The leaves on the trees are turning orange, yellow and brown. The night temperatures drop to zero degrees Celsius. The nights get longer and the days shorter. Summer is officially over, and autumn has started. For many people, this is a reason to store their camping gear until next summer… But not for me. I love camping off-season! I enjoy the colours and smells of nature in these seasons and spending time near a campfire, covered in many layers of clothes and blankets, is probably the most romantic my life gets. Today, I share with you ten tips and tricks for a comfortable, fun and safe off-season camping trip.
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Tip 1: wear a suitable outfit
A winter camping trip is not a walk in the park. You’ll spend all hours of your days outside, possibly in (very) cold conditions. It’s important to keep your body warm during activity and resting. Wear several layers of clothes on top of each other, instead of one very warm sweater. Make sure the layers also keep you dry: synthetic material and wool are more suitable than cotton (for cotton collects water). Replace wet clothes immediately with dry ones and put on extra layers once you sit down after exercise. Buy waterproof pants and jackets to protect yourself against rain and snow.
Tip 2: bring a well-isolated sleeping mat
The temperature on the ground is lower than the temperature in the air above. In order to stay warm at night, you need a sleeping bag that prevents this cold from reaching your body. A standard air mattress will do in the height of summer but makes for a frozen butt in the height of winter.
For winter camping, your sleeping mat needs to be well insulated. How well a mat insulates is expressed by the R-value of the mat. Buy a mat with an R-value of 3 or higher. The higher the R-value, the lower the ground temperature before you get cold.
Don’t have the budget for a well-insulated mat? You can also use a window insulation blanket (like you put it on your car window in winter) under your mat for extra insulation. The more layers, the better insulated your bed becomes. Often, this method is not sufficient at temperatures reaching zero degrees. For your safety and comfort, I recommend you to invest in an insulated mat or ask a friend to lend you one.
Tip 3: take a warm sleeping bag
A sufficiently warm sleeping bag is essential for a good (and safe) night sleep. The comfort temperature of a sleeping bag tells you to what temperatures it keeps you warm. A sleeping bag with a comfort temperature of 10 degrees will keep you warm at all temperatures above ten degrees. I always bring a sleeping bag with a comfort temperature a few degrees below the ground night temperature on my destination.
In winter, I prefer a synthetic sleeping bag to a down sleeping bag. Down clumps when getting wet and then no longer insulates.
Tip 4: sleep naked or in your underwear
It may feel contradictory, but you will feel warmest if you sleep with as few clothes as possible. There is an interaction between your skin (heat) and the sleeping bag, which you disturb if you put a lot of layers in between. The fewer clothes you wear, the better your sleeping bag will keep you warm.
Make sure to cover your head with a hat or the hood of your mummy sleeping bag. You lose up to 30 per cent of your body heat through the skin of your head.
Tip 5: make sure you’re warm when going to bed
Go to bed before you get cold from the lowering temperature in the evening. Did you get cold before bed time? Do a few jumping jacks, run a few laps around your tent (watch the guy lines!) or do a little dance.
Prevent getting hungry in the evening or during the night. Some people eat an energy bar just before going to bed, to increase the heat production resulting from digestion.
Tip 6: bring a hot water bottle
Bring a hot water bottle to heat up your sleeping bag (and yourself). You can also use a water bottle and fill it with warm water. I prefer to put the bottle near my feet, since those are my body parts that get cold quickest.
Tip 7: keep batteries warm
Batteries drain quickly when they get cold. Put the batteries of your phone, camera or navigation device in the bottom of your sleeping back, so they too are prevented from getting gold. I always put my clothes for the next morning in the bottom of my sleeping back too (so I don’t start my day with a headache from cold) and when you wrap those around the batteries, you won’t even notice the batteries near your feet.
Tip 8: prevent condensation
You may be tempted to keep out the cold by covering up all holes in your tent. That certainly saves heat, but it also facilitates condensation. To prevent the inside of your tent from getting soaking wet in the morning, provide ventilation. Open all ventilating “windows” of your tent and look in the manual or on YouTube to see how you can increase ventilation in your tent.
Tip 9: bring a heater
Outdoor stores sell special heaters for in tents, camper vans and caravans. Don’t buy gas heaters, since they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the heater at a safe distance from (tent) materials and never leave a heater on when you’re not there to watch it.
Tip 10: use metal pegs
Ultralight tents often come with lightweight, aluminium pegs. These pegs easily bend when you try to put them in frozen ground. Use stronger (metal) pegs. Bring just one if you want to travel lightweight, and use it to make holes in the ground for your lightweight pegs. If you travel by car, you can bring a drill to make holes in the grounds for the pegs.
Where can I camp in winter?
Many campsites are closed between October and April. On the platform Campspace.com, people can offer their garden or meadow to campers. Many Campspace-hosts are welcoming campers all year round, and some have comfy accommodations with heating for rent.
Are you Dutch and would you like to learn more about (off-season) camping? Check my outdoor platform Outdoor Inspiratie for more free advice and inspiration.
You might also be interested in 6 reasons why I think a winter photo session is fun!