Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)


The way a crow
shook down on me
the dust of snow
from a hemlock tree
has given my heart
a change of mood
and saved some part
of a day I had rued.
  -- Robert Frost
  Dust of Snow, 1923




The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.


Gary De Kock Igloo

When the temps hit
40 or 50 below zero
in the Canadian bush,
sometimes it's best
to make friends
with the snow,
and Gary De Kock.
Made up of 65 percent air,
snow is an excellent insulator.
The above igloo was
constructed of blocks
of snow hand-cut by
Gary De Kock
of Fruitport, Michigan,
the undisputed
master of igloo architecture
in the Michigan Sierra Club.
(Photo by Michael Neiger)


Bush skills

By Michael A. Neiger
Copyright 2001

Last updated on October 13, 2004


Looking for
wilderness tripping
equipment and
For 100's of sources for wilderness tripping equipment and supplies, visit the sources for gear page on this Web site.

Need help
finding a book?
Trying to buy a new or used copy of a book, but can't locate one? Want to find a library somewhere in the country that will lend you the book at no cost? Then visit the handy book finder page on this Web site.

a book, catalog,
or Web site
If you know of a useful outdoor-related book, catalog, or Web site not listed on this Web site, e-mail the book's title, subtitle, author, publisher, date of publication, and short description; or the catalog's address and phone number; or the Web site's URL to Michael Neiger at mneiger@hotmail.com.

** Recommended


Sleeping warm on a frigid, Michigan camping trip requires more than just a cold-weather sleeping bag. Just as a building is heated only by it's furnace, your sleeping bag will not warm up without your heat-producing body inside it. And as with your home, there are several ways you can both increase the amount of heat generated by your body and reduce the amount of heat that escapes from your sleeping bag.


Seal the warmth in

A properly sealed sleeping bag will capture more of your body's heat just as tightly sealed windows and doors slow the loss of heat from your home. In addition to eight inches or more of insulation, a well-designed cold-weather bag will have a sculptured hood that seals well around the face and creates a small hole for you to expel moisture-laden breath.

The side-entry zipper as well as the area around the shoulders should both be sealed against heat loss by thickly-insulated, draft tubes. These critical baffles prevent body heat from being pumped out of the bag as you move around during the night.


Beef up your bag

If your bag lacks enough loft (thickness) to keep you warm all night, consider loosely draping another sleeping bag over it. To keep the second bag from sliding off during the night, sew a few, well-place shoelace ties on each bag to keep them aligned.

A fleece or wool sweater draped around your shoulders can serve as an improvised heat baffle. To prevent heat from escaping through an unprotected zipper, simply rotate the bag sideways until you're almost sleeping on the zipper.


Insulate yourself from the cold ground

During colder periods, a full-length, 1/2-inch-thick, closed-cell foam pad is essential. Many experienced winter campers add a second 3/4-length pad for extremely cold temperatures. You may want to avoid using open-cell foam as it tends to absorb moisture.

Air mattresses are popular too, but make sure yours is a design that incorporates open-cell foam in the interior. If not, place a closed-cell foam pad on top of it to prevent air currents within the air mattress from sucking away your body heat.

Even if you're sleeping on a cot or a hammock, you'll still need a pad to insulate you from the cold air circulating underneath you. Keep in mind the portion of the sleeping bag that is compressed underneath you will have little if any insulation value.


Sleep in dry clothing

Sleeping in sweat- or rain-dampened clothing is a sure way to wake up cold later in the night. To avoid this problem, always change into dry clothing before you retire for the evening. Since the layer next to your skin is the most important one, make sure it's a non-cotton wicking fabric like polypropylene. Never wear cotton, especially against your skin, as it is a magnet for moisture.

During colder periods, wear additional synthetic-insulated layers of clothing to extend the comfort range of your sleeping bag. Adding additional layers will only work if they fit loosely on you and in the bag itself.


Wear a hat and sleeping booties

Always wear a hat or two since an uncovered head can allow 50 to 75 percent of your body heat to escape. In extremely cold temperatures, I like to wear two warm hats over a thin, polypropylene balaclava (or facemask). Worn directly against your skin, a facemask wicks chilling moisture away from your head while at the same time protecting your face and neck, two areas where a hat comes up short.

Even if the rest of your body is nice and warm in your sleeping bag, if your feet are cold, you'll more then likely have difficulty sleeping. To make sure your feet are warm all night, wear two pair of thick, dry socks and a pair of thickly-insulated sleeping booties.


Stoke the furnace before retiring

In the hours before you retire to your bag, eat a good, hearty meal to stimulate the digestive process. This will help the body generate heat well into the night. Drinking plenty of liquids, preferably hot ones, will warm you up and help stave off cold-inducing hypothermia.

To warm your bag up quicker, eat some high-calorie snacks and sip some water just before entering your sleeping bag. Some winter campers warm up their bags by taking one or two tightly-sealed water bottles filled with hot water into their bags with them. A brisk walk or some light calisthenics are two more ways to quickly warm up just as you climb into your bag. Entering your sleeping bag when you're thoroughly chilled will only predispose you to a cold, sleepless night.

Armed with the right sleeping system as well as an understanding of how to use it properly, you're much more likely to enjoy your next winter camping trip in the Michigan.


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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

Content Copyright © by Michael A. Neiger
All rights reserved.
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