How to: Camp safely in the winter

Mark Enright of outdoor equipment specialists Mountain Leisure Perth tells me his tips for sleeping over the snow and under the stars. Brrr!

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Camping in the middle of winter is an experience like no other. It’s your chance to sleep out in the outdoors, often in complete isolation, and test your mettle against the elements. Waking up to a frosty morning is supremely beautiful, but it’s also a challenge – conditions can go from fair to dangerous in seconds. Stay safe and follow all of Mark’s tips to stay warm and happy under canvas.

CLOTHING

In low temperatures, hypothermia is a constant threat. Your body will have to work harder to keep your temperature regulated; a process made more difficult if you are wearing the wrong clothing. Body heat can be kept in more effectively if you layer up. Air will be trapped between the layers, increasing their insulating properties. Another benefit to layers is that you can add and remove them as conditions change. Your outer layer should always be windproof – try wearing a winter windbreaker over a fleece.

When moving around in low temperatures, your body will burn calories at an increased rate. The great news is that this means you need to take in extra calories to compensate! A good mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is essential, as they all provide you with energy at different rates. Pasta with chunks of chicken and chorizo is easy to prepare. Don’t forget hot chocolate and marshmallows afterwards (both essential food groups, you know).

TENT AND SLEEPING BAG

Your tent should be large enough to accommodate yourself and your equipment. Make sure you pick one that’s rated for all seasons/four seasons and pick a shape that won’t let snow build on it. Carry extra poles and tent pegs in case you lose any essential tent bits. When you’ve picked a flat piece of ground to camp on, make sure you flatten down snow so that your warmth doesn’t sink you into the ice while you sleep.
Your sleeping bag should have a temperature rating in excess of the temperatures you are expecting to encounter. This will ensure you are covered in case of extreme weather – it’s better to be safe than sorry if a blizzard starts up. You should also take an insulation mat with you. Stretching the full length of your body, this will stop you losing body heat to the ground.

ITINERARY

Before you leave on your epic adventure, spend time researching the area you’ll be pitching in, and make sure you plan:

● Your route – Is the land or mountain well covered in trails and paths or is some of it cross country? Take this into account when working out your journey times.

● Snow depth – Deep snow will slow you down; remember to account for slow going.

● Group size/experience – Make sure that everyone camping with you will be able to cope with the demands of the trip.

● Most importantly, leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member and tell them when you plan to come home from the cold.

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2 Comments

  1. January 7, 2014 / 8:51 am

    and flatten the site you choose for the tent so that your warmth doesn’t sink you into the snow while you sleep 😉

  2. sian
    January 7, 2014 / 9:42 am

    that’s a great tip! 🙂