11 easy hacks for winter camping in Australia

How to go bush without freezing your tush.
Part backpack, part foot-warmer © Janna Bennett
By Oliver Pelling

As a rule, when it comes to camping, Australians are a hardy bunch. Come sun, rain or hail – they’re not ones to let a bit of a chill put a dampener (no pun intended) on their plans to get into the wild.

That said, there are definitely some tips, tricks and gear essentials to help make sure an Australian winter camping trip is an enjoyable one (and not a frost-bitten one). Wherever you’re planning on going bush in Australia, if the temperature looks like it might be in the low single digits, these tips are worth a look-in.

1. Don’t go bush with crap gear

This is an obvious one – but you wouldn’t believe how often people go to pitch their tent only to realise there’s a big fat hole in it. The same goes for sleeping bags, boots, clothes and backpacks. It’ll only take a quick stroll through some condensation-clad grass for damaged boots to turn into a dank, cold footbath. Give everything a quick once over before you leave home and you’ll save yourself a potential world of pain.

Much bush, very cold © Janna Bennett

2. Pimp your sleeping bag

If you’re sleeping bag is in good condition and you don’t want to spend $ on a brand spanking new one, get a thermal sleeping bag liner. They’re small enough to not add much bulk to your bag, and warm enough to make sure you don’t catch your death. That said, if your sleeping bag is crap quality, a liner will only go so far. It pays to invest in study gear.

3. Sleep with your clothes

In addition to the liner, it’s a good idea to cram your sleeping bag full of the clothes you’re planning on wearing the next day (sans belts, wallets, phones and anything else that’s going to dig into your face). As well as adding a bit of extra warmth overnight, it means you’ll have warm, dry clothes on to put on the next morning.

4. Make a bush hot water bottle

If you’ve got a heavy-duty plastic bottle, you can fill it full of boiling water (that you boiled on the fire you obviously have cranking), pour it into the bottle and chuck it in your sleeping bag. Bingo: your very own extremely uncomfortable hot water bottle.

Pro tip: grass won't light © Janna Bennett
Keep warm, keep not dead © Janna Bennett

5. Be an all-weather fire starter

Fire is, obviously, one of the best ways to keep warm when winter camping in Australia. But matches and lighters – the most commonly-used firestarters - are prone to getting damp. And if they get damp, they won’t work. So consider buying a striker (a portable flint, available in most good hiking and camping shops) to help start your fire – it works even in the wet and cold, and you’ll feel like a real-life Bear Grylls when you use it.

If you can’t be bothered rounding up some tinder, make sure you have some cotton wool pads handy. Split them in half and strike the flint into the furry side – it catches easily and should stay lit for long enough to begin placing kindling and bigger sticks on top of it. Oh, and make sure you have sourced enough wood before you try and light the fire. It’ll pay off in the long run. Also, make sure your first priority each morning is getting the fire going again and sourcing enough wood for the coming day.

6. Practice the ultimate camping party trick

If you don’t have a pot or pan on you but you need to boil water for your bush hot water bottle, you can do it in a plastic bottle. Even those flimsy, $2 water bottles from 7/11 work a treat. Just will it to the brim with water, take the lid off and place it on the embers of your open fire.

If you have some sticks available to help support the bottle, use them, because the plastic will warp slightly as it heats up. Once boiled, carefully remove the bottle from the fire and wait for it to cool slightly before pouring into your soon-to-be makeshift hot water bottle. This doesn’t sound like it’ll work, but it really does, and it'll impress your fellow campers to no end.

Wood for days © Janna Bennett

7. How to sleep well and alienate urine 

At home, your bedtime routine probably consists of Netflix and chill, cleaning your teeth and seeing what’s happening on Facebook. In the bush, you’ve got to make some changes. Try and take a 5-10 minute walk around your camp site before hitting the sack – this will help get your metabolism going and in turn help you stay warm.

Eating a high energy snack before bed isn’t a bad idea either, as your body will warm itself up to get rid of those extra calories. A good hot dinner will go a long way to warming you up, and, if you want to avoid the much-dreaded midnight bush piss, try to not drink too much between 2-3 hours before you go to bed. If you are going to drink, you might consider taking a spare bottle so you can pee in the tent. Just saying.

8. Know your sleeping mat-thematics

This is a big one: without a sleeping mat or some kind of pad to sleep on, you’ll lose more heat than you can shake an icicle it. You can’t skimp on this one. For bonus points, sleep on two mats or pads. The extra layer will help trap in even more of the heat. For extra bonus points, sleep on five.

Function over fashion © Janna Bennett

9. Function over fashion

‘Layers’ is your new favourite word. Layer-up with thermals (tops and pants!) underneath, regular t-shirts/shirts on top, a sweater and a jacket and you’ll be set. Synthetic pants are your friends and will help wick away moisture (also know as ‘future hypothermia’). Jeans are not your friends. Gloves are also your friends, as is a beanie. You might look and feel like an idiot, but you’ll be a warm idiot.

10. Use your backpack as a sleeping bag add-on

If you’ve turfed most of your gear out of your backpack and it’s just sitting in your tent, you can pull it up over your feet and knees once you’re in your sleeping bag for a bit of extra warmth.

11. Spoon or be spooned

If it’s really cold, there’s nothing like a bit of friendly body-warmth sharing to keep everyone from freezing. If you’re with your partner, this one’s easy enough. If you’re with friends, it might be wise to breach the subject carefully. Some people just aren't down for a spooning. 

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