Five things to think about when asking Scouts to camp in the cold

A photo showing the view from a tent of a wintry landscape during a winter campout.
Photo by Jesse Scofield

Winter camping can be a magical experience for those who venture into the wild with the right gear, the right plan and the right state of mind.

Remember how stuffy it felt when you tried to sleep in the heat last summer? Remember how hot it got during that day hike? Remember how annoying the bugs were?

None of those things will be a problem when you head out over the next few months.

Whether your Scouts are veteran winter campers or newcomers to this whole spending-the-night-outside thing, here are five things to think about before sending them out into the cold this winter.

1. Ask parents to pack with their child, but not for their child

One of the most important aspects of winter camping is making sure you have the right gear.

Leaving an extra pair of underwear at home might not be that big of a deal. But leaving your sweater at home could turn out to be a game changer. Make sure your Scouts have a list of everything they need. (For starters, check out our eight essentials.) Then — and this part is important! — encourage parents to let Scouts pack for themselves. I like to bring down all of our camping gear from the attic and throw it in the corner of my son’s room. Then I give him the list of what he needs for that campout and have him pack his bag himself.

The advantage of having your child pack their own bag is twofold. First, it helps them learn what they need on a winter campout. And second, it helps them remember where each item was packed. The first time your Scout learns what’s inside their bag should not be when they arrive at their campsite.

(Before your child leaves, it’s OK to go back and double check that they didn’t miss anything.)

2. Make sure everyone has plenty to eat and drink

Your body can’t stay warm in winter without proper nutrition and hydration. Unless your unit is full of veteran winter campers, simple menus are often the best choice for cold weather. Prepared soups and stews can be heated up in a matter of minutes.

And remember: Drinking fluids is as important in wintry conditions as it is during hot-weather adventures. Encourage everyone to drink up regularly.

3. Plan the right activities

There are lots of fun things to do during a winter campout, but hiking 5 miles on a cool fall day is a lot different than hiking 5 miles when you’re bundled up in winter clothing.

At the start of any rigorous winter activity, it’s OK to feel a little bit cool. That’s because your body is going to be heating up plenty in a short matter of time. And it’s not a good idea to perspire in the winter. Wet clothing isn’t only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. Remind Scouts to shed a layer if they begin to feel too hot.

4. Check the weather forecast often

“Winter camping” means different things to different people. A kid who’s used to going to and from school when it’s 30 degrees all winter isn’t going to be shocked when they go camping in similar weather. But what if the temperature drops down into the teens?

Likewise, a kid who’s used to winter temperatures in the 50s might have trouble at their first subfreezing campout.

First, make sure you’re prepared with our winter camping tips. Once you’re at your campout, practice engaged supervision. Follow the BSA’s SAFE camping guidelines.

5. Become familiar with the BSA’s official materials on winter outings

Check out the BSA’s Safety Moments on Winter Activities, Winter Sports, Hypothermia and Frostbite, and incorporate them into all your cold-weather outings. Click here to review the Guide to Safe Scouting’s section on winter camping.

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.