Surving (thriving in) Frostburn 2015

17 Feb

I have always considered myself someone who doesn’t like the cold. And so it was with trepidation, fear and excitement, that I decided to accompany a handful of friends to the mountains of West Virginia for an outdoor, cold-weather camping trip to a regional Burning Man event called Frostburn. My friends, all experienced burners, were all Frostburn virgins as well.

I’d been hoping for unseasonably warm weather for the weekend trip, but that quickly became a fantasy as the weather predictions called for increasingly cold (record-breaking from 1905 type of cold) weather and severe winds. Yet I continued to pack and prepare. I was even going in early to volunteer at the gate and greet people as they arrived. (This I did for four hours, outside, in the winds and cold … and I loved it.)

My experience at Frostburn was so unexepectedly satisfying, soulful, expansive, wonderful and fun … or just EPIC! as I’ve been saying to those who asked, but this post isn’t about my experience. It’s about my packing and prep, and my notes to myself (and others) for when I return again next year and beyond.

Listed below is what I *wore*! I had many extras of every category of clothing. And I’ve included some notes about other items I packed. I definitely lean toward overpacking, and I didn’t disappoint here, though I have to say, in terms of warmth and layers, it’s almost impossible to overpack. Once I put something on, though, it stayed on and I didn’t switch out my layers.

From the bottom up, on my feet I wore —

  • Smartwool tights
  • Smartwool thin socks
  • Smartwool thick socks
  • Alpaca thick socks
  • An alpaca foot pad/warmer
  • Bogs boots
  • Crocs, for inside the tent when my boots were off

On my legs, I wore, in order —

  • Smartwool tights (as noted above)
  • Merino wool stretch leggings (thick)
  • A merino wool (thick) full-length skirt
  • A vintage 1970s very thick wool, full-length skirt

On my torso, I wore —

  • A light bra; no underwire, shape or metal (something I could sleep in and move in)
  • An athletic Tee for wicking any moisture away
  • A medium-weight merino sweater
  • A thick cashmere turtleneck
  • A thick lambwool + acrylic sweater
  • A full-length comfy soft material jacket (more light a bathrobe)
  • An oversized vintage thick wool calf-length coat with a full collar and more of fur

On my hands, I had —

  • Upcycled merino wool wrist warmers / fingerless gloves
  • Mittens with pop-off tops for finger access (not very useful without an available thumb)
  • Two Zippo handwarmers in my coat pockets (more on this later)


I did not win when it came to my hands, keeping them warm or being dexterous in the cold (and one does need to be dexterous quite often). Finding a miracle glove that provides a layer of some wind protection and warmth while being an underlayer for an even warmer pair of gloves or mittens over top would be fantastic!

On my neck and head, I wore —

  • The turtleneck (as referenced above)
  • Two gators/duff masks that I could pull up or down on my face.
  • A scarf (which I lost … anyone have word on a lovely light mint green wool scarf?)
  • A loose-knit wool cowl (great for hanging things on, such as my mug on a retractable string)
  • A small wool afghan blanket worn as a shawl and safety-pinned closed
  • Two hats at most times, layered

Personal Care

  • Tea tree oil toothpicks (in lieu of brushing my teeth as much as I might do so regularly)
  • Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste (my toothpaste didn’t freeze, thank goodness)
  • Lip balm
  • Eye drops (Similisan)
  • Nose spray
  • TP (Always bring and carry on oneself extra TP)


I didn’t wash my face and my skin oils naturally protected my skin; the area where I could have used some TLC was my chin: the moisture from my breath and the gators/neck warmth rubbing against my chin caused some chafing. I used a disposable cup when brushing my teeth (anything to avoid dishes to wash). Should have trimmed my toenails — wearing four pairs of socks plus a thick padding inside my boots made for a tight fit and the ends of my toes were a bit sore by the final day. I pre-treated my whole body several times in the week prior to the burn with Nerium Night Treatment.

Food & Cooking — This is what I ate & drank

  • Beef bone broth (home-made … YES!)
  • Ham stew (home-made; brought a lot)
  • A bag of potato chips
  • A handful of almonds
  • Bratwurst (cooked over the fire)
  • Sour chewy candies
  • Water – it all froze
  • Alcohol – little bits here and there; not much

I ate very, very little, and I ate infrequently. I drank very little quantity of liquids,  though I had some nice servings of warm bone broth. I had visions of always having hot tea in a thermos: totally didn’t happen. Definitely put the kitchen area inside a shelter/tent. Only bring teflon/nonstick pans for easy cleaning. Clean immediately after use with a paper towel. Tea (never made any … and I drink tea daily; the hassle of heating up water and exposing my fingers … not worth it) Bring nothing that requires prep or creates extra dishes. There is little not-frozen water and who wants to do dishes! (No one!) Paper plates, disposable insulated cups and silverware. Put everything you hope won’t freeze in a good-quality cooler. (It will probably still freeze … just not solidly.) Propane and fuel gets cold. Lighters (even high-powered propane lighters) won’t work well in the cold. Keep JetBoil inside yurt to keep fuel from freezing / getting too cold. Keep water inside yurt.

