How to survive a winter camping trip

A few years ago, whilst camping in the middle of June at the Abercrombie Caves in NSW, I sat, shivering, on my blow up mattress. I had been trying to sleep for a few hours, and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get warm. I was tired, cranky, partially frozen, and completely OVER IT. So I crossed my little blue fingers and made a promise to myself. That I would never, ever, ever, go camping in winter again.


Being cold makes me angry. I feel it more than most. I think it’s genetic. I come from a long line of cold-blooded women who hibernate in winter, hog the heater, and don’t venture outside until the thermometer reaches at least 25 degrees.

A realistic portrait of the author in winter

So, when my friends and my dear husband organised a camping trip a few weeks ago, after our first cold snap of the season, you can imagine my excitement. Especially when they told me that I have to go, no matter what, because I am apparently a ‘fully fledged camping blogger’ these days, so I have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, and that if I didn’t take my toddler camping in winter, I was depriving him of all sorts of life experiences. ‘Don’t worry, the fire will be roaring!’ they said.

So, at the risk of giving myself (and my son) frostbite, I reneged on the promise I made on that bitterly cold night. After all, I didn’t want him missing out.

Hypothermia is character building, right?

This time around, I was determined to do things differently. We were all going to be warm, dammit, and the minus 1 degree temperatures at night were not going to stop us! Upon doing a bit of Google research, I realised that my last trip was a failure because I didn’t really know how best to keep warm, and, well, I just wasn’t prepared for it.

Thankfully, I know better now. And after this trip, I would even consider going camping in the cold again!

So, here are my top tips for surviving, and thriving, while camping this winter.

Waking to sunrises like this makes it all worthwhile

Make sure you can have an open fire. First things first. A camping trip is not a camping trip without a decent fire, and it’s even more important during the colder months. We assumed that the private bush camp we went to a few weeks back would allow open fires. They didn’t. Apparently we were only allowed fires that were above the ground. Sad face!

We were lucky enough to find an old washing machine drum to use-but the height and small size prevented us from having that ‘roaring’ fire that I had been promised. So before you go, check what the camp ground rules are regarding fires.

The right bedding is paramount. Experienced campers would have read the first paragraph of this post and shook their heads. A blow up mattress? Silly me. No wonder I was so cold. So, for this trip, I replaced the glorified lilo with a self-inflating foam mattress instead. It’s insulated, and so much more comfortable. I also acted on this little gem of advice: Put some blankets underneath your mattress instead of just on top. It makes a world of difference.

I added a winter rated sleeping bag and another few blankets, and for the toddler, a few hot water bottles to make his bed extra cosy. We all slept soundly, toasty and warm all night.

You need to get your clothing right. When it’s really cold outside, fleecy jumpers aren’t enough. And if you’re anything like me, chucking on a few extra layers just won’t cut it. You need fleece, and layers, and thermals, and something that insulates. I invested in a North Face insulated jacket from Cotswold Outdoor, and it has been worth every pretty penny. I also bought some ski socks-they not only keep you warm, but they also repel water. Bonus!

Instant Reusable Heat Packs are your best friend. I’m pretty sure that, after the wheel, these little babies are the best invention. Ever. Just flex and knead the pack for a few minutes to soften the sodium acetate crystals, and, once warm, stick them inside your boots, gloves, pockets, or wherever you feel you need the extra heat. They last for up to six hours and are reusable-just boil them for 10 minutes to recharge. I will never be without them again.

Make sure you have proper accommodation. I am used to camping in my dome tent, but a few times I have been lucky enough to take a Complete Campsite trailer away with me. Perks of the job. The thermal roof blanket is now standard on our models (Except the Jabiru, for which it is an optional extra), and I tell you what! The difference it makes to the temperature inside the tent is unbelievable. It also helps with condensation.

Drink Up. Your body uses more liquids to maintain core temperature in cold climates. So on top of plenty of water, grab some hot chocolate in an insulated mug. It will give you the warm and fuzzies, and is the perfect accompaniment to toasted marshmallows.

And eat up! What better excuse is there to indulge in your favourite comfort foods? A hearty stew, curry, or campfire roast warms the belly and the soul.

After implementing these tricks (most of which are common sense, really), I discovered that I don’t hate winter as much as I thought I did. Providing I don’t have to feel the cold whatsoever, camping in winter can actually be a wonderful experience. After all, what is better than getting outdoors with your family and friends, and experiencing the simple pleasures in life together? Get out there and enjoy it!

Just as an FYI: This is a sponsored post for Cotswold Outdoor. However, all opinions and experiences are the authors own, and sponsors are carefully chosen to ensure they align with our brand, our vision and our ethics.

Words by Katie James

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