Winter Hiking & Hammocking

Posted: September 14, 2011 in Hammock Camping, Winter Hiking

Wiggity Water Monkey in the house yet again peeps!!! This time I’d like to discuss Winter Hiking/Camping and how it relates to hammocking.

This aqua-simian has many thoughts on the matter since I’ve been winter hiking for 2 solid winters so I will do my best to categorize my thoughts and keep it in a way which is less of a ramble and more of a “best practices”. Now I said do my best… I won’t guarantee anything! OOOK OOOK Playa.

Winter Risks:

To me there are 2 main risks when venturing out into the cold. And by cold I mean your high temp is in the mid to low 30’s F and the lows get down to about zero:

1 – Maintaining warmth

2 –Keeping water in a liquid form

Lets dig deeper into these Risks and place them into sub-categories for better dissection:


Maintaining Warmth While Hiking:

First thing first… when starting out you should dress in layers. My preferred layers are as follows: Mid-weight smartwool top and bottom base layers, Pants (if snowing eVent Rain Pants and heavy weight synthetic base layer bottoms), Fleece Jacket, eVent Rain Jacket, Synthetic cap, synthetic glove liners, synthetic mitt, thick mitt shell (mittens maintain better warmth than gloves), sock liners, thick winter socks, snow boots. This will keep you warm while walking out in the cold. Noticed I said while walking I will get into camping and sleeping later on.

When your gangsta ass is actually hiking the ability to keep warm is fairly simple. Just keep moving. No really it’s literally that simple especially if you are in a mountainous terrain with a good amount of elevation changes.  And here’s where it gets really tricky because I’m going to ask you to do something that’s against your nature when you start winter hiking. Slow down and take off layers. You’re number one enemy in the winter is perspiration.

Sweating is your body’s way of cooling off. Hello McFly, it’s 22*F out there you shouldn’t be that warm to begin with!!! But you are. Why? Because as you move you generate heat and eventually your layers will trap enough heat which will trigger the perspiration to begin. So the first thing you should do is slow down once you start to feel clammy. Then start shedding your layers until you feel comfortable or cool. If you don’t and you stop you will cool RAPIDLY and you may put yourself in the risk of hyperthermia. NoBueno mi amigo.

Obviously when you stop for a  snack or a break… layers go back on to maintain the heat you just generated for the break.

Maintaining Warmth While At Camp:

Now you’re at camp. You think you are going to sit around in your base layers and be all nice and cozy as the sun is setting down at 4pm and it went from 22*F to 13*F in like an hour. Yeah good luck with that.  I tried that. My night wasn’t very pleasant.

Thick insulating camp clothes are your friggin friend. Holla at that.

At camp I switch into a NEW… yeah I said new, new pair of wool base layers, thick down jacket (and possibly the fleece jacket if cold enough), new down cap, new 2 pairs of winter socks, winter synthetic booties, down pants, new pair of glove liners. Yeah when I’m done I look like the Stay Puft Marshmello Man’s midget uncle. I don’t care I’m keepin the heat thug!

I hope you noticed the word NEW. Yeah the quick change is the most brutal thing in the world at 10*F. But once you are in new base layers that aren’t clammy the ability to keep warm is SOOO much easier.

Now I wish it was as easy as that to keep the heat. It’s totally not. Hydration and calorie/fat consumption is also a main part of this. Your body is manning up in a big way to keep homeostasis (maintaining a constant body temp). In doing so it is cranking out calories to keep you warm. Because your body is cranking it is releasing a lot of moisture from your body as well as eating up all your quick reserves for fuel to keep that fire going. Therefore, it is important to eat a lot and often with foods high in calories and high in fats. As well as keeping hydrated.

Maintaining Warmth While In A Hammock:

So let me start off by saying it’s easier to maintain heat in a tent. It just is. You are in an enclosed space which traps in heat. You have a pad (preferably one which is winter rated) and you are laying on snow which by it’s nature is an insulator (I’ll get into that later on for the water).

