Many people think of camping as a summer activity, but there are many great reasons to camp in winter – even here in the West Highlands of Scotland!
For starters, it’s absolutely stunning in the colder months – and makes for an even more exciting adventure. You’ll have your pick of the pitches – and off-peak prices, meaning you can do it on a dime.
Plus, if you’re the kind of person that prefers fewer people around (and fewer midges and wasps, come to think of it), a winter camping trip could be your next escape.
BUT it’s essential to be prepared. Winter weather is no joke. However, armed with the right kit and the right knowledge, you’ll have yourself an amazing break.
Small is beautiful
Don’t be tempted to take an overly spacious tent for winter camping – pack one that’s just the right size for your party and no bigger. Big empty tents will just end up full of cold air that’s very hard to heat up. Apply the same principle to your sleeping bag – aim for a snug fit to keep you warm and cosy. Mummy sleeping bags have a nice close fit, or if you’re camping as a couple, a double sleeping back will let you share your body heat. You’ll need a season 4 sleeping bag for camping in Scotland in the depths of winter.
Sleeping bags are filled with pockets of air that are designed to absorb heat from your body. To make sure your sleeping bag works to its optimal insulation level, give it a good shake by holding on to the bottom end so it’s all plumped up and lofty near the top before you get in.
A barrier between you and ground
While your instinct might be to pile loads of blankets etc on top of your sleeping bag, it’s actually way more important to insulate underneath you as most of the cold will be coming up through the ground, sapping all your precious heat. A ground mat won’t be enough to keep the cold at bay – you’ll need a winter sleeping mat or even 2 regular sleeping mats, doubled up. Alternatively use a camp bed or inflatable mat. Tent rugs / carpets can help too if you have space for them in your vehicle and will make it warmer underfoot in general. If you’re bringing your dog, make sure it’s well insulated under where they’re sleeping too.
Love your layers
Anyone even vaguely outdoorsy knows about the layering system of base layer, mid layers and outer jackets system – and it’s not just for when you’re out and about. When you’re in your tent you need to really work those layers as well, adding and subtracting them to regulate your temperature. It’s as important to avoid overheating as getting cold, as you really don’t want any moisture to accumulate in your clothes. Condensation and sweat are the enemy, so make sure you pack at least one extra baselayer, and change into a completely dry and sweat-free one before the evening chill sets in – however hard it feels to strip off! If you’ve ever felt icy-cold sweat against your skin you’ll know why this is so important.
Instead of piling on everything you have for night-time, try to dress as lightly as you can that will still allow you to stay warm – keeping extremities toasty with hat and gloves will help you do this, as will changing into a fresh pair of dry, warm socks before bed. If you wear everything you have, you’ll only feel colder when you get out of your sleeping bag in the morning and have nothing else to put on! So let your sleeping bag and ground insulation do the bulk of the work and then bring out the extra warm layers when you get up. A hat or a balaclava can also remove the temptation to tuck your head down into your sleeping bag, which can result in the build-up of our old friend, moisture. You do not want a damp tent in winter.
Air not moisture
You need to prevent moisture from accumulating inside your tent, as well as inside your clothes / sleeping bag. Inside your tent, your breath can condense into droplets on tent surfaces which can then freeze, then melt again – making everything, cold, damp and all round not-fun. So it’s essential to keep the air flowing by keeping your tent vented – even if only a little. Keep wet boots, clothing and equipment in the vestibule area, or outside if you have a covered space. Brush off any snow from your tent when you can, too.
Keep the wind out
As well as the cold coming through the ground, the winter wind can be extremely chilling. Choose the most sheltered spot you can find to pitch your tent. If you’ve done the right thing and brought a compact tent, you might want to make a bit more of the outside space. A wind break will keep a lot of the chill out, and keep in the warmth of your heat source. At Ben Nevis Holiday Park we do not allow open campfires but contained firepits, BBQs and gas stoves are allowed on site if used safely. Which leads us nicely on to…
Eat and drink up!
Your body needs calories to stay warm, so now’s not the time for a low cal diet. Go for plenty of carbs and fats to power you up, rather than sugars, which won’t sustain you for as long. With a camping stove and camping kettle you can whip up hot drinks to warm your cockles no matter now bitter the night is – it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated and icy water isn’t always appealing. Pack a few easy things you need only chuck in a pan and heat up should an attack of the cold and hangries strike – tins and pouches are your friend. Dried fruit and nuts and granola bars are great for grabbing any time of day, whether in your tent or out and about.
Try and arrive at the campsite with plenty of daylight left to put your tent up – it can go dark as early as 4pm in the winter so don’t get caught out. You’ll need plenty of light sources once the sun does go down – ideally lithium batteries, which perform much better under cold conditions than alkaline batteries. A head torch always comes in handy. If you’re turning in early, you’ll need ways to pass the time too, whether that’s reading material, music or a good old-fashioned pack of playing cards.
Heed nature’s call
It feels like the last thing you want to do when you’re finally tucked up in your sleeping bag, but if you need to pee the best thing to do is get out of bed and nip to the loo. Did you know if you hold it in your body will end up wasting energy trying to keep your bladder (and its contents) warm? So just get up and go – you know it makes sense.
More quick tips to beat the freeze
- Pop handwarmers in your sleeping bag before bed
- Stop your boots from freezing with a bottle of warm water inside each one, wrapped in a sock for insulation
- Store water bottles upside down so if they do freeze, it won’t be the top half of the bottle you drink from
- Alternatively, insulate them with clothing or even snow, or store drinking water in a thermos flask
- Fill pans with water the night before, ready to heat on the stove – then it’s no problem if they freeze!
- Store your stove fuel upside down overnight as well (well-sealed of course)