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Old 11-09-10, 03:55 PM   #1
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Winter camping with a 3-season tent

I'm home from a tour that was half camping, half not, and it's woefully apparent that my 3-season tent (an REI half-dome) won't cut it in the winter. Yes, I bundle up inside my sleeping bag, and sleep with a balclava, jacket, scarf, et cetera, but it isn't enough. (The temperatures went down to just above freezing.)

A sleeping bag liner may help (I borrowed someone's extra sleeping bag one night, and it helped a little), but since I sleep on my side with my arms out of the bag, I'll need a warmer tent. 4-season tents seem to go for $500 and up, and I really don't have that kind of money right now.

Is there anything that can be done to winterize a tent, similar to putting a liner in a sleeping bag?

Has anyone used a light sleeping bag with a liner for winter camping? How did it work out for you?
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Old 11-09-10, 04:34 PM   #2
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I have never found a 4 season tent to be warmer in the winter than a 3 season tent. The differences are mostly structural. A four season tent is built sturdier to withstand higher wind loads and possibly snow loads. For me the sleeping bag is the key to keeping warm. As a rule of thumb I down rate the temperature rating by 20 degrees. So if the rating is 20 degrees I consider it good to about 40 degrees. Another thing that helps is the type of sleeping pad you use. The open cell thermarests or even better the closed cell foam pads provide much better insulation from the ground and keep you from leaching heat into the ground.

I've used a down sleeping bag on a closed cell foam pad in a lean to shelter made from a simple tarp and was comfortable in -10 degree (fahrenheit) weather. I also wore wool long johns as well.

P.S. Cold weather is one environment that will let you tell the difference between a quality sleeping bag and a cheaply made one.

Last edited by myrridin; 11-09-10 at 04:38 PM. Reason: Comment about sleeping bag quality
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Old 11-09-10, 04:54 PM   #3
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What sleeping pad were you using. In my experience the temperature rating of the sleeping pad has a lot to do with your comfort level. My big agnes air core pad, which is rated to 35 degrees, is very cold in the late fall/winter, and adding a closed cell pad can help a lot.

I agree that a four season won't necessarily be warmer, however, it depends on the size of your tent. If your sleeping alone in a 3-man tent it will be cold. On one winter backpacking trip I shared a largish 1-man tent with my hiking buddy and we were nice and toasty.
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Old 11-09-10, 05:00 PM   #4
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I always understood that a 4 season tent was better designed to withstand more extreme weather rather than to insulate you against the cold. I fail to see how a tent could do this, especially since ventilation is needed to prevent dripping inside the tent at low temperatures.

I think your solution is to buy a better sleeping bag. I have slept in comfort inside a snowcave with a good sleeping bag, and that is guaranteed to be below freezing point. You may also need to change your sleeping habits and put your arms inside the bag.
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Old 11-09-10, 05:35 PM   #5
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I sleep fully clothed in the winter, including wool socks, wrapped in a 25 degree down bag, in a 3 season tent, on a Thermarest pad, with my arms out, gloves on, and head covered with a wool watch cap. Never been cold, least down to 27. 'Cept my nose. Sans all the clothing, I'd opt for a 0 degree bag , keep my arms inside, and hope.

Do need to get myself a balclava.

The snugger the tent, the warmer it's likely to be. I have an 18 sq ft Eureka Spitfire. Too small if you're more than 5'10".
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Old 11-09-10, 05:36 PM   #6
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I would invest in a quality sleeping bag, if you don't already have one. Get an extra long version with a hood. You can sleep in it with your arms out of your bag but underneath the hood and with a wool cap on your head. Get it?

Also, check out a cheap, but quality, one man tent like this: http://www.rei.com/product/731428
I know, they are out of stock right now but anything that is small will hold the warm air in better than a big two or three man tent.
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Old 11-09-10, 05:48 PM   #7
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Existing rig:
  • Sleeping pad -- Thermarest Prolite 3 Regular, can't find the temperture rating, but it's shorter than I am. I have a second sleeping pad, not sure if it's any longer than the prolite 3 Reg. (If not, I can supplement my Thermarest with a foam pad.)
  • Sleeping bag -- Quest Helix, rated for >= 40F. This has to be replaced, maybe with an extra-long bag so I can stretch out and seal myself in it. (I've been trying to sleep with my arms at my sides, and it just doesn't work. If it did, I'd be camping with a hammock.)
  • Tent - REI Half Dome 2HC, a 2-person, 3-season tent. The rainfly doesn't even go all the way to the ground, and I'm wondering if I can swap out for a heavier/longer rainfly, but not this season, especially if I'm replacing the sleeping bag.

The next obvious question: Can anyone recommend a good winter sleeping bag that don't cost an arm and a leg? (Something available in a long would be best, I think, if my theory above holds water.)

