Each time spring rolls around, I’m always amazed at how the big retailers start advertising their flash new gear to promote the upcoming camping season. It’s like we’ve become conditioned to believe that adventure is only meant for the warmer months. To me, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Some of our family’s most memorable camping adventures have been in sub-five-degree weather.
Like rain, the cold can ruin a trip fast if you are not prepared. So, here are a few simple steps to family camping bliss in the winter.
Is there anything better than a crisp day and a campfire out in nature?
Is a tent, swag or trailer best for winter camping?
With so many choices available it can be confusing to decide what makes a good all-year-round shelter, so here’s a breakdown of the options you have.
1. Swags vs tents
I find that canvas swags for ground-based shelter are less susceptible to the cold and wind compared to tents. Whilst there is an array of excellent alpine style tents for mountaineers, swags for the average family are great as the canvas retains the heat you generate brilliantly.
Also, swags, in general, are not as tall as tents, so therefore the warm air stays close to you. Plus they mostly come with 50-70 mm mattresses making them very comfortable. Personally, I have always loved the OZtrail and Darche swag ranges. They both are well made and will last you a lifetime if well cared for.
A swag is a great shelter choice for colder conditions.
2. Soft floor trailers
Camper trailers are also a great option to keep camping enjoyable all year round. With beds elevated, you won’t feel that coldness coming up from the ground. They also offer families a place to store loads of gear. There are two main types of camper trailers, the first option is a soft floor trailer. These often offer more open space with a drop-down PVC floor.
So for bigger families, they are very popular as they allow bunk and camp bed setups. However, you need to consider the outside area and be aware of exposed rocks which can put a hole in the floor. Groundsheets or those clip-together mats can resolve these scenarios.
3. Rear fold or forward fold hard floor trailers
The second option is a rear fold or forward fold hard floor trailer which has been our family’s choice over the last few years. Hard floors are often very quick to set up and rocky/difficult grounds are no longer an issue. However, these trailers don’t tend to be as spacious. Whilst we can still set up a double bunk for our two young children inside, there is definitely less space to walk around.
Forward folds are proving to be the new hot item for families as they also offer an internal dining area with little table to eat at too.
Tip: a measured piece of carpet enhances the camper trailer luxury experience tenfold in all models and can easily be stored on top of the bed when packed away.
A camper trailer is perfect for sheltering families when the temperatures drop.
What to consider if you are having a campfire
Most winter camping enthusiasts will tell you that this is a must-have for a campsite. Personally, my favourite memories are sitting in front of a fire with my kids in my lap reading a book. To have a fire, you must always consider the following before you leave for the trip:
1. The venue you’re camping at
Where you go will dictate whether you can have a fire or not. Check to ensure that the venue allows fires, and if they do, also find out if you can collect wood or otherwise you’ll have to bring your own. I prefer State forests as more often they allow you to run a chainsaw and collect wood from the ground.
National parks tend to be less flexible. But, if you have a dry stash of wood at home that you can bring, it won’t be a problem.
State forests will allow you to bring a chainsaw to collect wood.
2. Bringing the right equipment to collect wood
A handsaw works but can become tiresome. Chainsaws will always make light work of wood collection, but National parks don’t allow chainsaw use due to noise considerations. Therefore, the new battery-powered brushless saws can be a great option.
Just to be safe, check with the ranger on your options before your trip. Ensure you bring lighters and even Firelighters as well, in case the wood is a bit wet.
Ensure that you check your options for wood collection before your trip.
3. The environment and weather conditions
Always look at how the weather has been leading up to your trip and the area itself. If it has been raining for two weeks prior then it is safe to assume the wood local to the area probably won’t burn well. The remedy is to bring some dry wood yourself, at least if nothing else you can mix the wet stuff in once the fire is underway. For more on lighting a fire with wood, check out this guide here. Also, if the wood is sparse in the area and you know this then bring your own supply.
Tip: Often a campsite has a predetermined fireplace and opportunity to place your tent where you like. Try starting the fire first to track the direction of the smoke and then set up your accommodation out of the way. I have seen many campers spend an hour getting set up only to start a fire and realise the smoke is going straight in the front door.
You may need to bring wood from home in case it’s been raining.
How do I keep warm in winter?
Take into account what clothes, shoes and sleeping gear you should bring. Once the winter cold seeps in it can be very hard to get warm again. Again, just some careful consideration can make all the difference, especially if it’s your first time going away in winter.
What clothes should I wear for winter camping?
If the wind is a factor, then windproof jackets and pants help immensely. Even lightweight wet weather coats over jumpers can cut the breeze from getting to you. Naturally jumpers and tracksuit pants along with thermals are all good to wear. I always carry a bag with extra jackets and pants in it when we go away in winter which has been useful every time.
Tip: Ugg boots make a great around-the-campsite shoe. The hard sole and a fleecy inner make for the ultimate campsite comfort.
A good sleeping bag or quilt makes all the difference.
What bedding should I take camping in winter?
If you don’t want to spend up on new sleeping bags for the season that will cope with the cold, then bring your duvet/quilt from home. We bought really warm quilts from Ikea that are a bit heavy, but very warm. We have never had a cold night’s sleep in them ever! This is a good investment as you will need them anyway for nightly use at home.
If you worry about getting them dirty, then get yourself some cheaper covers to use and problem solved! For regular winter camps, we ended up investing in Darche’s Canvas Cold Mountain bags to take and they are brilliant, so I highly recommend them.
What meals are best to cook in winter?
Winter is peak campfire season, so make the most of it by whipping up a roast in a camp oven over the hot coals. Not only is it a delicious and hearty meal that will help warm you up, it will really add to the whole winter camping experience.
Winter is the perfect time to brush up on your camp oven cooking skills.
Activities to do to stay warm
Nothing keeps you warmer in winter than a bit of exercise. Dress to match the environment of course but here are some of my favourite campsite activities.
1. Explore the area
Nothing gets the blood pumping than a good walk to enjoy and learn about the local area where you are staying. I find that even areas we have camped in several times previously always have something new to discover.
2. Splitting wood
Splitting wood is a useful campsite activity to keep the adults warm. Bring along a block splitter and get more out of your wood. One hour of this and you will feel plenty warm, just keep safety in mind and make sure the kids are out of the way.
Keep the kids warm and entertained with some outdoor activities.
3. Family games
When I was a child, my favourite camping game was called Blind Trailblazing. Bring a couple of balls of twine and run them through the trees and shrubs. The kids must then navigate their way along the string line blindfolded through any obstacle you place.
I add in for my children that they must drop every time they hear a bat (shaken leaves on a branch sounds like a flying bat or bird.) Little children have big imaginations and being blindfolded heightens the senses and allows them to access it even more.
4. Other games and activities
Other games you could play include Simon Says, night spotting with a torch, treasure and challenge maps (orienteering) and the Spider’s Web Challenge. The Spider’s Web Challenge involves threading a rope between two trees (to replicate a spider’s web) and then climbing through without touching the web.
Hopefully using these tips can help and inspire you to discover your winter wonderlands. We don’t have to be limited by the seasons. You can start by planning a local overnight camp and build from your experiences each time. The cold winter season can be a beautiful time to explore Australia and bond with family and friends by an open fire.
Do you prefer camping when it’s chilly out, or warm and sunny?
About the writer...
Having spent much of my childhood camping or travelling, I have been infused with a passion for the outdoors. I have been fortunate enough to travel to over 20 different countries including Nepal and South Africa. Australia is a wonderfully diverse country and my family travel as much as we can to soak it all up. I am based in Sydney and try to get away every fortnight or so. I also love video production and photography as side opportunities.