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Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure
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Simple tarp shelter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Cold Camping.

For most of us, our first experiences of winter camping will be in a tent without any form of heating. This is one form of “Cold Camping” but it can also involve the use of a simple tarp or the building of various types of snow shelters or even natural shelters as well if practical.

I’m also experimenting with a hybrid shelter that’s been affectionately nick named the Wayland Shed.

Probably the most critical thing to get right in this situation is your sleeping kit.

There are some excellent sleeping bags on the market and some even offer a single bag solution that is able to insulate your stationary body at remarkably low temperatures.

The most important thing to understand about sleeping bags is that they are not “warm”.


All a sleeping bag can do is stop you from losing the heat that your body produces and it does that by insulating you from the cold.

Personally I favour a modular approach, much the same as the layering system used in clothing.

Although this may well be a slightly heavier solution, it may well prove cheaper in the long run, will almost certainly be more flexible and has some practical advantages.

I currently use two sleeping bags, a Down Alpkit Skyehigh 800 and a Synthetic Nanok Endurance -10 with a breathable bivi bag as a shell. Both of these bags are rated down to -10c which is normally considered as just a 3 season bag in the UK.

One problem that often occurs when doubling bags up is that the outer bag compresses the inner bags insulation reducing it’s efficiency. In this case because the Nanok bag is designed for the military, that often have to sleep in their kit, it is larger than the Alpkit bag which allows the down filling to loft properly.

The enemy of any sleeping system used in cold conditions is going to be moisture.

The bivi bag prevents snow from settling onto the bags and then melting to soak them, it also adds another layer of air to the insulation package.

Moisture vapour from your body will unavoidably migrate through these layers of insulation and at some point become cool enough to condense. Depending the external conditions this will either be outside the bivi bag or more likely, in the bags underneath.

Airing Sleeping Bags - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

In practice, I tend to find that most of the moisture condenses on the inside of the bivi bag and in the outer layers of the Nanok bag. If it’s very cold it can even freeze on the bivi which at least stops it soaking back into the bags.

By using the bags this way round, the moisture build up in the synthetic insulation is much less of a problem than it would be in the damp sensitive down insulation of the inner bag .

Using independent bags also allows them to be separated for airing out when conditions allow preventing this moisture from becoming a problem as it builds up over a few nights.

Sleeping bags on insulated mat. - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The next critical part of the sleeping system to get right is insulation between you and the ground, snow or ice.

Again my choice is not the lightest but I do believe it is one of the most comfortable.

It does not matter how good you sleeping bags are if you do not have some form of crush proof insulation under your body.

The soft fillings of sleeping bags get squashed under your weight and the air that actually provides the insulation is then squeezed out.

A sleeping mat of some kind keeps you body away from the cold surface you are lying on with some form of insulation which will not be crushed beneath you. Traditionally this was achieved with birch twigs and pine boughs but this is rarely practical for a short stay so a variety of modern solutions have arisen.

Closed cell foam mats are probably the most robust and have the advantage of being puncture proof, although good ones tend to be bulky. Air mattresses with a foam core are effective and easier to pack but I have become a firm convert to my Exped Down Mat which delivers a level of comfort that I would be happy with in my own home.

Snow Shelters.


Sub Zero Crew - Bushcraft UK

Unless noted otherwise, all photography, artwork and content on this site is copyrighted. © Gary Waidson 2020 All rights reserved

The Ice Raven Project promotes sustainable and low impact bushcraft and wilderness skills in Arctic and winter conditions. This includes the use of  tents, tarps  and snow shelters where possible. Fires are only used where safe and where use and collection of firewood will not damage the natural environment. We often travel to locations by public transport and then use snowshoes, sleds, toboggans and pulks to transport our equipment into the wilderness.