winter camping

4 Safety Tips for Cold Weather Camping in the South

Posted by Corey Hunt on February 19, 2020

In the South, our mild winters make camping a pleasurable year-round event. However, given that hypothermia can strike even at above-freezing temperatures, it's important to be prepared. Outdoor enthusiast and award-winning blogger, Corey Hunt, shares her best safety tips on winter camping.

The groundhog may have seen his shadow this month, but spring weather can be tricky. 

Here in the South, the weather can change from seventy degrees to thirty without much warning.

This does not mean the outdoors cannot be enjoyed, but careful planning is essential, especially when camping.  

What Most People Don't Know About Hypothermia

According to the National Institute of Health, over 25,000 people die of hypothermia each year. 

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops lower than 95 degrees Fahrenheit (normal temperature is 98.6 degrees F). 

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slow or shallow breathing, memory loss or confusion, drowsiness and slurred or mumbled speech. 

Most body heat loss escapes through the skin, but what most people don't realize is this can happen in any temperature. Even if it’s fifty degrees outside, if the body temperature drops three degrees, hypothermia can occur.  

My Experience Being Caught Out in The cold

One July, my husband and I decided to escape the crowds and hike in to a remote section of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

We had checked the weather earlier in the week, but failed to do so close to our departure. The temperatures dipped into the fifties the first night in July. 

We had prepared for a much warmer night and left our normal sleeping bags at home. Around midnight, we were both shivering and our sleep was less than restful.

A lesson was learned on that trip, always be prepared for the weather to change, at any time of year.

Cold Weather Camping Tip #1: Dress for the weather

Cold weather campingDressing for cold weather camping

As mentioned above, most heat loss occurs through the skin, so to avoid being cold while camping appropriate clothing is a must. 

Look for a synthetic or wool base layer that will wick away moisture from the skin.

Most of us have heard the phrase “cotton kills in the backcountry” and this is due to its nature of trapping moisture on the skin which cools the skin and leads to a decrease in body temperature. 

If the clothing does happen to get wet or even sweaty, change base layers immediately to warm up. And don't forget to wear appropriate socks! Cold, wet feet can drop your core temperature fast. We like wool best for winter but synthetic works too.

Cold Weather Camping Tip #2: Bring this type of sleeping bag and pad

The next lesson learned on our July camping trip was to bring the appropriate sleeping bag and sleeping pad for the weather.  

Most sleeping bags are rated with the lowest temperature that will keep the sleeper warm. 

For example, when camping with a thirty degree bag, thirty degrees is the lowest temperature the bag is suited to keep the sleeper warm.  

I have found from experience that if the temperature gets within five degrees of the lowest rating on the sleeping bag, go with the warmer one for a good night's sleep.  

Also, if the temperature is approaching the freezing mark, leave the air mattress at home.  If the air is cold outside, the air mattress will cool as you sleep and you could wake up cold. 

A foam sleeping pad does not conduct the cool ground temperature and is a much better option for camping in cold weather (and a furry friend next to you doesn't hurt either!). 

the best tent for winter camping

Cold Weather Camping Tip #3: Opt for a Cozy vs. Spacious Tent

Tents can also improve your experience when camping in the cold.  

Look for a four season tent, as these are usually made with thicker material on the outside to keep out the wind and rain or snow.  

Tent size is also more critical in the cold. The more space on the inside of the tent means a bigger space to heat, which isn’t a good thing in cold weather.  

Four season tents are usually shorter in height so there is less space for cold air to flow.  

When camping in the cold, gear can make or break the trip. A four season tent with a warm sleeping bag are essential.  

Cold weather camping

Cold Weather Tip #4: Check the weather frequently

Preparedness is also critical for camping in winter months. Fluctuation in temperatures can lead to hypothermia if campers are not prepared, even in mild temperatures. 

Check the weather close to the departure date to be as prepared as possible, and make sure to pack a warm sleeping bag and synthetic clothing to stay warm and dry.  

If you can check the weather via your cell phone during your camping trip that's not a bad idea either. But, if you prefer to camp off-grid then checking right before you leave will do.

All this said, with less people on the trails in winter and cool crisp air, camping in the winter is not to be missed and is a favorite among many campers, including this one.

Corey Hunt

Corey Hunt is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer and photographer from the upstate of South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in publications such as Dun Magazine, South Carolina Wildlife and other online publications. More on Corey’s writing can be found on the blog she writes with her husband, www.twodogoutdoors.com.

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