Braving Britain’s extremes: keeping yourself safe during winter camping

The temperature’s dropped, it’s nippy outside, and the frost is starting to put in a couple of appearances, but this doesn’t have to mean putting all camping adventures on hold; far from it. In fact, free from the fair weather crowds, winter camping gives you the chance to enjoy the great British countryside at its most peaceful and arguably most beautiful.

The recipe for a stress-free winter camping trip involves making sure that you, your kit, and your vehicle are all fully prepared for what’s ahead. Here, we’ll break all this down for you — explaining what to do to ensure your next winter camping holiday is family-safe and fun-filled.

Choosing your location

Whereas seasoned adventurers might be tempted to go off the beaten track, novice winter campers will probably appreciate more in the way of on-site facilities. For destination ideas, the Camping and Caravanning Club’s Camping by Season section is a useful starting point. Here, you’ll find details of campsites that are open all year round, including a page dedicated to festive camping. Keeping clean, warm, and dry can be challenging when camping in winter, so the type of facilities available at a year-round site, such as showers, washbasins, and laundry, can be especially welcome.

Investing in a winter tent

If you intend to camp out regularly at the coldest time of the year, it’s worth considering investing in a 4-season (level 3c) tent. Compared to 2 and 3-season (level 1-3) shelters, these models offer the twin benefits of walls that maximise heat retention, and a sturdy build to withstand beating winds.

Although it’s a wise camping option in the harshest conditions, it can, however, start to get warm and stuffy in a 4-season tent when it’s slightly milder; and we all know how unbearable that can be. As such, if you plan to only ever camp out in chilly — but not sub-zero — conditions, then a 3-season model could be the way forward. A good one will give you decent strength and insulation, but shouldn’t get too hot in warmer weather, making it a versatile year-round option.

Of course, even if the forecast is favourable, the chance of rain — or snow — can never be discounted in our British weather. If a tent leaks in summer, at least there’s the option of putting your wet things out to dry in the warm air once the rain stops. Winter doesn’t give you this luxury, so waterproofing becomes even more of a priority. On new models, look for the Hydrostatic Head (HH) rating; the standard measure of waterproofing on tents. A model with a 3000 HH rating or above should give effective protection against heavy, prolonged downpours.

Tent insurance

Although the right tent will keep you safe, warm, and dry in challenging conditions, flooding can render even the sturdiest models unusable. Heavy rainfall and rapid ice thaw means that flooding is always a live risk in winter. It can be impossible to predict, but you can at least protect yourself from it with camping insurance. Club Care’s policy covers your tent and belongings, and even includes the cost of hiring a similar tent — so your winter holiday doesn’t have to be brought to an end by a sudden deluge. And if you’re going with a big group, Club Care offers the chance to insure up to 4 tents under the same policy; allowing you to cover the whole family and more.

Winter camping can be beautiful but have many unseen hazards, so making sure you’re covered is more important than ever. With the personal accident cover alone, your mind will be much more at ease knowing things will get sorted should anything happen — especially when you’re taking your family along with you.

Other winter camping essentials

For shielding you from the cold, a good sleeping bag is as vital as a tent. These are also season-rated, so for sub-zero nights, a 4-season sleeping bag makes sense. A 3-season bag can work well for slightly milder conditions.

For clothing, think in terms of layers. A standard combination of a base layer, thick fleece, and a fully waterproof outer layer (as opposed to merely water-resistant), works well for virtually all winter conditions. These multiple layers trap heat close to your body — and if things get really cold, you can always double up on base layers; if you’re up for it, a few star jumps here and there wouldn’t do you any harm either.

Provisions-wise, remember that your body needs extra fuel to stay warm and healthy. It’s worth stocking up on energy bars, while pre-preparing calorie-rich, nutritious meals to heat up when you get there.

Don’t be tempted to try to heat the inside with a fuel-burning heater; it’s more practical to wear many layers of clothing and add or remove these to regulate temperature. It’s probably going to be quiet at the site, so asking to borrow essential items might not be an option. A good rule of thumb is to take spares of necessary items, foods, and clothing.

Getting ready for the journey

You’ve done your research; you know where you’re headed and you’ve ticked off all the items on your list of essentials — including spares. Now it’s a matter of getting you there and back safely.

Prepare your car in good time for the trip. A frozen engine can result in an expensive repair bill, so consult your service schedule to check if the antifreeze is due to be changed. Check that the lights, radiators, wipers, and battery are all in good working order. You should also bear in mind that slushy, gritted roads can take their toll on screen wash, so fill up to the brim and take a full bottle of replacement with you. A torch, shovel, and blanket should also be in your boot for emergency situations.

Tyres require special consideration for winter journeys. Winter tyres are a sensible investment if you are likely to be faced with snow and ice on untreated country roads as they give you valuable extra traction. Make sure that your tyre tread levels are no less than 3mm — the AA recommended level for wintry conditions — and check the tyre pressure before you head off.

When on the road, it’s a matter of staying tuned to weather alerts and adapting your driving according to the conditions you encounter. In snow and ice, this means maintaining a stopping distance 10 times longer than normal, pulling away in second gear to avoid wheel spin and loss of control, and leaving plenty of clearance room on hills.