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As the nights draw in and the temperatures start to drop, we need to start to rethink our camping kits. This is why we would like to talk about the best heating sources for autumn and winter camping.
For some camping season is over. Many people only like fair-weather camping or booking camping holidays through the summer months when temperatures are at their best. I feel, at times, that these are some of the people who often miss out on some great camping experiences.
The summer months are full of play and fun in the sun and at times some great water adventures (including the rainstorms) whilst camping but with the changing of the seasons also comes the changes to camping experiences.
For us, we love the autumnal and winter changes in the outdoors. Colours change from green to varying shades of reds, oranges and golds.
You can get your campfire going that little bit earlier on an evening and spend longer around it sitting chatting and sharing stories.
You have longer at night to stargaze. The sky is darker, and the stars are brighter during this time of the year. This is also the best time of year to witness shooting stars, meteor showers and the Milky Way with the naked eye.
Depending on where you are camping (dark sky parks are the best) the Northern Lights are at times visible for over 50% of the UK during these months. Between October and March are the best times to see these when they are strong. Check out our Dark Sky Delights blog for more info on stargazing and seeing northern lights.
Camping food is at its most comforting in colder months where food choices tend to lean more towards soups, stews, chilli and other spicy comfort foods. Don’t forget that the foods you eat also go a long way to help to keep you warm and providing your body with extra fuel.
Staying warm is one of the most crucial and fundamental aspects of enjoying camping in colder months and there are many things you can do to ensure this. We have listed a few below to help you stay warm in colder months.
Warm clothing is essential for when camping in winter months especially base layers and top layers.
Good base layers we think often beat PJs for sleeping in. They are designed to be a little tighter and remain closer to the skin as you move around during the night. Good top and bottom base layers paired with a good pair of wool socks, if you can sleep with socks on that is! These will help to keep you warm in your sleeping bag at night.
Outer Layers to help keep you warm and dry in the evening when sitting out are also useful items to pack with you. Don’t forget that although you may be sitting around a warm and cosy fire the air is damper at night and will settle on your clothing as the night goes on. Good showerproof or water repellent jackets and trousers are ideal as they help keep your day clothes dry.
And as with all camping trips a good warm hat is always advisable. In the colder weather, a lightweight balaclava can also be used for sleeping in as you can lose a lot of heat through your head during the night when sleeping.
NEVER sleep in your clothes! The clothes you wear during the day will have built up some moisture either from you sweating or the surrounding air, especially on damper days. As the temperature drops, this moisture that is held in your clothes will cool and start to make you cold, this is why it is important to have dry clothes to change into for sleeping. With this in mind, it is also important to note that you should get into your sleeping clothes just before you go to bed. If you change earlier in the night and then layer up to sit by the campfire you can of course still build up this layer of moisture on your clothes.
I know it is tempting to change before the temperature drops too much as sit by a fire in this way as it makes it easier to retire to your bed by simply stripping a few layers but you will quickly lose all the benefit of heating up by the fire when that trapped moisture begins to cool.
Hot Water Bottles
It is important when camping to never go to bed cold. Always heat yourself up with a warm drink or some hot food before bed. Even do a few exercises to warm up your body before climbing into your sleeping bag. You don’t want to be too warm or sweating as condensation can build up within your sleeping bag and create a damp feeling which is not very comfortable.
If you are a cold sleeper as I am a hot water bottle may help you stay warm and help you get to sleep that little bit quicker.
We love these new extra long hot water bottles as not only do they heat more of your sleeping bag up if placed inside before you go to bed but for me, it helps keep the length of my back warm till I’m ready to go to sleep.
*Remember if you are boiling a kettle for hot water bottles the last thing in the evening, remember to empty it fully before going to bed. The hot water or water left in kettles can increase condensation build up in your tent during the night.
If a hot water bottle doesn’t suit you can always look at the Radiate Heated Pad that uses a power bank to provide power. These heated mats can be placed inside sleeping bags and have 4 heat settings.
Fires and Stoves
We all love a good campfire and they are great for sitting around and heating yourself up in the evening but always make sure if you are building a fire that firstly it is allowed, some areas and campsites alike do not allow open campfires. Secondly, if you are having a campfire it is done responsibly and there is no damage caused to the ground.
This may mean digging out an area to have the fire and using stones or bricks to protect the surrounding area. If you are doing this, please replace everything before you leave and do not go cutting anything off trees or bushes to use. Only ever use what has already fallen and is lying about the ground.
Now if you happen to own a good canvas tent or bell tent you may consider investing in a stove for inside your tent. You can buy flashing kits for your tent that will allow you to use such a stove.
These stoves not only are a great heat source but can be used for cooking on and to dry off small items of clothing if placed nearby.
We really like the NJ Comfort Portable Wood Burning Stove Camping Cooker + 3L Water Heater. We love the fact it comes with a water heater, but these can be purchased separately and saves carrying a kettle and also that it packs away neatly into its own little bag. But there are many others available. To find one that suits your own personal needs it would be best to shop around.
Stoves like these are a great all-round piece of equipment as it replaces the heater, cooker and kettle. You don’t even need to put it inside a tent. These can be used out in the open or even under a tarp as long as you remember that the chimney will get really hot and make sure that no materials are touching it or that you use a flashing kit.
