The Boy Scout motto is "Always be prepared," and true to their word, some Detroit Lakes boy scouts were just that last weekend.

During the scouts' annual winter camp up at Camp Wilderness (near of Park Rapids) a few boys got a cold, hard lesson on winter survival.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The boys were attempting to earn an award called the Below Zero Hero award, which requires the boys to sleep outside all night in below zero conditions.

Typically, the scouts would build snow shelters, or quinzees, in order to block the wind and insulate their limited body heat.

Lack of snow, however, killed those plans.

But three boy scouts from troop 674 didn't let that stop them.

"We pitched a tent," said eighth-grader Devin Hagen. "We got on sweatpants and tried to keep things loose because if you dress too warm you'll sweat and it'll freeze."

Hagen and his Boy Scout buddies (and fellow eighth-graders) Jacob Noll and Jacob Itzen prepared themselves for a long, cold night.

They ate a high calorie meal so that their bodies were able to more efficiently generate heat.

"We relaxed and tried to warm up to get our body heat up before we went to go freeze all night," said Itzen, who just re-joined the Boy Scouts a few months ago after quitting in the second grade.

The boys entered their sleeping bags warm and cozy.

From there, it was a matter of trying to preserve enough of that heat to make it through the night.

Their scoutmaster, Tim Hagen, who says the boys were a "little cocky" going into it, would check on them every three hours to ensure hypothermia wasn't setting in.

10 p.m. -- they entered the tent

Tents don't hold heat like snow does.

"It was 19 degrees outside, so that meant it was 19 degrees in the tent," said Noll, who says they got into their mummy sleeping bags right away to trap some of the heat.

Although it was chilly for the boys, it took them only 15 minutes to fall asleep.

"But it was awkward because we were sleeping on rough, uneven ground, so we just kept waking up -- asleep, awake, asleep, awake," said Hagan.

The scouts say it didn't take long to start losing their heat, but it was still do-able.

1 a.m. - scoutmaster's first check

"He woke us up and my feet were getting a little colder, but other than that it was good," said Itzen, who had also woken up several times from the cold, "I think it was just our body's instinct to make sure everything was OK," he said.

Although young Hagen slept through the first "check," he says they'd periodically wake up feeling cold, but would talk about how cool their badge was going to look.

They also had a contest to see who could stay in the sleeping bags the longest without having to go to the bathroom.

"I could tell we were cooling down because we had just been curled up in the sleeping bags, not moving at all," said Noll, "but we were still fine."

Scoutmaster Hagen says at this point he could hear the boys were in good spirits.

"They were laughing and joking," said Hagen, "I could tell they were still feeling good."

4 a.m. - second check

"By this time we could feel that the outside of the sleeping bags were wet from condensation, so that was kind of weird," said Noll, "the ground underneath us was wet too."

(Tim Hagen attributes this to the heat trying to equalize between the frozen ground and the boys' warm bodies.)

"I noticed the tone in their voice had changed. It was no longer laughing and joking, they were getting more serious," said Tim Hagen, "So I asked them how their body was reacting to get them to think about it and vocalize it."

The scouts had been trained to detect the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

"The cold I felt in my feet earlier was working its way up my legs, and my hands were really cold by then," said Itzen, who came up with the idea of putting their mittens on their feet and their hands in their arm pits.

"It was cool," said Hagen, "we were just laying there, really getting a feel for the outdoors."

6 a.m. -- the finish

Itzen says his teeth were chattering a bit and he was shivering, "that's the very, very beginning stages of hypothermia, but nothing serious -- you just have to make sure you go and get warm," he said.

Eight hours had passed, and the scouts knew it.

They also knew if they got out of the tent before the scoutmaster came, they wouldn't get the badge.

"So we waited," said Hagen. "We didn't want to miss out on getting it just because of a few minutes."

Those few minutes turned into several minutes, as Scoutmaster Hagen showed up a half hour later.

"I said, 'Boys, you ready to come in and thaw out?', and all I heard was zip, zip, zip, and they were out of the tent making a mad dash for the cabin," he laughed.

In a bit of sick irony, just as the boys entered the cabin, the heater shut off.

They crawled into bed as the rest of the troop still slept.

"And as I was laying there in bed, I heard the click of the heater going back on," said Scout Master Hagen, "and then I could hear the three of them giggling ... it was great."

Although the temperature never dipped below zero that night, the scouts still received their awards, with the promise that they'll do it again next year.

"I just hope there's snow next year so that it's not so cold," laughed Nolls.

"I do think doing something like this helps makes you more prepared in case you ever were stranded and needed to know what to do," said Itzen, who says he's glad now that he re-joined the Boy Scouts.

"I'll never forget that night," said Hagen, "never -- it was awesome."