6 Things You Need to Know at 20 degrees

IMG_4937I have done several multi-day hiking/camping trips in which the daytime and nighttime temperatures were consistently at or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have several things that I do, not only to stay warm, but to also insure that I do not get hurt or become hypothermic.

In this post I want to share some ideas that may help you if you are considering hiking/camping in freezing conditions or if you consider yourself a novice who is still learning.

1. When you are cold…move!

The logic here is relatively straight forward. When you are not moving or exercising… and as the outside temperature begins to plummet… your body begins to protect essential organs. Blood circulation centrals around essential organs and limits the amount of blood circulated to extremities. But, as you begin to move or exercise, your heart rate increases and your blood begins to circulate rapidly throughout your entire body, which also begins to warm your fingers, toes, hands, and feet.

When I am stationary and begin to lose sensation in my fingers and toes, I begin moving. I do jumping jacks, push ups, and other activities that get the blood pumping. In my opinion, the very best solution (other than going indoors or starting a fire) is to put on your pack and begin hiking. Within 20 minutes of active hiking, you will warm up considerably and will feel the blood pulsing into your hands and feet.

2. Refuse the urge to wear multiple layers of clothing.

I know, I know. This one is extremely counter-intuitive. You may think that it would be a better idea to wear as many layers as possible in order to stay warm, but as soon as you are ready to begin your hike try to remove your jacket or your outer layer. At that moment you will want to resist that idea BUT, I promise you, when you get about 15-20 minutes into your hike you will have to stop and remove the layers anyway because you will be too hot and likely very sweaty. You will be able to handle 15-20 minutes of cold before you begin to warm up and you will also reduce sweating, which is a cold temp no no.

3. If you begin to sweat…

If you have read my other posts in the past you will know that I take a lot of precaution and do a lot of planning before hiking/camping trips. I do not like surprises. When hiking/camping for an extended period of time in freezing conditions, do everything you can to reduce how much you sweat. Sweating in freezing temperatures (without proper precaution) may lead to hypothermia or hypothermic symptoms. Like I said above, reduce the number of layers you are wearing while hiking. However, if you begin to sweat excessively while wearing one or two layers, take an opportunity to dry off or change shirts. If you end the day with wet clothing and no way to warm up, you could be in real trouble. Be smart, and take proper precautions.

4. I love me some warm rocks

Of course I have a mummy sleeping bag in which I sleep, but I also like to sleep comfortably even in single digit temps. Set a softball sized rock next to your fire about an hour before you plan to go to bed. Make sure that it isn’t too hot to hold and then take it with you as you get into your bag. Depending on your comfort level, you may put it at your feet inside the bag or you may cradle it close to your tummy area. When you cinch your mummy bag at the neck… all the radiating warmth of the rock will be trapped in the bag. You can thank me later.

Last year as I was readying for bed… my zipper broke on my mummy bag. It was around 7 degrees Fahrenheit. I moved the seam underneath of my body and then cradle my warm rock. I had about 6 hours of toasty warm sleep.

5. Eat

This suggestion is really simple. Keep food in your stomach. The energy that is being used to digest the food creates heat… so eat. Have snacks while you are hiking and make sure to eat something before you go to bed at night.

6. You can’t drink ice

These suggestions are more about convenience than life-or-death, but they will definitely help you out. At night when you get in your mummy bag, keep your gloves, cell phone, and/or contacts in the bag with you. The next morning you will be thankful for warm gloves to start the day, a cell phone that does not have a drained battery, and/or contacts that are not frozen. Also, keep in mind that water freezes below 32 degrees. I know you know that! But you may forget to keep your water bottle close to you and it may freeze solid. Yes, that has happened to me… and you can’t drink a block of ice. So make sure to keep your water close to the warmth of your body.

I would love to hear what you do as well! Share your secrets to staying warm in freezing conditions in the comments section.

I guess I should also say that I am NOT a medical professional, nor should my advice be taken in matters of life or death. The above suggestions have not been authorized by a medical or safety professional. They are simply my opinions.

Be safe out there!


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