Backpacking and Wild Camping Tips For the Winter Months
Some people will never go wild camping outside of spring and summer, others are unsure of how to go about camping in the depths of winter and others absolutely love winter camping and say they prefer it to all other times of the year. For me, I love spring and summer camps, but winter in the right conditions, can be equally wonderful as the long days of summer. I do admit that I’m rather adverse to those dreadful dreary wet days that we can get and much prefer the cold crisp mornings and with a bit of luck a snowy camp.
Winter camping means planning ahead, taking different kit to summer camps and more of it. Here we discuss this and give you some thoughts and tips to help make it a memorable experience for all the right reasons and hopefully none of the wrong ones!
Just to say that we don’t have all the answers and we don’t set ourselves up to be gurus who are all wise. What we share with you is our accumulated knowledge over many years, together tips and tricks, chatting to fellow wild campers face to face and on social media, listening to podcasts and generally absorbing the subject through the backpacking and wild camping community. We have a comments section, we would love for our readers to add to this accumulated knowledge.
In the winter, you are going to spend long periods of time, around 16 hours inside your shelter. You should take a shelter which is storm-worthy for the time of year and ideally, one that is going to allow you the space to move about a bit. Ideally enough room to sit up easily and not keep brushing the tent walls that could be very damp or even frozen. I have 3 shelters that I deem suitable for winter camping. `One is a two man Pyramid, another a one person trekking pole supported modified A- frame style, and one which is a Bomber 4 season that will take anything but being one man doesn’t have as much room as the others. The Pyramid tent has undoubtedly the most space and given enough flat ground, would be the one I would ideally choose for a long winter night.
A large lightweight tent, such as a Pyramid can give the room you need on long winter nights.
I have written in a previous blog post about ditching the inner of your tent in winter to save space and weight and an increasing number of winter wild campers are not taking an inner. The addition of a bivy like the Ultra Bivy will give more space and also add protection from condensation as well as adding warmth as it is a more enclosed environment to sleep in.
You are likely to produce a lot of condensation in a tent in winter. Here are some of our tips to help you manage this.
- As soon as you have set up your shelter for the night make sure all wet clothing is left outside in the porch or vestibule area. Ideally use one of your dry bags with you, turn it inside out and trap this source of moisture inside the dry bag, thereby avoiding additional condensation in your shelter.
- Open up all vents and keep zips open as much as possible to allow humid air coming from your breath and cooking to escape and let ‘drier air’ in.
- If at all possible, cook outside, but if not possible, keep the door zips open as much as possible in line with the weather conditions.
- If it is snowy, brush as much snow off your clothes and kit as possible before entering your tent or shelter, again minimising sources of condensation.
Take a good variety of different types of pegs, the ground may be very wet but it may be frozen, certainly don't just take the pegs that have come with your tent or shelter. For the main guying points carry enough large flat pegs, such as the Lawson Equipment Apex pegs or similar that can give good holding power in wet soil. These can also be turned horizontally, with the guy-lines tied around the middle and buried under the snow to give good anchor points. Some people also carry a few old stuff sacks, fill them with snow, attach to guy lines and buried in the snow as well.
First, make sure you get a warm winter mat and if you can bear the extra weight, get one that is wide for comfort you are going to be in your sleeping bag/quilt for a long time.. Also carry a closed cell foam (CCF) mat as this will add to the R value of your sleep system and if your inflatable mat fails, at least you will have some level of insulation as a backup. With the two mat system, you may be able to take a summer rated mat as the combined R values of your inflatable mat and CCF mat may be adequate. The CCF mat is also useful for when sitting up and cooking etc.
At Valley and Peak we do recommend the use of an synthetic Over - Quilt, not only will that allow you to take a 3 season down bag with you and stay warm but also it will protect the sleeping bag or Quilt from drips and possible damp down which will not insulate you properly. Synthetic Quilts do really keep you warm when the insulation is quite wet. I have woken up before in a pool of water, at the foot end in one of our Quilts, because a load of rain had blown in under my shelter and not even noticed until I touch the outside of the Quilt that it was even wet!
The photo below shows the Sierra Designs Cloud 35 ( 2 degree C) inside and protected by an APEX 167 Valley and Peak Over- Quilt. Combined these two should get down to -10 to -12C depending on how warm or cold you sleep.
Use a three Glove System
I utilise the three glove system during the winter which gives you the warmth but also allows dexterity to check your GPS system, smart phone or map and carry out fiddly tasks.
This comprises of
- A pair of thin summer gloves which I can easily take photos with them on and I can also sleep in these if its really cold.
- A thicker pair of wool/Primaloft gloves which goes over the above with e-tips which allows operation of a smart phone with a gloved hand.
- A Water and Wind proof gauntlet outer shell which goes over the first two.
Stoves and cooking
Outside of winter I tend to take a meths/biofuel stove as it is light but a number of people tell me that they take these year round. I just feel that if I have to melt snow for cooking and drinks or its just really cold, I think I need a bit more power. So in general this means gas or multi fuel stoves. Firstly with gas stoves you don't want to use butane in winter, as it won't work at around freezing where the 4 season gas mixtures will go much lower. Keep the canisters warm when not in use and place the canister when using on top of a small piece of CCF to insulate from the cold ground.
A multi fuel stove that will take unleaded petrol as well as gas such as the Soto Stormbreaker may be appropriate if you have a lot of snow melting or cooking for a group. It has a lot of power. This is a stove that you really want to use outside of the tent however.
If there is no running water around, you are going to need melt snow. First plan ahead during the day and make sure you have at least some water to start off the process. Don't just melt snow as it can taste horrible and you may very well burn a hole in your pan if you are unlucky.
First boil some water, a few 100mls in a large pan, (this protects the pan). Start to add clean snow slowly, then when you have a good amount of water, add bigger amounts of snow. Once sufficient water is obtained, you are ready to cook. Make sure you have melted enough to fill your water bottles as well. You will get a much better melt with a large flatter pan such as the ones in the Soto Navigator Cook Set.
With snow melting you will use quite a bit of fuel, I would suggest taking 2-3 times the amount you would take in the summer.
16 hours in a tent is a long time. Remember to download a film or two, take a Kindle, download a radio app or the Audible app. I like to catch up on backpacking podcasts as well.
Cold weather can cause reductions in battery power, whether that is your phone, power pack or camera batteries. The Valley and Peak Insulated pouch is made from silky soft nylon taffeta and Climashield Apex insulation. Put your batteries and gadgets into the Insulated pouch and place in your sleeping bag or quilt to keep them warm and dry ready for their next usage.
When nature calls
I write the next tip as a bloke, it may not be as easy for a female to do this! However to avoid getting out in the middle of the night to go for a pee, take a wide mouth Nalgene style bottle with you as pee bottle, its so much easier. Just make sure you mark your bottle with a large letter 'P', your morning tea or coffee tastes so much better using liquid from the right container :) I have also successfully used a large zip lock bag as well, again mark with a large letter P!
A few essentials sometimes forgotten.
It may be winter, but on a sunny day, remember to take a tube of sunscreen and importantly, don't forget sun-glasses because the reflection from the snow can literally be blinding. Special sun glasses for snow and snow googles are even better, particularly if the wind is strong they will give better protection for eyes from stinging snow whipped up by the wind. I also take a warm buff and will take a balaclava which will cover the nose and mouth again useful if there is wind blown stinging snow.