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Camping in the cold and wet

Old 12-24-10, 06:37 PM
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Camping in the cold and wet

We had a hell of rain today, which is good because we need it. It is bad because I had a camping trip planned for tomorrow night. Is there anything to do other than put down a tarp to help with keep the floor of a tent off of the ground that soaked? The high is now 47* with a low of 20*F, and its not going to be real dried out I am afraid.
Any suggestions? I am going to tough it out, with a non adequate sleeping bag, and no real winter camping experience.
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Old 12-24-10, 06:52 PM
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If your tent has a decent waterproof floor then you shouldn't have a problem with water coming in even if you have to camp on some damp ground. Obviously you don't want to camp at the bottom of a gully or other spot that would have standing water, but I've not really had a problem finding spots that let me camp so the tent stayed dry inside even after (or during) a rainstorm. Furthermore, for winter camping you should have an insulating pad between the tent floor and your sleeping bag so you don't lose too much heat to the ground. So if there is a bit of moisture that comes through the floor it still shouldn't reach your sleeping bag.

If you don't trust the floor of your tent then one approach is to take some thin plastic sheeting (such as used to protect floors while painting), cut it to be just slightly larger than the inside of your tent floor, and put it down inside the tent so it extends slightly up the sides at the edges. This avoids the frequent problem with groundcloths placed under the tent where they end up trapping water between the tent and the groundcloth and forcing it up through the tent floor.

But frankly I'd have to question the wisdom of undertaking a trip knowing that the forecast isn't favorable, you have little winter camping experience, and your sleeping bag is "non adequate."
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Old 12-24-10, 07:03 PM
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You will not be able to sleep unless you have a warm sleeping bag.

I tried to camp two nights when it was 2* above zero.
Had to walk all night to stay warm.
Went home the next morning.
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Old 12-24-10, 07:07 PM
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Take a foam pad to put under your sleeping bag so you are not lying on the cold ground with just a thin compressed sleeping bag between you and the ground.
One of these, for example: https://www.rei.com/product/374059

Also put a plastic sheet under the tent floor (or above the floor, but I've always put it under the floor). Cut the plastic so it doesn't stick out any further than the edge of the tent floor so it doesn't catch rain and funnel it between the sheet and the floor. Use seam sealer on all the seams in the tent floor. Hopefully your tent has a rain fly. Good luck!

Last edited by kh6idf; 12-24-10 at 07:11 PM.
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Old 12-24-10, 07:18 PM
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Be sure you're nowhere you could get hit by a flash flood
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Old 12-24-10, 07:28 PM
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Its not going to rain, well its showing to be clear weather tomorrow. I do have a sleeping pad, and the sleeping bag, I have used and stayed warm with down to about 28*F. I am taking a blanket to add another layer to the bag, so I feel somewhat comfortable there. Its just the cold wet ground I am concerned with.
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Old 12-24-10, 09:28 PM
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How far are you going to be from your vehicle? If things get really bad retreat to your car and turn the heater on. Warm/dry bag and insulation (foam pad, thermarest, etc)from the ground or snow are probably the most important factors for a good night's sleep. As suggested, using a ground cloth to keep moisture out of the tent will help. I'm not sure it was really effective, but it was a phychological boost-- We somtimes put a space blanket (the heavier kind) on the inside floor of the tent. If nothing else it helpes keep things drier.
Having the right equipment helps.


But sometimes it just gets unexpectedly cold. Two hours before this picture was taken we were climbing in shorts. This was August in Oregon on Mt. Hood.


Same tent and stove we use for bike tours.

Last edited by Doug64; 12-24-10 at 09:48 PM.
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Old 12-24-10, 09:46 PM
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I stick a piece of plastic to the bottom of my tent, camp site not in a low place .
we used to trench around our tents in the Boy Scouts
but that is not in the leave no trace
of your campsite theme these days.
thermarest is insulating and softens the ground a scosh

warm bag is essential , Synthetic fill will dry faster than Down, but packs larger.
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Old 12-24-10, 10:06 PM
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Another Boy Scout technique that's definitely not leave no trace is to use a bale of straw. About 5" of straw under your tent makes it comfy and toasty. This only works if you're car camping obviously.
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Old 12-25-10, 12:18 AM
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buy plastic drop cloth, trim to fit slightly smaller than tent bottom. bring a couople of small scraps to cover picnic table seats, put gear on, etc.

