Staying Warm - Winter Hikes


This is a short excerpt from The Family Camping Guide.

While it’s true that most of us only go camping from June to early September, I can say with no uncertainty, that some of the best camping is to be had into November in most of the province of Ontario. Fewer crowds, essentially no bugs, autumn colours, crisp dry air.

It’s a rare day in the outdoors where having the right equipment and clothing will prevent you from enjoying yourself. Having been personally tent-bound due to heavy snow and high winds for 4 days, I can still say I enjoyed myself because I had appropriate equipment and proper clothing. I also had good companions and a deck of cards. Having the right mental attitude doesn’t hurt either!

Getting comfortable in the outdoors is difficult when you’re too cold, hot or wet. Yet, few of us spend any real time thinking about how to solve those problems for ourselves so that we can spend quality, enjoyable time outdoors.

The Body in Cold Weather

The average temperature of the human body is 37C. The human body performs optimally in an environment that is at or around +27C with 30% humidity. Essentially we are tropical creatures that have evolved and adapted to that specific climate. In an environment of +27C the body is operating at it’s most efficient to maintain it’s internal core temperature of about +37C; give or take a bit for personal differences.

When the temperature drops, our bodies begin various adaptive processes to try to keep the body at or around +37C. In order to keep the core body warm and the vital organs functioning, we begin to shiver to help raise the body temperature. The contraction and expansion of muscles creates heat. The body also begins to limit blood flow to the hands, arms, feet and legs; again, to limit the cooling effect to the core body. This is why your hands or feet will feel cold even though your body may feel quite warm and comfortable. If you suffer excessively from cold hands, you may want to consider those little hand warmer packets you can buy which heat up when you open their air-tight seal. They’ve become so popular that some gloves and mittens now have little pockets built in the back into which these packets can fit.

In order for the body to create heat, it needs to burn energy or food; fat, protein and carbohydrates. A well-fed and hydrated person will generate heat more easily than a person wanting for food and water. In cold weather, the body needs external help to keep warm; dressing right, eating well and staying hydrated helps.

Stay Dry

When the body is hard at work, it perspires. The perspiration is intended to lie on the skin and evaporate, thus cooling the skin and regulating the body temperature. A body hard at work in cold weather will still perspire, but when the moisture evaporates off the skin it cools the skin too quickly and begins to drastically lower the body temperature. Water conducts heat away from the body about 20X faster than air. So, keeping the skin dry is absolutely critical to comfort and safety in cold and cooler weather.

That Pesky Wind

Moving air (wind) pulls heat out of your body much quicker than still air. That’s why when reporting cold temperatures in the winter, there is almost always mention of the “wind chill factor.” Simply, the more wind, the quicker your skin will cool. A cool wind blowing over wet clothing will pull out the heat very quickly and that is, at best, uncomfortable and at worst down right dangerous as it may lead to hypothermia. So an outer garment that effectively blocks the wind will help in staying warm.

Dress in Layers

The more warm air you can trap against your skin (your microclimate) the warmer you will be. One thick layer will not trap as much air as a few thinner layers of the same thickness. Each layer; base layer, mid layer and outerwear has a specific function and will go a long way to keep you comfortable outdoors in cold weather.

The base layer which is the garment right on your skin (long underwear) will trap a bit of warm air, and yet, it will still transport moisture off your skin to the mid layer where it will evaporate without cooling your skin. The mid layer (or layers) helps to insulate your body against cold. Removing or adding layers will help you regulate your body temperature as your level of physical activity changes. Your outerwear is the final protective layer against the weather. Selecting a garment that is; waterproof, breathable and windproof, will allow water vapour transport from inside to outside, keep water out and protect you against wind chill.

Remove layers before you start to sweat excessively. When taking breaks, add a layer so you won’t cool too quickly.

Don’t’ forget hats, mitts or gloves. A lot of heat can be lost through the head if not properly insulated.

Gender

As a general rule, women will feel the cold quicker than men. Their blood vessels are closer to the skin surface and, in the cold, will contract quicker and to a larger degree than men. While it is true that women have a larger proportion of heat saving fatty tissue in their body, it’s also true that they have smaller muscles that produce less heat when exercising.

Conclusions

  • Stay dry

  • Stay hydrated

  • Protect yourself from the wind

  • Dress in layers

  • Wear a hat and gloves

Camping and The Fa

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