- In payed collaboration with Addnature - Winter camping provides us with cozy moments and cold challenges. The freezing temperature and the harsh weather puts higher demands on our routines, our ability to cope with cold and our gear. Simultaneously the stillness in nature is pure magic and it's marvellous to experience both night and day outdoors in winter as well. Anything from the long, cozy night by the fire, to early morning, glistening with frost and fresh snow. This post is for you whom are new to winter camping or used to go winter camping but need some updates and inspiration to get yourself out there again. It's mostly about camping in the lower lands, winter camping in the mountains is another subject we might press some other time.
Getting past that "it's cold and dark"
It's easy to get lost in the djungel of outdoor gear, stare oneself blind on comfort-temperatures and r- ratings. And sure, good gear makes a difference and in many cold situations they're lifesaving. But it's more important to get yourself out, in fair conditions. Is it - 5° C, but you can't afford a winter sleeping bag? Borrow a summer bag from a friend and use it together with your own.
Take it step by step. It's like exercise - few runs the whole mile their first time running. Try sleeping a night in your garden, on your balcony or in the woods close to your car. It's also a perfect opportunity to find what routines works for you! To pitch a tent with mittens is harder than one might think, so practice in your garden. Your neighbours are always looking at their phones anyways. By trying your routines during day trips or one night hikes and keep an eye on the temperature, you'll soon learn what you need to add to your gear or change in your routine.
To many the darkness and cold is a high threshold. But it's a fantastic boost of confidence once you're past it. In the beginning your main goal should be to have a good time, be snug, learn how to handle cold and see each trip as a lesson. Eventual week long hikes or expeditions will be built on all of your short trips.
I've written more about the psycho-sociological factors on sleeping alone outdoors in a previous post. You'll find it here.
With day's growing shorter, I prefer to make basecamp hikes. Meaning, make camp early and then make day trips extending from the camp until dusk. Then one simply returns to camp to cook and cuddle by the fire.
Make it snug
I love the long evenings when winter camping. To hang out with friends around the campfire, cook good food or just chill in my sleeping bag with a nice book. Me and my partner puts up a mini-light strand in our tent, not only does it look good on instagram, but it gives you enough light in the tent without blinding your partner. Just remember to take out the batteries before going to bed and keep them warm - this way they'll last longer.
Reading to one another is also a nice activity in the tent for all ages.
Eat and drink properly
In order to keep warm in freezing temperature we need a lot of energy and water. Fat, protein and carbs. In other words it's totally legit to put some extra butter on your lunch sandwich. If you're out for several days put the bag/beeswrap with your sandwich in your innerpocket while hiking/skiing, to keep them from freezing.
Some examples of food for winter: Stews or pizza for the long campfire night in base camp. Pancakes for your day trip - as long as you eat them one by one instead of waiting for the whole SMET to be done. Couscous stew with coconut cream and random veggies in goes fast on your trangia. Please note, that things like pasta demands a lot of water with takes quite long to heat when it's freezing outdoors. Fat nuts are nice for snacks - especially if you're vegan.
Make it a habit of drinking a proper amount of water before leaving camp and every once in a while during your hike. My winter lunches are basically soup and dark bread with PÅLÄGG. Fast, warm, enough filling and liquids in one. When it's cold we don't notice we're thirsty in the same way and when dehydrated we're prone to freeze more. Ironically it's good to take a piss before going to bed, so that your body won't have to heat more water in your kidneys than necessary.
I can recommend to boil water to clean it, no matter if it's from the stream or melted snow. Water purifiers easily clog with ice for some reason ...
Three hacks for using trangia in winter
- In freezing temperatures red ethanol or gaosleen are to be preferred to gas.
- Bring a thin cutting board to put underneath your trangia, this will increase the oxygen input and make it more effective.
- If melting snow on the trangia and using liquid fule - take your snow a few meters away from your trangia. One night me and my friend made the mistake to scoop up snow in which we'd spilled some red ethanol. It did NOT taste like lemonade and we had to waste time melting two more pots with snow. One to rinse out the thermos with the ethanol-water, the other one in order to have water for the day ahead.
Hygiene and frostbites
Much of the daily hygiene is manageable in your sleeping bag using baby wipes (keep them in your sleeping bag for a while so they Ian't frozen). Put the used baby wipes in your trash bag and bring them home - they don't compost. Make it a habit using hand sanitiser after doing no 1&2 even if you're wearing gloves or mittens most of the trip.
Avoid to clean of your face in winter, the skins' sebum protects you, Don't use full covering make up, it makes it harder for your friends to recognise frost bite sin time (thank you @outdoor_wilda for the reminder). Frost bites looks like white dots on exposed skin. It's also important to check in with each other to see if everyone can feel their toes and fingers when moving them. Never rub on frost bitten skin, simply put a hand or a body temperatured waterbottle against it.
If you want to put lotion on your face, use one without water like coconut oil or similar. I like to smear my cheeks and nose before going to bed, so that the moisture of my breath won't creep into my skin and make it cold.
If your bladder wakes you up, simply get up and do something about it. It won't sort it out by itself and most people have a hard time getting back to sleep when they need to go. There are she-wees if you don't want to pull down your trousers in the cold - practise in the shower back home first. My partner uses a pet bottle with a wide opening so they won't have to leave the tent. A female friend of mine has learned to pee in a yoghurt bucket, sitting in her sleeping bag. So yes - anything is possible with some practice. The rest of us gotta work on our mental strength to force ourselves out of the snug and warm sleeping bag. If we're lucky the stars are out.