get inexpensive nylon tarp, or less expensive but more bulky blue tarp, or premium silicone nylon tarp. use to hang out underneath, or even to put over tent in extreme deluges.

get a foam pad if you haven't already. in the cold times i usually bring two pads.

a candle lantern and a way to hang it in your tent is so nice in wintertime.

bring a lot of hot beverages and decaf hot drinks like instant hit cider, herbal teas for hot drinks at night.
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Old 12-25-10, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by mthayer
We had a hell of rain today, which is good because we need it. It is bad because I had a camping trip planned for tomorrow night. Is there anything to do other than put down a tarp to help with keep the floor of a tent off of the ground that soaked? The high is now 47* with a low of 20*F, and its not going to be real dried out I am afraid.
Any suggestions? I am going to tough it out, with a non adequate sleeping bag, and no real winter camping experience.
I'll be spending Monday night in the mountains, and my down sleeping bag isn't all that warm, either. Supposedly, I can sleep comfortably in it down to 1 C (34 F), and the low is supposed to be a little lower that night: -1 C (30.2 F). I'm not worried, though, because I sleep on a good inflatable mat (Exped DownMat 7), I use a bivy bag inside my tent and I bundle up inside the bag with a woolen cap, woolen undershirt and synthetic tights. If I'm still cold I'll put on my down vest.

Be sure to have a pad underneath you, wear a cap and socks and be prepared to put more clothes on if you feel cold.

Last edited by Ekdog; 12-25-10 at 02:26 PM.
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Old 12-25-10, 09:45 AM
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Go to bed with a warm drink inside you.
Pee last thing, the only thing which gets me out of the bag when its cold and damp is the call of the nature.
Dont sleep with your head inside the bag, your breath will condense and reduce the insulation.
Keep you tent ventilated enough to reduce condensation.
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Old 12-25-10, 10:17 AM
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I don't mind camping in the cold. Camping in the cold and wet sucks. Particularly after riding for 8hrs in the cold and wet. I can do it if I have to, but I'd rather put a nail through my hand...

On the tour pictured above I setup my tent at noon and crawled into a damp sleeping bag for a 2hr nap just to get a break from the rain and muddy road.
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Old 12-25-10, 04:12 PM
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About a ground sheet under the tent: If your tent already has a waterproof tub floor then I advise against using a ground sheet. The ground sheet may just trap water. If you must use a ground sheet under your tent then make sure the edges don't protrude beyond the footprint of the tent so that rain doesn't land on it and flow under the tent floor.

You want to also pitch your tent on ground where the water will flow away from it and not form a puddle, perhaps even at the expense of sleeping on a slight incline. That clear, flat, smooth, level piece of dirt may look inviting but that can be an indicator odwhere water will pool during a downpour. Look for water flow marks on the ground to get an idea of where water will flow during a storm. I have found that, given a reasonable (but not heroic) sleeping pad (in my case an inflatable thermarest) that pitching and sleeping on gravel or hand-sized stones is surprisingly comfortable and allows good drainage even though most peoples' instincts are just the opposite.

Also, keep in mind that high winds can bring down trees so look upwards to judge whether there are rotten limbs ready to ruin your day (or possibly life). This actually happened to a small group I was with. Fortunately, we had just broken camp and were standing around ready to leave when a tree fell where some had been sleeping.

Pitching a tent in the rain is tricky. You want to be as fast as possible so practice is a good thing. Some mods to the snaps or clips might be in order so they work easily and quickly when wet or slippery. With some tents is it possible to pitch the fly first and then slide the inner tent in underneath so that it is protected while you get it up.

Pack your bags in a manner so that you can get the tent out first leaving your clothes and sleeping bag safely protected.

Hope this helps...Or maybe I'm just all wet.
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Old 12-25-10, 06:56 PM
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Along the line of hot drinks... An ounce of whiskey in your coffee will warm the cockles of your heart.
But the truth be known, alcohol actually makes you colder, faster.
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Old 12-25-10, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by mthayer
Its just the cold wet ground I am concerned with.

if you have a sleeping pad and waterproof tent that shouldn't be a worry. Don't pitch your tent in a swamp and make sure the bottom of your tent is waterproof.
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Old 12-25-10, 09:34 PM
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I am writing this laying in my tent on a clear, cold christmas night. It is clear like the weather was predicted, and it is COLD! I remembered I left my water bottles on the bike, so I went outside and the frost has already set on my bike. The low is going to be 20, but I believe it will be in the teens tonight. I am snuggled up in my sleeping bag, with a blanket between me and the bag. It is feeling nice and toasty so far. I'll give a report when I get up in the morning on how it was
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Old 12-25-10, 09:42 PM
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A sleeping bag liner might help. A cheap cotton one as used for backpacking might help, although the bulk can be a nuisance compared with a silk one.

