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Cold Weather Camping Tips from REI Co-op

January 17, 2018 | REI Co-op


There are a couple of things to keep in mind when camping in the Houston area, humidity, and our weather.


Since our winters are generally mild, you don’t need to go for the extreme cold weather gear. So, unless you’re testing your mountaineering tent, and 0 degree bag to use in a colder climate, you don’t need them in the Houston area.


Rain, wind, and humidity, can make temperatures feel colder than they actually are, so make sure you dress appropriately. A good mid to lightweight base layer, a fleece jacket, and rain jacket are great. Heavier fleece base layers can be too warm for Houston.


If you very cold natured, you can swap out the fleece jacket for a down or synthetic down jacket. Keep in mind that the more you move, the more heat you will generate, the hotter you will be. It’s not unusual to have lighter layers during the day as your hiking, bike riding, etc. Heavier layers can be used at night when the temperature drops, and you’re not moving as much.


When it’s wet out, the ground you’re setting your tent out on will feel much colder as well. The more people in the tent, the warmer it will be. Choose an insulated pad, an appropriately rated sleeping bag, and use a bag liner. Not only can a liner add some warmth to your bag, it also means you’re only washing the liner and not the sleeping bag every time. Tuck any clothing you will be wearing the next day, inside the bag liner with you. Your body warmth will keep your clothing warm for the next morning. Keep in mind, if you put the clothing between the bag and the liner, they will not warm up, and can be ice cold in the morning.


Use a good footprint to protect the bottom of your tent from any sticks, dampness, and stones. If it rips, it’s easier to replace a footprint, than a whole tent. And, if it’s a double wall tent, make sure to use the rainfly. It will keep out the cold wind, evening showers, and morning dampness.


Gear specifics:


Sleeping Bag/Pad:

Most of the time our weather is pretty mild, so you could try a 10-20 degree bag and be fine. And a mummy bag is warmer than a rectangular bag due to the hood area. Keep in mind that a 20 degree bag does not mean you will be warm at 20 degrees only that it will keep you alive at 20 degrees. To be warm if the temperature gets to 20, you would need a 10 degree bag. Also, the temperature ratings are only good if you have a sleeping pad underneath. If you were to sleep in a bag directly on the ground, the cold ground would steal all your warmth, and you would be cold regardless of temperature rating.


Down bags will be warmer than synthetic bags. Synthetic bags will still insulate if they get wet, and a good for those with down allergies.


For pads, go for an insulated pad during the colder seasons. Other things to think about for a pad are self-inflating vs. the type you blow up yourself, how thick does it need to be, size/weight, and women’s vs. men’s.


Many find the self-inflating types, like the REI Co-op Trekker pad, perfect. You can unroll it, and it inflates on its own. You can customize it by blowing more air into it, to make it more firm. Keep in mind, the thicker the pad, the larger it packs down, and the heavier it will be. Some also have perforations to allow airflow. The areas with more perforations will allow more heat to escape. The areas with less perforations will keep more heat in, thereby minimizing any heat loss.


If you are car camping, you can choose a heavier, more comfortable pad since you won’t be carrying it very far. A 3.5” self-inflating type, like the REI Camp Bed 3.5 is great.


For backpacking, I personally prefer they type you blow up yourself, like the REI Insulated Flash Pad. I find them more comfortable, they pack smaller, and can be lighter. Once blown up, they’re usually thicker than their self-inflating counter parts. If you are a side sleeper, you may prefer this option for that reason.


Other choices are basic blue foam pads, and the type that folds. They are very light weight, but are not as think, so won’t be as comfortable.


There are women’s and men’s versions. A women’s sleeping pad, and bag, is generally shorter, narrower, and the insulation is in different areas. A women’s sleeping bag tends to have extra insulation in the foot box and the upper body, because women tend to be colder in those areas. A women’s self-inflating sleeping pad will have less perforation in the foot and back areas to allow for more warmth in those areas.


Tent:

When looking at cold weather tents, there are 4-season, 3-season, single wall, double wall, etc. A double wall tent means the tent is one wall, the rainfly is the second wall. A single wall tent means the tent and rainfly are all one piece. A 4-season tent will have less mesh than a 3-season, and will be warmer in colder temperatures.


For Houston, because of the humidity, I would recommend a double wall tent. A double wall is more breathable than a single wall, and collects less condensation from your breath on the interior. However, be mindful of how much mesh is on the tent. The more mesh, the colder the tent will be. For this reason, choose one with less mesh.


A couple of double wall choices would be the REI Arete 2 if you’re backpacking along the Lone Star Trail, or the REI Base Camp 4 if you are car camping at one of the state parks.

If you are truly concerned about sleeping cold, then a single wall is for you. Keep in mind that in milder temperatures you run the risk of it being too hot. Also, make sure all the vents are open on the tent, or their will be lots of condensation on the interior, just from breathing.


Clothing:

Layering is key for clothing. As it gets warmer, remove a layer. As it gets colder, add a layer. Layers includes a base layer (long underwear), shirt/pants, insulation, and outer shell.

In Houston, the light to mid-weight base layers are great. You will have your choice between Merino wool, and synthetic. Try to avoid cotton in all your layers, including socks and undergarments. Cotton soaks up moisture, and doesn’t dry, which can lead to chafing, blisters and feeling colder.


Both Merino wool, and synthetic, will wick the sweat away, keeping you dry and warm. What’s the difference, though? Merino wool is naturally moisture wicking, antimicrobial so it doesn’t smell, feels comfortable against the skin, but is the pricier of the two options. Synthetic options are less expensive, the fabric is woven to channel sweat away, great for those who might have a wool allergy, but can become pretty smelly from sweat. Also, it doesn’t play well with natural deodorant options.


For your mid-layers, fleece jackets are great for this area. Synthetic fleece jackets are less bulky than their down jacket counterparts, yet still keep you warm. Down is usually a bit too warm for Houston. But, if you are cold no matter what you do, and warmth is your top concern, go for down. It’s the warmest thing out there.


Your outer shell is normally a rain jacket. They are waterproof, windproof, and many roll up into a pocket. If you want another option for non-rainy days, try a wind jacket, or a wind resistant fleece. The more wind you block, the warmer you will be.

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