Cold Weather Tips & Tricks

With winter in full swing here in Wisconsin, my cold weather training is underway. I was out hiking today and figured I’d share some of the techniques I use to keep warm and comfortable. These techniques are tried and true. I have used them for many years at work and on my adventures in the outdoors. I have worked in the construction industry my entire adult life and have been exploring the outdoors even longer, in a state where the daytime temps can get down to -45º with windchill. These are not secrets by any means, but for those people out there that don’t live in an area with very cold winters they can be helpful. The first thing I want to share is the acronym C.O.L.D.( yes I realize some of the letters don’t match, but it works.)

C- Keep clothes clean and dry

I’m not talking about freshly laundered clothes here, I’m simply talking about keeping your clothes as free of mud and other debris as possible. After all, muddy clothes are wet clothes, and in cold weather wet clothes are your worst enemy. I’m not only referring to freezing temps when I say cold weather. If you are wet, 55º is cold enough for hypothermia to set in. Besides that, who wants to deal with muddy, frozen zippers and buckles? Spending a little time each day to tend to your clothes (and gear), will make your time in the backcountry much more enjoyable.

O- Avoid overheating

Perspiring can be just as dangerous as rain. Good thermoregulation is absolutely essential. Thermoregulation is a technique of shedding or adding layers, as well as adjusting your physical exertion to maintain a body heat that is warm but does not cause you to perspire. My first course of action is to remove my hat, scarf, and gloves. Because the ears, nose, cheeks, hands and feet have special blood vessels to control cooling and warming, these are most efficient ways to regulate your body temperature.

L- Loose, layered clothing

A good layering system is critical for cold weather. Not only does it make thermoregulating much easier, it is also warmer overall. This is because of the dead air space the layers create. The dead air spaces heated by your body act as a buffer between you and the cold air. The exception to this is your base layer, which you want to fit tightly.  This is the layering system I use. For extreme cold, adjust as necessary:

Upper body

  • Base layer- for moisture control.
  • Grid layer- a heavier long underwear for insulation.
  • Over layer- typically a cotton henley for added wind protection when I’m not wearing a coat
  • Fleece coat- added insulation and wind protection
  • Puff coat- for extreme cold
  • Shell layer- gotta stay dry

Lower body

  • Base layer
  • Grid layer
  • Pant
  • Shell layer (insulated for extreme cold)

The same principle applies for my hands and feet. I wear a dry foot-liner sock under my hiking socks to control moisture, as well as liner gloves for the same reason. I normally wear a good winter hat, and scarf for very cold weather.


This is just here to remind you how important staying dry is. Avoid getting wet if at all possible.

Cold weather camping tricks

These are some things I do to keep myself warm on those cold nights.

  1. Keeping an extra set of heavy long underwear and a pair of heavy socks for sleeping in.
  2. Sleeping with a hat on.
  3. Keeping your clothes for the next day in your bag with you so they are warm in the morning.
  4. Putting hot water in your bottles and putting one in the foot section of your bag and cuddling the other.
  5. Not covering your face in the bag. (to avoid condensation).
  6. Vent your tent even in the cold. (to avoid condensation).

I hope these tips help, and if you have any other tried-and-true methods, feel free to share them in the comments.


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Comments 5

  • Meg @ Adventures in Verdance : Jan 27th

    I am so bad at avoiding overheating. If I want to be warm and I think I am going to be cold, I will go past the normal amount of effort in order to ensure that I will be warm. I’ve spent too many nights trying to spoon unwilling friends in tents or shelters due to lack of preparation. I have to remember to find a happy medium. Lol

  • Spiller : Jan 27th

    I think you meant loose.

  • Crispy : Jan 27th

    I’m sure you meant to say clothes, loose and moisture. Good tips!

  • Beetle : Mar 1st

    What do you mean by “grid layer”?

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