Winter camping: a how-to guide

December, 12 2019

Camping stopped being a summer-only activity a long time ago. More and more campers are opting to head out during the winter months. Winter camping means you can stay nice and close to your winter sports destination and you can enjoy the winter landscape around you to the fullest. And it doesn’t have to be cold at all. That is, if you do it right. That’s why I’ve collected the best tips for winter camping.

Winter camping in a tent

If you’re a die hard winter camper, you won’t think twice and will head out with your tent. And with the right preparation, this is easily done. A good sleeping bag, warm clothing, a stove and a suitable tent will help you tremendously. When setting up the tent, make sure that the surface is free of snow, and provide extra insulation against the cold from the ground. Because that is where most of the cold comes from. And don’t forget to bring along the right tools, such as a heavy hammer and possibly a steel pin to ‘pre-drill’ the holes for your tent pegs in the frozen ground. Also make sure your tent is big enough. This prevents you from lying against the inner tent, keeps you warm, and keeps your stuff from getting wet.

Winter camping with a tent doesn't have to be cold at all with the right preparation

Winter camping in a caravan or motorhome

Of course you will have a little more comfort in a caravan or motorhome. But even if you have one of these, you still need to prepare before you head out. Empty the pipes, the water tank and the boiler so that they do not freeze. Check that the heating system works and treat the rubber door seals so they won’t freeze shut. Also think about your spot on the campsite. You want to choose a spot in the sun, and place your accommodation in such a way that the door is out of the wind.

If necessary, remove any snow from the place you want to park, and make sure that it remains snow free during your stay. The same goes for your accommodation. Make sure you have a broom with you, so you can regularly clear the caravan of snow. (You should do the same if you have a tent, by the way, to prevent it from collapsing.) Even more comfort can be found at special winter campsites. Nowadays there are more and more campsites with special facilities for the cold season. For example, separate areas to dry your ski equipment, extra heated toilet facilities, and special saunas and spas.

Tent stoves and ventilation

Winter camping is only fun if you don’t have to suffer from cold all day (or all night). A good stove or heating system is therefore no superfluous luxury. But not every stove is suitable for the cold. At low temperatures, your Campingaz stove will not work well enough, so you should look for other solutions. For a small tent or caravan, an electric heater or fan heater will be sufficient. Do keep an eye on your electricity consumption on the campsite, because you don’t want the fuse to blow and leave you with no power.

Make sure it stays nice and warm but don’t forget to ventilate

Gas stoves or petroleum stoves are not recommended in a small and poorly ventilated space, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. For larger tents or caravans this is a different story, but it is still important to be cautious. For example, never leave a gas stove burning all night while you’re asleep. Good ventilation is a must for these kind of stoves. It not only allows you to refresh the air, it also allows the moist air to escape. You don’t want moist air in your tent or caravan, because it is more difficult to heat up. That’s why you should turn off the stove or heater at least twice a day and open all the windows and doors. Five to ten minutes of good airing is enough.

Stay warm

A good stove is indispensable for winter camping, but it is just as important to ensure that you yourself stay warm during your holiday. Luckily, that doesn’t have to be very difficult. Here are some warming tips:

1. No pyjamas
If you are spending the night in a sleeping bag, then get in without too many clothes on. Isn’t that cold? Not at all. The interaction between your body and the filling material of your sleeping bag is what makes it warmer inside the bag. Thick clothes prevent this interaction from taking place. Of course you can wear thermal underwear.

2. Warm into bed
Speaking of sleeping bags… they’re designed to keep you warm, not to get you warm. So make sure you are already nice and warm when you crawl into bed. Cuddle up with your partner before heading to bed, or do some jumping jacks. Whatever works for you! Be careful not to sweat too much, though, because that will make your body cool right down again.

3. Hot water bottle
If you still need some help to get warm in bed, then make up a nice hot water bottle for yourself. If you forgot to bring one, you can just fill a soft drink bottle with hot water. Works exactly the same way!

4. Stay active
A warm night begins during the day. Don’t sit quietly in front of your tent or caravan during your winter holiday, but keep moving. Take a walk or bike ride to keep your body warm.

5. Alcohol in moderation
Drinking alcohol will initially warm you up. This is because your blood is pushed to the surface of your skin. But then you also lose this heat to the outside air so eventually your body temperature will drop!

A campfire is also a good source of heat during winter camping. And it's great for toasting marshmallows!

Campfire

Is it possible to make a campfire at your campsite? A fire, of course, is a great source of heat. And it’s also fun to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine around the campfire. And don’t forget to bring some marshmallows so you can toast them. Yummy!

Do mind your shoes, though. If they come too close to the fire, there is a chance that the glue layer between the soles will come loose. The shoe will no longer be waterproof, and walking around with wet feet in the winter is the last thing you want.

Winter camping in the UK

Winter camping doesn’t mean you have to go to a winter sports area. Winter camping in the UK is becoming more and more popular, and lots of campsites are also open during the winter period.You may have your campsite or natural camping ground completely to yourself in this period! And if you don’t feel like being with your family (or family-in-law!) during the holidays, or if you’d like to avoid the parties at New Year’s, then winter camping might be a good alternative.

Bram Kuhnen
  • Author: Bram Kuhnen
  • European cities, touristy beaches and impressive landscapes and countryside. Travelling through Europe, Bram has already visited many places, and he likes to write about his experiences and share tips.

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