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So you’re  attending a camping event in the spring or fall for the first time and you’re worried about staying warm.  Well here’s a few tips.

Tip 1: Dress in layers.

There are three types of layers:

  • The wicking layer. Worn against the skin. Wicks body moisture away from the skin. Materials that wick well: silk, wool and some synthetics like polypro.
  • The insulating layer(s).  One or more layers of insulating materials.  Wool is ideal.  Quilted garments and multiple layers that trap layers of air work well.
  • The shell layer. Worn on the outside.  Keeps wind, wet and dirt off the inner layers and can protect them from wear & tear.  Appropriate shell garments vary depending on conditions and activities you’ll be doing and include aprons, capes, cloaks, coats, rain ponchos, etc.  Generally the shell layer should be tightly woven and shed water but still let water vapor from the inner layers pass through.  A waxed or oiled tightly woven light canvas is great.  Leather and wool can work too.  And there are a number of high-tech synthetics that are designed for just this purpose.

Tip 2: Cover your head.

Your head loses a lot of heat!  Wear a hat.  Even when sleeping.   A night cap is not just the last drink of the evening.

Tip 3: Eat!

Fuel your body’s internal furnace.  While carbs will give a quick burst of energy to warm your body  that burst of energy will vanish as rapidly as it arrived.  Soon you’ll be hungry and chilled again.  Include in your meals energy dense foods that contain healthy fats and protein.  These foods will fuel and warm you for longer periods.

Tip 4: Stay hydrated.

Water is not just for hot weather.  You’re outside and even cool air dries you out over time.  A dehydrated body does not function at it’s best and that includes generating warmth.  So drink water regularly.

 Tip 5:  Use a ground sheet.

When sleeping, laying around or just sitting on the ground put something between you and the cool and damp ground.

For sleeping use a sheet of plastic under your tent. Trim it to the footprint of your tent but several inches smaller so that no bit of it extends out from under the wall of your tent because any bit that sticks out can catch wind-driven rain or even just morning dew.  More than one careless camper has woken to find themselves in a shallow pool of cold wet water that was trapped by the ground sheet they expected would keep them dry.

If your tent has no floor and you’d like to make your plastic ground sheet look more medieval cover it with a rug or canvas floor sheet.  Inexpensive canvas painter’s drop cloths, available at building supply and hardware stores come in many sizes, are durable and can be cut to fit.  Just like the plastic ground sheet: nothing should stick out from under the tent walls.

Tip 6: Start the night dry.

When getting ready for bed change into fresh dry night clothing.  You can even get a head start on a warm cozy night by warming your nightwear by the fire.

Tip 7: Hot water bottles!

Pre-warm your bed with a hot water bottle or fire warmed stone or brick wrapped in a towel or newspaper.

Tip 8: Use the buddy system.

Snuggle up at night with someone you love and share the warmth.  If you’re a couple using modern sleeping bags find two bags that zip on opposite side and with compatible zippers.  Then you can zip them together into one large two-person sleeping bag.

Tip 9: Pick a dry tent site.

Avoid wet or damp ground.  Moss while soft and comfortable is a sure sign of moist ground.

Avoid low spots.  Rain water runs down hill and will collect in even the shallowest depression. Cold air runs down hill as well and tends to settle in low spots.

Tip 10: Watch the little ones!

There’s a reason why ice age mammals got BIG!   Small bodies loose heat faster than big ones. Small children are especially  prone to getting chilled and even hypothermia.  Keep a close eye on them in cool or wet weather.  Pack lots of extra clothing for them.

Tip 11: Air Mattresses.

In a comment below Master Godric of Hamtun says “One thing I do is if you have a bed that you are up off of the ground and you use an air mattress, put a wool blanket under the air mattress and then one on top of the air mattress. This coupled with layered flannel sheets and wool blankets should keep you comfy warm all night.”

As Master Godric reminds us while air mattresses are great for giving you a soft comfortable surface to sleep on they are actually  very poor insulation.   Foam sleeping pads are much better insulators if not quite so good at cushioning.  So use wool blankets as Master Godric advises  or you can add a foam sleeping pad on top of the air mattress.  Or if you are of a less tender nature, use a foam sleeping pad directly on the ground.  But don’t forget your ground sheet!  (See Tip 5 above)

Tip 12:  Warm cloths in the morning.

Godric also commented: “Also put the cloths your going to wear the next morning in bed with you, that way you are not putting on cold clothing in the morning.”  Good idea.

 Tip 13: Warming your tent with a candle.

Lloyd Forester, Warden of the East (Head officer of the East Kingdom Royal Foresters Guild) posted: “Depending on your tent, A pillar candle in a terracotta flower pot can warm the area by as much as 10 degrees. In a canvas tent or breathable tent it is usually no worries. In a more confined tent I stick them in the vestibule. Of course it needs to be a set up that will not burn you down.”

A good idea, BUT:  WARNING,  Candles are HOT.  They are on FIRE. Fabrics that are commonly used for tents, tarps and sleeping bags, while generally treated with flame retardants, ARE NOT FIRE PROOF!   Even heavy cotton canvas can scorch or burn if you are careless with flames.  Synthetic materials can melt and can leave truly awful burns if the hot melting fabric gets stuck on you.  So, be careful with candles, lanterns and hot or flaming things of all kinds.