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Best tips and shortcuts for cold-weather camping

Spring has officially passed the baton to fall, and we can all be excited for cooler temps and hot toddies. Because drinking is ok if you’re cold, it’s a survival necessity. Some of the wimpier among us might hang up their camping gear, to wait it out until the next summer, but personally, I find that fall is my favorite time to go camping. Campfires are actually necessary instead of uncomfortably hot, your sleeping bag becomes a cozy little den and less and less people are apt to be taking be taking up your favorite spots. As a fairly avid camper, here are some of my favorite tips (not gonna say “hack” cuz I hate that term.) for having grand ole time camping in the fall.


For shame! HIs sleeping bag is way too small for him.
For shame! HIs sleeping bag is way too small for him.

The most important part is not turning into a popsicle at night, so step 1. is making sure your sleeping bag is a good size for you.! Too short, and your shoulders will hulk out of the top and you will lose valuable body heat. Too long, and there will be a cavern of empty space at the bottom of your bag for your poor feet to heat up. Trust me, as someone who is child-sized who made the mistake of buying an adult-sized bag, that extra four inches at the foot of your bag becomes a frozen tundra no-man’s land on chilly nights. If you are a still sleeper, get a mummy bag to cover your head as you sleep. But for those of us who tend to toss and turn, I would recommend a bag without a hood. Your face will probably end up facing into the bag at some point during the night,and besides the obvious risk of suffocation by sleeping bag, your breath will enter the bag and cause condensation to form inside it, making you colder. If your head gets cold without the hood, invest in an insulated hat, like this sexy little number from Outdoor Research.

Chicks dig it.
Chicks dig it.


Sleeping pads become essential as the weather gets cooler. More than just comfort, sleeping pads get you off of the ground and insulate you from the cold earth. The more you can layer between you and the ground, the better. A good system is to use an inflatable pad for comfort, on top of a closed-cell foam pad for warmth. Bonus: by layering sleeping pads on top of each other, you can make up for your ultra-shistey site choosing skills, and just layer over any jutting rocks, princess and the pea style.



Peeing at night — you're gonna die.
Peeing at night — you’re gonna die.

Remember how annoying it was when your mom used to make you pee before any long car trip? Even when you didn’t have to? Well, guess what — you’re gonna have to relive that feeling when camping in cooler weather. Having pee in your bladder just gives you more mass to keep warm during the night, so force yourself to empty the tank just before you sleep. It also saves you the agony of waking up in the middle of the night with a full bladder, and having to leave the loving embrace of your toasty sleeping bag to stumble into the dark to piss.


Avoid being this guy at all costs
Avoid being this guy at all costs

A lot of you may have heard the myth that it’s warmer to sleep naked in cold weather, but that’s unfortunately not true! While it may be strangely liberating to sleep in your birthday suit in nature, there’s no real benefit to sleeping in the nude besides, you know, sexiness. Sleeping in minimal warm clothing is most preferable — just enough to keep you warm, but not enough to make you sweat. I struggle the most with keeping my feet warm during cold camping trips, cuz t’s really hard to sleep with frozen bricks attached to your ankles. I found that putting a toe warmer in between two pairs of socks works great for keeping your frozen feet warm for most of the night. A bottle filled with hot water and thron into the bottom of your sleeping bag wil also work in a pinch.


There is nothing quite like the agony of changing from your snuggly PJs into your cold-ass clothes during a fall camping trip. “WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” your body screams as you submerge your legs into your freezing jeans, and rake that icy sweater over your poor shivering chest. This could have been avoided! But how? Put a change of clothes in the bottom of your sleeping bag as you crawl into bed, and your body heat will warm the clothes as you sleep. Whip them out and change into them in your sleeping bag the next morning, and it’ll make everything easy, peasy, lemon-squeezey.

Glow sticks are a great addition for any camping trip. Along with being fantastic for impromptu raves, you can wrap skinny ones around anything you would need to find, or avoid, at night. Tarp and drying lines have excellent racking potential when you can’t see them! Instead of awkwardly pawing around in circles for your tent zipper when retiring for the night, thread a glow stick through it for easy access! BOOM. It’ll save you more time and energy for RAVING.


AND THEN THERE WAS LIGHT.  courtesy of emergencypreporchard7thward.blogspot.com

Lanterns are an obvious choice for a camping trip, I mean, we were taught this in Boy Scouts. But not all of us got to our Eagle Badge, hot shot, and we sometimes forget to bring one. If you ever find yourself caught without lantern (or run out of fuel for yours), just wrap your head lamp around a full jug or Nalgene of water, and make sure the beam of light is pointed inward. It actually casts a fair amount of light, and your friends will think you’re a genius. Wait, you did bring your head lamp, didn’t you?

Fall is perfect weather for campfires and roasting stuff. If I’m staying at a relatively popular campground, I like to arrive early and collect discarded firewood from recently vacated sites. (Make sure they’re vacated, I am not advocating jacking people’s wood.) A lot of campgrounds have limits on bringing in wood, and wood bought from the office can be pretty expensive. So recycle! You’d be surprised at how much wood people will leave. Bring an old shower curtain to use as a tarpto cover your wood, so it’ll stay nice and dry for you overnight! For the non-Eagle Scouts, dryer lint stuffed in an egg carton works as a really effective fire starter. And for the stoners among us, Doritos are really great tinder.

Spend less time on tinder so you on spend more time on TInder. (wink, wink.)
Spend less time on tinder so you on spend more time on TInder. (wink, wink.)








About Caillin Murray

Caillin Murray is a recent college grad who has rekindled her abusive relationship with climbing after a four-year break.

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