How to Stay Warm in the Wilderness

No matter if you are lost, camping, trekking, bugging in, bugging outor just trying to survive, a top priority is to stay warm. If you don’t, truly nasty things like hypothermia can set in wrecking a well laid plan. How do you avoid that happening to you? Check this list and see if you are able to add a few ideas to your bag of tricks for keeping warm!

Ways to Use Gear to Stay Warm

Getting dressed is the first basic line of defense. That defense is built on zones and layers. Try to create air pockets between the layers so that you can have different heating zones. As your body heat escapes, the zones trap the warmer air and that works to keep you warmer. If you do this well, with high quality clothing, it is much easier to get warm and stay warm even from just your own body heat.

Layers mean just that, have a few of them on when the weather turns colder. This may mean carrying extra clothes in the day if the night temps are going to drop. As you get cold, put layers on, as you get warm the layers can come off … think of it like a thermostat for your body, always adjust so that you can be at your best. It also means think about the fabrics you wear. A premium is on breathable, quick drying and compact.

The goal with the layers is to stay warm, but not sweat. As the layers come off, you want to be sure that they are getting dry before you put them back on. Why? A simple survival truth is: DAMP = COLD and cold is bad. This means you want clothes that dry quickly, and actually work to get moisture out. Most high end modern fabrics work this way, and it is actually fairly easy to build a good wardrobe on a modest budget if you are careful.

Safety blankets can be a life saver, you know the ones, those tinfoil like squares. In a true emergency they control the heat being lost by your own body and reflect it back into yourself. Or they can be used to reflect heat sources and direct lost heat back on yourself. Both functions can mean the difference between life and death. Be sure to have a blanket size that is big enough to cover your whole body, or big enough to set up an effective reflecting wall when needed.

Those same blankets can double as an emergency shelter if setup as an A-frame tent using cording. This can stop you from feeling the effect of the wind, but also allow lost heat that is rising to be reflected back onto the people under the tent. So be sure to have the right blanket, and the cord needed to string up a shelter in a pinch.

If you are not moving much, or in a very cold environment you may want to use portable heat sources. These are those little heat packsthat can be placed in your gloves, boots, pockets and pretty much anywhere you can get them to stay in one place. They use a chemical reaction to produce heat, keeping your extremities warm.

Another portable heat trick is a heated vest or socks. Running off of batteries these units can keep your core toasty warm while only needing a recharge later to be ready to go again!

Things to Do to Help You Stay Warm

Huddling with others is a simple way to maximize body heat. Two bodies close together can help to raise your core temperatures, if you are comfortable to get close to one another. I mean, not everyone wants to let their travel companions (or unknown rescuers/rescuees) deep inside their personal space bubble. In a true life or death situation, it may be the only way to get the blood flowing again.

Keep moving to stay warm. As long as your body is moving, you are producing heat, when you stop moving you start to cool down. The goal here is to move, but not get sweaty and therefore damp because that equals cold. Also you do not want to move to the point of fatigue. Keeping a steady pace, easy to maintain, and if needed minimal stopping until a safe warm place can be found.

If you are moving and must rest you will need a warm, dry place. Under a tree is dry if no other shelter is available. This is best under evergreens, they typically are drier under their branches at the base of the trunk, but that is not a great place to start a fire. You will have to trust in the branches being thick enough to trap air, so have some sort of heat source that will not burn the tree down with you under it.

Something you can do is use dry leaves as insulation. They can be stuffed inside clothes which will let you use air pockets to your advantage. Remember they trap body heat and work to your advantage in staying warm. Leaves can also be piled up between you and ground for insulation. Just make a big pile, and I mean big! The more leaves, the warmer your “floor” will be. Also stuff leaves in the void spaces around you, and even pile over you if necessary. The more you can get covered the better.

In the day time hours, you can also find a thermal face (dirt, rock, wood) and sit with your back to it. Then face the sun and absorb as much heat as possible while resting and refueling your body for the next task.

Staying out of the wind is also something that you need to be aware of at all times. If you are stopped, you need some type of structure to block the wind. When picking your clothing and gear, be sure to think about shielding yourself from the wind as well as staying warm.

