Below Zero Without a Sleeping Bag

If you always had the right gear at the right time, it would be called camping, not survival.  But the reality is that weather changes, people get lost, and the wilderness can be unpredictable.  Don’t be overly reliant on specified gear like a cold weather sleeping bag that you might not bring with you while backpacking in July, and remember that in mountainous terrain weather conditions can change drastically.  Backpackers in the Rockies have seen 12 inches of snow fall on what started as a warm summer day.  If you have versatile gear like a hatchet or an axe, you can take full advantage of the material supplied by the wilderness to adapt to any situation that arises.


  • As always, shelter is the most important factor, followed by fire. But not just any shelter or any fire will get you through freezing temperatures, or near freezing temperatures with rain.
  • Locate 2 trees that you can use to support a ridge poll. Place your ridge poll high, placing it low will not allow you much room to elevate yourself off the ground.
  • Gather long polls the form your roof and place them at a steep angle. This will drastically increase the waterproofing without the need for a tarp.  Bring all the material to your site before removing boughs so that you can use the boughs to thatch the room or make bedding.
  • Make a bed that is orientated to the length of the shelter, not with your head or feet deeper in. This will allow you to use a long fire to warm your whole body.  Your bed could be as simple as one log on each side used to support long poles with leaves or boughs on top.
  • Thatch the room all the way from the top of the structure to the level of the bed with boughs. After that point water proofing is not a concern and you can use moss or debris.
  • Build a long fire at the opening of your shelter and keep plenty of wood on hand to add during the night as you need.


Cold weather sleeping bags are great pieces of gear to take with you if you plan on experiencing freezing temperatures.  An axe is a piece of gear that you should always consider bringing to deal with the situations that you didn’t plan on facing.


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