Thanks, Zeppinger, didn't see your post until after I posted this.
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Old 11-09-10, 05:48 PM   #8
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Sleeping bag yes, but probably more important is what you have between the sleeping bag and the ground. For the sleeping bag you might want to look at a mummy style with a hood
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Old 11-09-10, 05:54 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
The snugger the tent, the warmer it's likely to be. I have an 18 sq ft Eureka Spitfire. Too small if you're more than 5'10".
I used a 1-person tent the first time I camped, a Eureka Solitaire, and I sold it; it's not for me. I toss around a lot while I sleep, and a tiny tent also feels claustrophobic to me. I may have to get one of these anyway, but money is tight at the moment.


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Old 11-09-10, 05:59 PM   #10
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Have you seen the REI Arete ASL 2? The ASL stands for "all season light".

http://www.rei.com/product/794283

I recently got one, it's a nice incremental step up from the Half Dome (which I also have) in terms of 3 to 4 season. It's only $299, and under 6 lbs packaged weight, so it seems to bridge the gap between overly-airy 3 season and too-heavy 4 season rather nicely. I like it so far, all the mesh panels have zippable fabric coverings, which means you can close it up when you want to (though you have to be careful of condensation then).

As others have said, though, the main thing that seems to make a big difference in cold weather is what you have between you and the ground. A good insulating pad can make all the difference.

In terms of sleeping bags, I really like the Marmot Pinnacle for colder weather. I don't really like the mummy bag design in warmer weather, I find it too constricting, but when it's cold I really appreciate being able to bundle up and warm up in that bag.

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Old 11-09-10, 06:22 PM   #11
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Have you seen the REI Arete ASL 2? The ASL stands for "all season light".

http://www.rei.com/product/794283

I recently got one, it's a nice incremental step up from the Half Dome (which I also have) in terms of 3 to 4 season. It's only $299, and under 6 lbs packaged weight, so it seems to bridge the gap between overly-airy 3 season and too-heavy 4 season rather nicely. I like it so far, all the mesh panels have zippable fabric coverings, which means you can close it up when you want to (though you have to be careful of condensation then).

As others have said, though, the main thing that seems to make a big difference in cold weather is what you have between you and the ground. A good insulating pad can make all the difference.

In terms of sleeping bags, I really like the Marmot Pinnacle for colder weather. I don't really like the mummy bag design in warmer weather, I find it too constricting, but when it's cold I really appreciate being able to bundle up and warm up in that bag.

Neil
It looks like a nice tent, but unfortunately, I can't afford a new tent just now. A new sleeping bag may be pushing, even though my 40F+ bag is obviously the most ill-suited to cold weather camping in my camping rig.

I agree that the mummy bags feel constricting, but when it's cold enough, I find that I just don't care as much!

It's possible the answer here is that I can't afford a cold-weather rig... this year.
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Old 11-09-10, 06:34 PM   #12
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how about exped 7down matt and try alpkit for your sleeping bag.
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Old 11-09-10, 06:45 PM   #13
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Hmm... would it help if I replaced my groundcloth with something a little thicker, or am I better off spending that weight on a heavier groundcloth?
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Old 11-09-10, 07:18 PM   #14
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One way to extend the range of your current 40F bag is to use a breathable bivy such as the Equinox one- about $60. You create a microclimate around you in a smaller area to heat up. You may gain five degrees or more. http://www.amazon.com/Equinox-Ultral...9351497&sr=1-4

The second way is the vapor barrier Fuzzy Stuff clothing made by Stephenson's Warmlite iin New Hampshire. Light weight, inexpensive, effective and as comfortable as flannel pajamas. At $25 to $30 for the shirt and $40 for the pants, they too extend the range of your current sleeping bag up to 10F. They have been making these items since the late 1950's and I have been pleased to use them for the last twenty years. www.warmlite.com
Do not confuse the warmilite vbl clothes with traditional vbl sacks which trap moisture and can be uncomfortable in use.

A third way as mentioned earlier is a different pad configuration. I would suggest adding a full length foam pad under your Thermarest such as the Ridgerest or Z-rest pad which cost around $30. An ineffectice pad means you are trying to heat up the earth under you.

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Old 11-09-10, 07:19 PM   #15
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Hmm... would it help if I replaced my groundcloth with something a little thicker, or am I better off spending that weight on a heavier groundcloth?

The groundcloth is irrelevant; regardless of the thickness, it provides no meaningful insulating value. The sleeping bag and pad are by far the most important factors in whether you stay warm or not. I've slept in open-sided shelters with wind and snow blowing around and have been perfectly warm and comfortable.

Take all sleeping bag ratings with a grain of salt. My rule of thumb is that if you want to be comfortable, the bag must be rated around 15 degrees lower than the outside temperature. So if it's freezing out, you want at least a 15 degree bag.

BUT - and this is also why the ground cloth makes no difference - you MUST have adequate insulation under you. When you lay down in the bag, you compress all the fill underneath you, and its insulating value rapidly approaches zero. At that point, you rapidly lose heat through conduction - and I can guarantee that the ground under you will have no problem absorbing all the heat you can generate. For 30+ temps, any common air mattress will be fine. Under that, and you should start to seriously consider a closed-cell pad. They're bulky and heavy, but hey, you want to be warm, right?

