Funny, but I was just thinking about that as I ran errands today in temperatures hovering just above 0* F here in Boulder.
A long time ago, after a big fight with my girl friend, I decided that I would go off and be the macho manly dude and do some solo winter ski camping. The temps around Alamosa were going to be below zero--perfect setup, right? The first night I set up my tent next to my car. It was -20* F, but I was comfy in my REI +15* bag, with fishnet long underwear, polypro over that, hat/gloves, Levis and a burly Holubar hooded parka (anybody remember those?).
The next day I was feeling frisky, so after a big breakfast in Alamosa I drove to the top of the Molas Divide (elev. 10,880'), put on the skis and 50# pack in 3 feet of powder, and skied down a summer service road several miles until I couldn't see or hear the highway. I set up the tent, stockpiled a big pile of firewood (aspen), and ate dinner well after dark. This was during Christmas week, so things got dark at 5 PM. There was absolutely no breeze, but it seemed a little colder than the night before. After a couple of hours trying to get the aspen to properly burn, I crawled into my bag.
About 3 AM I woke myself up with fairly uncontrolled shivering. I realized that I must be going into stage I hypothermia, so I mustered all my energy to try to get my Optimus 8R lit. It probably took 10 minutes to light that stove, with cold shaking hands and a Bic that didn't want to light. I finally got some water boiling, and I pounded down 3-4 Cup-O-Soups, a couple of hot chocolates, and more hot drinks with snickers bars. The shaking went away, and I now had a sort of warm glow feeling. I had just enough awareness to realize that I was either going to be all right, or else I was entering stage II hypothermia. Since it was 3-4 miles and 500-600 vertical feet to get back to the car at the pass, and also the business of packing everything up, I decided to take my chances and try to sleep. One of two things would happen, right? I would either get some decent rest, or else I would die in my sleep. I was too tired to not chance it.
I woke up around 7 or so with the first light, had my coffee, and I decided that I would just pack up and get the hell out of there. It was a fair struggle to ski back up the road, with that pack load and the need to change ski wax for better grip, but I finally made it to the car. I drove into Silverton and bellied up to the counter of the diner for some steak and eggs. I asked the weathered old cowboy sitting next to me how cold it got last night. He said, "It was -31* F at my place, why do you ask?" I told him where/how I spent the night, and his reply was, "Well, yer a stupid son-of-a-bitch, 'cause it had to be -34* or below that up there. Yer lucky to be alive." I agreed with him. And I bought him his breakfast.
I try not to do that sort of stuff anymore. I mean, I'll still buy a cowboy a meal, but I hope to not choose to sleep outside when it's much below zero.