How to

8 June 2016

Keeping Warm When You’re Camping in the Cold

For many people, camping never extends beyond summertime jaunts to the peak district or Glastonbury, but for some it’s a year round thing. It’s hard to make someone who’s never done it understand, but camping in the cold is a uniquely uncomfortable experience if you aren’t accurately prepared.

I’m not just talking about having the right sleeping bag here, that’s just one small part of a bigger picture. Speaking purely in terms of gear, you should also have a proper mat, long underwear, a hat or balaclava and a thermal vest. If it’s really cold you might also want to invest in a vapour barrier (they look like rolls of bubbly foil). A hot water bottle is also a wise idea.

Of course, when cold really becomes an issue, you have to improvise a bit. Piling things over the top of your sleeping bag is actually more effective (provided you’re still wearing thermal stuff underneath), because it stops evaporation from occurring across the sleeping bag’s surface.

You can also shove things into your sleeping bag to reduce the amount of air that’s left to move around, getting cold. In a similar sense, tightening your sleeping bag around your upper chest can reduce the amount of heat you lose from moving around, otherwise known as the bellows effect.

Using the environment around you can also be helpful if you do it right. If there are dead leaves lying around the vicinity of your pitch, gather a big bunch up and stuff them into your storage sacks and pack liner. You can use this as an extra, organic layer to sleep on.

Using your own body is also an important thing to take into consideration. If you go to bed feeling cold, you’ll stay that way. To remedy this, do some exercises to warm yourself before getting your head down. Jogging on the spot, doing star jumps or any other kinetic activity works if you stand outside, but if it’s already too chilly for that, just do a few quick sets of push ups or sit ups in your sleeping bag. Similarly, leave eating as late as you can, and eat something with a lot of fat, as it’ll take your body longer to metabolise it, slowing the release of the energy as it converts to heat.

Perhaps the most important thing is to make absolutely sure that you keep all your gear dry. Anything which gets wet will only serve to spread and carry coldness, so make sure you don’t breathe into your sleeping bag, push all the air out of it when you get up and then dry it out.

Everyone’s body is different, and unless you’ve attempted to sleep outside in the cold before, you’ll have a limited notion of how it will be for you. For this reason, it’s best to bring more clothes and gear than you need, that way even if you didn’t end up needing it, you were prepared for any eventuality. If you start doing it more often, it will get easier, and eventually it will become second nature. It’s a worthwhile boundary to cross, as winter hiking expeditions can be truly amazing and the more used to deal with the climate you are, the more inclined you’ll be to keep doing it. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.