Winter Wild Camping?

We’re officially in to November as I began to write this. October was a bit of a blur in my memory… The occasional dry day submerged beneath the rushing images of many-a downpour.

From here, it is a long way until we’re back in the seasons of T-shirt weather. I do struggle with the darkness, drop in temperature and reduced sunlight. I’d love to go away and spend a weekend camping but, for me personally, it isn’t the right time of year…

Instead, I’m thinking about the occasional wild camp as a way of getting out there and attempting to ’embrace’ the long winter nights!

Before we go any further, I should make a note of my intention to use the W-word less frequently because, being realistic, I’m thinking of an autumn wild camp this side of winter and perhaps more in the spring, before the rush of summer.

My tent: the Luxe/Sil Hex Peak V4A

As far as my kit goes, I’m not entirely well fitted out for win… Cold weather camping. My shelter (the Luxe Hex Peak V4A) may or may not be suitable. I doubt it would keep the snow out as well as some other models but I don’t intend to be pitching in sub-zero temperatures. It’s not marketed as a tent for freezing conditions but it is pretty light weight.

Recently purchased: a down-insulated sleeping bag

I have very recently invested in a new sleeping bag from Mountain Warehouse. This is their Extreme Lightweight Down model, which I purchased for only £70 (including the 10 litre dry bag, further down).

After drawing up a shortlist of tents costing no more than £100 (including options from Vango, OEX and some less familiar options on Amazon), I went for this one due to its given pack size and weight. I don’t see the sense in spending any more right now as I may attempt one camp in November, hate the experience and never do it again… Or, I may not repeat the act often enough to justify spending £150-200 or more! I don’t live too close to a mountainous area and I wouldn’t consider camping above, say, 400 metres just yet.

I remain sceptical of some of the claims given by Mountain Warehouse as to their ‘Extreme’ down bag’s performance. It’s rated as a ‘2/3 season’ bag and yet, they also state it is suitable for conditions as low as -12°C… Which, to me, is definite four season territory!

My digital scales told me that the bag actually weighs 950 grams (and not 870g as claimed), while the pack size is a convenient 300mm x 150mm (12in x 6in) and it could probably be compressed further.

3 seasons synthetic (£40) Vs. 2/3 season down (£80).

I opted for a down bag as they are regarded as being lighter to carry, they are known to pack down very small and some believe they can offer greater insulation value over synthetic bags – this is the one area where I am concerned, given the price I’ve paid, here.

On the left above, you can see my faithful Vango Latitude 300. My first ever sleeping bag. A three season effort that got me started back in 2014. I still remember buying it and that first experience of Go Outdoors, with the assistance and advice of my friend Linda.

Previous lightweight option: Vango Ultralite Pro 100 (2 season sleeping bag).

It’s one flaw is that it is far too bulky and heavy for backpacking (although, Trev from Summit or Nothing may argue otherwise). I was prepared to take this on The Ridgeway, had I set off as originally intended in 2017… Again, I believe it was Linda’s awareness and intervention that led me towards a lighter option, there. All going well with the new Mountain Warehouse bag, I’ll either look to sell the Vango cheaply or donate it to a collection for the homeless.

Dry bags are essential for down-insulated kit.

Whether it’s warm or not, one major pitfall with down insulation is when it gets wet… In that it takes a very long time to dry out naturally and thus affects the performance in the process. Therefore, I’ll be taking an extra precaution to keep my new down sleeping bag in its own dry sack.

This 10 litre dry bag was purchased from Mountain Warehouse at the same time. It offers plenty of space and only cost me £5. Total weight with the down sleeping bag is a firm 1kg.

That blue roll is my lightweight £30 inflatable sleeping mat.

As high or low as a sleeping bag’s comfort rating may be, if you’re not properly insulated from the ground beneath you, the cold will always found a way through to your bones. I learnt this the hard way, when I walked the South Downs Way at the end of May. I packed a lightweight inflatable mattress to sleep on. Nothing more. As comfortable as it was, I awoke at around 3am for five consecutive nights, feeling a chill and unable to warm up before the morning sunrise.

For the colder weather, I intend to carry my Thermarest Z-Lite mat. It lacks the depth and cushioning of anything more but I now that it is excellent at reflecting your body’s heat back to you and keep the cold ground at bay. In September when I drove down to Dorset for a long weekend, I placed this mat on top of my inflatable mattress and had no cold issues whatsoever.

My only concern remains, how to pack it and I’m tragically lacking an on-hand photograph to share. If it’s attached to the outside of my rucksack, my intentions for the night may appear blatantly obvious to others.

I’ll also be packing a pillow of some sort and my Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner. As a precaution, I may also carry my Alpkit Cloudcover down quilt, in case I do need anything more (in addition to the merino layers and socks I should be sleeping in).

According to YouTube, most seasoned wild campers seem to rely on one cooked meal and at least one warm drink to get them through the longer nights. I’ll keep things simple and stick to backpacking meals. Since my last trip, I have acquired a more lightweight and compact stove setup that will rival convenient Jetboil MiniMo.

My only previous wild camp.

I have only wild camped once before and that was almost out of necessity on the first night of my South Downs walk. I’ve regretted not doing another one since, in all the warm months that have now passed… Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you some feedback on the Extreme Lightweight Down sleeping bag before Christmas comes.

Where will I wild camp?

Well, I think I’m entitled to my secrets as I won’t have a legal right to pitch in any of my shortlisted locations.

Thanks for reading.

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Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in North Somerset, close to the Mendip Hills and I enjoy spending time outdoors. In particular, going on long walks and camping across the summer months. I also get around to explore other parts of the UK. In 2018, I hope to find a new workshop because I miss woodworking and no day-job will ever provide the same sense of satisfaction as making your own. I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Olly Outdoors (walking, hiking, camping) You can also find me on YouTube and Facebook (where I have respective channels and pages for each blog). I'm also on Twitter and Instagram (@OllyPJ).

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