10 Ways to Stay Warm in the Wilderness

Exposure is a constant threat anytime you are outdoors. Or at least it is if you don’t live very near the equator!

But in seriousness, no matter where you live and no matter how seasonally warm it is you should not discount the threat you could be facing should the weather turn against you.

fire started with a Fresnel lens
A fire started with a Fresnel lens.

When the sun sets and temperatures drop getting wet or facing some wind could prove to be the difference between life and death, even in a warm climate.

Consider how much worse it will be in a cold climate, or in a region that experiences arctic or subarctic temperatures much of the year.

Lots of preppers pay lip service to survival necessities like food, water, and security but statistically, it is exposure, as in exposure to the elements, which is most likely to kill you.

And you should know that it can kill you quickly, in as little as a few hours in the worst conditions.

That means anytime you are heading outdoors or your travel plans could expose you to the harsh and unforgiving climate you must have a plan for keeping warm.

Getting stranded in a cold environment or just getting caught by a bad turn of weather could kill you as surely as starvation or any bullet if you don’t know what you are doing.

In this article, we will share with you 10 ways to keep warm in the wilderness.

6 Easy Campfires Everyone Should Know for Survival and Recreation

1. Build a Fire

Building a fire is the quintessential prepper skill. Since before recorded history it is the ability to build a fire reliably, no matter the environment, no matter the conditions, that has assured mankind’s continued survival and supremacy over nature.

We have every manner of technological advancement today, with many of them bordering on the miraculous, but it would all be for not if we could not command fire.

Smart preppers will always have several methods by which they can build a fire in any given environment.

They will rely on modernized tools like lighters and matches as well as more traditional methods like fire steels.

More than the tools, knowing how to build a fire is essential; understanding how to construct one utilizing tinder, kindling and firewood and what materials you can burn safely in a real emergency.

A crackling fire might just be the only thing between you and freezing to death in a harsh environment.

How An EMERGENCY Blanket Almost KILLED me! | Winter Camping FAIL!

2. Emergency Blanket

Emergency blankets are ingenious space-age tools that basically look like a giant sheet of aluminum or copper foil.

Though they don’t seem thick enough to even block a strong sneeze emergency blankets don’t need to be thick to warm you up, relying instead on the reflection of infrared energy emanating off your body to warm you, specifically by directing energy that would be lost to the open-air back on to your skin.

You might come out looking like a baked potato or a to-go hoagie but make no mistake: these things are no gimmick, and that is why they are such a common fixture with search and rescue personnel, paramedics, and police officers.

Emergency blankets weigh next to nothing, are extremely compact, and are very effective in a variety of situations, and you can always make use of them to maximize your body temperature or to capture more heat than you would normally through the use of several ingenious techniques. Techniques such as the…

3. Fire “Reflector”

This nifty technique is employed through the combination of the first two techniques on this list, specifically by taking an emergency blanket and stringing it up between two fixed points behind you while you sit between it and the fire.

You can also line the interior of a lean-to or other rigid shelter to achieve a similar effect.

Set up this way your emergency blanket serves as a giant reflector, catching the infrared energy, that is to say, the heat energy, being emitted from your fire that would otherwise miss you and bouncing it back onto your body.

Aside from giving you a better heat bang for your buck per unit of fuel consumed this also has the added perk of warming you on both sides at once, surely a boon in extremely cold weather!

Bushcraft Outdoor Clothing & Layering

4. Layered Clothing

It is easy to find yourself deathly cold in cold weather when you have not dressed appropriately, and even if you have cold weather-rated gear you might still find your teeth chattering- if you have not layered them correctly!

This is far more than some nagging fashion concern before you hit the slopes: intelligent use of your various garments and their varying fabrics makes all the difference between whether or not you will stay toasty warm even when standing still or be half-frozen even when moving at a brisk clip.

The secret to layering is making the best use of the heat generated by your body while also dealing with perspiration and moisture which can subsequently chill you to the core.

Sweat too much to where you soak your clothes and it is game over! This balancing act is best accomplished by first wearing, as your base layer, a thin, moisture-wicking set that will pull perspiration off of your skin in order to evaporate it.

This is followed up by a thicker, puffier layer that will trap and warm the air next to your body.

Finally, the wind and weatherproof outer shell layer keep the elements off of you and preserves this precious boundary of warm air.

Adding correct headgear, cold weather boots and appropriate gloves or mittens means you will very nearly be proof against all but the deadliest cold on Earth.

5. Keep Moving

One cold-weather survival trick that is well known to members of the military is the simple necessity of keeping your blood pumping.

The old expression is that when you are cutting wood it will actually warm you twice, the first time when you cut it and the second time when you burn it. There is a lot of wisdom in this old adage.

If you are very cold and have no other effective way to warm up you must do what you can to keep moving. Keep your blood flowing to stave off frostbite and your muscles working to generate more heat.

It will probably be exhausting under the circumstances but it is a far better alternative than turning into a popsicle.

Do take care that you manage your body temperature and exertion levels so that you do not soak your clothing with sweat as this will make you more vulnerable to cold in the end.


