Autumn is upon us and winter follows close. That means it’s going get chilly. If you’ve never camped in the fall or early winter, there is nothing quite like the crisp air, fiery leaves, and crunchy snow. Everything seems more peaceful. Campfires are cozier, coffee is warmer, and you get to layer up with hoodies, blankets, and beanies. It’s just a better time.
But everything changes at night when camping in colder weather. It goes from just cold to frigid, and it happens fast. Without planning ahead, you may find yourself, like me the first time, packing up at 1 am and driving to nearest Denny’s to stare, drooling like a drunk zombie, at a half empty cup of coffee until the sun rises. As such, we want to make sure you’re prepared for journey into the great unknown with 7 handy dandy tips for camping in the cold.
One thing to know right off the bat is whether you’re a cold sleeper or a warm sleeper. Do you cool down at night or warm up? If you’re like me, a cold sleeper, it’s important that you choose the right sleeping bag for cold weather. The first thing to look for is how many seasons the bag is designed for. Anything that is 3 or 4 seasons should work great for cold weather. Sleeping bags should say what temperature they are suited for, and if you’re a cold sleeper, it’s a good idea to choose one that is around 10-20 degrees below the expected temp for your trip. Will it average 30 degrees at night? Choose a 20-degree sleeping bag.
Line your tent with rugs and blankets. Spreading a couple rugs or blankets on the floor will not only make your tent a little cozier but will also help retain any body heat that might escape your sleeping bag. This is especially effective when you have multiple people in your tent with you. This can also help reduce the number of layers you have to wear.
Use a cot and sleeping bag liner. Keeping yourself suspended on a cot will keep you off the ground, which, depending on how cold it is, could be rock solid and super uncomfortable. This also helps if there is a layer of snow underneath your tent. If you don’t have a cot or don’t feel like bringing one, a sleeping pad or air mattress can work as well. Alongside this, bring a sleeping bag liner with you to make it more resistant to cold temperatures. A microfiber sleeping bag liner will help your bag keep you warm 5 degrees lower than the stated range, and a wool one can add another 10-20 degrees.
Make thermals your friend. Long Johns are a godsend in cold weather, they retain heat super well and will help keep you cozy when the temperature gets low. Make sure that your thermals are loose-fitting, however, as layers that are too tight can restrict blood flow and make you very uncomfortable. It can also be helpful to wear a nightcap, as most of your body heat escapes through your noggin. I don’t personally like nightcaps, and most often opt to just randomly cover my head.
Pack a hot water bottle or have a warm drink before bed. Having a cup of piping hot caffeine-free tea, coffee or hot chocolate will raise your internal body temperature before you fall asleep, keeping you toasty warm. Similarly, a nice hot water bottle can turn any chilly sleeping bag into a cozy paradise. It will not only warm you up but will also add heat to your sleeping bag before you get inside.
Note: A lot of people suggest doing some kind of cardio before you go to bed, like push-ups or jumping jacks. I recommend not doing these things. While it may make you warm, the increased blood flow can make it harder to sleep, and can also produce sweat which may make you colder overnight.
Snuggle up! Curl up with your S-O in a two-person sleeping bag and you’re sure to keep warm for the entire night. Just try to avoid kicking and thrashing and rolling around too much and breathing to hard and farting and anything else that might disturb the gentle slumber of your loved one.
Lastly, make sure that your tent has some open venting. If you keep your tent entirely sealed, condensation can build up and freeze on the inside. This will not only make your tent wet when the sun rises again, but it will also damage the fabric and protective coatings.
Following these simple tricks will keep you nice and warm all night long. So lace up your hiking shoes, throw on a hoodie, flannel or jacket, and get out there. There’s a whole lot of memories to be made.