How To Stay Warm While Camping | Advice - Outdoors Magic

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How To Stay Warm While Camping | Advice

With the right kit and a few tips and tricks, it’s easy to stay cosy in your tent, even when the temperature drops drastically overnight

A cold night spent shivering in your tent can ruin even the greatest outdoor adventure. Luckily, we’re here to help. Whether you’ve pitched up on a campsite or high in the hills, the following tips will ensure that no matter how much the mercury drops, you’ll be sure to stay warm while camping and enjoy a decent night’s sleep. Part of it is about being properly equipped for cold weather – there’s no substitute for decent kit, though it doesn’t have to be expensive – but we’ve also included a number of tips gleaned from many nights spent under canvas to help you stay snug as a bug in a rug.

Invest In a Decent Sleeping Mat

Photo: Matt Jones

A good sleeping mat is as important as your sleeping bag, as it insulates you from cold ground that otherwise robs you of precious body warmth. Sleeping mats are rated with a R-value – for cold-weather camping, look for a mat with a rating of at least 3.0. The warmest options are self-inflating insulated mats with synthetic or even down fills that loft out as you inflate the mat. They’re not cheap, but well worth the investment if you plan to do a lot of cold-weather camping.

Take a Warm Sleeping Bag

Photo: Matt Jones

For cold-weather camping, you’ll need a three or ideally a four-season sleeping bag. The warmest and lightest option is a down bag. Traditionally, these were very expensive, but recently a couple of brands have produced much more affordable options, like the Summiteer Glow-worm series and the Alpkit PipeDream series. Again, if you get cold, it’s worth investing in a good down bag with a decent fill weight (600-800g) and fill power of at least 600. But if these are out of your price range, then don’t worry – there are other tips and tricks to boost body warmth. One is to use a liner inside your sleeping bag, which is a good idea anyway, as it helps to keep the inside of your bag clean and prevent the build-up of dirt and moisture that can a) make your bag smell and b) stop it working so well.

Add Layers Underneath

Photo: Matt Jones

There’s an old Scout saying, ‘a layer underneath is worth two on top’. Well, the Scouts know one or two things about camping, and this bit of sage advice is spot on. Use a footprint underneath the groundsheet of your tent. This will not only protect your tent from dirt and damage, but will also insulate you from the cold ground. You can buy custom footprints for most higher-spec tents, or alternatively buy a cheap tarp from a hardware or DIY shop and just trim it to fit your tent. Inside the tent, you can also place a blanket or spare clothing underneath you to provide extra insulation. This is usually more effective than sleeping with an extra blanket on top.

Bring a Lightweight Quilt

Photo: Enlightened Equipment

Think about investing in a lightweight and packable down quilt. This is a versatile option, as you can use it in conjunction with a lightweight bag to create a four-season sleeping system, or use it on its own for summer camping. They’re also great to wrap around your shoulders when you’re sitting out underneath the stars.

Buy a Down Jacket

Photo: Chris Johnson

In terms of warmth for weight, a good-quality down jacket is the warmest piece of clothing you’re likely to have in your pack, and is an invaluable layer for cold-weather camping. Look for a jacket with a fill power of 700 or higher, with a good hood, hand warmer pockets, a hem drawcord and elastic-bound or Velcro-adjustable cuffs – those are the features that will really lock in warmth. A jacket with chunky baffles is likely to be warmer than one with skinny micro-baffles, and since you’re likely to be sitting and standing around when camping, it doesn’t really matter if you look a bit like the Michelin Man. Any number of outdoor brands make good down jackets. If you’re on a budget, go bargain-hunting in spring, as insulated jackets usually have massive mark-downs as soon as winter is over. If it’s super cold, you can lay your jacket over yourself or even sleep in your jacket.

Wear Thermals

Sleeping in thermal layers is another tip to stay toasty. As well as a long-sleeved baselayer, wear tights, leggings or long-johns in your sleeping bag – there’s almost nothing worse than being warm up top but having really cold legs. Don’t simply wear all your clothes though, as this can actually prevent your own body heat from warming the insulation in your sleeping bag.

Wear a hat and socks

Thick socks and a cosy beanie hat are worth their weight in gold for cold-weather camping. Toes will usually start to suffer first, so being able to put on a warm pair of socks can make all the difference. Similarly, you lose a lot of body heat through your head, so a beanie is invaluable. Don’t wear anything too tight though, it will slow down blood flow to your extremities.

Make a Wild Camping ‘Hottie’

Here’s a little trick to make your own wild camp hot-water bottle. Boil a litre of water on your camping stove before bed and carefully pour it in a metal Sigg-type bottle. Screw the cap on tightly, then put the bottle inside a thick walking sock and stick it in your sleeping bag. It will give out heat for hours.

Go To Bed Warm

Although it’s tempting to crawl into your sleeping bag as soon as night falls, raising your body temperature before you go to sleep will ensure you start warm and stay warm throughout the night. So jump around a bit – do some star jumps, windmills, whatever – before you get inside your tent.

 Have a Hot Meal

Photo: Matt Jones

Having a high-calorie dinner before you hit the hay can make a real difference to how warm you sleep. In fact, scrimping on food when backpacking just to save weight can be a false economy. High-fat foods in particular help your body to produce heat, due to inefficiency in digestion. Legendary climber Andy Kirkpatrick calls this ‘fuelling the fire’ – and he’s slept in some very, very cold places.

Brew Up

Photo: Matt Jones

Fire up the camping stove and make yourself a hot drink – like a steaming mug of cocoa or hot chocolate – before you go to bed. This will help to raise your body temperature so you sleep warmer.

Spoon Together

If all else fails, sharing body warmth is one of the best ways to keep warm. It’s a classic survival strategy from pretty much every SAS manual ever written, and you also find it in nature (think of all those emperor penguins huddled together). So, unless you’re solo camping, stay close and really get to know your tent buddy…

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