It is officially winter, and some people say that is not camping season. But just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t have fun camping. As long as you are prepared to be in the elements correctly, cold weather camping doesn’t have to be miserable.
Dress appropriately for cold weather camping
A Scandinavian saying says it all – “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” And if you ask any seasoned camper about cold weather camping, they will tell you it’s just fine as long as you are dressed appropriately. Wearing the right clothing and have the right sleeping bag are key to enjoy cold weather camping.
I wear a puffy down jacket rated for like 20 below. But, I am cold natured. If you know you are cold-natured, you may want to look at clothing that is warmer than you might need. I bought a super warm jacket because I know I get cold easily. In addition to a warm jacket, I cover my head and wear a scarf when I’m just lounging around the campsite. And I have a wonderful blanket I put over my legs to help them stay warm.
For my pajama’s I usually sleep in a base-layer legging with wide pajama pants on over them. And for my top, I sleep in a base-layer long-sleeve shirt with and bigger long-sleeve shirt over it. That way, if I get hot I can shed a layer. I also wear big fluffy wool socks on my feet.
You may have heard the “sleep naked” debate. Well, as far as I have tested this theory with just pajama shorts and a tank, I can say it did not work for me. The idea is that if you wear too many layers you block your body heat from heating the air inside your sleeping bag. But I think a good base-layer is the trick.
The hot water bottle trick
One thing to look for in a sleeping bag is how well it seals off from the outside air. I have a sleeping bag that is rated for 30 degrees but can only really use it above 50 degrees because it doesn’t seal the air inside it. Meaning, my body heat escapes the sleeping bag and cold air from the night comes in.
A good sleeping bag for cold weather camping seals in your body heat. And it’s your body heat that keeps you warm. So what does that have to do with a hot water bottle?
Well, because your sleeping bag uses your body heat to warm the air inside, it’s not warm until you get into it. And then it takes some time to heat up. But, if you boil water, put it in a water bottle, and place it into your sleeping bag before you get in, it pre-warms your bag. That way it’s nice and toasty from the get-go. But don’t forget to make sure you have tightly sealed the lid!
If don’t trust your water bottle or are like me and paranoid, then try using hand and feet warmers.
Insulate yourself from the ground
The first cold weather camping trip I went on where I used an air-filled sleeping mat was a game-changer. Until that time, I didn’t know how a thin layer of air could keep me so much warmer. I was sold.
Not only does a sleeping mat provide you with comfort, but it also insulates the cold hard ground from seeping into your bones. Not all sleeping mats are created equal. When purchasing a mat, you can choose varying thicknesses as well as what the experts call an “R-value.” The higher the number for the R-value, the warmer the sleeping mat. The R-value determines the mat’s ability to resist heat loss. Just another way of retaining that body heat.
Blankets are great for putting on picnic table benches or the ground and insulating your bottom from cold.
Fill up your space with bodies
That big spacious tent may be nice and roomy, but it takes more body heat to fill that space. I went backpacking once with a roomy two-man tent. I was the only one using the tent because my hiking partner, my brother, slept in his hammock. And I froze! When I got home, I decided I wanted a one-man tent to help trap the heat. It may just be cloth protection, but it’s still always warmer inside the tent than out.
Another time I was camping with my best friend. The low was going to be 25 degrees that night. We decided to sleep in the car for extra warmth. To make room, we stuffed all of our gear into the front seat to set up two beds in the back of the car. We both woke up sweating from cramming two people and a dog into a tight space.
I know a car is not the same as a tent, but a tent does provide some insulation.
Drink hot liquids
The same way that a hot water bottle warms up the air in your sleeping bag, drinking hot liquids warms up your insides. When you’re cold weather camping, it is not the time to be sipping on the water kept cold in your Hydro Flask or Yeti. Drinking cold liquids cools you down and drinking hot liquids warms you up.
Now, I just have a problem because I don’t want to have to get out of my sleeping to pee. So I tend to not drink close to bedtime. But it’s great to sip on cocoa or apple cider by the campfire. It also helps prevent you from becoming cold in the evening and relying on your sleeping bag to warm you up.
Once I sat outside in the cold and froze until bedtime. When I finally climbed into my sleeping bag, I had to thaw out my body before it could warm the air in my sleeping bag to warm me up. Get the process? It was a long night.
Eat a snack
But unlike drinking, I do like to eat a snack just before bed. Eating a snack or something puts your stomach and digestive track to work. This generates energy in your body, which generates heat. So just eating a quick snack before you crawl into your tent will help you stay warm until you fall asleep.
Cold weather camping
Don’t let the cold keep you from doing what you love. Simply being prepared, dressing appropriately, and knowing some tricks, can help you stay comfortable while camping in the cold.