This past weekend several friends and I got together for some fun in the snow. About 50 of us (including kids) converged on the West Desert area of Utah for a couple days. I had some new winter camping ideas that I wanted to try out, I’ll go over those results here. I took a “barometer” of success with me for my experiments (being somewhat of a Polar Bear myself, I needed a better judge of my success). I have an 18 year old daughter that HATES the cold – she sleeps on a heater vent at home as often as she can, she wears heavy snow clothes when there’s an old inch of snow on the ground and it’s sunny.
I told her that I wanted to see if I could make her warm on this trip. While on the way home she reported that she was quite warm the entire trip with one exception – her feet were freezing in her boots most of the time. She identified for herself that she really does need to wear wool socks next time.
I wanted to try a couple improvisation ideas – basically how you could use summer camping gear to successfully keep 4 people (my 3 older kids and I) warm and protected in the winter. What I wanted to figure out was if putting a small tent in a large tent would keep you warm. Let me explain.
If you notice in the picture above, the orange fly covered tent is an 8 man, double dome, summer or 3-season tent. It is far from sealed up – without the fly on it the only roof is netting – which is great in the summer! We took two tents, one four and another eight man, and placed the smaller inside the larger tent. If you look closely at the next picture you’ll see the ‘tent within a tent’ concept.
It’s a little difficult to tell, but the picture is actually taken from within the 8 man tent. What you’re seeing in the background is actually a 4 man dome tent.
The concept we’re working with is to create an insulating air buffer between the inner 4 man tent (the sleeping tent) and the outer 8 man (protective shell) tent. By heating the air inside the sleeping tent and also heating the air within the shell tent, we should be able to be within the sleeping tent while continually heating the shell tent and maintain a warm temperature within the sleeping tent. This proved to be true.
The temperature outside got down to -5 Fahrenheit. The only problem we had as it got further below freezing was that our propane heater could not keep up with the colder external temps. It got a little chilly inside the sleeping tent around 3 in the morning – but that’s because up until then I had been sleeping with my sleeping bag unzipped. My kids, who stayed in their sleeping bags through the night, didn’t notice that it had gotten cold through the night. They were actually sleeping in summer bags and did not complain about the cold at all. With a bigger propane heater, like the Big Buddy that Wade recommends (we were using the smaller Buddy model), I think the temperature would have stayed steady.
The end result of the tent test is that by using the tent-within-a-tent concept we were able to stay very warm in summer sleeping bags in -5 degree weather with a small propane heater. A word of caution and clarification: as I mentioned above, the shell tent is a very ‘loose’ tent – there is a very high level of air exchange even with the fly on. Be very careful using this method with a tight tent. You could subject yourself to carbon monoxide poisoning and death. As a safety measure, we had a carbon monoxide monitor inside the sleeping tent.
Wall to Wall Carpeting
One of the other issues with snow camping, especially in a summer tent, is the thin floor liner. There is no insulation at all and sitting or standing barefoot in the outer room leaves only a few millimeters of material between you and the snow. If you notice in the top picture, there is a large tarp underneath the tent. This adds a little bit more protection from the snow but, we wanted to be able to sit comfortably in the front room of the tent (we brought 4 chairs and a table with us so we could eat and visit in the warmth of the tent). To accommodate bare feet in the front room, we cut a piece of carpet that completely covered the floor from front to back and side to side. You can see the brown carpet in the following picture:
With the tarp pictured below deliberately sticking out several feet in front of the snow to act as a porch, we were able to keep most of the snow from being tracked into the tent. With several lights and a lantern inside both the shell tent and the sleeping tent we were able to spend a nice, comfortable evening in the front room visiting. In the morning we were able to move about and get dressed to go outside in the warmth of the front room without tripping over sleeping bags, people and other stuff.
I’ve used many methods over the years for camping in the snow. This is the first time I’ve tried using summer camping gear to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures. I’m very happy with the results! The next time we try this it will be with a Big Buddy heater – or we’ll just use the wall tents I’m planning on buying this year :)
Hopefully some of these techniques can be useful to you. They demonstrate that it is possible to stay warm in the winter without the more expensive winter shelters and gear. If it ever become necessary to survive with your family in the winter, preparing to use some of these techniques may be a life saver for you.
Do you have any other ideas or experience with using summer camping gear in the winter? Please let us know!