I have a really bad habit of thinking that as long as the forecast is above freezing (and by that I mean 33 degrees and above), that I should be just fine and not really cold. Seriously. I blame nearly a decade of living in Wisconsin for my seriously skewed viewpoint on what cold actually is. And even more importantly to point out is that the reality of the situation is that if it is below 74, I am freezing. So I bet you know how this story plays out.
I did a little camping in February. No snow. No chance of precipitation. This translates to me as “Oh it’s a nice weekend. I should definitely go camping and climbing.” This also translates to me as “nice weekend. it’ll be a little chilly at night, but it’ll be cool, I’ll just sleep in the jeep.” Because apparently my jeep possesses magical warmness and is unaffected by the temperature outside.
Things I did right:
- Brought my zero degree down sleeping bag
- Brought theoretical layers
- Brought my puffy, fleece, and wool jackets
- Brought several hats
- Wore a fleece unicorn onesie to bed on night one, because that’s how I like to roll. Plus extra warmth.
- Let the Jeep heater run for like 10 minutes before bedtime making it all snuggly and cozy. Well, this was good for falling asleep, not staying asleep.
Things I did wrong:
- Did not bring my real winter layers that I own, that I bought specifically for winter camping. Apparently those fleece lined running tights were going to be just warm enough as an under layer… they were not. why didn’t I bring my real under layers?????
- Did not zip up my mummy bag the second night and was like eh, this’ll work out just fine. I feel a little trapped in the mummy bag sometimes so occasionally I don’t like to zip it up all the way. I always regret this.
- Waited until day 2 to take out my septum piercing. A little piece of metal through the center of your nose can make your nose significantly more cold than you’d think.
- Did not bring real gloves, just fingerless mittens…. WTF.
- Have yet to purchase a really good pad that keeps out the cold. I think I definitely need to invest in this, even if I’m sleeping in the back of the jeep.
- Kept the window of the jeep cracked the first night because I was sure I would suffocate and die. Nope, I assure you that Jeep is nice and drafty, this is an unnecessary and cold intervention.
- Did not wear the unicorn onesie on night two. Was significantly colder.
Things to do when you’re just cold and realize that sleep isn’t going to come soon:
- Lie around and wait for it to be really close to dawn to justify to yourself that you gave sleep as many chances as you could and that you tried to get as warm as you could without waking up anyone else. Dawn also seems justifiable in that if you happen to wake up your camping mates you can be like oh but look the sunrise and the mountains! and distract them away from hating you.
- Once the sun has started to rise, find a beautiful spot to freeze your ass off as you watch it rise. It’s better if mountains are involved. So serene and you’ll be able to say things like “Oh, even if you are freezing, how can you really complain about the sun greeting the mountains good morning?” You sound deep. Meanwhile on the inside you know that you would have killed to have a tauntaun to gut and snuggle inside of all luke skywalker like.
- Be very very grateful that you chose a super car camping RV friendly campground that has a heated bathroom! And find no shame in hanging out there for a long while.
- Reread the email that your dad sent on how not to die while winter camping and be like “oh yeah, definitely should have reread this before the camping”
- And finally when you think it’s a reasonable time and safe enough that your camping mates won’t mind, build a fire. They’ll at least be happy to wake up to the warmth.
And as a bonus for you all, here’s my dad’s email on how not to die while cold weather camping that he sent me last year when I did my first winter “camping”. However, that “camping” was in a lodge that didn’t have “heat” but it did have a massive fireplace in the lobby so not really the same thing as camping. All good information, however, I think he should add unicorn or other animal onesies to his list. This has an added bonus that in the very off chance someone thought they may be able to cause you harm, there’ s a chance they may back off based on their assumption that perhaps you are crazier than they are and maybe they don’t want to get involved in that. It helps if you’re also wielding a knife while wearing the onesie. Perhaps this is why I have few friends…
The email full of actual good information as compared to this blog post:
Heard you are going cold weather camping. Here are some tips, which you can take or leave, from dad regarding equipment. My priorities are to 1) Stay alive 2) Not be miserable. The combination of cold and wet start to make #1 (staying alive) unlikely. Being cold or wet makes #2 a sure thing. So here’s my tips.
1) Cotton is the enemy – if it gets wet from precipitation or from sweating – it will suck the heat right out of your body.
2) Use multiple layers – if you start to sweat – shed a layer – (if you are hiking or snowshoeing it’s best to start a little cold because you will start generating hear in a hurry), but always have the next layer ready to put on – if you stop for more than just a few minutes you will begin to cool quickly and need to be able to layer back up. I use the following layers:
- A base layer – I prefer merino wool – it’s light, it wicks, and wool has the very neat property of still insulating when it gets wet (the insulating properties of poly and down drop off quickly – and as noted before – cotton kills)
- Second layer – I use a fleece
- Third layer – down jacket or sweater (personally I like the Patagonia Down Sweater – but there are others out there which are good) – What makes them good is this: 800 FILL DOWN IS YOUR FRIEND!!!! You can get less expensive down jackets but they will have 600 fill – and they are not even close at keeping you warm.
- Top layer – wind resistant/ water resistant shell – no matter what the advertisements tell you there is no waterproof material which is breathable – avoid waterproof if possible – guaranteed to make you sweat – nice if your shell has vent zippers – helps with the sweat situation.
3) The temperature rating on sleeping bags is always at least 10 degrees lower than there comfort zone – they will keep you alive at their rated temperature, but you will not be comfortable – not meaning to be sexist in any way – but most people agree that it is probably more like 15 degrees lower than the comfort zone for females.
- Synthetic bags will maintain insulating properties better than down if wet.
- But, nothing beats an 800 fill down bag – I keep mine in a waterproof compression sack to make sure it is dry . Personally I have a Western Mountaineering 0 degree bag – I’m hardly ever out below the teens – if I was expecting to be out in single digits I would go with a -20 bag. Again, there are other good bags out there. I like the Western Mountaineering – they will maintain, refresh the bags etc for you if needed. Downside, like all 800+ fill stuff is $$$$.
4) If you are going to be cooking, heating water, melting snow for water, etc. keep in mind that canister type stoves (iso-butane/iso-propane) get real inefficient under 30 degrees – you need to keep the canister warm if you use one, and even then the iso-butane probably won’t vaporize well. I use a liquid fuel stove (white gas or alcohol) in cold weather.
- If you have the capability of heating water – the following is a very, very, very warm and fuzzy thing to do – heat up your water and pour it into a Nalgene or other container with a good waterproof seal. Put it in a sock and stick it in the bottom of your sleeping bag when you go to bed.
- I also keep the flask you sent me handy at night time – just don’t hit it so hard you forget to get in your sleeping bag.
- Also if you get cold at night – putting in some readily available calories (candy bar, etc) can help your body produce more heat.
5) Last personal opinion – you can skimp dollar wise on your summer equipment if you need to, but don’t skimp on winter equipment.
Keep warm, have fun .