Get warm before getting under the blanket/sleeping bag/insulation, if you are chilled to the bone and climb into your cover without warming up it will be ineffective. You need to have some heat for the layers and zones to trap the heat! Be sure to warm up via movement or a heat source before insulation happens.

Eat late, our bodies create heat as they metabolize food. So use that to your advantage. Fatty foods are better for this as they are metabolized at a slower and more even pace compared to carbohydrates, meaning your body will be warmer longer on fatty foods.

Always carry with you a simple metal cup. This way you can melt snow over a fire, or boil water to make a body warming drink. If you are not going to carry tea or coffee with you, know what you can make flavored drinks out of in your area. This is important as you can get some helpful nutrients, but also to avoid potentially ingesting toxic plant.

10 Fire Tips to Help You Stay Warm

Assuming you can get a fire going and you have a fuel source, you will want to use large rocks as a fire ring. As the fire burns it will heat the rocks and they will provide thermal heat even as the fire dies down. Old timers even tell stories of taking the warm rock and hugging them as they sleep to stay warm, rotating they out for warm ones as the y cool off.

Another trick around a fire is using reflectors to your heating advantage. Place a reflector wall behind you and another in front of you but on the opposite side of the fire. The heat will reflect between both reflective walls and keep you toasty warm. You can make these walls out of rocks, dirt, logs or even the reflective blankets we talked about earlier. Just be sure the walls are on the outside with you and the fire on the inside!

The simple Teepee fire is one most people know. Standing pieces of wood on end and leaning together, place the kindling under the structure. Once lit the fire will burn from the inside out and allow you to add more wood to grow the fire very easily.

A Swedish Torch fire is great for cooking without a stove, or fires in a tight space. Find a block of wood with flat ends, and cut a large deep X in one end. Light a fire where the lines cross, as the fire burns it will travel deep into the cuts you made. This causes the fire to be forced up and out of the log much like a torch. Great for boiling water or cooking meat.

The oil and water drip is a more complicated fire, but one that works really well. In two separate containers put oil and water. If you can control the dripping try to get three drips of water to even one drip of oil. This should be dripping down onto a controlled area, think rock with a compression. This is to help the fluids to mix, and to control the burn of yourself made oil fire. It will burn hot, but it is harder to master, you might want to practice this one before heading out.

Keyhole fires are named for the shallow keyhole shape and line with rocks that is dug before lighting the fire. Then either light a fire in the round end or in the slot end. This gives you the option of dragging coals into the end the fire is not in for cooking over.

Every cowboy movie seems to have a star fire in it. This is the simple setup of laying the wood out in a star pattern. You then light the point where the ends touch, as they burn push them into the center to keep the fire going.

The criss-cross or log cabin fires are really quite similar, you lay the logs down one way and then on the next level lay them down the opposite way. Repeat this for a couple layers and then light the middle kindling on fire. As the fire burns it will create a decent mass of coals that will allow the fire to be very easy to keep going.

Final set up is a platform fire. You will need to find a large flat rock or metal sheet, and then build the fire type of your choice on top of the structure. This will create thermal heat from the platform that will spread heat evenly and for a longer period of time into your campsite.

It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, you must have a reliable way to light fires. Matches, waterproof or not, flint, magnesium sticks, BIC lighters, and all of the other choices are great. Problem is we often forget them, or they do not work in the moment that we are depending on them.

This is why it is most important to have an old school back up plan, lighting a friction fire. No matter if you use the twist, bow or groove methods be sure that you can actually get a fire going if you have to. Watching it on TV or reading about it is not the same as actually going outside and working at a basic skill that one day might save your life!


I will be the first to say that this list is nowhere near complete. It seems that there are as many ways to keep warm as there are people that are keeping warm. I have always been one who wants to learn, so that I can have an ever expanding bag of tricks so to speak.  The best way to learn, I have found, is to share what you know so then the skills and traditions for survival and bushcraft live on in others.

That being said, what are your tips for staying warm? What items from the list are you going to try out? What do you already do?