Just because the days are growing shorter and the evenings are getting cooler doesn’t mean the camping season has to come to an end.
Fall and even winter are fantastic seasons to camp: campgrounds are less busy, and the scenery is more spectacular with shimmering fall colors and the occasional dusting of snow. Plus, you can usually get better prices on campervan rentals in the off-season.
The weather may be less predictable during the shoulder season, but sleeping outside doesn’t have to be cold. Camping in the cold requires more gear than in the summer, but as long as you come prepared, you should have no problem staying comfortable no matter how low the temperatures dip.
So don’t let the thoughts of frozen toes and long chilly nights keep you from enjoying one of the best times to camp. With the right gear and preparation, you can enjoy a warm, pleasant night’s sleep so you can wake up with plenty of energy to tackle the next day’s adventures.
Tip 1: Dress in Layers to Stay Warm
When temperatures are warm during the day and chilly at night, you’ll need to pack a wide variety of clothing to stay comfortable during all times of the day. Layering is key, and one of the best ways to ensure you’ll stay toasty and warm without overheating.
There’s an art to layering, and once mastered, you’ll easily be able to regulate your body temperature based on your activity level and changes in the weather. Proper layering lets you add or subtract layers throughout the day, so you stay comfortable no matter what.
Start with a wool or synthetic base layer — avoid cotton at all costs. Cotton absorbs water and loses all its insulating properties when you sweat, making you feel much colder.
The base-layer’s job is to wick sweat away from your body and keep you dry and warm. If you expect warmer daytime temperatures, layer a tank top under a long-sleeve base-layer so you’re ready for warm daytime temperatures as well.
For a mid-layer, go with insulating items like a fleece pullover or lightweight down or synthetic jacket to help retain body heat. The better your mid-layer traps heat, the warmer you’ll be.
Top if all off with a windproof or waterproof jacket to protect against the elements, and you’ll stay cozy warm in most situations. The outer layer is the most important in stormy and rainy weather.
Splurge on a good outer layer if you expect to encounter rain and wind — if it penetrates your inner layers you can get seriously chilled fast.
Tip 2: Vent Your Tent or Campervan
The only thing worse than waking up cold while camping is waking up cold and wet.
It may sound counterintuitive to crack a window in the van or unzip the tent for some cross-ventilation, but it can, in fact, keep you warmer.
When the warm, moist air in your tent or campervan hits a cold surface like your tent walls or car windows, condensation occurs. That’s why you get those little droplets of water in the tent or inside the car, and everything winds up damp.
If you’re in a tent, pitch your tent facing the breeze (if there is one) and open the doors, rainfly vents, or tent windows to get some cross ventilation. If you’re in an RV, campervan, or another type of camper, having at least two ventilation openings is key.
This can mean cracking the windows, using the ceiling vent fan, or turning on an externally-ventilated heater.
Tip 3: Make Sure Your Sleeping Bag is Rated For Cold Temperatures
Understanding your sleeping bag’s true temperature rating can be confusing. For example, if your sleeping bag is rated to 20 degrees, that doesn’t guarantee that you will be warm sleeping at 20 degrees.
Plus, many sleeping bags have two ratings: a comfort rating indicating the temperature at which a cold sleeper should feel comfortable (often the rating used on women’s bags), and a lower-limit rating at which a warmer sleeper should feel comfortable (often used on men’s bags).
Temperature ratings are only estimates, and are influenced by a range of factors including your gender, individual body weight and height, what you’re wearing, and what kind of sleeping pad you’re using.
To be safe, go with a sleeping bag that’s rated 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the coldest temperatures you expect to encounter. You can always throw an extra blanket over the top of your sleeping bag to seal in the warmth, or purchase a sleeping bag liner which can add a few degrees of warmth to your bag.
Pro Tip: if it’s not too chilly and you’re sleeping with another person, you can unzip your sleeping bag and use it as a comforter instead.
Tip 4: Don’t Go To Bed Cold
Before heading to bed, get nice and warm by the campfire or go for a walk — do anything you can think of to get warm. Drinking a warm beverage or eating a snack before bed can also help warm you up, as the process of digestion literally warms you up from the inside.
