Staying Comfortable in the Woods

Staying comfortable is one of our more frequent pursuits. Like dogs pawing at our beds, we're constantly making those minor adjustments to seek the perfect position. Achieving comfort outdoors without the amenities of electricity and furniture can require a little forethought. Here are some basic tips to keep you comfy.

Keeping Warm in the Daytime

Because evaporating moisture sucks the heat from your body faster than a recess bell can empty a classroom, the main trick to keeping warm is staying dry. Start at the bottom with dry socks and footwear designed to keep your feet dry. Hunters who may spend a long time outside like to place cotton socks on top of wool socks to maximize the fibers' ability to wick moisture away from the skin. Also, dress in layers; two thin layers of cloth hold a layer of still air between them dry while one thick layer can be a better conductor of heat (outside this would be conducting heat away from your body). Start with dry underwear and work your way out to a fine (fashion sensible) layer of outdoor wear. Materials such as wool and cotton are made of coiled fibers that trap air that acts as an insulator. Synthetics like nylon and rayon are light and thin, but their long straight fibers provide little protection. Although, treated with waterproofing, these materials make good light rain coats.

Now that you're dressed warm, remember to eat properly. Food is the fuel for your body, and you'll need a good breakfast to keep those hearth fires burning. Just a note: cold foods and alcohol will lower your body temperature, so a good hot meal is the best.

Stay out of the cold. Now this tip seems obvious when you just read it, but what I mean is to be aware of where you are. If you are standing in the shade in the wind, you will be colder than a sunny spot out of the breeze. Common sense, but when it gets really cold, you'll appreciate any advantage you can find.

Finally, the core of your body is where your furnace lives. The heart and lungs are where the heat is generated and dispensed to the rest of the body. One method of surviving cold is to huddle into a fetal ball. This helps to preserve the heat in your body, and places your extremities (feet and hands) closer to the heat source. Frostbite (kinda rare here in Florida) will attack the fingers, ears, and toes first - those thin parts that stick out from the core.

Keeping Warm at Night

The same basic theory applies here, too: keep dry. Your body needs to be dry, your bedding needs to be dry. If your bedding gets wet, find a method to dry it out before you need to sleep in it. Either hang it over a line at camp, or (if it is still raining for the third day in a row which sometimes happens) find a laundromat and spend a few dimes to tumble your bedding to a warm, dry, comfortable perfection. An important exension of this theory is having a tent that doesn't leak during rain. You can retreat old tents with a spray can of water proofing chemicals that will prolong the tent's ability to repel water.

It is better to sleep in clothes different from what you wore during the day. If you're a pajama kind of person, and it is really cold, you might want to add a pair of dry socks to keep your feet warm while you sleep. A good sleeping bag is highly prized during those hours between 2 am and 5 am when the temperature keeps dropping lower and lower while your body runs lower and lower on fuel. Of course, one of the best remedies for a cold tent is an electric blanket, but there is a danger of electrocution if the blanket gets wet - something quite possible in the tenting world. Other things to do are to insulate your bedding from the cold ground: place a plastic ground cloth beneath your tent before you pitch the tent (remember to keep the edges under the tent so rain doesn't get caught at the edge and roll on top of the ground cloth - we call this the "saucer effect"). Using an air mattress provides good insulation from the ground, but only if it remains inflated. Few things are as disturbing as discovering your ass flat on the ground at 1:37 am because of a tiny leak in your air mattress. Foam pads offer less support, but do provide good insulation and are very portable. Cots offer good support, but aren't so portable. Cots do provide some insulation, but it is a good idea to place an extra blanket under your bedding to prevent loss of your body heat through the bottom.

Of course, one of the best methods of keeping warm is the "bag warmer" concept. That's when you place a warm human body into the sleeping bag with you. Most sleeping bags are designed to be able to be zipped together into one large bag to make this easy. The extracurricular activities this practice allows can also be very heat-generating.

Now that you know how to keep warm when its cold, what do you do when the weather is hot?

Keeping Cool

Remember the first section, where I said, "evaporating moisture sucks the heat from your body"? This is why we sweat. Loose clothing lets the air circulate over your skin and increases the heat loss from evaporation. It's also the reason why we need to drink plenty of water on hot days - to replace some of that moisture.

Besides drinking cool beverages, another trick I do when it gets really, really hot while I'm out on the water: I dip my hat or shirt or both into the water and then put them back on. This is the next best thing to actually swimming in the water, which I also highly recommend if conditions allow.

Just as eating wisely helps keep you warm in cold weather, your eating habits need to be adjusted for hot weather, too. Instead of big meals of high carbohydrates, you should have smaller meals of fruit and vegetables.

Also, remain aware of where your body is in relation to the heat. Find the windy, shady spot.

If you have any questions about comfort or about camping, feel free to ask: Bo Zaza

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Changes last made on: 12 November, 2001