Camping in winter

Mostly people camp during the warmer months but tenting it in winter can be magical and memorable, so long as you stay warm and dry.

Choose your spot

Choose a campsite that’s not exposed to the wind, too shady or too boggy.  Face the tent away from the wind.  If possible, aim to get the early morning sun in the tent’s entrance.

If there is snow on the ground, consider putting a small tarp under your tent for a little extra insulation.

Layers of clothes, lots of layers

Beware getting too sweaty in cold weather.  Take plenty of layers and adjust them as needed.  Rug up before getting cold after physical activity.

Most people start with thermal or merino full length underwear, with one or more layers of breathable fleece over it. A decent hat is important, as people can loose 10% of their heat from the top of their head.  Gloves or mittens are another must.  Mittens keep hands warmer, but can be inconvenient when you want to do something. A scarf or neck-warmer is a good idea, and always remember weatherproof jacket and trousers. Even if it’s not raining, they can be great wind protection. Consider taking a down filled jacket or vest for rest times.  They are light, pack small and are like wearing a sleeping bag.

Decent boots are essential.  They should be water proof or at least water retardant.  Take plenty of socks, more than you think you’ll need. If you’re traversing boggy areas and your feet are likely to get wet, take some camp slippers.

If the weather is wet, make sure you have at least one warm set dry for in the tent.  Dressing back in to yesterday’s wet clothes is not one of life’s pleasures, but it’s important to keep one set dry for sleeping and resting.

Dry and warm at night – watch the condensation

Don’t even think about going camping in winter without a decent sleeping bag and sleeping mat.  A sleeping back inner can increase the warmth of bedding and, if it’s really cold, wear clothes to bed.  Put any extra clothes on top for a few extra degrees of warmth. Wear a beanie to bed.

The sleeping mat is for insulation from the ground as well as comfort.  Make sure it’s thick and full length.  Many take two mats, one full length one and one shorter torso length one.

It’s a good idea to get in to bed warm, rather than relying on the sleeping bag to warm you up.  Move around a bit before turning in.

Condensation is always an issue in tents, and especially in winter.  To reduce it, make sure there’s plenty of airflow. Even if the tent is cooler, it’s better than being wet.  Consider a small towel or sponge to mop up some of the water in the morning. Air the tent and your bedding out whenever possible.

Pack well

Pack the tent in an easy to access spot, say the separate so-called sleeping bag compartment down the bottom of many packs if the weather is likely to be wet or snowy. Then you can get it out and pitch it, then unpack your bedding and everything else inside the tent.  Pack everything but especially bedding and spare clothes in water tight bags, or at least two layers of plastic bag.

Take one or more silver space blankets for emergencies or unexpected coldness. They are light and effective, even if they are impossible to refold.

Food and drink to warm the soul

Take hearty food and plenty of it. Consider eating late to make sure you’re warm when you tuck in to bed.

Drink, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If there’s snow, bury water bottles under it to help stop it from freezing.

A campfire is great but not always possible.  Camp stoves may not have the same atmosphere but they can provide hot food, soups and hot drinks to help campers warm up from the inside. Hot drinks also make great hand warmers on the way to the stomach.

No matter how attractive the idea, a camp stove or any naked flame in or near a tent is a bad idea.  It’s ok near the tent, as long it’s downwind.  Consider having it all ready to go so you can light it then snuggle back in bed while the stove is heating.  This is also a good thing to do if the water in your containers is likely to freeze overnight.

Long nights

Take a torch and spare batteries for the long cold nights. Take a book, puzzles such as crosswords or Sudoku, and a pack of cards.  Catch up on sleep or whatever you can do in a sleeping bag. As long as you keep warm and dry, especially at night, camping in winter can be both relaxing and invigorating.