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Winter camping: keeping the campsite warm

December 4, 2011
by Laura Canning | guides | seasonal

'That should do us for another hour...' Brr! Winter has well and truly kicked in again, with half the country carpeted with snow and us typing this in fingerless gloves even indoors.

But of course a bit of cold weather isn't going to stop us hardy types from going camping whenever we dratted well like, especially when we can include glamping in that and stay somewhere like a toasty tipi with its own woodburning stove. So there.

There are all sorts of cosy things to do that make winter camping - and winter caravanning - just as good as summer, whether it's mulled wine around the campfire or being a little over-enthusiastic in proclaiming to someone after a few glasses that it's much warmer for both when a sleeping bag is shared. Ahem.

For tips to help winter campers, we've been carrying out a few surveys to find out how you best like to stay warm – and being in a snuggly yurt with indoor woodburning stove was the most popular option. Our tipis, yurts or wigwams sites include plenty that are open all year – try the luxury Mongolian yurts at Dorset 's Caalm Camp or the toasty tipis at Larkhill Tipis in Carmathenshire .

Another keep-warm survey answer was to toast your socks over the campfire. While we know even without trying this it's something we have to stay away from, if you're looking for a site where you can keep warm around the fire, check out our list of sites with campfires allowed and filter these with ones that are open all year .

Go for heated pods and your morning newspaper delivered at Hillcrest Park in North Yorkshire , stay in a wooded vale in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the Kingsmead Centre in Devon , or hide away from the hordes at the camping huts with electricity at Woodland Park in Shropshire .

Sock-toasting aside, there are plenty of other things you can do to keep your campsite cosy this winter if you're not staying in a heated static, pod or yurt (alas, another answer on the survey, 'Do a Bear Grylls and fashion a shelter from a camel carcass', might not be an option in certain areas). Our top tips for warm winter camping:

  • Camping hut at Woodland Park If you're able to choose your own tent pitch or if you're wild camping , pick your site carefully. A seasoned camper will know to pitch up above a valley floor and in a sheltered spot away from the wind, but when you're tired, the light is going and you just want to get the tent up, the fire lit and the wine mulled right this minute, it can be easy to forget.
  • You'll remember this tip from your mum – but don't drink too much in the evening so you then have to get out of your warm sleeping bag and over to the toilet block. It can take a while to get properly warmed up even in an insulated bag if it's really cold, and undoing all that for the sake of an extra cup of tea before bed would be a bit daft. If you really do have to go, you can use a pee bottle – if you're a man, and your other half doesn't mind/realise, and you can manage it in the dark. Just please please label the bottle or keep it well out of the way the next morning.
  • On a related note, get as warm as possible before you get into your sleeping bag. Hopefully the mulled wine, campfire and strange ear-flapped hat should do this for you, but if you really want to be sure, do a bit of jogging or jumping up and down. Best to be wild camping for this one so no-one sniggers as you star-jump outside your tent.
  • Pick as good a sleeping bag as you can afford, and consider adding some fleece or a cut-up blanket to the inside if you want extra insulation. One very handy and cheap tip is to get into a bin bag before you get into the sleeping bag – it'll warm you up in no time and you can slip out of it before you fall asleep (so you don't sweat too much and then wake up cold and clammy). Cruel comments on how the bin bag looks better on you than your normal outfits can safely be ignored.
  • Although you need to be really careful with your campfire when it's time to go to bed, even putting it out at lights-out can still keep you warm all night. The most obvious way is to boil up some water on the fire and fill a couple of hot water bottles, but you can also put large rocks around the fire, shield them with cardboard when you move them and then tuck them into the sleeping bag. Or if you have plenty to spare, build a pyramid of rocks inside the tent to give off heat as you sleep. (Note: Bear Gryll types say DO NOT use wet rocks for this as they'll have absorbed moisture and could explode as they dry and heat.)
  • Finally, if you've more money than sense, have a look for winter camping gadgets such as this heated camping chair , to keep your bum toasty while your camping companion gets the tent up, the fire lit and the mulled wine on. The key phrase here is 'supervisory role'.

First published December 2011, updated October 2013.