks that
are covered in soot.
Wear your clothes to bed when you are backpacking, and you
can travel with a lighter sleeping bag. If you shake out and
fluff up the clothes, they will insulate better. Some will tell
you not to sleep in your clothes, but I have tried it both ways
many times, and it has always been warmer with the clothes on.
Wear a hat to bed. This is probably equal to another pound
of insulation in your sleeping bag. You really lose a lot of
heat through your head when it isn't covered.
Stay Dry! Stay up late until your clothes have dried, or change
into dry clothes if you have them. Try hard not to crawl into
that bag in wet clothes. By the way, if it is hot during the
day, wear your wet t-shirts to dry them out quickly.
Adjust your clothing as you hike, removing and adding clothes
as necessary so you stay warm without sweating. Sweat can cause
you to lose heat rapidly when you stop.
Breath into your sleeping bag if you are really cold. However,
you should only do this if you are in a dry climate, or it is
your last night out. You will get a little damp, but you will
dry quickly from hiking in the morning.
Heat water and fill a water bottle to take to bed with you.
This is probably easier than heating up rocks and placing them
Make a mattress of pine needles, leaves or dry grass to sleep
on. Scatter the leaves in the morning, so they won't smother
the plants underneath. I have slept warmly in a pile of dry grass
that I collected from a frozen swamp, and I had no sleeping bag.
Conserve your energy. It is difficult for your body to keep
itself warm if you have used up your energy reserves. It also
helps if you are not too tired to do what you need to protect
yourself, such as gathering firewood or hiking out to the car
to escape the blizzard. Finally, we make better decisions when
we aren't tired.
Staying warm is about paying attention as much as it is about
good gear. Good gear helps, of course, and I suggest you try
the sponsors here for that.
For more tips on staying warm, go to:
The Wilderness Survival