Winter Camping Tips

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Emily Chappell – Award Winning Travel Blogger

When Emily Chappell contacted us about her planned three-month solo snow bike expedition in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia, we were suitably impressed. When we saw a history of her previous adventures, we were blown away!

Emily is a cyclist and award-winning travel blogger. For a day job, she is a cycle courier. In her own words: “I like bikes. A lot.”

Her recent trips include:

  • 2011-13 cycling across Asia, from Wales to Japan.
  • In February 2014 cycling across Iceland.
  • 2015 cycling from Anchorage to Seattle.
  • This summer, she’s due to compete in the Transcontinental Race, aiming to get from Belgium to Istanbul in about 15 days.

Emily was interested in a Hilleberg Soulo tent for her upcoming and future trips. We really like to help true adventurers when we can and we were happy to help her out. Emily has kindly written a couple of guest posts for us about the challenges of winter camping, with some great tips on how to survive camping in sub zero temperatures!

The lazy explorer’s guide to winter camping

Emily Chappell – Award-winning travel blogger – http://thatemilychappell.com/

Camping out in winter isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. As long as you’re wearing a good few layers of fleece and down and wool, and have a sleeping bag rated down to the appropriate temperature, it can actually be quite cosy – there’s nothing like snuggling into a big warm pile of fluffiness, knowing that the world around you is cold and icy.

Here are a few hints to make your winter camping experience even more easygoing:

1. Choose a tent that’s freestanding

i.e. can be pitched without pegs – because if the ground’s frozen, you’ll bend your precious tent pegs before you manage to hammer them into it. I used a Hilleberg Soulo for my recent winter expedition through Alaska and Yukon and as well as being freestanding, it only took about a minute to put up.

The period between stopping cycling (or hiking, or skiing) and getting into your sleeping bag is when you lose the most heat, so the quicker you can get your camp set up, the better.1515925_1541633779439936_1751548565_n

2. Pack carefully.

If you are a lazy camper you will already have discovered the knack of putting everything you need at the top of one of your bags, in the order you’ll need it, so that the minimum of unpacking is required to get you warm, fed, and off to sleep. This is even more important at super-low temperatures, because fiddling around with buckles and straps – and then having to unpack and repack everything you’re carrying as you search for that all-important lighter – is going to take a lot longer when your fingers are stiff with cold, and will put you at greater risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

3. Eat heartily.

Your body needs more calories in cold weather anyway. Polar explorers often burn more than 6,000 calories per day, and many resort to eating cubes of butter in order to keep up with these demands. Trying to fall asleep at -35C when your stomach’s growling with hunger is a recipe for a cold, shivery, and sleepless night. Aim to eat about 2,000 calories of dinner (instant mashed potato with added butter and sausage was a favourite of mine), and keep a few snacks in your sleeping bag with you.

4. Try not to breathe.

But unfortunately you’ll have to, and all night long your breath will condense in the cold air, collecting all over your sleeping bag and inner tent, and then freezing again – so that when you wake up you’ll find a collection of large snowflakes on the ceiling of your tent, just waiting to fall down on you as soon as you start moving. After a few days your sleeping bag will be crunchy with all the ice it’s absorbed. There’s no way to avoid this completely, but you can lessen the effects by making sure you breathe into a buff or scarf rather than your sleeping bag, and ventilating your tent as well as possible – I always left the inner door open, and could probably have got away with leaving the outer one open as well, since there was no one around to disturb me.IMG_9249 - Emily - fat bike at YWP - Jan 2015 - Jake Paleczny

5. Make the most of your body heat.

I kept my Nalgene and my hydration pack in the sleeping bag with me at night. Amazingly, they would always be the temperature of bath water by morning, even if they’d been frozen solid to start with. You’ll also want to keep battery operated devices close to you (batteries die at cold temperatures), along with anything else you don’t want to freeze solid (wet wipes, jars of Nutella, your stove pump), and any bits of kit that need drying out. I would always tuck my damp gloves down my top, and they’d be lovely and warm and dry in the morning, and unless it was -40C, I’d keep the liners from my Sorel boots on my feet, since they got covered in ice every day from my sweaty feet. After an hour or so of painfully cold toes, they’d dry out perfectly, and I’d wake up with warm, dry feet.

If you manage to get your kit and methods right, winter camping can actually be a lot of fun. As far as I’m concerned, the best bit is the short winter days mean you’ll often get as much as 12 hours sleep – just what you need after an exhausting day out in the snow.

You can read more from Award-winning travel blogger, Emily Chappell, on her blog here, as well as follow her on Twitter @emilychappell

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