To sleep snug you need to be warm yourself before going to bed. Jump around, do squats or dance (without breaking a sweat) before going into the tent. You can also put water bottles filled up with hot water in your used socks. Perfect as radiators in your sleeping bag, socks will dry and you'll have drinkable water when you wake up. Try to dry the rest of your clothes by the fire, especially if you're prone to freeze. It's possible to dry damp small clothes in your sleeping bag, but if it's really cold they will steal too much of your body heat.
Clothes to sleep in
I wear a complete, dry, merino outfit when sleeping. From woolen briefs, to merino leggings, jumper, gaiters, beans and scarf/buff. If you don't have any woolen underwear you can put your normal underwear outside your merino garments. Also known as the superhero-look . Heard friend uses down slippers and another friend has a little piece of sheep skin that she puts under her hip inside her sleeping bag.
Your tent should, preferably been constructed to be used all year round, meaning the outer canvas goes all the way to the ground and there are no inner walls entirely made of mesh, that snow might spray through when it's windy. The poles should be constructed to take some heavy snowfall. This is most important in the mountains or on longer trips. If you just want to bug out for the weekend in a few minus degrees and calm weather in the forest - bring that 3 season tent of yours if that's what you've got.
Do you live in a place with deep snow? Then you'll need a bunch of snow anchors, to pitch and secure the tent. (Link to product at Addnature:) This is what a snow anchor may look like. Of course you can build your own as well. Ain't there no snow, but the ground is rock hard? Fetch some rocks and tie around them to secure your tent. Please, remember to return the stones before you leave.
Choosing your campsite
Pick your campsite carefully. Although the twisted pines of the mire is rad, all the cold air will roll down hill and gather on the mire. You'll be warmer a bit higher up in the woods. If the snow is deep, trodd around with your skis/snowshoes to pack it where you want your tent. Once you've pitched it, dig out the apses - it'll make it more comfy to sit and the cold air will gather int he apse rather on the same level as you sleep.
Remember to open all ventilation windows, and preferably keep the inner tent open when camping in freezing temperatures. It might seem counterproductive at first, but by keeping the tent open you'll release all the moisture from your breathe, that otherwise would have become frost in your ceiling and fall down on you as snow. Obviously it's a good idea to close all vent if a snowstorm hits.
Most sleeping bags have two drawstrings by the opening that you want to keep track on. One to regulate the size of the opening and another to regulate the stuffed collar inside the sleeping bag, that help you keep the heat. Extra important in winter sleeping bags, are the stuffed cover along the inside of the zipper. Also check if there's a small pocket on the inside. if so, that's where you want to put your phone, camera battery and head torch. If there isn't or if it's too small, don't worry. Simply put your stuff in a small bag and put it in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Makes your alarm in the morning more effective - and more annoying as well.
If you borrow or rent a sleeping bag that is too long for you, (which means you can't touch the bottom with your feet and look out through the opening at the same time) you can tie of the lower part of the sleeping bag. Remove the knot when you're not sleeping in the bag though, so you don''t squeeze the stuffing more than necessary..
How do I know if the bag is warm enough?
Inside modern sleeping bags, there use to be a small patch attached on the inside with a small chart. There you can read alla about Extreme temperature and comfort temperature. Choose sleeping bag based on the comfort temperature. The extreme temperature only tells you how cold temperatures you're expected to survive in the sleeping bag. In general if you're born with a uterus, you might need a warmer sleeping bag, due to hormones. Sleeping bags designed for afab are usually have a bit more room around the hips, some more fluff by the feet and be shorter.
A plastic sleeping mat is cheaper and not as sensitive to sharp stuff on the ground. It works perfectly well with one or two of them during winter. I think the plastic sleeping mats works fine as long as the ground is pretty soft, like covered with blueberry bushes or heather. But it can also be a matter of age. Until two years ago I could tell myself "it's just one uncomfortable night in my entire life, that's not so bad". And it worked pretty well! Though, there's been a lot of uncomfortable nights.
Inflatable sleeping mats comes in many models. Those that are 2 cm thick and inflates themselves - for a while. And thicker mattresses that you need to inflate yourself, some with an integrated pump - others require some lung capacity. If you've got the sensitive back of an otherwise badass outdoor-princess/prince, you might want to consider one of these.
Rein deer hides are amazingly warm and beautiful. It's very nice to put in your hammock or tree tent, though most people need to use an extra patch of plastic sleeping pad. Maybe not the vegans choice, plus it takes up a lot of space in your pack and shred some.
Life hack! Put a down jacket or your other clothes in a bag and there you go - a pillow! A bit more nodular than an inflatable pillow but cheaper and one item less to carry.
Do you bring your dog?
If you're not accompanied by a husky whom have set fur for the polar night, make sure your dog has something to sleep on. It might be anything from a piece of sleeping pad, rein deer hide or a blanket to a little sleeping bag of their own. It depends on how prone your dog is to freeze. When me and my Finnish lapphund, Peikko, lived in a tipi tent all year round, he set fur properly and slept on an old summer sleeping bag - if he wanted to.Now when we're living indoors most of the time I gotta be more careful making sure he's snug and warm. Last time we went camping he got to snug into my sleeping bag in the morning. Super cozy. Most dogs needs more food when it's cold, so increase their portions on your winter adventures.
When you're back home
- Put everything up to dry, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rein deer hide and clothes.
- Clean and treat your boots with some grease or wax.
- Clear your pots from soot - clear vinegar is your best friend when fighting the soot. Put on a few drops, let it soak and then do the dishes.
- Go through your gear, is there anything you need to fix before next trip?
Was this helpful?
Please share it with others who might need some inspiration to get out in the winter wonder land! Would you like some more hacks on sleeping outdoors in general? Check out my previous post - Sleeping outdoors when it's cold.
Camp in peace!