Types of Cold Weather
There are three different kinds of cold weather that campers can encounter. Wet cold describes conditions that range from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to 14 degrees. Although the temperatures are not as extreme as the other types of cold weather this is considered to be the most dangerous type of weather for cold weather camping since the temperatures can fluctuate greatly during the course of the outing, catching a camper unprepared. Such variations from thawing temperatures during the daylight hours to freezing ones when the sun sets make it hard to always be properly dressed and the melting of snow and/or falling rain makes staying dry a real chore.
When the ground is solidly frozen and the temperatures are from 14 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 20 degrees snow can be "dry" and become crystallized. Add in the potential for fierce winds and this is called dry cold.
Arctic cold weather camping should be left only to those campers with great levels of experience since the temperatures are below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, affecting a vast array of typical camping supplies and rendering many of them useless.
Cold Weather Clothing
The importance of dressing for cold weather camping properly cannot be overstated. Since cotton apparel tends to hold moisture it should be shunned. Cotton keeps sweat and moisture close to the body rather than let it drip off and once wet cotton has little if any value as insulation against the elements. The idea is to dress in layers to achieve the greatest protection while cold weather camping. Polypropylene undergarments and others made from such fibers as Coolmax, Dryskin and Thermastat are ideal to keep moisture away from the body. The next layer of clothing is known as the insulating layer. It is responsible for keeping an individual warm. Pants, socks, shirts, jackets and such should be woolen to provide the best warmth.
The outer layer comprised of such clothing as parkas and all-weather pants is the main protection against wind, snow and rain. They must be large enough to be considered oversized because they must be able to fit over the other two layers of clothing comfortably. Hats must be worn to prevent the escape of body heat through the head and gloves or mittens that extend past the wrists are highly recommended to keep hands warm. Waterproof boots should be worn with at least one pair of insulating socks. Boots cannot be too snug as this can result in serious circulation problems for the feet.
Cold Weather Sleeping
The sleeping bag that will perform the best in cold weather camping conditions is a synthetic one, since those made of natural fibers or down will lose their ability to keep a person warm if they become wet. "Mummy" style sleeping bags that closely encase a person and have a hood to keep the head warm should be used. Sleeping with the head beneath the covers will bring the humidity level up, making the interior of the sleeping bag damp. Bags should be aired out during a cold weather camping trip whenever possible. The use of a sleeping pad made of material called closed-cell foam will make the camper more comfortable and a cloth put on the ground for the entire sleeping apparatus to rest on will help soak up and dampness caused by melting. Feet should be covered with thick socks and a hat can be worn while sleeping to keep body heat in. Wearing dry clothes to bed is a priority to reduce any moisture that can get into the sleeping bag.