Primer to Cold Weather Survival

It’s getting cold. At least, it’s getting cold for me. As we’ve had an influx of new players this year, the odds are very good that some of these players are unaccustomed to cold weather survival.

Edited October 12, 2016.

If you have little or no experience camping, especially outside of the summer months, or generally find cold weather difficult to deal with, please keep reading. Actually, keep reading regardless.

In the city, if you get cold, you can duck into a building, go to your car, turn up the thermostat or get a sweater from the closet. At game, your choices are very limited, and you need to be prepared. As temperatures dip and stay below 20 C, we really, desperately, do NOT want you to suffer from hypothermia. It isn’t fun. And as the nights (and days) get cooler, the odds of hypothermia will increase.

What is Hypothermia?

You’re expelling more heat than you’re producing. Simply put, “you’re getting very cold”. Which happens, but if you haven’t been taking care of yourself because you’ve been gunning for eight hours straight, your body will make you pay for the overdraft balance to your energy bank. And it isn’t fun.

If you’re sitting still (or running around), take a moment to see if this is happening. Signs of mild hypothermia include:

  • Shivering. You’re cold. Your body is trying to warm up by consuming more energy. This helps lead into other things, such as:
  • Dizziness and fatigue. Goodbye energy, hello tiredness. Your body is entering survival mode, and “core temperature” takes precedence over “higher thinking power”. This leads to a new set of problems, such as lack of coordination and poor decision making (not debuffs you want to be wandering around with in Underworld if you can help it), confusion (also a crappy debuff) and trouble speaking (hi casters!).
  • With you burning up so much fuel, hunger, thirst and tiredness will kick in. You need to put something in your body ASAP.

So those conditions are kind of vague – at some point, everyone’s experienced them at LARP and been a good player and sat down to eat or rest for a few minutes. And these not necessarily mean “ur gonna die”, you usually can push yourself for a few more minutes.

Except if your tank’s empty, or the adrenaline wears off, or your body just can’t take any more.

That’s when hypothermia hits you like an Angel of Daelrion to the face.

If you exhibit the following signs, get to a Medical Marshal:

  • Shivering stops. This (in my opinion) is the most important sign because it’s the most obvious one. Anything else can be written off as something else, but if you were shaking uncontrollably, kept going, then suddenly “got better” (stopped shivering), you’re actually not. Because you ran out of energy to shiver.

    I’m just saying, if you ran out of energy to tremble slightly, there is a problem.

  • Lack of energy and/or concern about your own well-being. You’re “fine”. Your vision is kind of black and fuzzy, but you can totally keep going! You start stripping off your warm clothes because you stopped feeling the cold. THIS IS BAD. Since lack of self-awareness is a sign of severe hypothermia – basically it’s harder for you to recognize your own freezing problem, and it’s easier to see it on other people – keep an eye on your friends and drag them off to a Medical Marshal if need be.

(For more details about hypothermia, see here:

Now since people dying of hypothermia looks really, really bad on Underworld, here are some ways to, y’know, head that off. Note that below is to be taken as really strong advice: some people are better at the survival and body heat thing than others, and this is designed for people new to the whole “outdoors” thing.


As it gets colder, your body needs more fuel to warm itself up. You need to be eating more often. Always have some water or snacks on you, and whenever you get a chance, put something in your mouth, even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty. There’s a good chance you won’t realize you need fuel until it’s very late, when the adrenaline fades, or when you’re hiding in the woods and trying to stay quiet.

Warm drinks are delicious, but avoid drinking anything too hot: your body will try to cool itself down (e.g. sweating) to shed the excess heat. Conversely, drinking cooler drinks will force your body to warm up; make sure your body is fueled enough to support this!

Primer to Eating at LARP: here


Layer. Layer layer layer. Tank top, T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater, hoodie, light jacket, heavy jacket, cloak. It sounds like overkill, but if you’re anything like me, you can get cold fast. If you’re the type that retains body heat, remove or loosen layers as necessary, as sweat will chill you. Wool and thermal wear (e.g. polar fleece) are the ideal fabrics. Have a weatherproof (waterproof or water resistant) layer on top in case the weather suddenly goes very, very bad. (Remember that waterproof and water resistant have two different definitions.)

Wear a hat, hood or other substantial head covering. A lot of heat gets released through your head.

Socks. Life is instantly better when you can change your socks. Always bring twice as many as you think you need.

Avoid cotton if possible. It’s great at absorbing water and holding it; once you’re wet or sweaty, you’re going to stay wet and sweaty, then cold, as long as you’re wearing it. If your cotton under-layer is wet, strip it off as soon as you get the chance: it will leech your heat from you.

Everyone prefers something non-infernal to wear, like cloaks or knitted sweaters. However, if the only warm clothing you have is a neon orange hoodie, we aren’t going to make you strip it off. (We will, however, give you the dirtiest looks.) At the very least, try to keep your infernal wardrobe to the medieval palette – earth/nature tones, and blacks, greys and whites – and cover up any obvious logos or writing.

