An old Norwegian saying sums it up: “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. Winter camping is a lot of fun if you are properly dressed for the cold. There are two things to remember:
- Cotton kills
Proper clothing is available locally, Walmart, Costco and BJs all are good sources of inexpensive winter camping clothing. You don’t have to get it from a specialty store. And you’ll need to get your son clothing anyway so its more a matter of selecting the right fabrics.
Its best to have multiple layers of clothing so that you can add or remove a garment to adjust your temperature.
The outer layer is for protection from the elements. This will be a rain jacket and pants when raining, and a sturdy coat and snow pants when its not raining. Make sure your son doesn’t bring his brand new jacket, there are lots of opportunities for it to be cut, scratched, burned or melted. The same advice goes for adults.
Cotton absorbs a lot of water (including perspiration) and does not wick it away. The youth of our troop are usually quite active, and sweat even in the winter. The cooling power of cotton is great in the summer, but not in the winter. Worse, when cotton is saturated it does not have any insulating power.
Modal, rayon, viscose, tencel and lyocell are all manufactured fabrics made from cellulose fiber. They absorb water even faster than cotton and lose all of their insulation value when wet. Silk is also very absorbent and loses its insulation value when wet.
On the other hand, Polyester does not absorb water. Polarfleece, Primaloft, Capilene, and other microfibers are types of Polyester and are made to retain some insulating value when wet.
Nylon absorbs some water, but not as much as cotton. Nylon dries quickly and can be engineered to retain warmth even when wet.
Wool is good in cold weather, it retains warmth even when wet.
Down has a very high insulating value for its weight, but has none when wet.
For youth, an inexpensive waterproof/water resistant insulated jacket is good. Gloves or mittens, and ski pants. Remember that the outer layers will be subject to heavy wear and dirt, and may be burned/melted if it comes in contact with a hot stove, lantern, or pan. Gloves have been melted when the owner puts them near the fire to heat them up and misjudges the safe distance. There are all sorts of thorny bushes and other hazards in the woods.
The same concerns hold true for adults. Insulated workwear is available at Walmart and other stores at a reasonable price. Just make sure that the lining is polyester or other synthetic, and the outer covering is synthetic or waterproof.
Wool sweaters, synthetic pants and shirts, long underwear. Just the normal stuff your son would wear outside. But he will be wearing it for the full day, so it needs to be warm, and he needs to be able to remove a layer or two when he gets hot. He will get cold fast if he sweats while running around.
Underwear should be polyester or other synthetic. Make sure its not compression shorts (becasue some things should not be compressed for 24 hours.) You may also want a size larger than normal for comfort.
A large percent of heat lost is lost from the head. A good hat is vital. Plan on one hat for each day and one for each night if your son’s sleeping bag does not have a hood (or if he is cold and wants to wear a hat.) Add a spare in case one hat gets wet (its amazing how this happens). A jacket hood is a good additional cover, but a hat is still needed.
Hats will get wet from perspiration and even a little bit will make your son feel cold.
The type of hat is up to you, but it should cover your son’s ears.
Thick wool socks. A bit of synthetic in them helps wick moisture away from the foot. Or a synthetic liner sock and a wool sock. Costco and BJs sell good wool socks.
Adults — one trick is to spray your feet with antiperspirant to avoid perspiration.
Again, one pair of waterproof ski gloves or mittens for each day, optionally with a liner glove. Costco sells good ski gloves.
.Scarves are not a good idea, they tend to come undone, dangle and catch on things. A balaclava (ski hat that looks like a ninja hood) will keep your son’s neck and cheeks warm.
Raingear is very important, especially between 30 and 40 degrees F. There’s an increased danger of hypothermia when you get wet in this temperature range. (It doesn’t usually rain when its much below freezing).
A raincoat and pants (rainsuit) is warm and covers all your son’s clothing. Waterproof ski pants and jackets aren’t really all that waterproof. They are fine for a couple of hours, but your son will be out for longer than a couple of hours.
A poncho is nice in the summer because its cool and a little rain doesn’t hurt. But its not the best thing to wear in the winter.