A decent cold-weather bag will run $200-$250 retail, minimum, and can climb rapidly from there. I prefer down bags for their compressability and weight, but synthetics work just as well and have lower price points.

Hooded mummy bags are great if you sleep on your back or stomach and want to stay warm. They're not so great for side-sleepers ( like me ). But I prefer fidgeting to get comfortable to not sleeping because I'm freezing. :-)
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Old 11-09-10, 07:22 PM   #16
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How about a ground cloth like the space blanket? It would reflect your body heat back to you, however, you do have to worry about condensation. http://www.amazon.com/Grabber-Outdoo...ef=pd_sbs_sg_3
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Old 11-09-10, 07:26 PM   #17
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How about a ground cloth like the space blanket? It would reflect your body heat back to you, however, you do have to worry about condensation. http://www.amazon.com/Grabber-Outdoo...ef=pd_sbs_sg_3
When you're on the ground, you need to reduce heat loss from conduction. Space blankets only protect against heat loss by radiation, and do nothing for conduction. As you note, because they make condensation an issue, you'd be better off without it under you at all.
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Old 11-09-10, 07:36 PM   #18
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Over twenty years ago I bought a Marmot bag. Eight years ago I sent it back to them for relofting and a zipper replacement. They relofted the bag and replaced the zipper for free. Great bag, great customer support. I always try to buy from outfits like that.

By the way, I am never cold in that bag since it zips out flat as a two person bag and my sweetie provides warmth. Maybe you just need a camping companion.
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Old 11-09-10, 08:06 PM   #19
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My son and I did this wacko thing while camping one winter, we took 2 tents, put the little one inside the big one, worked, but more to carry. Also the dogs were pulling the sleds that year.
Another time we camped inside a mine shaft during a blizzard,, too warm, and one of the dogs peed on the tent.

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Old 11-09-10, 08:16 PM   #20
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Lots of good info above. I have 2 backpacking tents. They are both 3 season tents. One is the REI half dome the other is an old Eureka one man tent. The Eureka does not have mesh in the body and it's a small tent which I use in cold (not winter) weather. Because it is small and has no mesh it is a warm tent, too warm for summer. When I crawl out of the tent on a cold morning it is noticibly warmer in the tent than outside. The newer tents are all about mesh for venting. This makes them cold.

I also have 2 sleeeping bags a 15degree down mummy and 35degree down rectangular. Obviously different bags for different temps. I use a BA insulated air core mat and or a Thermorest. As others have mentioned you may need to use 2 mats.

Sleeping bag ratings are only a guideline. You can think of the rating as more of a survival rating not a comfort rating.

With the right combo of sleeping gear you can stay warm in very cold temps.
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Old 11-09-10, 08:46 PM   #21
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My son and I did this wacko thing while camping one winter, we took 2 tents, put the little one inside the big one, worked, but more to carry.
A sleeping bag inside another sleeping bag also works, but again, more to carry.
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Old 11-09-10, 09:03 PM   #22
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Go with a 20 degree quality bag and prolite 4. That combo has kept me toasty into the single digits on Mountaineering trips. Only thing I vary is how much clothing I'm going to sleep in.

Also try throwing a Nalgene bottle into the bottom of the bag full of hot/boiling water if cold is a real problem for your feet. Works like a charm.
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Old 11-09-10, 09:14 PM   #23
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Motel sorry I couldn't resist. Better sleeping bag and merino wool everything including socks. +1 on the mummy bag
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Old 11-09-10, 09:38 PM   #24
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Agree with the folks about a good bag. We have a stable of bags ranging from + 45 to -20 F. They all get used. A good 20 degree bag is probably the most versatile. We also have several tents including the one we use for mountaineering which weighs in at about 7 lbs. This compare to 4 lbs for the 3-season that we use a lot. The folks above are mostly right in that a 3- season tent is about as warm as a 4 season. However, a 4-season does not have any open mesh and does a better job of keeping out the wind.

The bag makes all the differene in the world. 3-season tent, 0 degree bag, Thermarest prolite 4.


We were snug and warm throughout this storm.


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Old 11-09-10, 11:02 PM   #25
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3 season tents that have cloth rather than netting in the walls of the inner tent, and that you think you can pitch in the conditions you anticipate, are normally fine for winter work. I use the simple 2 pole dome style for pretty much everything. At one time they used to make "real" winter tents with frost liners to catch the frost from one's breath, but one doesn't see those much any more.

The one thing that will increase your warmth more than anything else is a vapour barrier. Also, if you get a decent down bag, a vapour barrier will save it from becoming saturated with vapour and loose it's loft. But VBs work just as effectively with synthetic bags.

http://www.mec.ca/Products/product_d...34374302701579

80 bucks seems a little stiff though.

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