Of course, autumn and winter do not stop us from going outside. In fact, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation. I love the cold. Being busy outside in the rain provides a total focus on what I’m doing. Sometimes it is hard work, but it also gives a feeling of invincibility.
In 2018 I cycled in the winter in Russia and in the winter of 2020 in the Alps in Italy, among others. I have experienced what it is like to camp in real cold and I love to share the lessons I have learned from this. Here are 10 tips to prepare for cold and rainy weather, which of course won’t stop you from going outside!
1. Avoid wet clothes or items
There is a statement for cold conditions that says sweat means death, or the wetter you are the harder it is to retain heat. We are the heat source ourselves, our clothes are not. Our body retains the heat and our clothing retains the heat. Moisture is the worst enemy of heat, and the wetter our clothes, the faster the body cools down.
In the Alps in winter, I provided extra dry clothes to change at the top of the pass before descending.
2. The layers system
I always wear clothes in layers. The first layer is there to transport sweat to the next layer. The second layer is to keep the body warm and the third layer is to protect you from wind and water. This system is the reason why I prefer to wear different detachable layers. You can use them with. If you get the warmth, you simply remove one layer, for example when you start cycling you can start with all three layers and remove the middle layer after 30 minutes.
Avoid clothes made of pure cotton. This type of material retains moisture, which cools the body. Synthetic materials do not retain moisture and also dry much faster. Dry clothes keep you warm much better. Synthetic clothing does start to smell quickly, so I prefer a base layer of merino wool.
To be on the safe side, bring an extra dry base coat. I provide a warm set of clothing for the evening, if it is really cold I bring an extra fleece and / or down jacket. See this article for all the stuff I took with me on my winter cycling trip in the Arctic Circle.
3. Be smart with condensation
In my experience condensation in my tent is a big problem. It wets my sleeping bag and the inside of the tent. It is important to ensure that the tent can ventilate well so that, among other things, body moisture can leave the tent. When packing I always dry the tent as much as possible with cloths. I managed to sleep outside for seven consecutive nights in the Alps, but I had to dry my sleeping bag regularly in the sun or somewhere indoors.
Furthermore, it is important never to breathe into the sleeping bag. If the down gets wet, the insulation will be greatly reduced.
4. Control your energy (eat and drink a lot)
Eat and drink regularly and a lot to keep warm. Cold demands a lot from you. Preferably in small amounts, which helps to keep your body active so that this heat is short. If the body has enough to burn, it can better keep warm. Even if I have been exercising all day, I can be tired in the evening and more vulnerable to the cold. Regulating this properly is very important. Nights shiver when it is not even very cold but simply because I was exhausted from cycling.
And also provide a well-stocked meal.
5. Warm in the sleeping bag
You have cycled all day, even sit by the campfire and when you cool down you go to sleep. Your sleeping bag is not intended to warm you up, but mainly to retain heat. In any case, make sure you get warm into your sleeping bag. Do some fitness practice or run for a few laps before you get into the sleeping bag. Just make sure you don’t sweat.
In cold conditions, use a hat and scarf to keep your face warm. The bare parts of your skin in particular cause you to lose a lot of body heat at night.
Many recommend using a sleeping bag liner and I agree.
If you put on clothing as it should, you usually create little air for insulation clothing and your body. What can help is to put your clothes in your sleeping bag so that more air gets between your body, clothing and sleeping bag. This way it insulates a lot better and that helps to keep your body warm again.
6. A good sleeping mat
It can be very annoying when the cold enters your sleeping bag from the ground. A good sleeping bag and in extreme cold conditions an aluminum mat that again ensures that the heat is reflected.
7. Get creative with snow
In snow you have all the possibilities to make a nice and comfortable place to sleep. I shovel the snow or tamp it down and if there is enough snow I can, like in this photo, make a seat.
8. Use a bivouac (possibly in your tent)
A layer around your sleeping bag insulates even more. Make sure that this layer insulates well so that body moisture does not get trapped and makes the down in your sleeping bag wet.
9. A bottle to urinate
It is annoying when you lie comfortably in a warm sleeping bag and no way, you have to pee. I once got a tip that I initially thought of, how am I going to do that? The tip was to have an empty plastic bottle handy and pee in it. Since then I have always been doing this and it works very well. I don’t know if this works for women too
10. A heat source
It could already be a tea light that you put in your shoe in your tent. But a camping stove or a campfire can also provide a heat source. You could also dry your clothes by a fire by hanging them near the fire.
Be careful. During a very cold night in Norway I arrived sweaty on top of a mountain and did not dare to go any further. All my clothes were wet except for my down jacket. The temperature quickly dropped to -26. I then put my gasoline burner in my tent to keep warm and dry my sweaty clothes. Fortunately, this went well and saved me from annoying cold at that time.
This was an emergency situation and is not recommended if your tent is not properly ventilated. Then carbon monoxide can form and that can cause suffocation. You hardly notice that, other than fatigue, sleeping and not waking up anymore. So do it very consciously, ventilate very well and preferably use a carbon monoxide detector.
Another way to have a heat source is to bury very hot stones under where you are going to sleep. You heat them up in a campfire and then dig them in. They give you hours of warmth.
Adventure in the fall and winter months can be absolutely miserable. But, no pain no gain. Don’t think too much about rain and cold, but also think about the advantages you have over camping in the summer months. Enjoy beautiful landscapes while not being irritated by ticks or mosquitoes.
Have fun on an adventure and especially take it easy when it is very cold!
If you want to know more about camping in cold conditions:
- Ideas for a packing list
Experience with camping in the autumn and winter months? Let us hear from you! Share some additional tips in the comment section.