Shelter & Sleeping

  • Wolf brought his amazing velcro-binding yurt which was sturdy, beautiful and easy to set up.
  • Propane heater for inside.
  • Cot to elevate off the cold (and wet) ground.
  • Sleeping pad, plus two sleeping bags.
  • Many wool blankets.
  • My memory foam pillow froze(!) though it warmed where I laid my head.

My campmates brought the structures, heat, lights, generator, fire pit and many, many other items I didn’t have. I brought my REI Kingdom 6 tent, which was used as the kitchen tent. I’ve been to the playa and Burning Man five times with this tent, but I don’t think it was ever buffeted around as much as it was at this event. I slept in all my clothes minus my coat, the overskirt and my boots. I added another layer of socks while sleeping and wore soft mittens, too … and always a hat.

Zippo Handwarmers: My thoughts

They’re great when they work. They’re seemingly temperamental and certainly inconsistent. Definitely “season” your warmers ahead of time and use them prior to an event where you need them. Light/start them an hour or two before you think you’ll need them. Share them with friends, for a few moments. Keep them in your coat pocket and help dry out/keep warm wet mittens or gloves. Do not put them directly against your skin.

Notes for next year

Get a small propane lighter I can wear around my neck and keep warm with my body heat. “Season” my Zippo hand warmers before going to the event. Get more fuel for the handwarmers; always keep them going, even while sleeping so that they are warm when I wake up. Definitely make more bone broth and stew. Figure something out with my fingers and keeping them warm. Bring plenty of windproof matches. Lots of ultra large safety pins are good for keeping on my clothing to use when needed, e.g. when going into a dance space and/or bar and wanting to take off some layers; it’s super helpful to be able to be able to clip my items together.

3 Responses to “Surving (thriving in) Frostburn 2015”

  1. Woody February 18, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    Hey Jessie! Great post, its something I have been meaning to do for a while. I am happy to give input as to a few key tips and tricks that the Priority5 have picked up over the years. In no particular order:

    GLOVES: I personally believe I have found the perfect combination of hand warmth gear for frostburn, and it is as follows:
    – Inside layer: set of Nomex gloves. I started using these because they are fire proof so great for spinning, but they also work fantastic for protecting your hands from the wind ($20, )
    – Outer layer: large leather mittens. These mittens fit over the flight gloves and help all the fingers heat each other.
    – Inside mitten: hothands hand warmers. I know, moop, disposables, yada yada yada – but they work, reasonably consistently, do not require refueling, and can be used responsibly. Just keep them with a trash bag and I have not had problems with them. They make my outer mittens nice and toasty! They also don’t seem to last that long – if they are a year old, they might not be as effective.

    – You can always wear multiple layers of long underwear if you need extra warmth for top/bottom of body
    – Union suite! this is so key: a suite that is a onsy for your entire body is much more effective at trapping heat against the body. I kept mine on for the entire event and loved it. I put it on over a layer of long underwear for maximum heat retention.

    I agree, disposable paper plates and plastic dish wear to avoid washing is good. Bring an extra cup!
    – Harmony House Dehydrated Foods: Raw whole foods, GMO free, dehydrated without any preservatives, super delish, super healthy, super easy: I admit to sometimes just eating this stuff straight without even bothering to rehydrate (both ways are basically nutritionally equivalent)

    – So many people had their tents wrecked by the winds: be sure to wrap your summer tents with a tarp if you have to bring them at all. How to tell if your tent is a summer (or 3-season) tent? if it has mesh. The best tent for Frostburn in my experience is a canvas springbar / kodiak variety.
    – No matter what, bring twice as many stakes and ropes as you think you need.
    – Big Buddy heater($130) + 25lb propane ($15 per fill) + connection cable ($30) = true and amazing in-tent happiness. I could bring my tent from -5 to 60 degrees in under 4 minutes.

    Hope that this is helpful information!


  2. Ian February 18, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    All very good advice indeed! But also don’t forget the warmth of dancing your ass off all night long )'(

  3. Jessie Newburn February 18, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    Oh, and I definitely recommend getting mittens/gloves in colors/stripes .. anything that will POP visually. I attached a small keychain light to my mittens and kept it on at all times. Good for when the gloves were on me (helped light me up) and def good when they were off me (and needing to be picked up/found shortly to put on again).

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