Words & Photography by Jacob Little
There’s no fresh air like crisp, cold winter morning fresh air.
As I unzipped the tent’s inner layer, it was obvious it had been a cold one. Frost had formed on the inside of the tent and everything we’d brought with us had frozen solid – from the milk for tea to the bottles of water and even the food. Despite that, the morning air and sun glimpsing through recently settled mist would have been missed had the temperature not been what it had, or if we’d come here during the summer.
Cold weather camping is certainly not for everyone, but there’s an argument to suggest that the cold is worth it. When was the last time you did something as minor as setting up camp for the night and made it feel like a challenge? Camping in the winter means you have to think about every aspect of bedding down, and no matter what makes it feel like an adventure in its own right.
Once you’ve chosen a spot to bed down and you’re in the right sort of area, it’s important to get everything organised before nightfall. You don’t want to be spending too much time once it’s dark trying to clumsily arrange your tent. Make sure there’s something underneath you, plenty of heat is lost through the ground and although it’s tempting, try to avoid piling every blanket you see on top of you. Put some extra layers underneath too and know how you’re going to sleep once you’re zipped up inside.
Once this is all done, put a fire together so at least there is some warmth outside your tent to be able to spend some time outdoors. The cold in the winter still encourages its fair share of wildlife, listen especially for owls, and enjoy the quietness that the stiller, colder seasons bring. It’s likely you’ll have the majority of whichever space you’ve chosen to yourself, too, so make the most of the unaffected beauty that winter camping provides.
Once you’ve climbed into the retreat of your tent, the first real thing to think about are your extremities. In other words, if your hands and feet are warm, there’s every chance the rest of you stands a chance of being warm too. Polyester glove liners are a good bet, and most outdoor brands do a good line in thermal and lightweight gear to keep you warm at night. Give your sleeping bag a shake to evenly distribute the padding.
Spare socks are a must – it’s likely the ones you’ve been wearing have got wet – but don’t be tempted to layer up with everything else too much. It’s a mistake to wear your clothes to bed, you’d be better off saving a few jumpers for the morning so you can layer up once again. You’ll wake up chilly no matter what, so it makes sense to save a few things to chuck on in the morning. After that, it’s a case of bedding down with your head outside the sleeping bag if you can. If its inside, the condensation from your breath will make everything damp and your body will have a harder time regulating its natural temperature.
When you wake up in the morning, the fire’s been re-lit and you have a hot pot of coffee on the stove, the cold won’t seem nearly as bad. What camping in winter boils down to is firstly the sense of achievement, but mostly that the feeling of braving the cold when you wake up is worth it. You get to experience the great outdoors in its quietest, most fragile state, and there’s something about the connection you have to it because of this that makes winter camping so enjoyable. The watery blue skies and early winter mist are enticing, healthy and intoxicating and if you take a few simple steps to making sure you’re both warm at night and when you wake up, it can be a thoroughly invigorating and calming experience.