Here in the Pacific Northwest, we just had a few days of very springlike weather. The fruit trees started blooming, daffodils poked their heads up and friends and coworkers started gushing about how they could wear t-shirts. And today? Snow. Yeah. The weather does strange things.

We didn’t get a lot of snow, but the temperatures are expected to plummet tonight and possibly coincide with wet roads, leading to black ice. If you’re ever stuck somewhere, like in a broken down car or on a hiking trail, when weather you’re not expecting comes down on you, here are some tips for how to avoid a cold-weather casualty.

Be Prepared
The first tip, and the most important one, is to never underestimate the weather. Don’t go out in just a t-shirt. Pack some extra garb and a blanket in your car. Carry a windbreaker pr jacket with you, no matter how warm you believe it will be.

Gear Up Your Car
My car’s trunk has a military wool blanket in it, a tarp, a folding shovel, a jug of water, and my survival bag. Inside that bag is the following (among others):

  • whistle
  • poncho
  • food
  • fire starting material
  • knife
  • socks
  • hand warmer packets

These are all basic gear that will keep you alive in a snowstorm. Hand warmer packers are .99c or less, so stock up on those and keep them in all of your bags, just so you always have some.

If you live in a snowy place, keep these items on hand:

  • sunglasses (to provide visibility without being snowblinded) – I learned that this is a real thing when I took a trip to Alaska one February a few years ago and did’t take my sunglasses. I didn’t think I’d need them! But I regretted not having them as we drove many miles along highways covered with snow.
  • chapstick – if you’re dehydrated, this will help you avoid dry, cracking lips
  • hat, gloves, scarf, extra pair of wool socks- just keep some backups in your car or bag
  • sunscreen – not what you think of in the snow, but it’s similar to snowblindness in that you actually can get sunburn from too much reflecting UV rays on bright white snow.

Avoid These

Cotton kills! Cotton is not a good choice for clothing of any layer during the winter months. It absorbs moisture and holds on to it, so you can’t dry out or warm up. It also does not hold in heat well, particularly when it is wet. don’t wear flannel, jeans or your Carhartt pants or jackets in the snow.

Avoid exposing your skin. Keep your heat in by covering up your head, hands and feet. Frostbite can happen more quickly than you think when your skin is exposed.




All of us at some point have underestimated how cold it would be when we were camping or out in the backcountry. Maybe an unexpected storm arose and you just didn’t have enough clothes. One time when my in-laws were visiting we all camped out on the Oregon coast. This was in summertime, mind you, and we are aware that it would get cold there, even on sun-shiny days.

We warned everyone to pack well and bring warm clothes. As it turns out, we were all cold the whole weekend. Everyone needed one more layer, and we just didn’t bring enough warm clothes. I learned from that miserable experience. Sleeping when you’re cold is no fun, and waking up on a chilly morning when you’re already cold is downright unpleasant. Here are some tips for keeping yourself warm no matter where you are.

First things…bring enough clothes. Bring a hat and gloves. Bring a scarf if you have one. Bring extra socks. If your socks get wet and you sleep in them because that’s all you’ve got, you could be setting yourself up for hypothermia.

Investigate your sleeping bag. If you have a down-filled bag and you’ve had it for some time or it’s gotten heavy use, it might just not be as warm as it once was. The down compacts and clumps up over time, and those air pockets that work to keep you warm diminish. Even synthetic insulation will tamp down over time.

When it’s time to replace your bag, know that there are a ton of styles out there now. There are square cut sleeping bags which maximize space. Mummy bags (which I prefer not to use because I feel constricted), have narrow shoulders and hips to reduce weight. Some of them do have more room near the feet. And there are even hammock sleeping bags. Depending on your size, you may need a bag that is made for a larger person so that you have some room to move inside of it. Backpacking bags minimize weight, while sleeping bags for car camping maximize comfort. Decide how you’ll use the gear.

Whatever bag you choose, get a polar fleece liner. Slip it inside your bag. This not only helps keep your warmer, but keeps the inside of the bag more clean.

Stuff a pillow case with extra clothes for a pillow to avoid having to bring one. Some sleeping bags have a “pillow pocket” to allow you to do just this. Or, stuff it with an extra blanket.

You lose a lot of heat through the top of your head. Either wear a comfortable cap or invest in a bag with a built-in hood. The nice thing about the hoods is that they work just like a sweatshirt hoodie…you cinch the drawstring around your neck and it keeps your heat in and the hood on your head.

Add some long johns to your night clothing. Wearing an extra layer under your sweatpants or hoodie will help. Wool or silk longjohns are a little more expensive but really do work to keep you warmer.

Bring along a hot water bottle. If you have a campfire going as you ease into sleep, warm up some water and fill up your hot water bottle with it. Put it down by your feet or hug it to your belly and you’ll feel toasty for most of the night. I use a wrap on my water bottle that I sewed from an old towel with a drawstring from an old shoelace added. It insulates it so that the heat lasts quite a while.

Sleeping on an air mattress helps because you’re insulated from the cold ground. Sea to Summit makes an easy-to-inflate small and lightweight insulated air mat that we’ve tried and liked a lot.

What’s the best sleeping gear you’ve discovered? Let us know how you keep yourself warm. And yes, we’ve heard this before…sleeping with someone else does help!