My fiance and I are planning our first backpacking trip together. I am an experienced backpacker, so I can handle most questions he has and I already have most of the gear that we'll need. However, he wears contacts and is worried about losing contacts and keeping his contacts from freezing. He is very near sighted and has astigmatism. I have never worn contacts or glasses so I'm not sure how to deal with this.


+Our backpacking trip must occur in spring or fall due to his job, and will probably occur in places where snow and cold temps are possible if not likely. I read that contact solution freezes at 28 °F (-2°C). I have been out spring backpacking in single-digit temps °F (-18–-12°C).

+His glasses no longer fit his prescription.

+We're a little broke, so buying new glasses ($400! per pair!) or a different type of contact lens is not really doable for us.

+Leaving contacts in overnight is something he will not do.

To handle the losing contacts issue, I am planning on having him bring at least 2 spare pairs of contact lenses (and if he loses 2 contacts, we'll bail). To handle cleanliness issues, I have ordered hand wipes and we'll bring at least two travel bottles of contact solution. So my question is how to keep contacts in the contact case from freezing in cold temps? (Also, any contact-wearing backpackers have any additional tips for backpacking with contacts?)

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    my vision situation is similar to your fiance's. I use daily wear contact lenses. For a trip like this I would bring 2x the amount i need to be safe. and a pair of glasses. If i didn't have daily wear, I would definitely invest in a pair of glasses. Besides the freezing issue, contacts are hard to keep clean.
    – scord
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 16:31
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    BTW, if your fiance is not aware of it, emergency glasses consisting of a sheet of cardboard with a pinhole centered on each eye will provide clear vision albeit with a narrow field of view. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 20:38
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    Frames and lenses w/o high-index material (very nice when you have a strong prescription) and anti-reflective coatings (lets people actually see your eyes instead of a glare, and lets you see ~10% more light) can be remarkably cheap online.
    – Nick T
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 22:42
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    While you certainly can pay >$400 for a pair of glasses, with a bit of shopping around on-line you can find multiple places where you can obtain a pair (frame+lenses) for <$50 (total in-hand price). With a bit more shoping around on-line you can get frames+lenses for under $15 (checked today; this was the in-cart price including shipping and tax; in the US) (price will be more with prescriptions higher than -6.00, or with added options).
    – Makyen
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 1:45
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    How far off his prescription are his glasses, would they get him though in an emergency?
    – user5330
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 3:08

3 Answers 3


HTH all of y'all .. I've learned it all the hard way.

To address a few of the points:

  1. Your fiance is ABSOLUTELY correct to not wear them overnight, can get eye pits, etc. not fun. painful, no vision. been there done that, refuse to do again.
  2. For the prescription it sounds like I'm in about the same boat. even with insurance i paid $300 for new glasses recently. TAKE THE GLASSES as a fail safe. the contacts are more do-able, with some preparation.
  3. The nalgene purified water will work .. to a point. it isn't the same salinity as what is in your eyes, so it feels off, and will be irritating to his eyes. not so great for enjoying the natural beauty of rugged land.
  4. Yes contacts can be had for relatively inexpensive compared to glasses, but still require a recent prescription. And once you're in severe astigmatism territory, it doesn't save THAT much. Not everyone has YOUR prescription, some folks are worse off (and some are better), but I guarantee the farther the prescription is from 20/20 .. the MORE it costs. Having the same trait is not equal to having it in the same severity.

Get some hand heaters, like for gloves, or shoes .. they should last 4-6 hours .. grab the 8hr if you can find them .. and they only cost a few dollars. Those will keep the solution warm enough to not freeze for the time period those temps would occur. They can also be used to melt out ice should it form pretty quickly (they get TOASTY hot).

If you can't find those, as listed above, put the storage case in your sleeping bag. To warm it up QUICK, best to use the heaters above, or use armpits. warmest place on the body outside of the groin. Regardless, when storing: INSULATE. find some thermal wrap (like the tinfoil lined stuff) or layer tinfoil and paper with felt or cloth (and repeat a few times) as an insulator, and wrap it all around the saline bottle, with the hand heater in between. The more wraps, the better insulation, the longer it lasts in colder temps. That takes care of the cleaning component. The bigger thing is the storage case that they sit in overnight. Would not want to try and chip them out of ice blocks in the case in the AM.. but if that happens wear glasses for a few hours until it warms up. same thing though, since that is usually smaller than the saline bottle (and if you're going for up to a week one of the small bottles (4-6 oz) is FINE. don't haul more than you need. You'rr talking about 5-10 drops to rinse when removing from storage and putting in the eyes. so call it 30 drops a day, allowing for some spillage. Once in the eyes, natural body temp will keep them from freezing. No worries there. I've skiid/hiked in sub zero with contacts in and they are WAAY better than glasses.


Just sleep with the solution in your sleeping bag. Same with drinking water.

During the day you may need to carry it next to your body.

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    During WWII, soldiers slept with their rifle next to their skin in order to keep the triggers from freezing up on them.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 13:21
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    Fake goatskins/camelback-ish bladders work well for carrying liquids inside a coat to prevent freezing. They are more conforming and hence comfortable than bottles of any sort.
    – railsdog
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 17:28
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    @railsdog But I don't think I would but lens solutions in a goatskin.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 17:46

I don't know where you live, but you can buy cheap glasses online and I'm sure a lot of the sites have international delivery. I too have astigmatism and I can get extended wear contact lenses (6 days) for under €30 (that's the price for 2 x 3 extended wear monthlies).

Try to put your contact lens solution in the freezer and check its temperature in regular intervals to see what temperature it freezes. It might not freeze in -18°C.

Also make sure that you bring non-scented anti-bacterial wipes (avoid baby wipes for contact lenses), so he can properly clean his hands before he puts his contact lenses in.

  • The lenses I use are in a buffered saline solution, I doubt it would handle -18°C without freezing, of course testing would make sure. But your suggestion of having something to clean your hands with is essential.
    – Bent
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:51
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    Contact lens solutions will absolutely freeze well before at -18C. The overwhelming bulk of the solution is water and water plus a couplefew percent of anything at all is going to be frozen at not much below zero. Even water plus as much salt as you can dissolve in it will freeze at 0F, which is -18C. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 18:29
  • anti-bacterial is not sufficient. You need to also remove any dirt or residue that may remain on your skin. Rinsing in running water is the best way to be sure of that.
    – njzk2
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:12
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    @jani $400 seems excessive. I wouldn't go backpacking in -18°C wearing contact lenses, because anything could happend and your boyfriend could get stuck in a forest without him being able to see properly (worst case scenario). Going on a trip without backup glasses seems like a bad idea. So if you can try to find a online glass retailer on Google. If you can't find one have a look at UK retailers as most of them do international delivery. You should easily be able to buy a pair of very basic glasses for well under $50.
    – Gino
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 20:57
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    I second (third?) the recommendation for looking online for cheap glasses. Research it on /r/frugal or something. I bought don't have astigmatism, but I bought a pair of glasses for $12 including shipping that lasted me wearing them daily for 3 years. They had some minor annoyances like more reflections and tendency to scratch than expensive lenses. But at $12 who cares!
    – Philip
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 21:25

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