This is a common problem during wild camping or survival activity, especially during colder seasons. You are tired, you have lost a lot of calories during day, and now you want to wash, but the only option you have is the cold water in the stream. And the temperature outside is also not very warm.

So, you want to be clean, but you don't want to lose another big portion of calories because of that, because your body is already driving on reserves.

But how much calories are lost when you, let's say, spend a 5 minutes naked and wet, with about 1 minute inside cold water (or pouring cold water on yourself, like in cold shower)? Of course, the exact answer depends on many factors, such as body mass, the fat/muscle factor, the exact temperature, etc., but I need only estimates, such as about 100 calories (which can vary from 50 to 200). Would it be about 100 calories, or 250, or 50?

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    Googling a little bit, i found experts contradicting themselves "Cold water, in fact, slows the metabolism, which may mean that the body is actually burning fewer calories. Even if there is a larger calorie burn, it's probably negligible, doctors say." "Additionally, there is a likelihood that you could have a slight increase in calorie burn (about 3 to 7 percent) from your body re-warming itself from cold air touching your skin and warming the cold air that goes into your lungs, adds Wayne Askew, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Utah. "
    – mirba
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 13:08
  • @mirba you mention that topic: caloriecount.about.com/forums/weight-loss/… ? Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 20:18
  • nope... it was a couple of articles: sfgate.com/health/article/… and kval.com/news/health/13565082.html
    – mirba
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 9:23
  • @mirba I guess the stress for your body induced by the cold bath is also a relevant factor. So I think you are in net burning more calories.
    – Wills
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 16:08
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    I wouldn't consider this a "common problem." Usually people don't undergo drastic or dangerous weight loss while they're in the backcountry for recreation. Re emergency survival situations, (1) those aren't common, and (2) in that situation you could just skip bathing. And suppose we had a numerical estimate of how many calories were lost. Why would that information be useful? Would it influence you to bring 37 extra grams of granola per anticipated bath?
    – user2169
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 6:48

1 Answer 1


I don't have any good references for calorie expenditure, given that there are so many variables, so I will leave that to someone with a proper reference.

In my personal experience in cold-weather, back country hiking and camping, the best time to wash is not at the end of a day's exertion when you are prone to getting chilled, but rather prior to starting off for the day when you know that you will warm up with movement and exercise, or during a hike once the sun is out. Dirty and warm trumps clean and cold.

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