A digital image of a person surrounded by socks, a jacket, bags, and long johns—the items they may need to keep warm during the winter.
It may seem as simple as common sense. But here are a few practical ways to keep warm while sleeping outside. (Clio Reese Sady)

Every homeless person is dealing with a completely unique situation: some live in tents, some live in cars, some live in doorways, etc. So it’s hard to make general statements that would work for everyone. I guess one universal point is to try and stay as dry as possible (uh duh): Yourself and your clothes, as well as your sleeping gear. Because once your clothes and gear get wet, it may take weeks before you’re able to dry it out, if you happen to be in the middle of one of those weeks-long storms.It seems like every year there’ll be a couple of oldtimers that don’t make it through the Winter. Even in a moderate climate like the Bay Area, the temperatures can still get below freezing at times, and they die from hypothermia. What often happens is, their clothes get wet, they end up in a doorway that isn’t fully protected from the rain, and end up soaked and shivering throughout the long night. And don’t make it to the morning. A lot of it is simply that old axiom: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” You have to stay on top of it. I relentlessly monitor the weather forecasts all winter to try and stay one step ahead of the rain and cold. Think of the Weather as a worthy adversary that you have to battle every step of the way. Until you finally make it to the sunshine of Spring.

A good winter jacket is a high priority. Years ago a friend gave me a great down jacket — which might be beyond the income of many homeless. But if at all possible, try to get a good jacket. Down jackets are especially handy, because not only are they very warm, they’re light weight and very compact. As opposed to, say, having to lug around three ratty trench coats. Over the years that down jacket has gotten pretty beat up. I repair all the tears with duct tape. And the zipper is broke, so I seal it up by wearing another sweater on top of it. But I’m still wearing it. That thing is worth its weight in gold.

A good pair of winter boots is also essential. Walking around in crappy sneakers, it’s only a matter of time before your socks get wet, and once your socks get wet, they usually STAY wet for a long time. And lower your body temperature appreciatively. If I’m stuck wearing cheap shoes, I’ll put plastic bags over my socks, in between my shoes, to at least give me one layer of defense against the rain.

A good rain jacket is also essential. But I also like to keep a couple of cheap ponchos stashed in my backpack in case of emergency — they’re inexpensive (like five bucks) and take up little space in your pack.

I’m also a big believer in gloves. You can get a pair for pretty cheap, and then cut off the finger parts of the gloves so you’re able to use your hands. A scarf is really handy, too, it adds an extra layer of warmth and doesn’t take up much space when you stash it in your backpack.

As for clothes, like many street people I go for the “layered look.” On winter nights I’ll often be wearing five or six layers of shirts, sweaters and jackets. And a second pair of pants. And you can regulate your personal thermostat by putting on, or taking off, the various layers.

As for sleeping, I always make sure to use matting under my blankets—especially if I’m sleeping on cold, hard concrete—which can turn into the equivalent of a block of ice over the course of the night. I like a good, thick piece of cardboard, as well as a a piece of plastic matting if I can get one.

Another essential for dealing with the rain is garbage bags. Good, solid, heavy-duty black garbage bags. And I double-bag and triple-bag everything. Sometimes I even quadruple-bag. Ha ha. And in a pinch they can be used as tarps.

Well, I could go on. But you probably get my drift. Stay warm and dry, campers!

Ace Backwords is a homeless writer and artist who lives in Berkeley, California. You can find more writing on his blogs.