How To - Keep Warm While Winter Camping
Snuggling around a campfire in a warm sleeping bag, hot cuppa and toasted marshmallows in hand, with the freshness of the cool winter air slowly circulating, is a truly beautiful experience. But what if you're not so snug and warm? Keeping warm is one of the factors that can truly make or break a cold weather adventure. To stay warm and get a good night's sleep on your next camping or backpacking trip, follow our tips below:
Top Tips For Keeping Warm While Winter Camping
1. Stay active. A great way to warm up and maintain body warmth is to increase your blood circulation. When you have poor blood flow to certain areas of your body, you'll have a difficult time getting warm. Take a brief hike around camp or simply star jump on the spot.
2. Select a protected campsite out of the wind, and off the valley floor and other low areas where cold air settles. A good rule is to set up your tent about 15 metres above the valley floor.
3. In order to stay warm you need to stay dry. To do this, it's best to layer your clothing and stick to the 3-layer rule, which incorporates a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer. For your base layer, choose thermals made from a fabric like synthetic or Merino wool that dries quickly and wicks moisture up to the outer layers where it is evaporated. This will keep you nice and dry. Avoid cotton as it takes a long time to dry and loses its insulating qualities as it gets wet. Next is your middle layer, which serves as insulation to retain body heat. Down or fleece works best for this layer (again, stay away from cotton). Finally, your outer layer should be waterproof, windproof and well ventilated.
4. Fluff up your sleeping bag with vigour to gain maximum loft before you climb in.
5. Keep your nose and mouth outside your sleeping bag. While it feels warm at the time, your breath contains moisture that can cause dampness to collect in the bag as you sleep. To keep your face warm, wear a balaclava, neck gaiter or wrap a scarf around your face.
Simple ways to stay warm around a winter campsite include layering your clothing correctly with a thermal base layer (left), staying hydrated and eating warm foods (centre), and using quality sleeping gear (right).
6. Roll the moisture out of your sleeping bag each morning when you get up (roll from foot to head), then leave it open until it cools to air temperature. If weather permits, set it out to dry.
7. Ventilate your tent. You'll notice on most tent designs that there are air vents. As much as you'd like to close these, it's important that you keep them open. While sleeping your breath creates moisture-forming condensation on the tent walls. If there's enough moisture, water droplets will begin running down onto your sleeping bag and sleeping mat. If these items get wet, you'll get colder.
8. Use a good insulating sleeping mat between you and the ground. Studies show that what you have under you is more important in keeping you warm than what is on top of you. Some sleeping mats insulate better than others, for example, a closed cell mat insulates much better than an air mattress. When the weather is colder, pick the pad with the higher R-value. It's amazing how much body heat can be lost down into the sleeping mat.
9. Get a good sleeping bag to help you keep warm in your tent at night. Take special note on sleeping bag ratings: if you want to keep warm, purchase a bag rated approximately 6°C colder than the temperature at which you plan to camp.
10. Stay hydrated and eat plenty of warm food. Your body is expending energy to keep you warm. It's important to drink tons of water in cold temperatures because water allows your body to generate heat. Your body is working harder under the weight of all your extra clothing, and your sweat is evaporating much more rapidly in cold, dry air. When you winter camp, your body will need as much as twice the calories it usually needs. Choose foods that will provide your body with energy. Proteins like jerky and dehydrated eggs are great for bringing along on trips, while nuts containing fats, and carbohydrates like breads, oatmeal, dried fruits and candy will also boost your energy. If you're backpacking, snack on your food throughout the day. Also, having a late-night snack before you go to bed will give your body enough fuel to generate heat during the cold night.