Cold Weather Reenacting

By Vincent Petty

 In the middle of the dog days of summer it may seem odd to write about reenacting in the cold. After all there won’t be a chill in the air for a few more months. However, before we realize it, fall and winter will soon be here and now is a good time to become prepared. In this article we will explore how to prepare for cold weather events.

The summer presents many problems to reenactors; mainly the heat and its effects — heat exhaustion and heat/sun stroke. But the cold weather can present its own health problems as well. The biggest health concern is hypothermia; hypothermia is possible at any time regardless of the season — even in the summer — but chances of hypothermia are even greater in the fall and winter.

Hypothermia is caused when the body looses more heat then it generates — i.e., body temperature falls below 98°. It occurs when a person is not clothed warmly enough for the air around him. A person may be further endangered if he is exhausted, wet and exposed to a strong wind, as when caught in a rainstorm. Under such conditions the air does not have to be below freezing — a moderate air temperature of 40-50° may result in death.

Hypothermia starts with a person feeling chilly, tired, and irritable. Slurring of the speech may also occur, which a person suffering from hypothermia will rarely notice. If he is not helped at this stage, he will begin to shiver uncontrollably. Soon his shivering becomes violent. He may act irrationally, stumble and fall; if the shivering then stops, he is close to death.

If a person shows early signs of hypothermia, stop right then and there. If you are in inclement weather put up some shelter. Strip the patient gently — get him out of damp or wet clothes, and get him into dry blankets or a sleeping bag (at this point saving a guys life is more important than authenticity). Cold blankets or sleeping bag won’t help much; a pard is going to have to also strip down and use his body to help warm up the patient’s body. In most cases the victim is conscious; offer hot liquids such as sugary teas and coffee, chocolate, or fruit juices. Then get medical help as soon as possible. We are fortunate that at most events a local rescue squad is on the event site.

In the colder months alcohol must also be avoided. When alcohol is consumed, even in small amounts, it gives the user a false sense of warmth, and can lead to the occurrence of hypothermia.

As cool days and nights set in smart preparation can make a cold event comfortable. So good planning is important.

To the infantryman feet are always important. Look to your shoes and make sure they are well oiled or that a good bit of shoe wax has been applied. By keeping shoes oiled and water proof you keep your feet dry; even more important in the fall and winter on those frosty mornings. When shoes get wet NEVER place them near the fire to dry; they will cook, becoming stiff and brittle. Allow shoes to air-dry away from heat.

If during the summer you normally wear one pair of socks it is a good idea to add a second pair in the fall. Wool over cotton is always good. Wool has the natural ability to keep the wearer warm even when wet. Wool also dries faster than cotton. When your socks get wet change them as soon as possible.

Add mittens to the kit to keep hands warm when not working or when sleeping. Mittens are better than gloves, because the mitt keeps the fingers close together using body heat to keep fingers warm. However, gloves separate the fingers and the natural warmth of the body is lost.

A good knit cap should also be added to the kit. Within the 16th Virginia the most popular style is a balaclava, which is a cap with eye slits and therefore it can be pulled down over the head. 80% of body heat is lost through the head and a knit cap goes a long way to halting this loss.

For clothing you should have at least two shirts, two pair of drawers and plenty of socks, or a new change for each night out. During chilly days it is a good idea to wear two shirts or even a cotton or woolen flannel shirt. At the end of each day before bedding down change the clothing. Get out of the perspiration damp underclothes that have been worn during the day and into fresh clean and dry underclothes. This will help to keep you warm when you bed down. Do not wear you uniform to bed as the lining may be damp and will only make you cold; only wear your underclothes to bed. Instead roll up the jacket and trousers and place in the knapsack and use as a pillow.

This now brings us to rolling out the bedding. Some thought must be given to making your bed. The greatest enemy to a good night sleep is moisture. Also to keep warm you should have as much under you as you have covering you. Start by putting down some straw or pilling up some leaves as a first layer. Over the straw place you oil cloth with the rubber or painted side down then put down a blanket that has been folded lengthwise. This is usually a good bottom layer. The jacket and trousers added between the oil cloth and the blanket works well too as a layer. At this time of year you can never have too many blankets — use as many as you need. Wool blankets are the best; again wool dries faster and will wick any moisture away from you. Chose good stout blankets that are long enough to cover you from head to toe and wide enough to wrap around you. The weave should also be rather tight; a loose weave is poor protection, because cold air will go right through it. If you use quilts keep the wool blanket between you and the cotton quilt; again this will keep moisture away from you. A second oilcloth also works well as a blanket.

I hope this information will help every one out and make events coming up this fall and winter a little more enjoyable.