Metal is prone to sucking in the worse temperature extreme. If you are cold, your chainmail and plate will be colder. If you are hot, they will be hotter. Take extra care if you’re wearing a chainmail shirt, plate greaves and the like: keep a layer of cloth between you and it to resist some of its leeching properties.

If you find yourself holding still for a while, avoid sitting on the ground, as the ground will suck the heat right out of you. If you can’t find a fallen tree trunk, put a layer between you and the ground – a cloak corner, spare gloves, even a thick pad of leaves would do.

Hot Pockets (also known as Little Hotties) are biodegradable heating packs that can go in your pockets, boots, mittens, etc. Just rip open the package and shake them up, and you’re toasty all night! Pro tip: toss one in your sleeping bag before you go out for the night. If you do make it back early, your sleeping bag will be pre-heated for you!

Robax Heatwraps/Thermacare are also good, and can be found in the medical supplies area. Don’t put those directly on your skin, as they can give you first-degree burns.

Tents and Sleeping

A weatherproof tent and thermal sleeping bag are essential to surviving a cold night. City folk are used to equating “going indoors” as “getting warm”, but in camping your tent will not be pre-heated for you, unless you have a portable heater or something already running. (Please don’t. The lack of outlets aside, it is kind of a fire risk to leave something running unattended.)

Check your ground. If it’s particularly marshy or swamp-like, that means if it rains, you’re going to be sleeping in a pond. Get to high(er) ground.

Share a smaller tent with a friend. If you’re buddy-buddy with them, sleep together. Your shared body heat will warm up the tent so much faster. While bigger tents can hold more people, it also has more open air that needs heating up.

Remember that the ground will leech heat from you. Put a layer or two beneath your sleeping bag: a lot of people use foam puzzle pieces. Ditto for those who sleep on air mattresses or cots: the air beneath your bed will suck out the heat from under you.

Wear a hat to bed, but keep your nose and mouth outside of the sleeping bag. Your breath has moisture in it, and if you try to sleep completely encased, you will soak the material fast. (Also, not the quickest way to escape from a tent marauder.)

Consider wearing only leather/studded armour to bed. Nobody wants to be unprepared if they’re jumped in their sleep, but metal will drain your body heat overnight.

Special Note: Dressing For Bed

What you wear for sleeping is a high point of contention for players because we all have different sleeping styles. Many people swear by sleeping naked because their body heat fills the sleeping bag and their clothes don’t get sweaty. I don’t because I don’t generate that much body heat nor sweat very much, so I’ll sleep with a layer on. Some people wear socks; others stick their feet out of their blankets to regulate their body heat. Sleeping with another person drastically changes the heat situation.

About the only thing people will agree on is if there’s clothing involved, make sure it’s dry.

This is something that you’ll have to decide for yourself. Camp out in your backyard, or turn off the heat, open the windows, and sleep on your floor (or camping/sleeping arrangement) for a night. This is something you should figure out before the high-stress situation of LARP and your addled brain just wants the sleep.

But if I’m suffering, the Medical Marshals will help me, right?

Medical Marshals are players – customers just like you – who volunteer their time to assist with unpreventable medical issues: twisting an ankle while running, smashing face-first into a tree, bad weapon swings to more delicate body parts.

They (and by extension Underworld) are not your mom. If you are cold, you eat a snack and put on a sweater, not keep running until you pass out in the woods, shaking and half-frozen. In the event of an emergency – if you are genuinely having trouble warming up – you can always go to NPC/Shaper camp, where there will be a fire and Medical Marshal to warm you up. (Don’t count on Town Centre always having a fire, especially at Hallowe’en.)

However, you need to prove that you’re adequately prepared to deal with the cold before they’ll release you. If you can’t convince the Shapers that you have a spare sweater, blanket and/or sleeping bag to stay warm for the night, they’ll strongly advise that you go home. We genuinely are concerned for your health and nobody wants to kick you out, but the game is not worth dying for, especially for something as easily preventable as hypothermia.

(And don’t think avoiding to Shaper camp will absolve you of this oversight. Collapsing on the field during a game-wide mod – yes, it’s happened – is another way to get a Medical Marshal’s attention, and our player base is quite attuned to when a player is definitely not in good shape.)

Only in an extreme situation will you be permitted to bed down in your car. The one – ONE, EXCEPTIONAL time it happened, it was -20 C at night.

If all else fails, go home. You got your blankets and played your game. We want to be known for being a threat to your fictional life, not real one.

Originally posted here:


2 thoughts on “Primer to Cold Weather Survival

  1. Pingback: Underworld LARP Jericho Presents: The Asylum Heretica | Underworld Larp Jericho

  2. Pingback: Underworld LARP Jericho presents: Asylum Heretica

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