The Baden-Powell Scouts' Association

Traditional Scouting for the 21st Century!


Winter camping – Sage advice

This article is written using sage advice I have gathered & used over a number of years, it is not intended to be exhaustive, but hopefully will allow you to consider most of the main topics...




The Layering Principle - each layer traps an amount of dead air in it. This allows you to add or shed layers to increase or decrease your accumulated dead air space as the temperature changes and/or as your activity level changes. You need to find the proper heat balance between the number and types of layers and your activity level – this will change during the day.

It is essential that you pack lots of layers of warm clothing, layer up before you get cold, not after the warmth has left your body.

Wear polyester near the skin (football shirts are ideal) as synthetic clothing is hydrophobic (doesn't hold the water, it wicks away to the surface and evaporates off). Cotton is not a good layer during winter as it retains moisture.

Be waterproof & windproof to reduce the chance of hypothermia, waterproof trousers & jackets can be worn even if it's not raining. Cheap waterproofs trap sweat in the dead layer & mean you will become cold quickly.

You can never have too many pairs of socks!
Keep wet and dry separate, & keep your kit ordered.

Don’t use trainers in winter! Wellies or boots are essential, the majority of body heat is lost through the extremities (head, hands and feet), wet shoes conduct heat away from the body extremely rapidly.

keep your kit close to hand... gloves, hat, scarf etc. To be honest, if you need to be told this, you probably shouldn’t be going on a cold weather camp!

Remember, if your clothing is tight, it reduces the dead air layer & reduces circulation... therefore you get colder, quicker!

Sleeping Kit:

Most scouts don't realise how significant the temperature drop at night is. Buy a good sleeping bag and trust it to keep you warm (don’t sleep in all of your clothes). Sleeping bags are meant to be cold when you get in; you have to warm them up by lying in them before they start to work. Get a sleeping bag liner (ideally a fleece liner). As with clothes layering, the more layers you have, the more you can adjust your comfort.

Get your bag out as quickly as possible to allow it to expand, & keep it dry!

Whatever the temperature, never sleep with your mouth or nose inside your sleeping bag, if it gets cold live with it, it's better than making your whole body cold.

If you do need to wear clothes to bed, ensure they are loose fitting and allow air flow within the sleeping bag. Wearing tomorrow’s clothes to bed is NOT a good idea. Your clothing for the next day will be damp from the sweat you generate at night and will feel cold and chilly for the entire day. When winter camping, wear socks an PJ's or socks and underwear. In extreme temperatures, bring your morning clothes into you sleeping bag for 10 minutes before getting up.

An insulated pad (carry mat) under your sleeping bag is a must. (Cold or wet ground under you conducts heat away from you about 20 times faster than the air in your tent). In very cold weather, use 2 mats. It should be noted that you should not use a camp bed or air mattress unless you have a mat on top.

Exercise for a few minutes before getting in your sleeping bag – walk around the site, check tent guy lines etc. This will warm up your body and make it easier to warm up a cold sleeping bag. Remember, if you get into the bag cold you will struggle to get warm. You will probably wake up a number of times during the night, which is normal in cold weather. Your body needs to change position to allow for circulation to compressed tissues and to move around a bit so that muscle movement generates more heat. If you are still cold, have something to eat and do some sit ups while still in your bag.

If the outside temperature drops, wear a hat, gloves & a pair of socks to reduce the heat lost through your extremities.

Go to the toilet before you go to bed. Having to go in the middle of the night when it is cold outside means you are exposing your body to the cold unnecessarily. Stop drinking one hour before bed.


Food & Water:

Eat lots - you need lots of calories... Food is so important as a morale booster as well as fuel. Lots of hot chocolate with marshmallows and squirty cream, big pans full of curry or stew and dumplings; puddings with custard. High energy bars, dried fruit & nuts. Have lots of small snacks & often... to keep your energy at a consistent level.

A hot drink first thing in the morning and before bedtime ensures that your core body temperature is kept in good order. Remember you sweat throughout the day & night, so need to keep drinking.

Be Active:

Don't stand around doing nothing; there is no need to be cold and miserable! Get motivated, go out & collect wood; it keeps you warm. Chopping and sawing wood is the most productive way to keep warm.

Avoid the temptation to make a big fire; a small fire will keep you warm. A big fire will keep you warm but you have to sit further away and spend more time collecting wood.

Don't get muddy and wet... do I need to say more?
Learn about cold related injuries/illnesses, and then talk about preventing it! The information below is very useful, but there is nothing better than getting professional advice & training to ensure your information is up-to-date!
If you have any doubt - hospital!

The following information is gained from a link on EScouts1, & is an excellent bullet point check list.


Excessive loss of body water. Impairs the ability to reason, so the victim may not react properly.


· Drink at least 2 quarts of water a day

· Avoid dehydrating foods (high protein) and fluids (coffee, caffeine)

· Increase fluid intake at first signs of darker yellow urine.