You can see a wide range of stoves here.
If you are camping on a site later in the year and have EHU, electric hook up, like many others you may consider buying an electric fan heater to help warm your tent in the evening. Some people do leave these on a low setting all night, but we wouldn’t recommend this and feel all electrics should be turned off before bed. If a nightlight is required for young ones, try using a rechargeable or battery-operated one.
We think this Kampa Diddy Heater is ideal, with its 2 heat settings and overheat and tip-over protection makes it a safe choice for camping.
The one type of heating we don’t recommend is any sort of gas heater. Whether this is turning on your gas cooker to heat the tent or using a camping gas heater. Using gas can be dangerous due to carbon monoxide poisoning and should not be used in any confined spaces including tents.
A Good Sleeping Bag
The one thing that every camper uses to stay warm during the night is a sleeping bag. For this reason, it is worth investing in a bag that is going to do just that. Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes and with several season ratings.
It is always worthwhile to buy a sleeping bag in person rather than from an online store unless you know that it is exactly what you are after. Sleeping bags are not all the same size whether in width or length and as everyone’s shape is different it is always worth trying a sleeping bag on for size before you buy.
It is also worth noting that not all manufacturers season rating are the same either. When you go to purchase a sleeping bag you should always check the temperature rating of them as well as the season rating. This should be clearly marked on the sleeping bags carry bag or stuff sack. This is normally printed on the outside somewhere visible or on the label. If in doubt ask a staff member in the shop.
Take into consideration what type of sleeper you are too. For me, I’m a cold sleeper and need the added warmth to sleep well so always choose a bag with a temperature rating at least 5° below what I need. Think about how you sleep and get to know what type of sleeper you are before making a purchase.
Vango has produced the Radiate Sleeping Bag in both single and double that has a built-in heat pad. You simply attach the built-in USB cable to a power bank to provide heat on 1 of 4 heat settings.
Sleeping Bag Liners
Sleeping bag liners are another good and inexpensive way of bringing up the warmth rating of your sleeping bag without having to go out and purchase a new one for winter.
Sleeping bag liners can add up to 10 degrees inside your sleeping bags and there a few to choose from. Whether you have a rectangular or mummy-style bag there are liners to suit them. Most good liners come with zips and for us, we like the ones made from silk. It is not only a material that will keep you warm but it will also allow you to move more freely throughout the night if you are a restless sleeper.
Other materials include cotton, polycotton and fleece. See a full range of liners here.
Sleeping Mats, Pads or Beds
It is also important never to sleep directly on the floor of your tent and this is true at any time of the year and not just in the colder months. The ground will draw any heat you have away from you so it is important to protect yourself from this. A good sleeping mat or bed or indeed both will help you to stay warm and away from the cold ground. As with sleeping bags, not all mats or pads are created equal even when they look the same. Mats don’t come with season or temperature rating but with an R rating.
Never heard of an R-value? This simply references camping mats or sleeping pad’s ability to retain your bodies warmth during the night. So the higher the R-value, the warmer and more insulating it will be thus giving you a better and more comfortable nights sleep.
Most good mats or pads will contain foil as it acts as a heat reflector bouncing any heat you create back to you and not into the ground. If you are using a simple foam sleeping mat ensure that the foil side faces you and not the ground.
You can also buy inflating pads to sleep on and this really comes down to choice, if you are watching pack weight, which type of camping you do and of course your budget. If you are looking for lightweight with maximum comfort and are not restricted by budget the Thermarest range is certainly one of the best.
You can also pair mats and pads with most framed or inflatable beds for some additional warmth and comfort.
*A note on using inflatable beds – if you do use inflatable beds when camping ALWAYS use a foil backed picnic rug or a foil emergency blanket under the bed. just as when sleeping on the ground you will need a barrier to save the warmth being pulled away from you. Air beds are filled with the cold air that will become colder when outside temperatures drop, this will, in turn, make you cold. If you use a foil-backed picnic rug underneath, use it foil side up to reflect heat back towards you or even place it on top of the bed foil side up to protect you from the cold air in the mattress.
Food and hot drinks are also another great way of keeping yourself warm when camping in colder weather. Make some of your favourite soups or stews to take away with you and reheat when needed. Or if you are confident with both your cooking skills and campfires make your own from scratch when needed. There is something to be said about cooking on an open fire when it’s cold outside. I don’t know if it’s the anticipation of watching your meal cook away in front of you and all the smells lingering in the surrounding air, but it just seems to taste that little bit more comforting and delicious.
Always ensure you can have some hot food throughout the day as eating warm food helps to raise your bodies core temperature and helps to provide you with the warmth you need to keep active and enjoy yourself.
All of the above can help you to stay warm while camping. As you can see from some of the suggestions above it doesn’t matter which type of camping you do during the colder months there are steps you can take to ensure you and the people you are camping with can stay warm and that there are a variety of heating sources available to help you do this.
We believe there is as much fun to cold weather camping as there is camping in the summer. Nature is there to be enjoyed all year round, all you have to do is to make some adjustments to your gear so that you can enjoy it.
So, what are your thoughts on the best heating sources for autumn and winter camping? Do you have a firm favourite or a few you regularly use to make sure your camping trips more comfortable? If so, we would love to hear from you.