Some of our most glorious times camping or doing road trips have been in the winter season when you can often have camp spots to yourselves, roads are less busy, and nature's elements bring both challenges and a deeper colour and beauty to the places you camp.
Even tent camping, with the right set up, can be a richer and more interesting experience in the colder months when some sites are more likely to allow cosy open fires and there are no summer bugs or overly hot nights to disturb your sleep.
We all know that sitting around a campfire under the stars can be a truly magical experience.
How do you make winter camping more comfortable?
Here’s a few favourite tips and tricks for keeping warm, dealing with cold, wind, rainy days, and embracing the colder months outdoors for enjoyable winter camping trips. It just takes a little extra preparation and the right gear.
✤ On really cold nights the secret is to get nice and warm just before getting into bed.
✤ In a vehicle, you can run your engine and turn the vehicle heater on with all your thermal curtains up — about ten minutes will make your whole vehicle toasty.
✤ A diesel heater is great and so efficient you may only need it on for ten minutes to get hot. Either install one with its own separate small tank or you may be able to connect to your vehicle’s supply if you run off diesel.
✤ There are great new tent heaters on the market now that run off cassette gas bottles and pump warm air into the tent if you're under canvas.
✤ Put up front window screen thermal shade as early as possible; a lot of heat is lost here.
✤ Get large silver bubble thermal shades at any auto supplier or hardware store.Make thermal fitted shades to fit the shapes of all windows using silver foil shades and a layer of thermal drape.
✤ Line the inside of your windows with bubble wrap as an inexpensive option.
✤ Put up thermal drape curtains. Recycled curtains from op shops are great to make these.
Condensation is NOT your friend
✤ Remember to towel dry the window condensation that builds up in the morning. Put this towel over your dashboard to dry when travelling in the day with a window cracked open, or dry it outside (you don’t want that moisture back inside).
✤ Get windows open in the day to dry everything out.
✤ Buy a couple of containers of DAMPRID from a hardware store and have it out at all times to soak up moisture.
✤ Don’t let wet clothing sit around in your vehicle or tent, creating moisture for condensation — find a local laundrette for fast efficient washing and drying of large loads.
Being warm in bed is essential
✤ Go to an op shop and find an old pure wool blanket to put under your mattress (never mind if it has stains or some holes) and a large polar fleece blanket over-layer that tucks down all sides. Find these too in charity stores or at The Warehouse.
✤ A quality sleeping bag or a feather duvet will keep your heat in the bed.
✤ There are 12v electric blankets if you have access to power.
✤ Wear quality socks and a wool hat to bed. Find these too at second hand stores if you’re on a budget. A light merino cap is super-warm to sleep in. Or drape a wide polar fleece scarf/shawl over your head and shoulders at night.
✤ Boiling up water for a hot water bottle at night (at least 1 hottie for each person) is all you need to stay toasty in a quality sleeping bag or under a feather duvet. You can recycle hottie bottle water into tomorrow night’s hottie boil up. Keep a lid on, and the steam in, while boiling.
✤ Get a wee fluffy doggo to cuddle up to.
✤ You might like to boil up water for a thermos so you can have a hot drink first thing in the morning without having to wait in the cold for a kettle to boil.
✤ Hot thermos water might be needed to unfreeze pipes or door latches in the morning.
Keep yourself warm and dry
✤ Thermal and light, natural fibre and merino layers do the trick for pyjamas; leggings and tops are perfect under your clothes during the day too.
✤ There’s usually no bad weather for camping, just poor clothing — layer up with natural fibres and get a great waterproof and windproof coat and good warm socks and gloves with the iconic gumboots. Even these are often found at opshops, if you're on a budget.
Best winter activities
✤ Get rugged up and bush walk… it’s usually a very sheltered place to enjoy.
✤ Jump in an icy river, lake or beach for some cold water therapy! The best!
✤ Enjoy a good hot pancake brekky, and of course any excuse for hot chocolate making and marshmallow toasting over a fire.
✤ Star gazing, with a telescope or not, is always a favourite on long, clear winters’ nights so grab an astronomy chart or load them on your mobile device and identify the constellations.
✤ Visit small towns with great cafés, libraries and book stores.
Rainy day activities
✤ Indoor games, charades, good books, puzzle books and if you have WiFi, podcasts or a movie on the tablet can fill the time on a bad weather day. Download some in advance for the trip.
✤ The ‘Getting Lost’ games — online purchased travel cards are an awesome activity if you're on the road.
✤ Take the opportunity to go to a small town cinema and enjoy a ‘big’ screen movie on a wet day.
Extreme weather — keep an eye on it
✤ Choose your time to pack up and move if serious weather is on its way.
✤ Give yourself time to get ahead of it.
✤ In extreme wind take care not to camp under trees where branches might fall.
✤ Tents need serious pegs to hold them to the ground in winter wind conditions. Buy screw pegs or use tri-sided pegs especially in wet ground. See Strong pegs.
✤ Tip for parking when it might snow: lift your wipers away from the windscreen so any snow weight doesn’t damage them and so the blades don’t stick to the glass.
Winter travel preparation
✤ Mind the maintenance: do a good vehicle service before a winter trip.
✤ Top up your fuel tanks regularly — you never know if you’ll get stranded.
✤ If there might be snow, make sure you have chains (and practice how to put them on before the trip).
✤ An extra groundsheet under your tent floor definitely helps with dampness.
✤ Take extra tarpaulins.
✤ Pack extra emergency food (freeze dried or Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)-style).
It’s all in the preparation
No matter what time of year, the benefits of being outdoors are going to improve your well-being and provide a very special camping experience.
So be prepared and focus on taking the right gear with you, so that you can happily meet the challenges of the colder months and carry on camping.