Post by Kate Duncan.
Midwinter can be a tough time if you’re a lover of the beach and the outdoors. I’m here to tell you that there’s absolutely no reason to stay hiding out at home drinking hot chocolates to stay warm. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good hot chocolate and a book by the heater, but the lack of sunlight and good old vitamin D can leave you feeling sluggish and depressed.
As I was packing my van to go camping last weekend, my Ugg-booted neighbour walked by, mouth agape, and asked, “But don’t you get cold?”
Sure, I get cold. But let me tell you a little secret: I feel colder when I stay at home and try to snuggle into my couch. Call me crazy, but I feel the cold the least when I get myself out into it. I don’t know why: Maybe it’s because I’ve made the investment over the years in all the right gear, or because I get extra prepared, layering up in wool and down.
And just so you know that you can trust me here, I HATE BEING COLD, and I’m the biggest winter whiner of them all. It's just that I know something you don’t know, I’ve learned how to beat it.
The trick, like anything else in life, is that you have to step into the fire. What’s that quote? Oh yes, one of my favourites…
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”.
Joseph Campbell was a brilliant man. He’s the one that first coined the Heroes Journey, and I’m about to offer you some advice on your next here’s journey as you go camping in winter.
Kate’s Camping Hacks for Winter
- Wear proper outdoor clothing. This is something I see Australians struggle with over and over again. It's cold here guys, ok? And cotton does not keep you warm, nor do thongs or boardies. If you struggle with the cold, and end up staying indoors for months on end because of it, then do yourself the biggest favour of your life. Get out and buy a fleece jumper, wool socks, and a down jacket. There are plenty of outdoor stores around that are packed with the perfect items to keep you snuggly no matter where you are. I have a knee length down jacket with a hood that I could sleep on the bare snow in and wake up refreshed in the morning. Seriously. I could stargaze for hours in that thing in the middle of July without so much as a shiver. So go out and get yourself some beanies, Ugg boots, (or even better rain or snow boots) and get outside. I’m not kidding about this, go all out!
- Get the right camping gear. In winter, a Kmart tent won’t cut it. You want something that won't leak in a downpour, and that is designed to hold your body heat in. (How do you think those guys on Everest do it?) If you have access to a van, even better, though honestly, sometimes a well-designed winter tent will stay warmer than a van. You can create an awning or rain shelter using a tarp, a rope, and some creativity, and a good quality lightweight tarp can make all the difference. Use your vehicle, trees or other manmade structures to set up your own special spot. A high quality down sleeping bag will make all the difference, and make sure your mattress or pad is designed to keep the cold from seeping through the earth and into your body.
- Sleep in your down jacket, a pair of wool socks and a beanie. You’ll be so hot in the middle of the night you’ll be asking your partner if he forgot to turn the heater off. Oh wait, you’re camping.. there’s no heater!
- Make a giant fire! Don’t forget to be pre-prepared with way more firewood than you think you’ll need. This one is super important, as the sun sets before dinner in the middle of winter. If it’s raining hard, you might be out of luck, unless you can figure out how to start the fire under your shelter without burning your whole camp down. I’ll let you do the research on that one.
- Consider fancier campgrounds. I'm a bit of a purist, so in the summer months, I avoid made-up campgrounds like the plague. But in winter they can be a great idea. They’re usually pretty empty, rates are waaaay lower, and they solve problems like rain and fire with covered patios and indoor cooking facilities. And they offer the greatest gift to mankind: the hot shower. This can be the most delightful of all winter camping treats and will be sure to bring you a legitimate lesson in gratitude.
- Bonus surfers hack: I carry around an extra esky to keep things warm. At home, before I leave, I fill two 5 litre water jugs with hot water. This will last for a good 12 hours and creates a delightfully warm after-surf shower in case I don’t have access to a campground. Once I’m on the road I politely ask cafes if they’d refill them for me. I always get a yes! You don’t have to be camping to use this trick, in winter I take these warm water jugs every time I go for a surf! WARNING: in the first few hours the water will still be so hot that it burns! Pour a little out and dilute with some cold water if necessary.
I get it, all of this buying gear and finding the right equipment might seem like “too much” work, but the results are fantastic. And the good news is, you only have to buy the right stuff once. This kind of high-quality gear lasts forever and often their makers have amazing warranties and customer service.
To me, there’s nothing more incredible than the empty, wide open winter beaches. The early sunsets over pink horizons and cuddling into a mountain of warm down. The sparkling blanket of winter stars above you, and the warm mist twirling as it leaves your lips.
As a wise adventurer once said to me as we paddled down the icy rivers of Nepal,
“Out here there’s no such thing as a bad attitude, there’s only bad gear”.