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Gearing up for winter camping in comfort

As winter takes its grip, it’s not the time to hibernate - a whole new world of camping opens up . . .

There are many good reasons to head out camping off-peak - to get first pick of the best camp sites, enjoy quieter roads and walking tracks, master your wild-windswept-winter photography and the chance to cozy-up beside a roaring campfire with a group of good friends.

Last year we enjoyed a series of exciting camping trips that saw us in Alpine country mid-June, a weekend beside the mystical Lake Cobbler and another down the Great Ocean Road to the comfortable Wye River Tourist Park.

Here are some simple tips that keep us warm and ready to camp in any season:

It helps to stay active with walks, drives or bike rides during the day

Plus it's also a good idea to remove yourself from the cold when you have the opportunity in the evenings. If there’s no chance for a campfire and you’re close to town, simply leave the campground behind and head in to town for a heated restaurant or bar. In Wye River we enjoyed the Wye Beach Hotel Bistro, just a moments walk from the campsite. By cozying up in our waterproof, windproof layers when exiting back to camp we were always one step closer to a warm night’s sleep.

Never sleep directly on the ground

You need to insulate yourself from the ground as much or even more than from the cold above. A blow up air mattress won't help as there’s nothing between you and the ground but cold air. The cold will pass straight through it and into you. The best option is a self-inflating mattress or a foam mattress like the ones you find in a swag that will insulate and help you to retain heat.

If you are using camp stretchers you will still need a mattress or a couple of good blankets between the stretcher and you.

Have plentiful bedding layers for when temperatures drop throughout the night.

Bring more layers than you think you’ll actually need. A down-filled doona can be the start of your layering, or a fully hooded mummy sleeping bag, followed by blankets or other down-filled layers to flick on and off in the night. This type of bedding always keeps us warm, even on occasions when our water bottles turn to ice slushies beside us.

Layer your clothing

Come prepared with plenty of clothing layers as well, and select fabrics that block the wind, as wind chill drops ambient temperatures more than you might expect. A waterproof jacket and pants are essential in rainy conditions to prevent sideways rain and dampness from penetrating clothing and making you colder.

When you’ve spent evenings in the cold, with no chance for warmth from a fire, you’ll realise the benefits of many windproof waterproof layers to maintain comfort. In the evenings it’s not unusual to need up to three layers on the legs (such as thermal pants, fleece pants and waterproof pants) and five to six layers on the upper body (thermal singlet, thermal long sleeve, fleece jumper, puffer jacket and waterproof jacket), plus beanie, scarf, gloves and always thick warm socks and waterproof boots. You might look a little Sumo-style but the fashion stakes aren’t high at a winter campground, and this type of layering will keep you smiling through all sorts of weather.

Here are some further ideas for camping in comfort:

  • Fill a hot water bottle and place it in bed a few minutes before you get in.
  • Wear many layers to bed. It’s the one time you may not want to get out of your warm under layers and into some cold PJs. Just sleep in the same thermal underwear you’ve been wearing around the fire or out in town.
  • Keep your thick wooly socks on until you warm up.
  • Wear a beanie in bed if you don’t have a sleeping bag with a hood.
  • Mummy style sleeping bags are warmer than the rectangular style.
  • Place a rug on the floor of the tent under your bedding as another insulating layer, providing something a little warmer to step out on to in the night.
  • Some people find disposable heat packs are ideal to warm up cold hands and feet during the day.
  • Have a campfire in the evenings, where they are allowed, and bring plenty of dry wood to keep it going.
  • Fill a thermos with hot water to sip on all day and night instead of drinking cold drinks.
  • Use a good strong waterproof tent and pitch it thoughtfully, with the entrance facing away from the prevailing wind.

As Sir Ranulph Fiennes the famous English adventurer once said: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’. Well the same goes for inappropriate camping gear. You may question the point of camping in winter but for those who want to experience a different side of camping, this is the way to weather it well in the cold. It many not match the pleasure of summer trips - but it’s worth a try with the right gear even for a short trip.

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Angela Armstrong
Angela Armstrong
Angela is a writer, author and marketer. She has spent many years touring and camping with her Antarctic-expeditioner, UN-contractor husband - but not so long she has forgotten what it's like starting out. Her latest book, Camping In Style, shares their knowledge, helping campers of all levels discover tools for the most comfortable camping holidays.


  1. This is a good article with some good advice. However, Angela's remark about an air mattress - "The cold will pass straight through it and into you" is technically wrong. Cold doesn't move, it is simply the absence of heat. Heat moves from warm areas to cooler areas. What really happens is that warmth from you passes through the air mattress to the cold ground underneath. But the effect is the same so the advce is right.

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