1 to 5 % deficiency

· Increased pulse rate

· Nausea and loss of appetite

· Dark urine or constipation

· Irritability, fatigue
· Thirst.

6 to 10 % deficiency

· Headache, dizziness
· Laboured breathing
· Tingling
· Absence of salivation
· Inability to walk

· Cyanosis (bluish or greyish skin colour).

11 to 20 % deficiency

· Swollen tongue, inability to swallow

· Dim vision, deafness
· Shrivelled, numb skin
· Painful urination

· Delirium, unconsciousness and death.


· Mild cases - drink liquids, keep warm

· More severe cases - Hospital


Lowering of the inner core temperature of the body. Can and usually does happen above well above freezing. The victim may not recognise the symptoms and may not be able to think clearly enough to react. Injury or death may result.



· Keep rested, maintain good nutrition

· Consume plenty of high-energy food

· Use proper clothing

· Make camp early if tired, injured or lost

· Get plenty of exercise. Don't sit around much

· Appoint an experienced person to watch the group for signs

· Take immediate corrective action for any signs.

Predisposing Conditions:

· Poor physical condition

· Inadequate nutrition and water intake

· Thin build
· Poor clothing
· Getting wet

· Inadequate protection from wind, rain and snow

· Exhaustion.

· Loss of ability to reason

· Shivering

· Slowing, drowsiness, fatigue

· Stumbling
· Thickness of speech
· Amnesia

· Irrationality, poor judgment

· Hallucinations

· Cyanosis (blueness of skin)

· Dilation of pupils of eyes

· Decreased heart and respiration rate

· Stupor.

· Shelter the victim from wind and weather. Getting them into a tent with warm air in it will warm them by breathing the warm air

· Insulate the victim from the ground

· Change out of wet clothing

· Put on windproof, waterproof gear

· Increase exercise, if possible

· Put in a pre-warmed sleeping bag

· Give hot drinks, followed by candy or other high-sugar foods

· Apply external heat; hot stones, hot canteens only to the core (torso). Warming the limbs will send cold acidic blood back to the core putting the casualty in further danger. The blood circulation to the limbs has been cut off to preserve heat in the torso and to keep the brain alive. This means the blood in the limbs is now cold and filled with waste from the muscles which under normal circumstances would be processed and excreted by the kidneys. Returning the cold blood to the torso will send the patient into shock and could kill them

· Huddle for body heat from others

· Place victim in a tub of 105 F water. Never above 110 F.


Tissue injury involving the actual freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Recovery is slow, severe frostbite can lead to gangrene. Once exposed the victim will be predisposed toward frostbite in the future.

· Proper clothing

· Good nutrition, drink water, maintain core temperature

· Use buddy system to check face, nose, and ears

· Immediate treatment of minor symptoms.

Predisposing Conditions:

· Prolonged exposure to temperatures 32 F or below

· Brief exposure at extremely low temperatures, -25 F and below

· Exposed body parts

· Restriction of circulation

· Fatigue, poor nutrition, low liquid intake, poor physical condition

· Previous case of frostbite or other cold injury.


First Degree (Frost nip)

· Redness, pain, burning, stinging or prickly sensation

· Pain disappears and there is a sudden blanching of the skin

· The skin may look mottled

· Skin is firm to the touch, but resilient underneath

· On thawing, there is aching pain or brownness. The skin may peel off, and the part may remain cold for some time.

Second Degree (Superficial Frostbite, Frostbite)

· No pain, the part may feel dead

· Numbness, hard to move the part

· Tissue and layers underneath are hard to the touch

· After thawing (takes 3 to 20 days) pain, large blisters, sweating

· Black or discoloured skin sloughs off, leaving tender new skin.

Third degree (Severe Frostbite)

· Full thickness of the skin is involved

· After thawing, pain continues for 2 to 5 weeks.

Fourth degree (Severe Frostbite)

· Skin and bone are frozen

· Swelling and sweating occur

· Gangrene may develop, amputation may be necessary.

· Get them to hospital

· Do not rub affected area with snow. Hold it over fire, or use cold water to thaw it

· Exercise the affected area to promote blood circulation

· Use any warmth available to thaw area

· Do not attempt to thaw frostbitten limbs in the field. It is less harmful for the victim to walk out on a frostbitten limb than to thaw it in the field. Thawing only risks additional injury and the victim will be in too much pain to walk

· Check for hypothermia.

Snow Blindness

Inflammation of the eye caused by exposure to reflected ultraviolet rays when the sun is shining brightly on an expanse of snow.


· Wear sunglasses when any danger is present. Do not wait for discomfort to begin.


· Sensation of grit in the eyes, made worse by eye movement, watering, redness, headache, and increased pain on exposure to light.


· Blindfold the victim and get rest. Further exposure should be avoided. If unavoidable, the eyes should be protected with dark bandages or the darkest sunglasses. The condition heals in a few days without permanent damage once exposure is stopped.



Julian Lenahan -Acle Scout Master (Senior Scouts)




1: Taken from on 16th February 2010