When it comes to winter hammocking I would strongly suggest to invest in winter under quilts and winter top quilts. It’s just easier and less of a hassle of messing with a pad. What is the difference between winter and 3 season quilts… the loft baby, loft. Generally speaking to get down to the teens and zero degrees you will need quilts which loft between 3-4 inches. I’ve gotten my winter sleep system (Warbonnet Mamba Top Quilt & Winter Yeti) down to 3*F with a loft of 3”.  A loft of 5” will most likely get you into -10*F. Below that you will need some extra insulation and possibly some extra sleeping bags to get into the -20*F and below. I don’t camp that low and it doesn’t get that low for me in my temperate zone so I can’t comment on the right procedures in that case….. ugh ramble… sorry OOOK OOOK.

Tarp it out BIG. Get a decent tarp which has “doors”. 11’ x 10’ is a decent sized tarp. Why? Well your major enemy at night when you are sleeping is the winter wind. That Wanksta will rob your ass of any heat you generated in your quilts with one swift strong breeze. I know, I’ve had it happen. So if you can get a tarp which extends to the ground or damn near to it with doors which seal up Old Man Winters grip from your head to feet….. DO IT!

Hot Water Bottle…. One trick to keeping warm is heating up water and placing it in a container and sleeping with it. That container will generate heat most of the night and keep you toasty AND keeps liquid water readily available.

Timing of your dinner and bed time is the key. Eat a really good and high calorie dinner before you hit the sack. That will keep the fire burning for quite some time. Also keep some snacks handy and the water close by. If you wake up cold your first response should be to eat and drink because chances are you are out of the fuel to keep you warm. If that doesn’t work do an equipment check.

Something new that I picked up for this season is a Winter Sock for my hammock. I have not yet tested this design but based on various other testers it seems to increase the temperature of your environment and thus bringing the rating of your set up down between 5-10*F. Therefore a 5*F set up could get down to 0*F to -5*F. Condensation is a legitimate concern but I shall report later on in the year… Ramble OOOOK OOOOOK.


Maintaining the Water You got:

This risk is not super hard as long as you take the necessary precautions. Here are my tips:

1 – When you begin hiking make sure you heat your water so it’s very warm (takes longer to freeze while you are hiking in sub freezing conditions)

2 – Insulate your water container. I use a DIY CCF (closed cell foam) which I form fitted onto my water containers

3 – Hike with your water container upside down. Water freezes from the top down. Yeah I know it was obvious but when you’re hiking you totally forget that little fact. Many times when water freezes its at the top and seals your water container shut. You shake that friggin thing and hear the water but your silly ass can’t get to it.

4 – OK I do this and I might be in the minority but who cares, I use a steel water container. Why? If my water freezes I can make a fire and toss that bad boy in. BAM ice to liquid water with little effort. Try doing that with a Nalgene bottle…. I’m waiting. Here’s a problem that some point out but I haven’t had a problem yet… the whole Triple Dog Dare tongue to the metal flag pole routine. Havent had a problem down to 3*F. Probably because I adhere to rule # 1 on the list. My container isn’t that cold.

5 – No insulator for you water container… well if there is snow on the ground… bury your water container upside down in the snow. No seriously it works. I tried it last winter. Water was slushy but not solid. Reason being snow is a natural insulator from the cold wind and air.

6 – Sleep with your water. As noted above in the “Maintaining Warmth While In A Hammock” it will keep you warm most of the night and it will keep it liquid.

Making Water Once You Run Out:

Yeah it’s gonna happen. Hiking presents that all important problem… what do I do once my water runs out… Make More Playa!

Melt snow, don’t eat the snow. Eating snow will cause you to go into hyperthermia. But Water Monkey I’ve eaten snow plenty of times when I was a kid playing when school was out but I’m still alive. Really, no kidding but your silly ass also went inside the house and got mommy to make you a hot coco when you were done… Don’t play a playa. You’re exposed to the elements and eating snow messes with the homeostasis we talked about earlier.

When melting snow you should start out with some liquid water in the pot you are using. Reason being is if you try to convert straight snow into water with no water to begin with you run the risk of “burning” the snow. Yes I realize how totally stupid that sounds, and no I haven’t tried to burn the snow… maybe this year. But various winter hiking and camping books all recommend this. And who am I to dispute various sources. So listen to the experts on this one. I do and I’m a better Monkey for it.

