Even in the middle of winter, Kiwis love to go camping. The great outdoors can be even more spectacular in the middle of the year when the temperatures drop, particularly in our alpine regions. This is why sales of camping gear in New Zealand stay high during winter, with outdoor specialists reporting that interest in the products they sell remains constant throughout the year. However, while winter camping can be fun, it does pose risks for the unprepared, particularly in the shape of hypothermia. So, to stay warm and safe while you’re camping in the cold, here are some cool tips.
- While it’s fairly obvious that you need to invest in a good quality sleeping bag that is designed and manufactured for harsh winter conditions, you should also ensure you sleep in it properly. Don’t snuggle too deep into your bag because this only sees you breathe into it, which creates moisture that eventually cools you down. Invest in a bag with a hood so that your head stays out of the bag, and your body stays warm.
- Don’t go overboard with the size of your tent. While bigger may be better if you’re on a family camping holiday in the summer sun, it might not be so good when you’re high in hill country on a winter’s night. A smaller tent is easy to put up so you can get into a sheltered space sooner, and it is quicker to heat up.
- Heartier meals that are higher in fat and carbohydrates will keep you warmer for longer, so meals consisting of pasta, potato mash, oats, grains and even hot sweet beverages like hot chocolate should be on your menu.
- While you might be tempted to jump into your sleeping bag wearing the same clothes you’ve had on all day, it’s best to change into clean and dry clothes. The garments you’ve been wearing all day accumulate moisture, particularly sweat, and this will cool you down overnight.
- You might want to travel light while camping during winter but if you can, take a lightweight sleeping mat with you as this will provide crucial insulation between you and the ground, which will get colder and colder as the temperature drops overnight.
- If you’re taking battery-powered devices, with a torch being the most obvious, ensure you use lithium batteries as they’ll resist cold temperatures and keep working in very cold conditions. On the other hand, there is a water-based solution in alkaline batteries that sees them lose functionality in freezing conditions.
- Wearing the right clothing is a big part of staying warm, comfortable and safe in cooler conditions. Synthetics like fleece garments are best, and merino is also a good thermal insulator. Whatever you do, stay away from cotton as it absorbs moisture and retains that moisture, so you’ll always be wet AND cold.
- Your head and your chest are about five times more sensitive to temperature changes than other parts of your body, so always keep them covered. Meanwhile, your feet are also extremities that need to be protected as this is an area where a lot of body heat is lost in very cold conditions.
- A tarp is a great investment as it can be used as a layer of insulation under the tent, or under yourself while you’re sitting around the fire. It can also act as a windbreak or water barrier.
- No matter the weather, a Personal Locator Beacon should be considered an essential camping item.
While these tips are all related to what you do during your camping adventure, it’s what you do BEFORE that is just as important. Preparation is vital. Get to know the area you’re camping in by seeking out local knowledge or contacting the Department of Conservation, make sure you feel comfortable about going into the environment and confident you can meet its challenges, check the forecast right up until you go, and let people know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.