Camping in the cold: eight top tips to help you stay warm this winter

A mountainside all to yourself, a toasty campfire in the depths of the British countryside or a silent riverside campsite with footpaths running alongside. If you love being outdoors and just can’t wait until summer to go camping, there’s no reason you have to wait. Combining the fresh cold of the winter weather with the snug warmth of a well-equipped campsite can offer a truly invigorating outdoor experience. And to help you achieve that dream camping set-up, we’ve asked Cool Camping author James Warner Smith for his top tips to help you keep warm this winter.

What sort of temperatures can we expect in the UK in February?

According to the Met Office National Climate Information Centre the average maximum February temperature is 6.6 °C, with the average minimum of 0.7 °C. And there are on average 11.3 days of air frost so definitely time to wrap up!

Remarkably, the warmest February day on record was recorded in 1998 at a balmy 19.7 °C. Find out more weather records here.

Size matters

It may always seem appealing to take a big family tent you can stand up in but, when it comes to winter camping, size matters. Your body heat warms the tent’s interior; so the smaller it is the more quickly that will happen. Go for a small tent that suits the size of your camping party and it will trap the heat more effectively. The same applies to your sleeping bag – don’t buy a huge bag if you’re a small person – they come in sizes for a reason!

A tent and tree in the sunset

Shake it out

The most common sleeping bag designs have relatively lightweight insulation so that you can pack and carry them easily. They work by creating puffy air pockets that absorb and trap your body heat and keep you warm. So, when you take it out of the tiny little bag you’ve squeezed it into, shake out your sleeping bag to make sure it’s lofty, large and full of air. That way you will achieve the maximum amount of insulation.

When nature calls

As any Boy Scout or Girl Guide knows, you should always go to the loo before bedtime. Our bodies naturally strive to retain a constant core temperature and if you have a full bladder the body wastes energy trying to keep the contents warm. Drink lightly before bed and don’t get carried away boozing around the campfire. You’ll sleep more soundly (and more warmly) as a result.

Heads Up

It’s natural to want to curl up in the bottom of your sleeping bag and not come out until dawn, but you should always keep your head outside of your bag and wear a hat instead. If you enclose yourself inside, the moisture in your breath will begin to cause condensation within your sleeping bag, making it damp and ruining its insulating effect. It’s condensation that makes the walls of the tent wet when you touch them in the mornings. You don’t want that inside your sleeping bag!

Under-layer

When the temperature drops, don’t just pull extra blankets, rugs and duvets over yourself to keep warm. It’s actually the cold earth beneath you that is absorbing much of your body heat. In wintertime, a good roll matt is essential and, if you do have extra layers, put half of them underneath you instead of over the top.

Flip it

If there is a chance of sub-zero temperatures during the night, then be prepared. Ice forms from the top down, so turn your stove fuel and water upside down, making the opening of the containers less likely to be unusable when you wake up. Where you can, of course, insulate anything that could freeze and use Lithium batteries instead of alkaline or NiMh batteries – they work better and last longer in cold conditions.

Strip off

Dress sensibly. In the cold you should, of course, wear lots of layers to keep you warm but don’t over-do it. In fact, as much as possible, it’s best to wear the minimal amount and allow your sleeping bag to do the insulating work. When you unzip the warm cocoon of your tent in the morning you’ll want to have layers to put on to keep you warm in the exposed outside world. Go to bed in all your clothes and you’ll have nothing to add when you leave the sleeping bag. So keep some layers in reserve.

Go glamping

In the past decade an entire industry has been created, catering for people who want to go camping but without leaving the luxury of a warm bed behind. Winter is an ideal time to take advantage of this and cold weather is a great excuse to go on a glamping trip. You can have a similar outdoor experience to camping but with some weather-proof insurance and a warm fire come bed time. It’s the easy answer to your cold camping worries.

A shepherd's hut amongst snow covered trees

Along with their best-selling guidebooks, Cool Camping is an online resource for camping and glamping information in the UK, France and Europe. Search for camping and glamping sites on coolcamping.com.