February campout and cold weather camping tips


The weather forecast for this weekend’s campout is high 20’s Saturday night and about 40 for Sunday night…..in Fredericksburg. It might be a little colder out of town at the park. I put together a winter camping gear list (attached) for everyone. I want to highlight a few things about winter camping so everyone can be comfortable. I know this email is lengthy, but please read so that your scout is warm this weekend.

First of all, BSA doesn’t allow any heaters in tents because of the fire hazard, so if you have one just leave it at home. Battery-operated heating devices like pocket warmers are OK, but I have never needed them. They are heavy and batteries are really expensive. With proper preparation (Remember the scout motto) everyone can be comfortable.

Everyone should bring a foam-type air mattress (like a Thermarest) to insulate yourself from the ground. Your body weight compresses the insulation in the sleeping bag so you need more under you. Air mattresses and cots allow cold air to flow under and chill you. Not recommended. If you don’t have a foam mat, you should get one because it will come in handy during your scouting career. Gander Mountain’s store brand is half the price or less of Thermarest and just as good in my experience. For car camping, the 2-inch thickness is not too much. For backpacking later, a 1-inch thick will do.

Sleeping bags should be at least rated to 20 deg. The cotton flannel sleeping bag used for slumber parties will not be enough. I recommend synthetic insulation (as opposed to down) because synthetics are cheaper and keep you warm even if they get wet. If down gets wet, all you have is a clump of wet feathers. Invest in a mummy style bag. It is harder to use for side sleepers, but will keep you much warmer. If desired, take a fleece sleeping bag ($15 at Walmart) and use it inside of your regular sleeping bag to make it warmer.

Bring long johns. Gander Mountain has some polypropylene or polyester long underwear that are good. I don’t recommend cotton as it will get damp with perspiration and not keep you warm. Don’t need the heavy weight long underwear. The silk weight or light weight will do fine for Texas weather.

Do not sleep in your clothes. Clothing is mostly cotton and will soak up perspiration and leave you chilled and damp feeling. Use the long johns to sleep in. Put on dry socks before going to bed. Socks get damp. This even applies to underwear. Cotton briefs get damp and will cause chafing. I recommend synthetic athletic underwear (Jockey makes some that are available at Kohls). These are smooth finished and very comfortable. I have used these for backpacking at Philmont and the Appalachian Trail and have never had any chafing.

Use a knit hat for sleeping. Take it from a bald man, you lose 50% of your body heat through your head. Why wrap your body in long johns and a sleeping bag and leave your head exposed?

Bring some gloves. Heavy-weight mittens or skiing gloves are too bulky. I have a pair of wool gloves that I like. Don’t weigh much and can be washed if they get dirty. Those cheap jersey knit work gloves actually make good camping gloves, too.

Wear wool socks (not cotton) and leather shoes. Cotton socks get damp with sweat. Tennis shoes are designed to ventilate your feet which is fine when playing sports in mild weather but a lousy design for cold weather. Wear leather hiking boots. These are more waterproof than tennis shoes and keep the feet warmer. It is hard to get warm with cold feet

Don’t bring a really heavy jacket. But it’s going to be cold you say? Layers, layers, layers. What keeps you warm is air trapped in your clothing that is heated by your body heat. Multiple layers of clothing create more air-trapping space and also provide more flexibility as the day warms. For a very cold morning, you could wear a long john shirt with a long sleeve shirt, then a fleece jacket or vest, topped with a windbreaker-type shell. Should be plenty warm. Don’t forget the knit hat and gloves.

If you don’t have some of this equipment, please ask around and borrow.


Mike Schultz

Winter Camp Gear List