A Guide to Winter Camping
Winter camping is not for the fainthearted. It requires a lot of planning and experience and you can't just 'brave the cold' last minute. It's true that winter camping is much quieter and more peaceful than peak seasons which can offer unrivalled views of the great outdoors. But, in order to fully appreciate the joy of winter camping, you need to be fully prepared to brave the weather in the winter months.
Prepare for the Weather
Winter campers know full well that you can't just plan a last-minute camping trip in November. That sleeping bag you used in July just won't be good enough and can you even be sure that you can handle the cold? Especially when the temperature drops at night. Follow these top tips before you decide to brave the cold.
Test out all of the camping gear you already have.
There's no point in buying a whole new set of camping equipment if what you already have is in good working order. So, why not test it out in your back garden as the nights get colder and see if your existing gear can withstand the cold, then make a list of everything you need for your winter camping trip.
Check the weather
While you may be prepared for the cold, do you have everything you need to survive a potential snowstorm? In the lead up to your trip, you should keep checking the weather. Any drastic changes or storms on the horizon could put you at risk and ruin your trip. So, even though it may be the last thing you want to do, you should always be prepared to cancel your winter camping trip at the last minute if it means keeping yourself safe from dangerous weather.
Plan where to stay
If you've never camped in the winter before, it's probably a good idea to stay close to home. Maybe try a campsite you've stayed at before or head to an area you're very familiar with. That way, you know there is plenty to do during the day, whatever the weather, and if you need to make a quick exit, you're never too far from safety.
Take The Right Gear
Your two-man, two-season tent might be perfect for your summer camping trip but it probably won't hold up in the winter. Equally, a thin sleeping bag won't keep you warm enough at night. So, make sure you take the right gear to help you stay warm and dry.
Four Season Tent
With winter camping, you should plan for the worst possible weather conditions. So, a four-season tent will provide the perfect shelter you need when the weather becomes challenging. Four season tents are designed to withstand harsh winds, freezing temperatures and heavy snow and the material is usually more durable than your typical 'summer' tent.
The Right Sleeping Bag
Although a down sleeping bag might seem like a great idea, you need something that will dry quickly in damp conditions. Choose a sleeping bag with synthetic insulation as this will dry quicker if it gets wet and look for something that is temperatures as low as at least -9℃. You should also use a sleeping bag liner as this will provide you with more warmth in colder months.
In the winter, it is darker for longer. So, you are likely to need to turn the lights on earlier on in the evening and possibly in the morning too. Because you'll need to use your lights for longer, you'll likely need to change the batteries more often. We'd recommend taking rechargeable lithium batteries as they tend to last longer but don't forget to charge them before your trip!
Aside from warm clothes and blankets, there are plenty of other things you can do to protect yourself from the elements. Simple tricks like setting up your tent entrance so it faces the east can help you to warm up first thing in the morning.
Pack your warmest winter clothes and then pack some extra layers. Base layers are key to keeping you warm. Not only do they provide great insulation, but they are also thin enough for you to layer up on top. You should wear multiple layers during the day and night and sleep close to other people in your tent as body heat will help you to stay warm. However, you should keep your mouth and nose out of the sleeping bag to prevent moisture from getting inside.
For getting cosy in bed or sitting outside your tent as the sun comes up, you can never take too many blankets. Wrap up warm by putting blankets above and below your sleeping bag when you go to bed and when you're sat around camp. Keep spare blankets in your car in case any get wet.
If you are camping on a pitch with electric hook up, you may want to consider taking a small electric heater. This should be compatible with the campsite electrics and shouldn't be left on overnight, but it can take off the chill before you go to sleep and when you wake up. If the weather is dry, a fire pit outside of your tent can help to keep you warm in the evening. You should also remember basic supplies like hot water bottles and hand warmers.
Food and Drink
Pre-cooking is always a great idea when you go camping as it means that you only need to warm up your food when you arrive. You should take a suitable portable cooker so you can prepare your meals outdoors and try to camp close to a water source so you can collect drinking water and wash dishes.
Whether you are wild camping or on a site, you should always pitch close to a water source. Not only so you can stay hydrated throughout the day, but also so you can warm up with a hot drink in the morning or evening. Take a camping kettle for a coffee in the morning or a hot chocolate in the evening. It is also great for filling up a hot water bottle before you go to bed.
Carbohydrates provide a slow release of energy which is great to help keep you going on a cold day. So, start the day off with porridge oats, snack on granola bars, nuts and seeds and try to bulk out your other meals with rice or pasta to keep you well-fueled throughout the day.
High glucose drinks and snacks are great for giving you short bursts of energy. This might be the burst of energy you need to keep going on your trek for the day or to collect wood for your fire and boost you throughout the day.
Winter Camping Tips
If you're new to camping, we definitely wouldn't recommend braving the cold between October-March. However, if you are braving the cold, you should make sure you have:
- A four-season tent
- Enough space to store all of your belongings inside your tent
- A winter sleeping bag and liners
- First aid kit
- Groundsheet and sleeping mats
- Snow shovel and walking poles
- Lights and spare batteries
- Warm clothes and spare blankets
If winter camping just isn't for you, it is a great time to assess your camping gear and purchase upgrades or replacements for the next camping season. That way, you can make the most of out of season sales and upgrade your equipment for a better price. If you still want to get into the outdoors, why not try indoor camping in a converted barn, yurt or glamping pod?
Whenever you decide to go camping, make sure you have enough space in your car for all of your gear. This might mean adding a towbar so you can take a trailer or roof bars so you can attach a roof box on the top of your car. And, if you're looking for something to do in the day, why not add a bike rack so you can take your bikes along with you. Whatever you decide to do, plan ahead and stay safe during your winter camping trip.