Staying warm on backpacking trips is critical. Cold weather can ruin a trip and if backpackers are unprepared, hypothermia can lead to a life-threatening situation. Staying warm and dry are critical priorities when in the back country. Escaping the wind, rain and cold means having clothing and shelter that can protect backpackers from inclement weather. Exposure to the cold can lead to death in less than an hour.

Being self-sufficient on a backpacking trip means more than just carrying the appropriate supplies and equipment. Knowledge of how and when to use it is equally important.

Things to do in Canada - Hiking the West Coast Trail, BC

Think ahead and use the following tips to stay warm on a backpacking trip:

  • Heat loss happens when warm bodies come in contact with cold objects. People lose tremendous amounts of body heat when sitting on a rock, wearing damp clothing or standing in a cold wind. Besides wearing clothing that shields the skin from the elements, seeking shelter to get completely out of the weather is sometimes the only option to stay warm.
  • Avoid wearing cotton if it starts to rain or you have to cross a stream. Cotton soaks up water which will drain the heat from a warm body. Polyester fleece, down-filled jackets and waterproof outerwear keeps a warm cushion of air next to the skin. Also, avoid wearing cotton to bed as it tends to get damp & clammy from perspiration. Try wearing polyester long underwear instead.
  • When hiking in cold weather, avoid wearing too many layers that can lead to excess sweating. As soon as you come to a halt, damp clothing will turn cold and you’ll start to shiver. Strip off excess layers to avoid perspiring in cold weather.
  • The body loses the most amount of heat from an uncovered head. Bring two hats – one for daytime use for protection from the sun and another thicker one to retain heat at night.
  • Conserve your energy. Not only does the body need energy to keep you moving, but it also needs extra fuel to generate extra heat in cold weather. Eat more calories than you might think necessary and drink plenty of fluids to keep you well hydrated.
  • Set up camp where the natural terrain provides protection. For example, valleys may be cooler but the surrounding hills act as a wind barrier. Camping on the beach may seem exciting but a forest canopy will provide shielding from the rain.
  • Keep your sleeping bag a dry as possible. This means using an air-mattress or foam pad to provide a cushion of air between it and the cold ground. If you’re really roughing it, use dry grass or dead leaves to provide an extra layer of insulation.
  • Consume hot drinks before going to bed to help the body warm up the sleeping bag. Better yet, pour boiling water into a water bottle and place it in your sleeping bag. Wrap it in extra clothing to avoid getting burned. Remove it in the middle of the night when it gets cold.

Having the right equipment helps backpackers stay warm but does not guarantee a safe journey. Having outdoor knowledge, using common-sense and thinking ahead will help backpackers stay warm and alive in the back country.

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