Your other option is finding a stream or lake and breaking through the ice to get to the liquid water. My tip is have your heating source at the helm. Have you ever broken through a stream and gotten liquid water at 14*F. I have… guess what??? Water begins to freeze instantly in your pot right before your eyes. It was the most amazing and scariest thing I have ever seen. Same rules apply in the 3 season as it does to winter you have to purify your water and the best way to do that is by boiling it in the Winter.

Heating Sources:

1 – Fastest and probably easiest way is using a canister stove. Yes this is more weight but the speed and functionality of this is much better than alcohol stoves. Some canister fuels and stoves perform worse in higher altitudes and lower temps. I’m not sure which ones they are because I use an alky stove so you will have to research that one on your own. Plenty of material out there.

2 – Next easiest is using your alcohol stove (if you use one for backpacking). General note you will be using about twice the amount of fuel to boil your water than you use in the 3 season temps. One way to increase the efficiency is to keep the alcohol warm by keeping it in your pocket and sleeping with it. But definitely take what you would use in 3 season and double that amount (at best) for the expected days you will be winter hiking.

3 – Make a fire. Takes a bit more effort in processing the wood and then getting the fire going. One tip from me to you is that to make a fire in the snow you need to create a platform out of wood and then build your fire on the platform. Therefore when the fire is going the snow underneath doesn’t put out the coals you just created. I know, I know… what the hell do I mean platform… CLICK HERE for Fellow Hammock Forum Member SuperTramp and go to 2:42 of the video. He gives an excellent demo of how to create the platform.

I Think I’m Done:

Ok that’s pretty much what I wanted to cover in this particular blog. There’s a ton more I could talk about but I’ve written so much already. I’ll leave you with my latest winter hiking trip January 2011 which covers a lot of the basics I talked about in this Water Monkey Episode and another video which details some of the things that didn’t go my way during that trip:

  1. STinGa says:


    Great blog. Down here in Ga, we don’t get your arctic weather, but your blog definitely hits the spot.

    For my cold weather (30 – 40 – 50 degree) cycling, I make sure that I start off on the chilly side and then the body warms with the workout. When I finish it is either back onto a warm car or the house. I can see how transitioning into a camp site outfit would be a whole ‘nother animal.

    Keep the cool blogs coming.


  2. trailblazer007 says:

    Good review…good tip about closed cell foam insert in the down socks. I’ll be picking up a pair of down socks for the upcoming winter.

  3. That’s a great write up. I’m going to try winter camping for the first time this year and this will for sure help me out with diving into it. Thanks a lot!


  4. Logan says:

    May I add a tip? You wrote about switching into a new pair of clothes at camp and how it sucks getting naked in below freezing temperatures, well, on my first few winter excursions I did the same thing. YOU DON’T HAVE TO! If you use your clothes to regulate your body temperature as you hike you will not get them sweaty and wet. This means that you may be hiking in your base layers (I have even hiked without a shirt on a windless 5 degree day). It is that simple, if you get hot take your flipping clothes off and they will stay dry. This way you don’t have to carry the weight of extra baselayers and you don’t have to get naked in below freezing temperatures.

    • Yes I did mention about layers and taking layers off early in this blog.

      But it also depends on you as well. I sweat a lot no matter the season. Although I am relatively new to Winter Camping (2 seasons under my belt so there is still much to figure out for myself) I do my best to maintain moisture control but as a safe guard I carry an extra pair of base layers. The winter time leaves less of a window for failure so carrying an extra 13.7oz really doesnt matter to me. I’m only out for a few days at a time so my total pack weight really doesnt exceed 26 lbs with a base weight of around 15 lbs.

      Also in your situation you are still throwing your teets to the wind. So one way or another both of us are cutting glass.

      Water Monkey

      • Logan says:

        “Also in your situation you are still throwing your teets to the wind. So one way or another both of us are cutting glass.”

        BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I seriously laughed out loud when I read that. Hahaha, Good point man!

  5. BullDawg says:

    “You shake that friggin thing and hear the water but your silly ass can’t get to it.”

    Awesome. My silly ass thoroughly enjoyed this and the other winter articles.

  6. John Pittman says:

    Thanks for your common sense information, you obviously have been out there, and have experienced the cold. I am a long time winter hammocker, and, have picked up some new tricks from your videos. Keep up the good work! I will be checking back here often.

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