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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Winterise your summer camping setup

By Hati Whiteley
20, Jan, 2018

Want to dip your toe in the icy waters of winter camping without breaking the bank? Get ready for winter with our tips for winterising your camping gear.

© Alpkit

We love winter camping and we love gear. But browsing the web, the amount of gear folks reckon you need to buy for a winter camping trip is enough to put anyone off. What if you only use it once? What if it’s not your thing? Paying out for new a whole new winter camping setup when you’re only dipping your toe in the water is a pretty big commitment…

The thing is, we’re convinced that, equipped with our winter camp craft guide, most people can spend a night under the stars at winter without adding much to their 3-season camping setup.

Not convinced? Read on…

Come on, could you really say no to that view?

 

Tent

If you came into the store and asked us which tent to buy for winter conditions, we’d point you in the direction of our mountain tent range. Of course, a specialist tent would be the best one for the job, but it’s not necessarily the most realistic option when it comes to cost.

A mountain tent like the Kangri is most at home when surrounded by snow
A Tetri is more home in Spring - Autumn conditions, but its design makes it ideal for less extreme winter conditions too

If you’re looking for a capable 3-season tent that you could take on the odd winter night out, we normally recommend the Tetri as it meets our following checklist for a winter tent:

  • Freestanding (or geodesic) tents are ideal for snowy conditions as they are not as reliant on guyropes and pegs as tunnel tents are.

  • The fly should reach the ground to give you wind protection, and have a few extra stakeout points.

  • The inner should have a high-walled bathtub construction for protection from the wind and the snow.

  • The tent walls should be fairly steep to shed snow.

  • Top vents or windows are ideal to prevent condensation.

  • Vestibules are handy for keeping your wet gear covered over without bringing it into your tent.

You can also make a few upgrades to your 3-season tent, such as stronger guy ropes, snow stakes.

Remember that 3-season tents come with limitations: keep an eye on the weather, avoid heavy snow, and test out your setup up close to home before you commit to a trip further afield.

How you pitch it makes all the difference, give our Winter Camping Guide a read for more on choosing your pitch, and pitching your tent.

 

Sleep system

Sleeping mat

Depending on your summer mat, you should have this part of your sleep system sorted. The ground is cold, so your mat should separate you from the ground as much as possible. Laying your inflatable mat (eg. an Airo) over a closed cell foam mat (also known as a roll mat) will add insulation to your setup against the cold ground.

A good sleep system can be the difference between a good night's sleep and a cold night's sleep

 

Sleeping bag

Ahh, the centrepiece of your sleep system! Your first choice for winter would be a 4-season bag with all the trimmings, but come summer that lovely warm bag would be uncomfortably hot…

You may not think it’s worth buying a whole 4-season sleeping bag until you’re really sure that winter camping is for you, but luckily there are a few hacks that you can use to make your 3-season sleeping bag a bit more suitable for colder conditions…

  • Add a down quilt (such as the Cloud Cover) to a 3-season sleeping bag gives you the extra warmth you need in the winter months.
  • Add a sleeping bag liner (like the Masson) will give you a little extra insulation, and is suitable for year-round sleeping bag protection too!
  • Wear an insulated jacket and extra layers inside your sleeping bag. Many fast and light campers swap in the insulated jacket/lighter bag combination for a heavier bag.
  • Sleep with a hot water bottle or chemical hand warmers.

Remember: these setups know their limitations and more extreme conditions call for a more extreme sleeping bag. Be aware of your sleep system’s limitations and test it out closer to home before venturing further afield.

For more information on getting your sleep system for winter camping dialled, head over to our SLEEP Better spotlight. 

Related: How to choose a sleeping bag, You warm the bag

 

Layering system

This is a great place to start when preparing for winter. After all, it keeps you warm and dry before you get into your tent and sleeping bag, which is essential for a safe and enjoyable trip.

What should I wear when camping out in winter?

A 4-layer layering system - that is: long sleeved base layer, heavy mid layer, very warm outer layer, and waterproof shell – is our preferred option when it comes to heading out in wintry conditions. Most campers already have a 3-season waterproof, base layer (preferably merino), and midweight fleece; but not everyone has an insulated jacket.

An insulated jacket can feel like a heavy investment for a few winter camping trips, but will also come in handy for year-round cold weather activities (we pretty much live in ours).

