“FIGHTING THE ELEMENTS”
by Joshua Hodge, Deepbluemountain.com, ©2020
1. Pick Your Campsite Wisely And Prepare It Well
You want a campsite that is protected from the elements. Sitting in the path of wind is only going to make things more chilly. Choose a place that has some barriers against the wind. Rocks, shrubbery, or other features that prevent the wind from blowing towards your tent will make good companions.
Pitch your tent on even ground. In case there is snow on the ground, clear it and flatten the ground with your boots or tools. As soon as you’re done pitching the tent, use your knees and body to smooth out the area where you’ll be sleeping. The idea is to not let the area freeze again until you have cleared out a good sleeping space.
If there are dead/dry leaves nearby, push them against your tent’s footprint. The leaves and the air trapped between them act as an additional insulation layer.
2. Use A Small Waterproof Tent
A smaller tent is easier to warm up. Take along a 1-2 person tent that has enough room for you and your gear. Choose a good waterproof camping tent capable of withstanding wind. No one wants to be troubled by rain while camping, even more so on chilly nights.
When possible, keep your gear and belongings inside the tent to make it snuggier. There could be a risk of condensation, so consider wrapping up your gear in garbage bags or some other protective packaging.
3. Preparing Your Sleep Surface
You’ll want to be protected against the cold ground. The more usable insulation you put between yourself and the ground, the better. If you have access to cardboard, use that as the bottom layer. It’s excellent at insulation and will make things way easier. Of course, campers can’t always have easy access to cardboard, so maybe consider placing a rug or some sheet you have available.
Follow that with an emergency blanket with its shiny side facing you. This setup should encourage the blanket to reflect the heat towards you rather than sending it to the ground. Next up is a closed-cell sleeping pad, or a mattress, if you prefer that. Sleeping pads can perform better in cold weather and should be seriously considered. If you’re sharing the tent, place the pads as close to each other as possible.
Sometimes, it is also recommended to put an emergency blanket against the roof of the tent. It can work as well, but the setup may attract condensation.
4. About Clothing
Cotton clothes are a big no for your hiking/backpacking adventure. They do not wick moisture and might end up wet from sweat. The best fabric for camping in general and cold-weather is wool. Consider buying at least a 30% wool blend. The other parts of this blend are synthetic fabrics. Most of these do an excellent job of wicking moisture away from the body and keeping the wearer dry. The same concept applies for your socks too, ditch cotton, and pick wool or a blend.
When it is time to sleep, if the weather permits it, consider changing clothes. Clothes you wore during the day might be slightly wet due to sweat and can get uncomfortable or cold at night. Fresh clothes will make things easier.
Make thermals a part of your cold weather dress. They aren’t sexy, but they sure are effective, lightweight, and warm. In the same vein, remember that skillful layering can work better than piling thick and heavy clothes on yourself. Also, don’t overdo it! Getting sweaty in sleep isn’t ideal either.
5. Get A Quality Sleeping Bag
Modern sleeping bags can work exceptionally well at keeping the user warm throughout the night. Just make sure you have a sleeping bag rated for the temperature you’re going to face. There are several quality sleeping bags available, rated across different temperature ranges. A three-season sleeping bag can work for most people who aren’t camping in the winter. When laying out your sleeping bag, shake it a bit to ensure the material hasn’t lumped on to one side.
Cold-weather sleeping bags have a covering for the head. It’s not a pillow, use it for its intended purpose. The human body loses a lot of heat through the head and the bottom of the feet. While your feet will be safely covered by the bag, the head should be covered too.
This setup will often leave a small opening near your nose. Try not to put your nose into the sleeping bag. Water vapor exhaled from the body can be detrimental to the use and longevity of the bag. It can cause condensation to develop, which creates the risk of damage to the bag. Use the bag as intended, and you’ll be warm and comfortable.
Consider placing your gadgets like phone and camera in the sleeping bag as well. Electronic devices have an ideal temperature range for operation, so if possible, don’t leave them out in the cold!
6. Eat A Good Meal Or Drink Hot Beverage Before Going To Sleep
If you’re feeling warm when you lie down to sleep, chances are you’ll stay that way through the night. Have a good meal before you go to bed. Having some hot beverage can be helpful too. If beverages aren’t your thing, do some physical activity to warm up, then head straight to the sleeping bag.
7. Keep A Hot Water Bottle
Hot water bottles are practically divine at heating a sleeping bag during the cold nights. You can keep a classic (latex) water bottle. Or, if you would like to save some space and practice multipurpose use, pour hot water into a stainless steel water bottle. Ensure that the water is not scalding and that touching the body against the bottle is actually comfortable. Goes without saying you shouldn’t be using an insulated water bottle either.
Disposable heat packs are a worthwhile investment as well. They warm up nicely and stay at a convenient temperature. Just adding a couple of these to the sleeping bag will warm it up nicely.