Adding Opportunity

Backcountry hunting has its own sets of challenges compared to other types of hunting.  Backcountry hunting when the temperature falls below freezing, well that just adds to those challenges.  Being cold just straight up sucks.  Backpacking in the cold takes a little more thought, planning, mental fortitude, preparation and gear.  Although it adds to the challenge it can also add to the opportunity.  You’ll likely have the place to yourself.  The majority of hunters are fair weather hunters so don’t expect to see other crazy people like yourself packed in when it freezes.  Animals are more active in colder weather too so expect to see more critters.  Less people and more critters – this is starting to sound like a good deal maybe.  Whether it’s this fall or next spring, it can be down right frigid at times.  Here are a few tips we’ve learned that might help you be out in the cold when no one else wants to.

The Tips

  • Insulated sleeping pad.  You have to swap that early season sleeping pad out with a well insulated one for colder weather.  This is a must.  In a previous article we did on lightening your backcountry pack we talked about the importance of matching your sleeping pad to the season, this same reasoning applies to cold weather backpacking.  Swap out that ultralight uninsulated early season pad for a quality insulated pad that’ll protect you from the one thing that’ll make you the coldest, the ground!  The ground can suck the heat right out of you and even with a super warm sleeping bag you’ll sleep cold without protection from the cold earth.  When looking at insulated sleeping pads think about the R-value.  R-value is the measurement of insulation, ranging from 1.0 and 8.0.  The higher the R-value, the better it insulates.  Pads designed for all-season or winter use usually have an R-value of about 4.0 or higher.
A well insulated sleeping pad with our Enlightened Equipment quilt kept us warm during this freezing night. PC: Travis Nowotny

A well insulated sleeping pad protects you from what will get you the coldest, the ground.  PC: Travis Nowotny

  • Same reasoning applies to your sleeping bag.  Swap out that early season sleeping bag for something meant for colder weather.  Sleeping bags are rated on a temperature scale.  The best advice we’ve been given is to use a sleeping bag that is rated for 10 degrees colder than the lowest expected temperature.  For example is you expect the temperature to get 20 degrees at night, have a 10 degree bag.  Obviously people can vary on their tolerance to cold weather but for us we’ve found this generally true.  Also sleeping with your merino base layers or puffy jacket can help insulate you in your sleeping bag if it gets colder than you like.  One thing we’ve turned to at Muley Freak is switching from a nice down sleeping bag to an Enlightened Equipment Ultralight Down quilt.  These quilts are legit!  The theory behind switching to the quilt is that in a sleeping bag your compressing the bottom of it under your weight anyways so it really isn’t giving you any insulation value.  We’ve put it to the test here at Muley Freak and none of us will be switching back to bags, it’s backpacking quilts from here on out now.

Tyler pulls out his down Enlightened Equipment quilt as he gets ready for a night where temps will hover at or just under freezing.

  • Never get into your sleep system cold.  If you begin the night cold then you’ll remain cold.  Do some jumping jacks, run around, and warm that body up before you jump in.  It might sound kind of silly but it helps.
  • Eat late and eat plenty.  The body needs fuel to generate heat, so eat a hot meal immediately before sleeping, and make the meal a fatty one, fat is metabolized more slowly than carbohydrates and will last for longer as you sleep.  Digestion also heats your body while it works to break down those foods.  Plus if it’s a hot meal it’ll warm you up right before you jump into bed.

A hot meal right before bed will do a lot to help you start the night off warm and keep you warm. PC: Heathers Choice Meals for Adventuring

  • Fill a water bottle with hot water and put it in bed with you.  If water isn’t an issue and you have your cook stove and plenty of fuel then heating up some water, putting it in a water bottle and throwing in with you when you go to sleep can certainly help keep you warm.
  • Go Natural.  There are some great synthetic materials out there but for some reasons we find natural materials like merino wool and down just can’t be beat for warmth.  Use a down bag or quilt for sleeping in, merino base layers, and a down puffy jacket.  There is just something about these materials made the way God intended that work.
Good merino wool base layers like the Kryptek ones pictured will keep you out in the colder longer and keep you warm while sleeping.

Good merino wool base layers like the Kryptek ones worn here will keep you out in the cold longer and keep you warm while sleeping.

  • Put tomorrows clothes in bed with you.  This will keep you warm, your clothes warm and lets face it, getting up in the cold and putting cold clothes on in the morning is a difficult task.  Having them in bed with you in the morning will help motivate you to get up and get after it.

A Special Kind of Crazy

Any backcountry hunt can take a little bit of crazy, but backcountry hunting in freezing temps takes a special kind of crazy.  Staying in the backcountry in freezing temps can be intimidating but it is very doable.  Be prepared and be safe.winter-camp2_opt


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