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It’s hard to believe that this time last year we experienced our first ever camping trip in our new bell tent. We’d already been camping several times using borrowed gear, fallen in love with camping, and decided to buy our own tent. Find out more about our decision to buy a bell tent.
Once our bell tent arrived we couldn’t wait to try it out. We decided it’s first outing would be over the Easter long weekend at the fabulous Comrie Croft campground, in Perthshire. With all the naivety of Australians living abroad we assumed that Easter weather in Scotland would be perfect for camping – images of blue skies, daffodils and baby lambs danced in my head.
Now, when we mentioned to friends that we’d planned a camping trip for the Easter weekend, there were murmurs of ‘oh, you’re brave’, and ‘it could be a bit chilly that time of year’. We shrugged it off with a ‘she’ll be right mate’ mentality. Secretly however I was slightly concerned. When we arrived and saw plenty of other Easter campers, I felt relieved. “See, lots of other families camp at Easter, it can’t be that bad”. So we set up our tent and settled in.
Exploring the camping ground I spotted another bell tent, and noticed it had a chimney. “They must have a log burning stove in there, how lovely!” I said. Jason scoffed and made mutterings about how that wasn’t “real camping”. Oh how his tune had changed by the end of that first night, when the temperature had dropped below freezing.
Reality had set in. It rained. The high winds tested the capabilities of our tent. The tent passed with flying colours, but did highlight the need for a windbreak for a more pleasant sitting-round-the-campfire experience. But oh, the cold. Not so much of a problem during the day when we were out exploring, but at night when we were trying to sleep, it was so, so cold. We could feel it coming up from the cold damp earth.
The next day, after having bought out the local shop’s fleece blankets, we both gazed longingly at the smoke coming out of that wood burning stove. Maybe a wood burning stove for the tent is something we should investigate Jason conceded. Yay!
So what did we learn from that Easter camping weekend?
1. Wellies are great for wet weather, but not cold weather.
You will get very cold feet just relying on wellies (rain boots) to keep your feet dry. One solution is to wear thermal socks but I find there’s still not enough insulation to keep my feet warm. You can also get special warm welly inserts, but I don’t find them very comfortable though maybe that’s just me :-). Wellies are also quite difficult to get on and off at the tent entrance. If you don’t want mud, wet grass, and other debris tracked throughout your tent you really do need to take them of as soon as you get into your tent!
The solution = Snow Boots
It might sound a bit like overkill, but if you have zip-up, lightweight snow boots they really are the perfect solution. I’ve had my Merrell boots over 8 years now and they’ve seen me through several skiing trips to France and Scandinavia, and many cold, wet winters in Scotland.
They are an investment, but in terms of value/cost-per wear they are have been absolutely worth it. They are comfortable, waterproof, easy to get on and off using a zip, and so, so warm. I’ve had the zip replaced on one boot last year as it was showing signs of wear, and this year will probably get the other zip replaced because I just can’t bear to part with them.
My boots are no longer available to purchase, but these are very similar.
It didn’t occur to me to take these boots with me on that Easter trip, probably because I thought of them as ‘snow boots’ or ‘winter boots’ (and it was neither snowing, nor winter!). I now think of them as my ‘practical, warm, go-anywhere boots’.
2. Sleeping ‘off the ground’ is not necessarily warmer. In cold weather it’s all about insulation.
On our very first camping trip Jason and I slept on a borrowed double inflatable air mattress. I didn’t like it. I found it uncomfortable – every time Jason moved I moved too, and I could feel the cold seeping up through the ground. Not to mention the fact that it slowly deflated during the night.
For our next trip, wanting to be off the ground (thinking this would be warmer), we purchased 3 single camp beds. They seemed comfortable enough, however the Easter trip demonstrated that being off the ground was not enough in itself to protect us from the cold. I wondered if perhaps our sleeping bags were to blame, but we have good quality 3-season sleeping bags, surely we didn’t need anything more hard-core than that?
The solution = Insulated Mattresses
Chatting with other campers about the bitterly cold night they mentioned that they have self-inflating insulated mattresses, and coupled with some extra blankets were warm and comfortable throughout the night.
I was slightly dubious about how comfortable their type of mattresses would be to sleep on. They seemed thin, and our experience previously with 5cm Thermarest style backpacking mattresses hadn’t been great. As soon as we got home I researched insulated self-inflating mattresses, and sure enough, the reviews were glowing.
We purchased Outwell Dreamcatcher 10cm single mattresses and can confirm that they are indeed extremely comfortable to sleep on. We use them directly on the floor of the tent (no more camp beds) and the insulation together with our good quality sleeping bags keep us warm and cosy.
3. Don’t rely on a campfire for warmth.
We’ve been living in Scotland for several years now so we know all about dressing for the weather. It’s all about layers. We wear the same thermal layers camping as we do when we go skiing. However, when you are not being active you can’t rely on sitting cosily around the campfire to provide that extra bit of warmth. It’s not really an option when it’s raining, as you’ll get wet. When it’s windy you can’t have the fire too close to the tent as a spark could prove dangerous, and the wind blows all the heat away (unless you’re prepared to sit on the smokey side!).
The solution = Extra heat sources
I was introduced to Little Hotties hand warmers and toe warmers on a Scandinavian ski trip. I was immediately impressed. What a perfect solution for cold hands and feet!
I now have bulk boxes of Little Hotties hand warmers and Little Hotties toe warmers at home for whenever we venture somewhere cold. I’ve used them in the snow, watching winter sporting events, and on winter walks.
Luckily, I thought to bring some along on that Easter camping trip. Tucked into our sleeping bags they provided extra warmth that was so desperately needed.
Lightweight fleece blankets are also invaluable. They provide extra warmth when sitting outside, and are also great to throw over your sleeping bags during the night.
4. You don’t need fancy red wine for camping.
There’s nothing better than sitting round the campfire with a glass of red wine at the end of the day. In cold weather however wine loses any subtleties in flavour, so there’s no point taking the fancy stuff.
The solution = Cask/box wine
(Also known as ‘Chateau d’Cardboard’ in Australia!).
It’s easy to pack (being a box), easy to balance on uneven ground, and won’t spill if it gets knocked over. As an added bonus, some of it is actually quite nice to drink!
5. It’s never all bad
Despite the cold, and the wind, and the rain, we had a wonderful time. Weather passes. There were plenty of periods of sunshine and blue sky which we appreciated all the more. Look at that view from our tent!
We walked into the pretty village of Comrie, and came across lots of birds and other animals (including red squirrels!) when we explored the beautiful countryside. Jason and Finlay also took advantage of the award-winning mountain biking facilities at Comrie Croft.
With excellent facilities, helpful staff, and a beautiful location we can confidently recommend Comrie Croft as a fantastic place for a camping trip any time of year. If you’re not keen on camping in a tent they have other options available such as gorgeous hand-crafted katas, the farmhouse and the steading. Find out more on their website: www.comriecroft.com
What’s your experience camping in cold, wet or windy weather?
My essentials for cold weather camping: