I had a question the other day from one of my readers regarding winter camping and what I could suggest to make the trip more comfortable, I have been working on a more detailed post, but have been quite busy. So today’s post is just a quick post to quickly cover a few critical mistakes made my newbie winter campers.
I remember my first winter camping trip out at Ballarat, I had a brand spanking new 0 degrees rated Roman sleeping bag, and a closed cell foam mat. I was using a pillow made from my jumper and I was sleeping in an old Millitary disposal auto-tent, which had no floor so we had rolled out a tarp. That name is incredibly misleading by the way, Auto tents are hard work to put up! I thought I was going to be warm and cozy, but it was a very cold and uncomfortable night. The temperature probably didn’t drop even as low as 0, but I just didn’t have enough insulation around me to keep my warmth in.
This is a classic example of newbie campers. There was a distinct possibility that I would never have camped in winter again, although I did end up doing a lot more camping with Scouts. Obviously I would learn to love camping in all times of the year, and with a little more gear I would eventually be much more comfortable over-night even in much colder climates.
What would have made my night a bit warmer would have been:
Bring a Blanket – While a 0 degrees sleeping bag seems impressive, make sure that you check whether this is an “extreme rating” or a “comfort rating” it turns out, my Roman was a comfort rating of 2 degrees with an extreme rating of 0. It was still easily good enough, but that doesn’t mean that you cant be caught out. Bringing along a small woolen blanket can help a lot. After the trip a wool blanket actually became something I would take on every winter trip for years. Easily wrapped around you if its cold, or pushed off during the night if you get too warm, it’s a great idea to have a blanket for winter trips.
A warmer/thicker ground mat. Contrary to what you might believe you lose a lot of warmth through the ground, and the colder the ground, the quicker it will make you freeze. I personally use an inflatable air-matress that is a Li-Lo clone. This mattress effectively raises me about 2.5cm above the ground and insulates the distance with Air filled foam. When winter camping, its best to make sure that you get a full length one as apposed to a ¾ one. A very large amount of your body heat escapes from your head and your feet.
A better tent – This is probably the easiest one to achieve, most hiking and camping you do in Australia will not actually require a 4 season tent, even in the middle of winter, something as cheap as a Coleman or Oz Explorer tent should be enough to get you by. That is unless you’re heading to Alpine areas, and if that’s true, I am hoping that you’re experienced in more mild winter camping conditions or travelling with somebody who can help you out. While a cheap tent will do, a high quality tent will allow you to access a whole new world of camping especially if its light enough for hiking. Getting something like an MSR HubbaHubba or a Macpac Olympus will give you incredible versatility and ventilation. Ventilation stops condensation, without good ventilation, the humidity in the tent can lead to a very wet tent and gear in the morning, not a nice thing to wake up to, and will definitely cause you to become cold overnight.
A better ground tarp – this is a bit of a gimme, so its not one of the 5, but more of a component of a better tent. I would be amazed if there are many tent designs in the world still in production that don’t have a floor these days.
My story isn’t over yet though, the next day, When I rose, I was cold until about 11:30, when the sun finally rose high enough to bake away some of the frost that was still on the ground. I was plodding along in my Puma’s, shaking in my trackie dacks. The only part of me that was warm was my chest because I had brought the jumper I used to wear when we were at the snow. A trusty old Kathmandu jumper from the early nineties, which was very cool mind you, as this story dates back to the mid-nineties.
I don’t blame anybody except myself for being cold, My parents had sent me on the camp with a pair of thermals, I just refused to wear them. They had sent me with woolen explorer socks, but they were scratchy! They had equipped me with a big fat wooly jumper and I had actually chosen to wear that, and guess what? It was the only part of my body that was warm!
What else could I have done?
Wear Appropriate clothing – This is one I cannot possibly stress enough, wear clothing that is appropriate, this means wool or specifically designed warm clothing and layers of it. Camping and hiking in winter, you will be performing varying amounts of exercise through the day. For example in the Alpine, I wear, Thermals, both top and bottom, a polar-tech t-shirt, my normal hiking pants, a fairydown jumper and if its really blowy I will wear my rain jacket and overplants. Each layer can be taken off or put on as I am walking, this allows me to constantly change what I am wearing to keep comfortable, which usually means walking in my thermals and hiking pants, Hey! Don’t get indignant, it looks like a tshirt…
Other appropriate clothing includes Beanies, Gloves and anything that helps keep your extremities warm, when you’re sitting still, even a positive 10 degrees is still pretty cold without the right attire.
Layer up – In most cold environments being too warm is just as bad as being too cold, being too warm leads to sweat which will eventually cause you to become incredibly cold when you stop exercising. I actually hate layers, I burn so hot when I am exercising that even when I was on a a ski trip in New Zealand last year I would only be wearing a T-shirt under my unzipped jacket in -10 degrees (It *was* sunny which helps too I suppose), but when I stop, even though I find it uncomfortable at first, I layer up. These layers hold pockets of air between the clothes which warm up and help to insulate you. This is a very controllable way of moderating your warmth.