Ask most people when the best time of year to go camping and very few will say winter. However winter can be the best time to get into the outdoors and sleep in the wilds.
The most significant difference between summer and winter camping, unsurprisingly, is the temperature and the extra woes that can bring for those unprepared or less adjusted for the extremes of winter. Most importantly, kit choice is the most vital, but there are tricks and routines a camper can engage in to ensure they are snug and cosy, even in the coldest of snaps.
Eat well, sleep warm
Eating good, hearty warm food is a real bonus when your sleeping in cold environments. Preparing for a cold night by loading up with good, warm carbohydrates is a great first step. Staying warm takes energy, and while you sleep your body need to burn the furnace to help keep you going, so fuelling the engine is very important.
Drink less before bed
There is nothing worse than getting up to pee in the night when it’s cold. You might plan ahead and have an “in-tent” solution such as an old wide mouth bottle, but its never fun opening the sleeping bag and exposing essential parts to Jack Frost. If you limit the fluid you drink prior to bed time, your less likely to wake up needing a pee. However, if you do wake up in need of some relief – take some of the best advice I’ve ever been given and that is “be bothered”.
There is nothing worse than waking up for a wee and trying to hold it. You won’t sleep, you’ll toss and turn and have a terrible sleep. If you bear the cold, wee and be done with it, you’ll be back to
Hot water bottles are king
While you’re making your carb load dinner, boil up some water and put it in some bottles, then put those bottles in your sleeping bag. Pre warming allows you to get comfortable quicker and helps you spend less energy getting warm in the first instance.
It also means you’re able to keep yourself hydrated in your sleep with clean water that eventually will be cool enough to enjoy the next morning.
Core and tips
Keeping your core temperature up is important, so wearing adequate thermals is key. Some purists would argue that less is more, but I firmly disagree. A good set of bed time thermals can really improve your sleeping experience. Couple these with nice gloves, a good hat and some footwear and you’re rocking. When its really cold, I wear a pair of down slippers on my feet as well. These add to the comfort level and ensure my toes stay warm all night long. Its these tips of your body, the extremities that are most vulnerable.
Quality sleeping bag
A good quality 4 season sleeping bag is not cheap, but it is well worth the expense. If you can get a bag that is rated for comfort in the minus numbers, you’re more than likely to be warm. They are more bulky when packing which makes them difficult, but the more you spend, the more compact they become. Ensure you buy a bag that is suitable for your hight. Too small and you’ll find it restrictive, and too big, you’ll spend more energy than needed keeping the whole thing warm. Best to try some out at a local retailer.
If a new sleeping bag is not on the cards, then invest in a mummy bag liner. These extra thermal liners help to make your sleeping bag more insulated and make those 3 season bags as close to 4 seasons as it gets. Even if you have a 4 season bag, the liner helps when the temperature suddenly dips lower than expected.
Get the blood flowing
The temptation when at camp is to relax and enjoy the natural environment however, even as you relax you are slowly losing heat. If you then transition into your sleeping bag, it won’t take long for that cold to catch up on you. The best way to sleep warm is to start warm; even warmer than you need.
Engaging in some subtle exercise is really beneficial. Some star jumps, or some press ups; something quick and energetic that will get the heart rate up without breaking a sweat, you really do not want to climb into your sleeping bag already wet.
From the ground up
I always use a sleeping mat when camping, but in winter I use my inflatable thermal mat – it wasn’t cheap, but it is worth its weight in warmth and comfort. I will also usually put my spare mid layer under the mat and even my Down jacket under my head and shoulders below my sleeping bag. This also gives me the added bonus of pulling it over my head if my face is getting cold.
I have found inflatable thermal mats are amazing but people often opt for the cheaper versions. I am not suggesting the best shouldn’t cost less but often really cheap is also really poor. From testing cheap mats in comparison to expensive mats, I have noticed one dividing factor – air retention.
Cheap mats slowly bleed air and deflate leaving you eventually on the floor or the air shifts around in the mat meaning the lighter parts of you are elevated, while your heavy parts, like your hips, sink to the cold floor. More expensive brands might be a push for most campers investing on kit, but if there is one place I suggest you spend big, it’s on floor mats.
Winter camping is daunting until you do it right. Trips into the outdoors are much less frighten ing when you got prepared. My best advice is to create a routine and try in out, in a back garden or close to home; somewhere where you have a fall back if it doesn’t work. Tweak your perfect winter camp set up and stay warm and camp all year round!