An alternative is... if you know someone with a thin sleeping bag, borrow it and use at as a bag liner. I use a synthetic bag like that inside another light down bag so I can cope with cool, warm and hot conditions.

If you have any woollen clothing, take it along -- such as a shirt, and socks. Don't wear cotton in those conditions.

I still prefer the groundsheet to be outside the tent floor. If the edges are wider/longer than the tent, then just fold them under so they match the fly and so they don't gather rain.

Look for a mound -- one that stands proud of the surrounding ground. If the rain is stopping, as predicted, these will be obvious as the surrounding ground will be wet.

Use one of the offcut pieces of plastic Bekologist talks about as a doorstep. You can stand on it to remove or put on shoes and not drag dampness into the tent.

The comments on tent ventilation are very sound, but again depends on how much rain the vents will let it if you open them.

Machka and I spent a few very wet days in a Parisian campground in 2007 and even though we had a cheap Quechua tent, it was seamsealed and was totally waterproof, and we followed the principles I've outlined.
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Old 12-26-10, 12:17 AM
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Originally Posted by mthayer
I am writing this laying in my tent on a clear, cold christmas night. It is clear like the weather was predicted, and it is COLD! I remembered I left my water bottles on the bike, so I went outside and the frost has already set on my bike. The low is going to be 20, but I believe it will be in the teens tonight. I am snuggled up in my sleeping bag, with a blanket between me and the bag. It is feeling nice and toasty so far. I'll give a report when I get up in the morning on how it was
Here's a trick I've heard of but never tried: put some hot water in a water bottle and sleep with it between your thighs.
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Old 12-26-10, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by 10 Wheels
You will not be able to sleep unless you have a warm sleeping bag.

I tried to camp two nights when it was 2* above zero.
Had to walk all night to stay warm.
Went home the next morning.


Trust the wisdom in the first sentence. In February 1972 we were out camping with some teen aged boys. It was -33 F that night and the boys slept well, simply because their Woods 5 Star bags were rated to colder than -40 F. They were warm. We did not skimp on equipment nor on food nor on shelter - ever.

Camping is an enjoyable experience at any time of the year as long as you are warm, dry, and fed.
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Old 12-26-10, 01:28 AM
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Besides making sure you are not in a low lying area, if the ground you pitch the tent on is at all sloped (even slightly), take a stick and drag it in the ground to carve a shallow trench (couple inches) just above the tent and just around the ends or sides of the tent. I have a huge amount of experience backpacking/backcountry skiing/camping in all kinds of weather, and this trick helps to guide any run off around the tent. Carve the trench just barely away from the tent: just under the rain fly edge. I have been doing it for the last 40 years if it looks like it might rain or if it is raining. Many of the other suggestions are good ones. You do not have to be miserable just because it is raining and you are living in a tent for the moment. I always think it is kind of fun and cool to be so close to nature.
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Old 12-26-10, 11:15 PM
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Back from my camping engagement last night, I had a good trip. I ended up losing the blanket out of the bag, but my body stayed warm with a paor of sweats on. I need to figure how to keep my face warm. The ground was wet still, amd
it did drop the temp in the tent a bit.
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Old 12-26-10, 11:22 PM
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way to go. Next time, you'll be an expert.
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Old 12-27-10, 02:14 AM
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One lesson learnt: Keep stuff well secured on the bike!
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Old 12-27-10, 09:06 AM
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Originally Posted by mthayer
...I had a good trip. ... I need to figure how to keep my face warm.
Glad to hear your trip was successful!

To keep my face warm I use either a balaclava (homemade of poly fleece) over a wool cap (I use a quilt, so I have no sleeping bag hood) or if it is not so cold, a wool buff worn like a hood. I use the 'clava over the cap so the cap does not scoot off my head at night.
I pull the cap down to the end of my nose and pull the balaclava up just under my nose. Yeah, I can't see, but my eyes are shut anyway.

This was a backpacking trip, but you can see what I mean. My eyes are uncovered since I was fooling around with the camera.
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