Tough Tuesdays: Extreme Cold

Winter by Marta Dragonfly

Staying Warm in the Cold

I’ll admit it: I hate being cold. I hate everything about it. Whether long term camping or short, holiday camping, hiking, or living in a tent (especially this), I still hate it. Trying to keep my core temperature up, fussing over everyone with me and trying to ensure nothing goes wrong, as well as worrying about whoever might be in a house with frozen pipes that night, trying to make sure nothing snaps from the frost and no branches fall onto the tents. I hate the cold.

Luckily, there are a few things that help. I’ve already mentioned having emergency blankets, enough for everyone. I’ve also discussed getting heavier sleeping bags and layering.

I’m truly hoping everyone donated what they could to Portland this winter!

One more item that is fantastic (and can fit anywhere you shove it) are heat packs. Yes, heat packs. They seem weird and pointy at first, and usually you can’t keep them right up against your skin without causing burn marks, but they should be in every first aid kit, and in every fanny pack.

Eventually, I will discuss the boil-and-reuse options, but my example for today is simply awesome.

Today’s example, you ask? Why yes, today’s example:


Heat Packs

Now, most heat packs (and I’ve tried soooo many) start to lose potency in less than half an hour. (No, really – it’s awful) That doesn’t help when the sun only just went down and it’s going to be a long night. Even the ones that last longer don’t hit the 8-hour mark. Again: it’s a problem.

These babies, though! 20 Hours!! The last few don’t seem as great, but they do still give off heat.

Stick them in your shoes, between the layers of your shirts, down your pants, in the bottom of each sleeping bag (especially about 10 minutes before everyone heads to bed – it’s great), inside the liner of the pet bed, wherever.

If you’re with kids, ball the heat pad in a sock so their skin isn’t damaged, and they’re less likely to find it ‘pointy’ and bothersome. Remind them to not throw them at each other, though, since they are still hot and a sock can’t work miracles.


However: don’t put them in the pillows/head pocket of the sleeping bag. This can cause breathing problems for some kids (and adults) and isn’t good for the circulation in your face.  

Caveat: if it’s bitterly cold and you’re all shivering constantly, then goal No. 1 is to survive, regardless. Get out and to civilization if you can (24-hr Walmarts really changed the game in more ways than they think), call for help if you can.

If you can’t, do everything possible to keep core body temperatures up. Keep everyone moving, even if it’s just hopping in place or doing arm circles. With kids, make it a game.  Leap frogging over each other quickly works fast, but you need something continuous afterwards (like arm circles or scissor kicks). Having everyone sing loudly also helps keep everything inside moving (and might attract help), and helps to ensure proper breathing; but it isn’t enough on its own. Play movement games, or have everyone pitch in to “organize” the tent – work againt them to keep them at it longer (“confuse” what belongs to who, switch where all the kitchen and clothing items are, etc).  

Keep moving, get warm and stay warm.


Back to the less scary stuff:

20 Hours of heat!! Great for emergencies, colder than expected storm fronts, and those times when nothing you do seems to help stop the shivers.

I know I’ve already covered several ways to take advantage of them, but here are some reminders and Warnings for safer use:

  • not directly up against any skin – even pets (it can take a very long time for the mark to show, but it can cause damage faster than it will appear)
  • not in the pillow cases or head section of the sleeping bag – if someone is complaing about still being cold, check what they’re wearing and where their heat packs already are. If they are legitimately still cold, have them put another near their stomach.
  • don’t cook with them, in or out of the package (I know it sounds ridiculous, but a fool is born every day – and seems to camp near me)
  • never ever ever ever ever ever ever open them to see what’s inside, treat them like batteries or glow sticks
  • don’t use them on babies/toddlers – connect them bare skin to bare skin with you, and use the heat packs on the other side of your body
  • wait to snap them until you actually need them, don’t waste them on keeping your stuff warm


Heat packs, a wonderful invention!



Do you have a favorite way to stay warm? (other than that – gross, guys)

Do you keep heat packs with you as you travel?

Have you ever used one at home on the bitter nights, standing there with a hair dryer (that’s never been used on hair) pointed at the pipes hoping for the best? Is it just me?

Let me know in the comments!!


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I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

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