6. Bivy Up

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a small bivy as part of your cold weather survival kit.

Much smaller than a tent, you might think of a bivy as sort of an oversized sleeping bag that you can crawl into, usually just big enough to accommodate one person laying down, sometimes two if they are snuggled up tightly.

Under the circumstances, this is far from a cozy cabin with a roaring fireplace, but the secret is that your body heat will be more effectively able to heat up the small quantity of air surrounding it, helping to keep you warmer than you would be otherwise.

Cold weather rated bivys are usually waterproof and windproof, helping to stave off your two biggest threats that are liable to steal your warmth.

Modern versions are extremely compact and very easy to carry, making them perfect for inclusion into dedicated cold climate survival kits or your BOB.

Heating а Tent with a Log Torch

7. Tent

Despite the prevalence of bivys today there is no sign of stopping the classic outdoor standby: The tent.

You can get cold weather-rated tents in all kinds of styles, shapes, and configurations from the ultra-compact to the luxuriously oversized.

The single biggest advantage a tent has is that it can fit multiple people, meaning multiple bodies can heat up the same volume of air, increasing efficiency.

Tents are also large enough and roomy enough to allow you to bring your gear inside and even set up a small camp stove if used with caution.

The ability to quickly and easily take shelter inside a tent to warm up and prepare a hot meal is a godsend, as is the ability to easily seal the tent against wind intrusion.

Survival Camping 9ft/3m Under Snow - Giant Winter Bushcraft Shelter and Quinzee

8. Snow Cave

“This is all well and good”, you are probably telling yourself, “but what am I supposed to do when I’m surrounded by snow and plenty of it?”

When you have little in the way of wood, no tent, no bivy and precious little else, the answer is simple: just use the snow itself to stay warm! What? Have I gone mad? Who would say such a crazy thing?

I’m no madman, and the snow can help keep you warm and potentially save your life in a cold weather survival scenario if you are smart enough and diligent enough to dig a snow cave.

A snow cave is simply a shelter that is exactly what it sounds like, a small cave excavated out of a snow drift or bank that you can easily reinforce before crawling inside to take shelter from the wind.

Just like your tent and bivy above the cave structure will trap a quantity of air that your body can help to warm. With a little expertise, you can even build a fire inside your snow cave!

Pine Needle Bed Shelter with Tony Nester

9. Pine Needle/Leaf Bed

Nature furnishes all sorts of materials that can handily help insulate you against the bite of cold weather. Foremost among these are pine needles, pine boughs and dry leaves.

If you do nothing else but gather up a sizable pile of any or all of these things into a nice, large mattress of sorts before laying down on it you will be warmer than you would otherwise.

First, it will keep your body off of the ever-hungry ground that will suck all of the heat out of you in a frighteningly short period of time.

Second, it will serve to trap some warm air between you and the ground keeping at least one side of you warm.

You can take this technique to the next level also by pouring these materials inside large contractor bags that have been taped together or a burrito of plastic sheeting before crawling inside, making a sort of hillbilly sleeping bag.

MUST KNOW Survival Skill -- Hot Rock Primitive Technology

10. Hot Rocks/Bottles

If you have a fire going, you can capture even more of its emitted heat energy for subsequent use by gently and carefully warming rocks or bottles of water that may then be strategically placed against your body or inside your sleeping bag to help warm you or someone else.

This technique is as easy as it sounds, though you must use extreme caution so that you don’t get burned off by a rock or metal water bottle and take great care if attempting this with plastic water bottles as they will easily melt.

There is even a fire-free variation of this technique when traveling as part of a group.

Anyone who is walking, working or otherwise generating significant amounts of body heat can place a water bottle directly against their skin or against their innermost layer to warm it.

This warm water bottle can then be transferred to someone else who is coming in out of the cold or suffering from hypothermia to help quickly, but gently, warm them up.

Combine Techniques for Best Effect

If you are ever dealing with a case of severely cold weather or someone who is suffering from hypothermia you’ll need to do everything you can to keep warm or warm the victim.

That means you should not rely on just one of these techniques. You can employ multiple techniques at once in order to maximize your heat uptake and also your heat retention.

Priority one is getting a fire going assuming you are able to. Once the fire is roaring, well-fed and stable you can assemble a bed or seat of pine boughs before stringing up an emergency blanket reflector behind you and using your second emergency blanket to wrap yourself up.

Before long, you might have to cool off a little bit as you’ll be getting so toasty despite the weather!

Remember that you should always be working to improve your “heat budget” whenever you are in conditions or weather that could result in hypothermia.

Hypothermia is an insidious and certain killer, and especially when you are by yourself it is an easy thing to go past the point of no return before you sense you are in danger.

With sluggish, muddy thoughts accompanying a lead and heaviness in the limbs and unresponsive, numbed hands you might not be able to effectively improve your situation in time to save your own life. Take it seriously!


There are many ways to keep warm in cold weather, either by depending on modern gear and equipment or ancient techniques that have served mankind since our race was young.

Take the time to read over these techniques and commit them to memory should you ever find yourself in a cold-weather survival situation. With a little bit of know-how and some quick action, you can easily fend off the chill!

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