So, you're looking to head out and hit the moors, cross the rivers and walk the shores. But, it's winter...
Always puts a little dampener on things right? Wrong!
I've always found winter camping and hiking to be some of the best! From the harsh silhouettes of withered trees, bare of their greenery, to the crystalline beauty of a heavy frost on a still, clear morning, you really can't beat it! Throw in a snow capped peak or two and you're in heaven... And chances are, all the other slackers are at home so you've got it all to yourself!
But, it is winter... Yes... And? It's not like we're still living in the stone ages people! I mean, I don't like the cold or the wet but I do love the outdoors (go figure!) and it's not like we haven't come up with a few straightforward ways of keeping warm and dry!
Bearing that in mind, I've pencilled down a few pointers and a little logic to help your next winter adventure be a success!
- Woollen layers - Beanies, thermals, socks, jocks and gloves.
- Waterproof Clothes - Jackets, pants and boots.
- Waterproof storage - Either a waterproof backpack, waterproof dry bags, or a combination of the two.
- Tents - 2 layers, preferably silicone nylon (better waterproofing and the slipperier material stops snow building up and collapsing your tent). If you are going in the snow regularly, try and be sure to get a tent with skirts.
- Sleeping kit - Down sleeping bags and insulated bedrolls. Keep your heat in and the cold out!
- Warmer Uppers - Hot drinks. Camp stoves. Chemical hand warmers. Fire lighters. Matches and Lighters.
Wool. Cool, job done.
Whether it's a beanie, a neck layer, thermals or socks. Buy woollen. It's warm. It's durable. It's wool. You can spend a lot of money or a little but I will always prefer natural fibres to synthetics when it comes to clothing. Particularly in the case of thermal layers.
Waterproofing. Obviously, there are a million different waterproof jacket and pants makers around. Some expensive, others less so. Personally, I'm not too worried about brands when it comes down to it. I check out the manufacturing materials, the warranties and waterproofing ratings (look for the MM rating, the higher the number, the better!) and I try a few different bits and pieces out. At the moment I've got a 3 piece Mountain Warehouse jacket with detachable hood, and removable inner to make it perfect all year round. Pants wise, I'm a little ambivalent as I always find they're that the little bit more likely to get torn on a bramble. Personally, I throw on cheapies and hope for the best! As long as you've got a good thermal layer on underneath. Make sure they're nice and long so that you get good boot coverage and whichever boots you're wearing, give them a good coating of Nikwax or Dubbin before and after you go out.
Right, that takes care of the wearables. What else should I be thinking about?
Well, if you're going for more than just a stroll, be sure to carry a waterproof pack, and, if that fails, pack your clothes and perishables in a waterproof dry bag. Weather you need a marine grade one like your kayakers and SUP boarding crowd or can make do with a hiking one, it doesn't matter. There is nothing worse than setting up a nice, warm and cosy tent only to find all your clothes are soaked! And always, always, take spare socks, beanies and undies!!!
What else, what else... Tents. 2 layers at least in my opinion. This allows you to air the tent nicely the next morning letting any condensation or frost "burn off", but, always be sure to adequately tension your fly to keep it off the inner (preventing condensation transfer), pick a spot on high ground (no one likes waking up in a puddle at 2am), and be sure to adequately anchor your pegs. If the ground is absurdly wet, tie off to a tree or rock, if you're in snow, take some cheap canvas or even dry bags, fill them with snow and tie off to the handles.
What about sleeping gear?
I'm glad you asked. A lot of people have the same complaint when winter camping.
"It was bloody freezing! Stupid sleeping bag! Won't be buying one of those again!'
Often as not, the bag is not at fault. If you're making the mistake of sleeping directly on the ground, let me explain a basic concept with you. Heat transfer. If I take a hot beer and rest it on ice, what happens to the beer? It's heat dissipates, absorbed by the surrounding cold ice and it chills down to match the temperature of its surroundings. Not sure if you've noticed but the ground in winter is pretty bloody cold!
Grab yourself an insulated camping mat! Jam an inch or two of insulated sleeping mat between you and the ground, wrap yourself in a down sleeping bag and zip up your tent.. Chances are, you'll sleep like a baby!
And, if I do get cold?
Call me a sissy but two of the first things I lay out when getting ready for a hike or camp are my thermos flask and my camp stove (and 2 gas pods minimum). I've always got a hot thermos with me, as the quickest way to warm your core is a nice hot cup of tea followed by a warming stir through meal. Few pinchable hand warmers always go okay as well! If you're going out in seriously chilly conditions (or you're just a prepared little cookie!) don't be afraid to take an aluminium sided blanket with you. The ability of the aluminium to trap and reflect body heat is bloody amazing considering just how light it is.
Guys, before you go taking off on any adventures, the most important thing I'll remind you is, check the weather forecast, prepare for the worst, and tell people your schedule. Don't become a statistic this winter but do enjoy the beauty nature has on offer!
Hope these pointers helped and if anyone has any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch!
Founder of All Four Outdoors
Hiker, Camper and Terrible Monopoly Player