This winter wasn’t as severe as I expected (although there is still time). I think the coldest I camped in (I was actually bivvying on a bench with the tent rigged over me) was something like -7 or – 8 C. I was fine once fully tucked into the sleeping bag!
10 tips for camping in minus temperatures
1. Make sure you’re definitely hydrated. It’s very easy to get dehydrated and not realise in the cold, and that makes you MORE cold. You waste more moisture than normal keeping warm, so drink extra hot drinks, use a flask – get down more than you think you want, throughout the day. I aim to drink minimum 2 litres, not including caffeinated drinks or water used to cook. It’s hard in the cold but good to aim for.
2. Keep your shoes in the tent/stick the toes under your mat if bivvying. I had WAY too many frozen shoe scenarios.
3. Close sleeping bag drawcord as much as you can while still having a hole to breathe through (make sure your mouth is at the hole, not your eyes). It makes a huge (HUGE) difference to warmth.
4. Get all of your snacks ready for the day while at your nice warm camp, and put them in easy-to-reach places. Don’t be trying to cut cheese and find your tortilla wraps with freezing-totally-not-working hands while rapidly losing body heat in the pouring rain like I did.
5. Boil some water to put in your Nalgene, and put it on your stomach, between your legs, by your chest, by your feet, whatever.
6. Don’t be hungry – eat extra food.
7. Put all your water bottles in your sleeping bag, as well as your camping gas, and tech (torch, camera, phone etc) so the batteries don’t die in the cold.
8. Don’t hold a pee in all night. Just rush out and get it done. Holding it wastes energy that you could spend on being warm, and if you rush energetically it might actually build some warmth which you can then release back into your sleeping bag.
9. Expect to use way more camping gas than normal, especially if you’re melting snow for water.
10. If in a tent, still keep a bit unzipped on the inner if you can. Less condensation/frost inside.
In the end, compared to my summer list, not much changed this winter except leggings instead of shorts, long sleeve top layers instead of t-shirt, the sock situation, and the winter sleeping bag. You also can’t get away with hardcore things like not taking a proper mat, or ditching the stove (saying that, I know One Woman Walks Europe AKA Ursula doesn’t bother with a stove… She’s nails). I probably could have survived with a bivy bag in retrospect, because there always seemed to be some way of finding shelter e.g. barns, hunters hides, chapels, summer alpine chalet porches, mountain huts, friendly locals houses, garden sheds etc. But that depends where you are (I wouldn’t rely on this on Scottish hills for example)!
Since a few weeks ago, I have my buggy back (OutnAbout Nipper Sport, given to me 2nd hand). I expected it to be super cold, down to – 15C, once further in-land so thought I would have to carry more kit – too much to run with. I’m not convinced that this will happen now as it’s been such a warm winter (I ended up sending most of the extra layers home again)! It’s forecast to be +17C today…
I survived the rest of the much-more-wintery-winter without it, including crossing the Alps. When it was really cold, it actually didn’t feel too heavy a rucksack as I was wearing all my clothes including waterproofs!
This list is what I had then and right now, minus the buggy (rucksack is 10/11kg without food & water).
Sleeping bag: Therm-a-Rest Oberon, comfort level to – 10C. Wouldn’t have survived without it. Warm on the feet and comes in sizes so fits well, and also has heat reflective stuff in it.
+Silk liner same as summer.
Mat: Women’s Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, same as summer, but this is especially good for winter as it also has heat reflective bits in.
Shelter: Normal tent, same as summer – a second hand Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 (but note that it is hopeless in wind…I’ve been lucky).
Nalgene: As a hot water bottle! (they never leak, guaranteed).
Primus one person stove, same as summer. Need extra gas for winter!
Flask! So important, drinking icy cold water all day sucks.
Nalgene as mentioned.
Normal useful things: Teaspoon (unbreakable, lightweight). Penknife. LIGHTER. Rubber band.
Shoes: Inov-8 Terra Ultra G260’s, same as summer, but I’ve gone up half a size up for the thicker socks.
Microspikes, from Kong Running.
Bridgedale waterproof socks. Revolutionary. Also from Kong Running.
Big plastic bags for snow, which a wise snowplough man gave me. Put them over socks, in shoes, and tuck under waterproof trousers – voila, knee deep snow come at me.
1 pair knitted woolen socks given to me by Inga, an Austrian lady who let me sleep in her garage.
1 pair part merino socks (my normal running socks which I’ve been wearing since day 1).
My normal running leggings, 1 ‘clean’ leggings for camp, plus extra baselayer leggings to go under (I survived without the baselayer, I only picked them up a few weeks ago, but I DEFINITELY would have worn them if I had them before – my ‘normal’ leggings are summer ones with mesh panels behind the knees…brrr).
Bamboo knickers for running (they don’t get smelly).
Bikini (works as bra, and an extra pair of pants).
1 clean knickers for arrival in civilisation.
Merino baselayer to run in. Spare baselayer for camp.
Fleece. I truly believe this is the warmest, best, fluffiest, SUPER Warm fleece ever. Got mine off ebay second hand for cheap.
Insulated lightweight but warm jacket. Synthetic, not down, and so glad of it.
Waterproofs: proper jacket, not a lightweight running one. Not sure how I would have survived without waterproof trousers to keep my legs warm on the coldest days.
WINTER FLEECY NECK BUFF! I got this halfway through winter and it made a huge difference. I have Buff’s polar one made of recycled bottles. It’s amazing how much heat you can keep in/let out purely from your neck.
Gloves/mittens x2. My main mittens are Inov-8 shower proof ones – amazing, until it’s really raining hard for hours, and then they fill up with water… (still warmer than other options though).
Standard Buff for head.
Sunglasses – important for snow.
Washbag/toiletries, tech (star of the show Powertraveller Sport 25 charger) , torch, compass, suncream, kindle, loo roll, waterproof phone pouch (it keeps it warm)… All of this stuff doesn’t change from summer to winter, apart from feeling the need for a tub of moisturiser (but I get eczema so have dry skin anyway)!
Poles – see other post and review. Very good for wobbling around on rough snowy/slippy ground!
Finally.. Remember to eat LOADS OF FOOD! You need it.