It’s estimated that we lose around 7 to 10% of our body heat through our head.
Wearing a hat is usually a pretty good idea when you’re going winter camping, but that’s not all you can do to retain as much body heat as possible.
When temperatures are extremely cold and the wind chill is absolutely brutal, you’re going to want to protect your face too.
Here’s what we do when we go out camping in -20°C/-4°F and below.
Head, neck, and ears
Let’s start with the general head area.
Warm: Earmuffs or insulated headband
Earmuffs or insulated headbands are a great choice to keep your ears warm when winter camping.
They’re perfect for those who want to maintain their hairstyle or don’t like wearing hats.
These accessories provide insulation for your ears, and the materials like wool or fleece offer good thermal retention.
Warmer: Insulated hat with ear protection or flaps
A hat that covers your head entirely can trap even more warmth.
Go for hats with ear protection or flaps, like a trapper hat, which offers better insulation and covers more of your head.
Hats made from wool or synthetic insulation materials, such as fleece or Thinsulate, help retain heat while keeping your head dry when you’re out in the cold.
Warmest: Insulated jacket/parka hood with a high neck zip
When it’s freezing cold, your body’s extremities need the most protection.
A hood attached to an insulated jacket or parka with a high neck zip can be your warmest solution.
Hoods designed for winter jackets usually have insulated linings, and a high neck zip can help seal in warmth.
Pull the hood over your hat to provide an extra layer of protection for your head, neck, and ears.
When combined with a balaclava or scarf, this setup can help you face the harsh winter weather comfortably.
Don’t forget to also wear gloves for your hands and wool socks on your feet to keep your extremities warm.
It’s important to protect your eyes from the cold, snow, and glare, which can dry out your eyes and potentially cause snow blindness.
Warm: Anti-fog polarized sunglasses
These sunglasses are designed to reduce the glare and prevent the lenses from fogging up, making them a great option for winter camping.
They also help to retain warmth around your eyes, adding an extra layer of protection against the harsh cold.
Look for sunglasses with polarized lenses to reduce glare and anti-fog coating to maintain clear vision.
As far as the fit goes, get ones with an adjustable strap or wrap-around design to ensure a snug fit and prevent cold air from seeping in.
Warmest: Ski or snowboard goggles
For even greater protection and warmth, you might want to consider ski or snowboard goggles.
These goggles are specifically designed to handle the extreme conditions you may encounter on the slopes, making them an excellent choice for winter camping.
They provide a superior seal around your eyes, keeping out the cold, wind, and snow while holding in warmth.
- Lens technology: Look for goggles with double-layered lenses and anti-fog coating to prevent fogging.
- Ventilation: Choose goggles with proper ventilation, which helps regulate temperature and reduce fogging.
- Compatibility: Some goggles are designed to be compatible with helmets and other headgear, ensuring a comfortable fit.
Cheeks, nose, and mouth
The part of your face beneath your eyes can be a tricky part to protect, but you definitely have some good options.
Warm: neck gaiter or buff
You can keep your cheeks, nose, and mouth warm during winter camping by using a neck gaiter or a buff.
These accessories work well by covering your lower face and neck, protecting them from the cold weather.
They’re typically made of a stretchy, breathable material that provides insulation without feeling constrictive.
You can also pull them up over your mouth and nose for extra warmth or drop them down when you need a break.
For even greater protection, consider wearing a balaclava.
Balaclavas are a type of face mask designed to fully cover your head, face, and neck, leaving only your eyes exposed.
They’re perfect for staying warm in very cold weather, especially while camping, as they attach securely and offer significant insulation.
When selecting a balaclava, make sure it’s made of a warm, moisture-wicking material to keep your face dry and comfortable.
Some options even have ventilation around the mouth and nose, allowing you to breathe easily.
You can also find balaclavas with adjustable features such as drawstrings, which will help you find the perfect fit for maximum warmth and protection.
Tips for managing moisture from your breath
It’s common to struggle with a runny nose and a lot of condensation on your mouth covering during cold weather.
Although you can’t really avoid it, there are definitely some things you can do to make it less wet, cold, and icky.
Choose the right materials
Breathing in cold weather while wearing a balaclava, neck gaiter, or buff can cause a runny nose and transfer moisture from your mouth to the fabric.
Choose pieces made of material that retains warmth even when wet, such as merino wool.
Fleece is also great for keeping you warm; however, it’s slightly less warm when wet.
Make sure to pack at least 2 to 3 extra pairs, so you can swap your moist balaclava, neck gaiter, or buff for a dry one.
This helps maintain your warmth and avoid moisture build-up that can lead to odor.
You could also experiment with layering.
For instance, try wearing a thin merino wool neck gaiter with a thicker fleece one over it.
When the merino wool layer gets too moist from your breath, easily switch them so the dry fleece one is closest to your face.
Layering your gear not only helps with moisture management but also improves insulation, keeping your face warm while winter camping.
Tips for keeping your face warm while sleeping
- Use the hood of your winter sleeping bag to keep your face warm.
- Consider wearing a hat or balaclava for extra warmth.
- Use neck gaiters or buffs for added insulation around your face, neck, and ears.
- Avoid covering your entire face within the sleeping bag to prevent condensation build-up.
- Wear a breathable face mask to stay warm without trapping moisture.
- Keep your face and neck warm before getting into the sleeping bag.
- Maintain a comfortable temperature for your face by keeping your whole body warm.
You might not realize it, but a significant amount of heat is lost through your head while winter camping.
This is especially true for the most vulnerable areas of your face, such as your cheeks, nose, and ears.
Frostbite and hypothermia are the two major risks you need to be aware of.
Frostbite occurs when your skin and the underlying tissues freeze due to exposure to cold temperatures.
It most commonly affects your face and extremities, like your fingers and toes.
When frostbite is not addressed promptly, it can lead to permanent damage or even amputation of the affected area.
Hypothermia, on the other hand, is a life-threatening situation when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it.
This results in a dangerously low body temperature.
Hypothermia impairs your ability to think clearly and move well, so it can quickly become a deadly issue if not detected and treated immediately.
Now that you know about these risks, it’s important to make sure you keep your face warm during winter camping.
More about winter camping:
- How to pack for winter camping
- How to layer clothes for winter camping to stay warm
- Your winter camping checklist (essential gear for the backcountry)
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).