How to stay warm at night wild camping

A few years ago I promised myself that I would get out on the fells ‘whatever the weather’. This included continuing to wild camp on summits. But, how to stay warm at night, camping in the cold, hmm?

Winter wild camping
Winter wild camping

After freezing my nips off a couple of times I set out to master the conditions. I needed to know exactly how to stay warm at night camping. The question…

‘How do you produce enough body heat to have a comfortable night whilst camping at altitude in freezing conditions?’

Getting it wrong can make for a miserable night camping, hypothermia or worse (you know, death).

Many people every year underestimate the power of the weather. When you follow the Mountain Rescue pages on Facebook or know members who have been involved in rescues (and recoveries) you get the idea that some hikers leave their common sense in the car park.

Staying warm whilst wild camping (in freezing conditions)

These are the sort of things I do to stay warm when I’m wild camping in Winter, and most of the British Summer.

How to heat a tent in cold weather

Don’t! It’s pointless trying to heat a tent up in cold weather, read on and find the best way to stay warm through the night.

Preparation

Before getting in the sleeping bag, I’ll boil up 900ml and put 500ml in the bottle with a Red Bush tea bag (it’s caffeine-free so won’t keep you up all night and it doesn’t stew). The hot water bottle goes in the sleeping bag and the rest of the water is for my supper.

Brewing up on the Coledale Horseshoe in Winter
Brewing up on the Coledale Horseshoe in Winter

The FUEL

Typically, for supper, I’ll have a pouch of freeze-dried food. There’s a good balance of fat, carbs and protein. There are also loads of calories. You must have fat in your food, it plays a big role in warming you up. While I’m boiling the water, I’ll hold the AK BruKit between my thighs to warm the blood heading for my cold toes then turn gas off and let it steep there for another few minutes.

Wild camping 24 hour ration pack
Wild camping 24 hour ration pack

When a client comes out camping I’ll include food. Below is a typical menu for 24 hours.

In the bag

Wild camp cooking on Dale Head summit
Wild camp cooking on Dale Head summit

When I’ve eaten my granary bread and soup I’ll get in my bed with the hot water bottle. In an hour or two the tea will be the right temperature to drink so if I’m not asleep I’ll have something hot to drink. If I’m asleep for hours then I don’t need to drink it. The hot water bottle contents make the morning tea, it can simply be heated for a quick drink.

During the night

Whenever I wake up I eat nuts, dried fruit and even chocolate. Fat needs heat to be digested. Our body produces this heat to break down the fat. This heat keeps us nice and toasty. You might even try taking a ‘miniture’ bottle to bed with you, not filled with alchohol but olive oil, sip it, you’ll soon warm up. Little things like this will help you stay warm at night.

Keeping tabs

I keep a thermometer in the sleeping bag inside pocket to compare my nights, outside my tent all of my camps have been around or below freezing this year, I’m getting a constant 30c in the bag though – this heat is produced by yours truly.

Call of Nature

A wide mouth bottle or a lockable plastic container are good for peeing into. I use it as another hot water bottle which I hold between my thighs to warm the blood heading for my toes. Having to unzip the sleeping bag whilst I perform this task reduces the temperature by 2 degrees. Getting out would waste so much heat.

Clothing

I wear a base layer, Berghaus hat, snood, walking socks and tie the cord in my AlpKit 700g down sleeping bag around my neck with a slip knot (the toggle thing isn’t tight enough, note to self, must purchase a better one before next winter).

The morning after

The nights are long when you’re turning in at 7 or 8. Knowing how to stay warm, camping for long hours at cold temperatures is essential. I get up early anyway so I’ll wake at about 4 or 5. When you’re with a party who gets up late you’re in for a long cold wait unless you have a similar morning ritual as the night before. I woke early one time with a group who didn’t stir until 9:30! I really have to give a group some times like up for 8 and out for 9.

Innominate Tarn wild camp Haystacks
Innominate Tarn wild camp Haystacks

When I camped at the frozen boggy Three Tarns at the top of the Langdale Valley after a day of thick fog I woke at 5:50 to a very welcome sunrise – I could see the sunrise! The fog had cleared. This was exciting. It meant that we would be continuing our walk. After tea and food within a hundred yards, we were climbing a very steep ascent of Bowfell in a 6 inch blanket of snow! Getting warm was very important, our climb certainly did this.

Now, we’re back on track, day 2 is going to be a good one!

Now it’s your turn

Priests Hole Cave wild camp
Priest’s Hole Cave wild camp

Preparation starts at home, it’s the most important bit of course but despite the cold and the burning desire to just get in your sleeping bag it’s very important that you follow some kind of routine of your own design to get warm, stay warm and have a comfortable night. After a 5 hour trip to the Priest’s Hole Cave in Lakeland I got straight into my bag exhausted thinking the meal at 8pm in the restaurant would do. I woke at 2 frozen, it was -15c. I quickly made my supper and was warm within an hour. What an experience but if I allowed this to happen to a client they may be really pissed off!

Priest Hole Cave wild camp
Priest Hole Cave wild camp

This is the view next morning. Priceless. I do this camp as a Private Wild Camp or part of a Private Expedition.

All of this, hypothermia, emergency procedures and much more is covered in our Wild Camping Workshop or a Private Expedition.

Read Next…

If you’re interested in more details about hypothermia you should read my blog – Hypothermia – Prevention & Treatment

Climbing Snowdon in snow
Climbing Snowdon in snow