Just don’t do anything too rigorous that you wind up sweaty. Wet clothing quickly lowers your body temperature and it can contribute to condensation in your tent or camper. Avoid storing any wet clothing in your sleeping area and always change into dry clothing before bed.
Tip 5: Warm Up Your Sleeping Bag With a Warm Water Bottle
A warm water bottle in your sleeping bag can do wonders for keeping you warm in freezing temperatures. Simply fill a non-insulated stainless-steel or BPA-free water bottle with warm water and place it into your sleeping bag before you get in.
Stick the bottle at the bottom of the bag to keep your toes warm, or place it near your belly to heat your core.
Tip 6: If You Wake Up To Pee, Don’t Hold It Until Morning
When your bladder is full, your body uses a lot of energy keeping your urine warm. Although there’s not much worse than leaving your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night, the longer you wait to go, the colder you’ll get.
Once you empty it your body needs less energy to keep warm. Plus, your need to pee won’t distract you from getting back to sleep.
If you really don’t want to go outside to pee, you can use a portable toilet or rent a campervan or RV with a restroom. They even make pee funnels for women (if you’re ok with that kind of thing).
Tip 7: Always Check Current Weather Conditions Before You Travel
This may sound obvious, but it’s always a good idea to check current weather forecasts before heading off on your camping trip. Weather can be more unpredictable during the shoulder season, and you want to be prepared for whatever Mother Natures throws your way.
This is especially important when traveling to mountainous areas or in the desert, where rain and snow can make roads impassable.
Tip 8: Don’t Forget To Keep Your Electronics Warm, Too
Cold temperatures drain battery power fast, so it’s important to keep your electronics warm, too. Items such as your cell phone or headlamp can keep warm at the foot of your sleeping bag or under your pillow.
If your sleeping bag has a stash pocket, use it for your electronics. Freezing weather can actually damage the screens on large electronics such as tablets or laptops, so leave them at home if you expect prolonged freezing temperatures on your trip.
When camping in a campervan with a lithium battery set up, it’s important to keep the battery warm in cold temperatures. As with other electronics, the battery is susceptible to the cold, and needs to be kept warm in order to work efficiently.
You can do this by keeping the temperature inside the campervan warm, or placing a wool blanket around the battery when you leave the van.
Tip 9: Cover Your Fingers, Toes, Head, and Nose
Hand warmers and heated gloves can go a long way if you’re prone to cold fingers and toes.
A balaclava or wide headband can also be an asset on cold nights. It can double as a face mask or scarf while sleeping and keep you from breathing warm air into your sleeping bag and creating condensation in your bag.
Tip 10: Heat Up Your Car or Campervan Before Bed
If you’re sleeping in your car or your van, it can help to turn on the heat a few minutes before you hit the hay. It can also help to snuggle up with your dog or loved one if you feel chilly during the night.
If you’re camping at a site with access to electrical hookups, you can bring an electric space heater and plug it in at night. Although many campervan rentals‘ included bedding will keep you fairly comfortable, this is a great option if you end up at a full hookup campsite and the temperatures dip into the night.
Plus, you’ll benefit from cheaper prices as full hookup campsites are usually less expensive during the offseason.
If you’re not ready to rough it in colder temperatures, you might want to consider renting an RV with a built-in furnace. This is a great option if you know you get cold easily and will be camping in colder temperatures.
But note that many rental companies winterize their RVs when temperatures drop to the 30s. This means the water system is turned off and filled with antifreeze to ensure the pipes don’t freeze or burst. Plan on bringing some extra water, and know that you won’t be able to use the sink, toilet and other water features inside the RV.
PREPARE FOR YOUR CAMPERVAN ADVENTURE
Now that you know how to prepare yourself for cold-weather camping, you’ll want to make sure you have everything else you need to stay safe and comfortable on the road. Check out our campervan rental packing list for more ideas of what to pack before your next outdoor adventure >