Great for thermo-regulation and multi-day adventures, a merino base layer make an excellent foundation for your layering system

 

Our favourite jacket for damp and cold UK conditions is the Apogee, and but on those cold, crisp evenings you can’t beat a Filo for comfy campsite warmth. Not sure which jacket is for you? Head over to our spotlight about choosing an insulated jacket for the beta.

Don't forget your extremities! Warm socks, gloves and a hat are non-negotiable, and who can say know to a pair of Kepler merino long johns to keep their legs snug?

Do I need extra layers?

Yes! During the day your clothes may get damp from moisture in the air or your own perspiration; if you wear your day clothes in your sleeping bag, it will absorb that moisture and can freeze. Take dry clothes to wear into your sleeping bag to reduce moisture in your bag. Plus, the morale boost that dry socks can give you is not to be underestimated.

Tip: take more layers than you think you’ll need and play it safe for your first few trips; over time you will refine your layering system.

 

Cookware

The hungrier the camper, the unhappier the campier. Staying hydrated and eating calorie rich hot meals will keep you warm and keep morale high. For water and hot food, you’ll need a stove.

Which camping stove should I use for winter camping?

Stoves for cold conditions are the subject of much debate, namely ‘Meths versus Gas?!’ we can’t answer that question for you, but we can give you our take on it…

Meths vs. Gas

Meths stoves (such as the Bruler) are a popular option for campers as the fuel is cheaper, environmentally friendlier, and more readily available abroad than gas. However, meths burn at around half the temperature of other fuels, meaning more fuel is required. This makes it less efficient, so you’ll be waiting longer for your snow to melt. Meths do burn in cold conditions, so your meths stove wouldn’t be out of place in a winter wonderland.

For the efficiency and heat output required to melt snow and cook your food in a quickly in cold environments, many campers opt for gas stoves. But take care to choose your gases wisely.

Dehydrated meals are our top pick for convenience when the temperatures plummet
A remote stove with a twist valve, like the Koro, is our favourite for efficiency in colder climes

 

The choice of gas fuel generally falls between Propane and Butane.  Litre for litre, Butane is less toxic and more efficient than Propane, and can be legally stored indoors. However, Butane becomes unusable at -2˚C, whilst Propane works at much lower temperatures (as low as -42˚C). So many numbers! But which to use? Most manufacturers compromise with a Propane/Butane mix.

How does this help you with your winter camping stove? With a Butane/Propane mix, your camping stove should be useable for in winter conditions.

If you’re looking to invest in a camping stove for year-round use, the Koro is our versatile stove. A remote canister stove, the twist-valve lets you turn the canister upside-down to burn more efficiently in colder climes. It’s also super-light, ideal for your more streamlined summer trips!

Check out the Winter Chef spotlight for more tips on winter camping cuisine and a video of Nick making a cheese fondue in the carpark

Staying hydrated

Carrying water is all well and good, but if you don’t have a fancy insulated water bottle, you lovely refreshing water can freeze: not very hydrating!

That said, there are a few ways round buying a fancy water bottle…

  • Snow is a great insulator, so burying your water bottle in the snow overnight can prevent freezing.

  • If there isn’t any snow about, turning your water bottle up-side-down will prevent it from freezing around the lid quite so quickly (just remember to close it first!)

 

Those extra essentials

Drybags

A winter camping staple! Your gear is generally less effective when wet, so getting your gear wet on a winter trip is miserable at best and dangerous at worst. The best way to stay safe and comfortable is to keep your stuff dry.

Drybags quite often come in a range of shapes, sizes, and colours (well, the Airlok does anyway), so you can pack your kit to whatever size you need.

Head Torch

We’re rarely without a head torch over the winter months, those longs nights never seem to stop creeping up on you! Some batteries don’t work well at low temperatures, so keep them tucked away in your interior pockets when not in use and take spare batteries just in case.  

Fran and Monika making the most of those short winter days with an Alpine start

 

Snow Shovel

Well you’re going to need something to move all that snow around!

First aid kit and emergency bag

An essential for any outing to faraway or remote places

Something to sit on

There’s no point in having an excellent sleep system if you’re going to sit on the cold ground before crawling into your sleeping bag. Good insulators, such as closed cell foam mat, make the best perches!

 

Feeling ready for a winter adventure? Head over to our winter base camp for more guidance, tips, and inspiration.

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