Sleeping in the Snow and What To Eat in Order To Keep Yourself Warm at Night

Constantin Gabor - Mammut Sleeping Bag

Do you watch Survivorman? You know, the TV show on Discovery.

I do. I also watch I should't be alive.

But no mater how sympathetic I am with the people/characters, I'm still just a guy on a couch eating snacks (in a warm home with no pain or fear whatsoever).

So while I normally sleep outside in winter trips, this time I went on the mountain alone. Nothing extreme though (except the low temperatures) - Piatra Mare (literally means Big Rock) a 1843 m (6046 ft) high mountain just outside my home city.

Alpine Plateau

Diesel for your body or what to eat to keep yourself warm during the night

This was also an excuse for me to test out a special meal (call it desert coz it's sweet) suggesed by some of my friends who are deep (pun intended) into caving.

The recipe is simple: boil some water, add oatmeal, butter and powdered milk; mix it all together into a pulp and enjoy your sweet porridge. It's supposed to keep you warm - you basically begin to radiate heat.

Now, I guess it works but it may take a while for your internal engine to start purring.

Snow Pit Bivouac

My winter sleeping bag is designed to give a comfortable sleep down to -9° Celsius (15.8° F) and I've spent a night in a snow pit at -17° C (1.4° F). So I should have felt the cold given those conditions.

But after 3 hours (perhaps the time to fully digest my desert) I was actually warm and cozy just as I am at home in my bed (21.5° - 21.9° C / 70.7° F being the constant temperature in my room).

So if you go out there and get yourself exposed during the night or even during the day, you could try this just for kicks - at least you get to eat something sweet. I know I'll be fueling with diesel again.

Bucegi Piatra Craiului Postavaru

Brasov Seen from Piatra Mare

Gear is sacred

Seriously! If you're out there, unreachable, and the weather gets bad and you have no gear (or improper gear)'re screwed.

If you think about it, the reason we get to enjoy outdoors is coz we don't actually suffer (too much) when we're on that mountain top, valley or whatever. As soon as pain or discomfort come in as a consequence of not having the right gear, we simply wanna go home. We wanna get out of there.

Constantin Gabor in Snow Pit

Being warm, dry and safe makes your tour enjoyable. So having the right equipment is just as important at as training or motivation. And it can't be replaced by enthusiasm and sheer will.

Will gets you alive out of desperate situations but gear and will gets you alive and less harmed or unharmed at all (no frost bite, no pneumonia, etc.).

One of the best advice on how to get gear is to join a mountaineering & climbing club where there is common gear to be shared among members.

Speaking of gear, just the fact of having an avalanche snow shovel can make a big difference between freezing and comfort. Since snow is a very good insulator, a snow cave is one the best bivouacs you can get in winter time. And digging with your hands is just not very efficient.

Also a portable solar panel allows you to charge your phone, camera and MP3 player (you need one when you're alone). We're just too modern to give up all gadgets when we go outdoors, aren't we?

Constantin Gabor - Ice on Beard


My respect for Les Stroud just tripled.

Being alone and exposed in the wild requires some balls and Les has been doing this for a while - also shooting his own video show (which is a pain in itself, when you have to operate camera gear in cold conditions).

But anyway, Les is a popular figure. What about the rest of the stories we never hear of? People who were hiding in the forests from oppressive regimes, people who got lost, the real survivors.

If I'm high on a mountain ridge where I know there's not much wildlife, I'm comfortable sleeping outside or in a tent. When I'm with my friends and we sleep outside in a forest, I'm comfortable as well. But being alone and sleeping just at the edge of a forest was a bit terrifying (I had to constantly NOT think about wolves, bears and what not; and we have a lot of them in our forests).

And however cozy and warm I got, I didn't get much sleep - it was more like a constant watch. Only after the sun came up and the daylight showed I was able to psychically relax and enjoy my snug snow pit. I guess I'm more afraid of the dark than I like to admit.

Over to you
  • Have you ever been out there on your own? My first overnight sleep alone tour was many years ago; I was 14. This was my second tour (lame, huh?).
  • What's one gadget that you always take with you? The phone should be mine but I care more about the camera...
  • What's your favorite mountain? Mine is Fagaras which I like to call our little piece of Alaska and then Piatra Mare. 

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  1. Mountain lions are getting pretty aggressive here in the U.S. - David T Connolly

    1. Wolves and bears would be the problem in our parts of the world. :-)

      You may say, but bears hibernate...

      Maybe, but I've had a dozen encounters already and most of them were during winter (and I'm talking freezing cold when you'd think the bear is deep in its cave, sound asleep).


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