How to survive camping in cold weather

If you’ve ever camped in winter you’ll know it can be cold enough to freeze off certain parts of a brass monkey!

I’m a retired Army Sergeant and I’ve camped in freezing conditions many times. I think the coldest was on a mountain in Canada, where it was -30 and we dug a snow hole to sleep in. I couldn’t feel a thing when I woke up and my fingers struggled to strike the match to light the campfire in the morning.

Amy Sargeant in Canada

In Canada

With this experience under my belt, here are my best tips:

Shelter against the elements

Unless you’re braver than me, you’ll need/want shelter! As soldiers, we often used to set up camp quickly, using a basha shelter. A basha is a bit like a tarpaulin sheet with poles; it is light to carry and can be angled against the elements, however, most people will use a tent. When choosing a tent, you’ll want a lightweight option that is easy to put up and packs down to a size that won’t hold you back.

An absolute essential is a good quality Goretex bivi bag, which is waterproof and breathable, such as this army-issued one. A bivi bag goes over your sleeping bag and the reason for this extra layer is that the LAST thing you want is rainwater (or even sweat) beside your skin/clothes and then it freezing!


When you are facing an overnight in the bitter cold you need a special cold weather sleeping bag which can keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures. You will not get away with a standard sleeping bag! A few of the friends on our Facebook page suggest putting a layer between you and the ground by either using a sheet of radiator reflector foam or even branches from a fir tree. Another tip was to heat up the inside of your sleeping bag using a hot water bottle before you climb in.

I’d also suggest a really warm layer, such as a Softie jacket which is warm, waterproof and take a pair of good gloves, cold weather socks, sturdy boots and a hat, too.


Next up, you’ll obviously need food and water. You may not know this, but gas canisters can freeze, so for cooking, I always take a Hexi block cooker, which can be lit with a match or lighter. I also take a decent-sized flask for water, a mess tin, compact cutlery and something boil in the bag to eat.


The last wee piece of advice I have for you is to take a head torch. There’s nothing harder than setting up camp in the freezing darkness with one hand! And one last tip from the Facebook page? A hip flask with a single malt!

Do you agree with this list? Afterall, not too many of us are lucky enough to have a tipi with a wood burner like one of our good friends on Facebook (you’ll find a pic of his tipi in the comments of this Facebook thread).

Have you got any other cold weather camping tips? Share them with us…