When Spring approaches, it’s amazing how many large retailers begin to advertise new gear to promote the upcoming camping season. Have we become conditioned to believe that adventure is only meant for the warmer months? That couldn’t be farther from the truth! Some of the most memorable camping adventures can be in sub-five-degree weather.
Why is winter camping best? The air is crisp and clean, the campfire is warm, and dinner is cooked in a camp oven. Rustle up some damper, enjoy some hot beverages, and shoot the breeze around the campfire. Plus, there are always opportunities to go for walks, which not only keeps us warm but reminds us to appreciate nature.
That said, the cold can ruin a trip fast if you are not prepared. In this blog, we cover the steps to family camping bliss in the winter!
Rustle up some damper, enjoy some hot beverages, and shoot the breeze around the campfire! Image: Coleman
Tent, Swag, or Trailer?
With so many choices available, it can be confusing to decide what makes a good all-year-round shelter. Here’s a breakdown:
Swags Vs Tents
Canvas swags for ground-based shelters are often less susceptible to the cold and wind, compared to tents. While there is an array of excellent alpine-style tents for mountaineers, swags for the average family are great as the canvas effectively retains the heat that you generate. Plus, swags in general are not as tall as tents, so the warm air stays close to you.
Swags also mostly come equipped with 50-70 mm mattresses, having them very comfortable. The swag range by OZtrail and Darche, for example, are well-made and will last you a lifetime if well cared for.
The ground at the campsite can get pretty darn icy, so if you are camping in a tent, sleep on a stretcher. Not a fan of stretchers? well-insulated mat will also provide a barrier between you and the frosty tent floor.
Canvas swags for ground-based shelters are often less susceptible to the cold and wind than tents. Image: Ian Treseder
Thanks to elevated beds, you won’t feel the cold from the ground. Trailers also offer families a place to store loads of gear.
A soft-floor trailer often provides more open space with a drop-down PVC floor. They tend to be popular for bigger families, as they allow bunk and camp bed setups. That said, it’s important to consider the outside area and be aware of exposed rocks (these can tear a hole in the floor). Groundsheets or EVA foam floor mats can resolve these scenarios.
If you are camping in a tent, sleep on a stretcher or a well-insulated mat. Image: Oztent
Rear-Fold or Forward-Fold Hard-Floor Trailers
Hard floors are often quick to set up, where rocky or difficult grounds are no longer an issue. However, these trailers don’t tend to be as spacious. Despite the ability to set up a double bunk for two young children, there is still less space overall for walking around.
Forward-folds are proving to be the new hot item for families, partly because they offer an internal dining area with a small table to eat at too.
A measured piece of carpet enhances the luxury camper trailer experience tenfold across all models, and can easily be stored on top of the bed when packed away.
Trailers tend to be popular for bigger families. Image: Ian Treseder
Choosing Your Campsite
With the winter sun setting earlier, it’s a good idea to hustle the family into the car at the crack of dawn – maybe even pre-dawn, especially if you’ve got a long drive ahead. You’ll be grateful you made the effort when you pull into your camp at the flip side of the day, when there’s still plenty of light for setting up and getting the fire going.
Scout out the area and avoid setting up camp near a creek bed or on a slope, in case it buckets down and the area floods. When the weather is wet and rainy there’s a higher risk of a branch snapping off and falling on your site too – so find a spot as clear of trees as possible.
Most winter camping enthusiasts will tell you that a campfire is a must-have for a campsite. Some of the best memories can be sitting in front of a fire with the kids in your lap, reading a book. Nonetheless, you must always consider the following for a campfire before leaving for the trip:
Where you go will dictate whether or not you can have a fire. Check to ensure that the venue allows fires, and if they do, if wood can be collected there or brought with you.
State forests more often than not allow you to run a chainsaw and collect wood from the ground. National Parks tend to be less flexible. If you have a dry stash of wood at home, it’s recommended to bring that along.
Where you go will dictate whether or not you can have a fire. Image: Ian Treseder
Equipment for Collecting 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 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 in case the wood is damp.
Weather and Environment
Look into the weather conditions leading up to your trip, as well as the area itself. If it has been raining for two weeks prior, it is safe to assume that the wood local to the area won’t burn well. The remedy is to bring some of your own dry wood; if nothing else, you can at least combine the wet wood when the fire is underway. If the wood is sparse in the area too, bring your own supply.
Often a campsite has a predetermined fireplace and the opportunity to place your tent where you like. Try starting the fire first to track the direction of the smoke before setting up your accommodation. Some campers make the mistake of spending an hour setting up, only to start a fire and notice that the smoke travels straight through the front door!
Consider the clothes, shoes, and sleeping gear to bring. Once the winter cold creeps in, it can be very difficult to become warm again. Some careful consideration can make all the difference, especially if it’s your first time camping in the winter.
