Keeping your hands warm while camping isn’t easy. While this is especially challenging during the winter months, even a summer, spring, or fall camping trip can bring frigid temperatures at night.
Perhaps the simplest way to keep your hands warm while camping is to invest a pair of well-insulated winter gloves. Other alternatives include heated gloves, hand warmers, or brewing up a hot water bottle. Oh, and don’t forget to keep the rest of your body warm as cold hands often mean that you may need to layer up!
To help ensure that your hands stay toasty warm on your next camping adventure, here are some top tips for doing just that.
1. Invest In Well-Insulated Gloves Or Mittens
This might seem obvious to some, but a solid pair of insulated gloves will go a long way toward keeping your hands warm in particularly frigid conditions. If your hands get really cold and you’re willing to sacrifice some dexterity for warmth, opt for the bulkiest pair you can find.
Synthetic insulation is generally best for gloves because it provides a good mix of packability and warmth. These gloves are also able to keep your hands warm, even when wet, which is ideal for damp environments.
When conditions are especially cold, leave the gloves behind and go for mittens. Mittens have less surface area than gloves, which means your hands will be less exposed to the cold. If you still want a bit of dexterity in your gloves without sacrificing too much warmth, you can opt for a lobster claw-style model, instead.
2. Bring Multiple Pairs Of Gloves
Even the best pair of well-insulated synthetic gloves won’t keep your hands as warm as they would if your gloves were dry. Indeed, wet hands are almost always cold hands (unless you happen to be in a hot tub), so keeping your hands dry is essential.
However, no glove is completely waterproof and water will make it inside eventually. Therefore, you should always bring multiple pairs of gloves when camping in cold, wet environments.
How many pairs of gloves should you bring?
For a summertime camping trip, 1-2 pairs of liner gloves are often sufficient. For shoulder-season adventures, 1-2 pairs of liner gloves, plus 1-2 pairs of insulated gloves are usually adequate.
When it comes to winter camping, however, your glove requirements increase dramatically. For a single day trip of winter adventuring, you’ll want at least 3-4 pairs of gloves.
Longer winter camping trips will generally require 3-4 pairs of liner gloves, 1-2 pairs of gloves to wear throughout the day, and even 1-2 pairs of extra-warm mitts to wear in camp. This might sound excessive, but having multiple pairs of gloves allows you to always have a dry pair to wear.
3. Layer Up!
People often spend so much time focusing on keeping their hands warm that they don’t even realize that their overall warmth might be the root of the problem.
Our bodies are naturally designed to vasoconstrict, or reduce blood flow to our peripheries (such as our hands), when we’re cold. This is a natural bodily process that’s meant to conserve body heat and energy for our internal organs.
While this is great from a survival point of view, it does mean that our fingers get cold quite easily. To counter this, you can start by ensuring that you’re properly layered and that your core is warm. That way, your body will be relaxed and won’t start restricting blood flow to your fingers as if it was in full-on survival mode.
3. Add More Heat
Although our bodies are capable of producing a substantial amount of heat, sometimes, our hands just need a bit of an external boost to stay warm.
A simple, low-tech way to add warmth to your hands while sitting at camp in the evening is to make a hot water bottle. All you need to do is to fill up a sturdy hard-sided plastic water bottle, like a Nalgene, with warm water from your stove. Then, you can either go bare-handed or wear thin liner gloves as you hold onto the water bottle for extra warmth.
Taking things a step further, some people find that hand warmers make a big difference on a camping trip. The small chemical-based hand warmer packets are affordable and portable, but their single-use nature does mean that they produce quite a lot of waste.
Thankfully, there are plenty of reusable options out there, too, if you’re willing to spend a bit more upfront. Some, like the Zippo Refillable Handwarmer, run off of lighter fluid. Others, such as the Zippo Rechargeable Handwarmer, can be juiced up before each camping trip.
For even more heat, a pair of heated gloves is hard to beat. These gloves can provide various levels of heat directly to your hands for all-day warmth while camping. While they are the most expensive external heat source option, they’re also generally the most efficient in cold temperatures.
4. Keep Moving
If you’ve spent enough time outside, you’ve probably noticed that your hands are at their coldest when you’re sitting still. This isn’t a coincidence.
As we’ve mentioned, your hands are already predisposed to getting cold because of how our bodies naturally cut off blood supply to our extremities. Therefore, one of the best ways to keep your hands warm is to keep them moving.
By moving your hands, even a little bit, your brain has to send blood to your fingers. Whenever you feel your hands start to get cold, shake them out.
Start by warming up your entire body with arm circles or by swinging your arms back and forth. Standing upright with your arms at your side and shrugging your shoulders repeatedly is also a great way to drive blood flow to the fingers.
Finally, don’t forget to just give your fingers a wiggle every once in a while. This is especially important if you’re holding onto trekking poles or ice axes as this gripped, elevated position cuts off blood flow to your hands.
5. Don’t Ignore the Cold
Ignoring your cold fingers is a sure-fire way to ensure that they stay cold. While a very short bout of cold fingers isn’t likely to do lasting damage, ignoring your cold digits for too long is a recipe for disaster.
If you plan to head outside in cold, wet conditions, it’s essential that you know the basics of preventing freezing injuries (like frostbite) and non-freezing cold injuries (such as immersion foot, which can also happen to the hands).
With either of these conditions, it’s better to prevent them than to treat them. Prevention is all about staying vigilant when it comes to the warmth of your hands while camping.
That means frequently checking in on your hands to ensure that they haven’t gone numb. At a minimum, plan to visually inspect your hands at least once an hour in very cold conditions. Also, be sure to check in with your friends to ensure that they’re doing well, too.
Keeping your hands warm while camping is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires constant effort, care, and attention on your part to ensure that your fingers stay happy and healthy.
If your fingers feel cold, do something about it! Warm them up with a hot water bottle, do some light calisthenics, and visually inspect them for signs of frostbite. With enough care and attention, cold hands can be avoided, even during frigid wintertime adventures.