While there are some great things about camping in the chilly season, you still need to be prepared for the worst. Always carry an emergency blanket, or even some disposable hand or toe warmers; the weather could take a bad turn, you may struggle to light your campfire, or your sleeping gear may not perform as it should. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If the wind is a factor, windproof jackets and pants help immensely. Even lightweight wet weather coats over jumpers can block the breeze. Naturally, jumpers and tracksuit pants with thermals are good to wear. Maybe carry a bag with extra jackets and pants in it, in case you get caught out in the rain.
Ugg boots make a great around-the-campsite shoe. The hard sole and a fleecy inner make for ultimate campsite comfort!
If you’re using a sleeping bag, check its rating. Image: Coleman
If you don’t want to spend up on new sleeping bags that will cope with the cold, bring your duvet or quilt from home. Heavy quilts are also very warm, and guarantee a cosy night’s sleep. They’re a good investment, as you will need them for nightly use at home too.
If you worry about them becoming dirty, get yourself some cheaper covers to use while camping. For regular winter camps, we recommend Darche’s Canvas Cold Mountain bags – they are brilliant!
The worst part about getting up on a cold morning is crawling out of your warm sleeping bag to change into your freezing-cold clothes! When it’s time for bed, stuff tomorrow’s clothing in there with you, so they’re toasty warm when you put them on the next morning.
Meals and Food
Winter is peak campfire season, so make the most of it by whipping up a camp oven roast and hot chocolate over the hot coals! Not only is this delicious and hearty way of enjoying food and drink, but it will help to keep you warm and add to the winter camping experience altogether.
Nonetheless, it’s best to bring a backup option in case it’s too wet to light a fire, or you encounter an unexpected fire ban. A gas stove or portable BBQ make for ideal alternatives.
Make the most of campfire season! Image: Coleman
It’s important to remain respectful of certain restrictions put in place by National Parks and campsite operators. This generally means using fire pits, bringing your own firewood (and keeping it dry), and safety considerations – especially with children around.
Keeping warm in the campsite may not be as straightforward as striking a match – but it’s simpler than that with a portable gas heater! If you have plenty of storage space, maybe a caravan, or a camper trailer – the Mr Heater Portable Buddy gas heater is a luxurious choice.
With a heat output ranging from 4000 BTU up to a massive 9000 BTU, the Buddy Heater is a robust and lightweight option to keep the whole family warm on a cold winter’s night. Peace of mind comes with the low oxygen and tip-over shut-off safety systems, while ease of use comes from simple push-button ignition. Mr Heater Portable Buddy Heater runs from disposable 450gm propane cylinders. Plus, for economical heating and fewer cylinders to dispose of, it boasts the benefit of operating from your LPG gas cylinder with an optional gas hose. A smart choice for families with its built-in safety features, or great for use on the backyard patio.
Keeping warm in the campsite can be as simple as using a portable gas heater! Image: Mr. Heater
Gas Heaters in Tents and Caravans
A common question we get asked is regarding the use of gas heaters inside tents and caravans. At Snowys, we DO NOT recommend using any portable heat source in an enclosed environment.
There should always be adequate ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odourless gas that will make you feel sleepy enough to tuck yourself up in bed and never wake up. Another reason is to prevent oxygen depletion in the air. This is something that is already occurring in a confined space, as we breathe oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.
The only exceptions to this are catalytic heaters, specifically marked for use in confined spaces. Unfortunately, the heaters available from Snowys are not marked as such.
Nothing keeps you warmer in winter than a bit of exercise! Dress to match the environment of course, but here are some great winter campsite activities:
Exploring the Area
Nothing gets the blood pumping than a good walk to learn about the local area. Even areas we have camped in several times before always offer something new to discover.
For the adults, splitting wood is a useful campsite activity. 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 ensure the kids are out of the way.
Some of the most memorable camping adventures can be in sub-five-degree weather. Image: Oztent
Some much-loved camping games include 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 through any obstacle you place… blindfolded! Add in a rule to drop every time they hear a bat (shaking the leaves on a branch sounds like a flying bat or bird!).
Small children have huge imaginations, so being blindfolded heightens the senses and allows them to access it even more!
Other Games and Activities
These 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 climbing through without touching the rope.
Even the areas that you’ve already camped in can offer something new to discover every time you explore! Image: Ian Treseder
We don’t have to be limited by the seasons. 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?
From setup tips and hiking trips, to campsite cooking and 4WD kits – our Snowys Bloggers boast exceptional outdoor, fitness, and travel experience. Combined, their individual content is only enhanced – and the result for the fellow outdoor enthusiasts following along is a bigger, beefier, and more beneficial blog.
These articles are an updated collaboration of previous or existing works on the Snowys Blog.