A long, long time ago in a galaxy far away… I lived in Wales and did lots of outdoorsy stuff, which also happened to involve lots of camping. I’ll level with you – I don’t really like camping in the winter. Or rather I really like the idea of camping in the winter, but the practicalities are such that I used to end up freezing with a stiff back the next day and I never really enjoyed it.
But now I am older and wiser, and I decided that if I was spending around a month under canvas every year at LARP events then I deserved a decent home to live in while I’m away. November was the test of all my gear that I’ve been putting together, when I camped over at a site in the middle of a quarry on Halloween weekend. It might have been an unseasonably warm autumn in 2015, but I assure you that the freezing fog that appeared during the night didn’t feel particularly balmy.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of my home from home while it was all setup, and the foul weather this week has prevented me from pitching the tent in the garden to recreate the memories. But here’s the run down of the things I absolutely can no longer live without when camping at LARP:
Tent: Marmot Grid 2
I’m not saying you should rush out and buy a £280 tent. In fact I was more canny than that, I bought it in the end of season sale AND the nice person on the phone at Cotswolds gave me a cheeky student discount as well (I don’t think they’re supposed to). It was still about £200.
I won’t go into too much detail here because I think there’s a whole post to be written about tent selection. But suffice to say, this tent made a massive difference to my camping experience.
You can’t get this one anymore, Marmot don’t make it. They do however make really top quality tents and are well worth looking at for an OOC LARP tent. The Grid 2 is a semi-geodesic tent which adds stability as well as a whole host of other features (like more room inside). It’s a 3/4 season, which means you can just about use it throughout a UK winter and be comfortable.
Sleeping Bag: North Face – The Cat’s Meow
I promise, I didn’t just buy it because I like the name. I actually have the ladies version of this, it’s shorter (and therefore fits in a smaller bag). You can buy it in left and right handed versions – depending on which side you sleep – and in a longer variation for those of you that are really tall.
It’s technically a three season sleeping bag, but it will do you down to -7C in an emergency (and if you remember the first Empire when it snowed – I’m afraid to say that I was warm and toasty all night). I put a plain cotton liner inside it which helps keep it clean and increases the layering meaning that you keep warmer.
It’s not cheap.* But if you buy it now you should be able to pick one up in a sale at a good price or perhaps second hand – it’s a design that’s been around for years. I bought mine almost a decade ago at about half price and it’s still going strong.
Stove: Primus ETA Lite
Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to buy one of these gadgets. For years and years I’ve had a MSR Pocket Rocket* that I used to balance pans on top of. And it’s fine, it works. But nothing prepared me for the fact that the Primus* boils water in under a minute. Yup, I unzip my tent, lean into the porch, and still in my sleeping bag I can have tea made within a minute – depending on how clumsily I get the milk and sugar bit done. You can even buy a Coffee Press* that fits inside it if you prefer proper coffee to instant.
One tip – don’t make porridge directly in the cup. The flame at the bottom is so fierce that it just burns it and makes a mess. Take instant instead and just use the hot water.
Even better than being able to make tea in under a minute while still in my sleeping bag is the fact that you can get a brew on whenever someone needs one. It’s very comforting to be able to do that. And since the whole thing packs down into the cup, including the gas, it’s really easy to carry about either in a pouch on your historical kit, or chucked into your bag for modern kit.
Camp Bed: Thermarest LuxuryLite Camp Cot
This is another one of those purchases that I just didn’t think I could justify.* Turns out, it was an excellent bit of kit to pick up.
As Leah wrote in her post about LRP in cold weather, beds are really important. Her and Wookie decided to opt for fishing beds which are great, but I prefer small tents that you can’t stand up in – and so fishing beds are just too big (unless I want to sleep with my face crammed up against the roof of the tent). They also don’t pack down very small, and since I only have a standard Escort car space can be at a bit of a premium sometimes.
This camp cot is a million miles away from those horrible ones that you might have slept on before, you know the kind that want to permanently see you dumped onto the floor? This is more like sleeping on a futon bed. They also sell a sheet to attach under the bottom of it to reflect your body heat back at yourself. In fact I’d recommend buying a space blanket anyway and spreading it out in the bottom of your tent. They really are very effective and only cost a few pounds.
Extras: Handmade Quilt
I know, not everyone has a nice handmade quilt lying around the house that they can pinch and take to events. I happen to be into quilting, so I do have one.
Many people opt for blankets or duvets, but a thin handmade quilt is far superior in my opinion. Blankets are fine, but they aren’t made up of several layers. They don’t trap heat in the same way that a multi layered quilt traps heat (most quilts are made up of three layers – two cotton fabric layers and a cotton wadding layer in the middle). They are also heavy and hard to dry out if they get damp. Duvets suffer a similar problem – they get damp. And when they’re damp, they’re not actually very warm. The biggest problem with duvets is that they tend to get a bit out of control in the tent, taking up far too much space and rubbing the sides of the canvas – thus transferring all the outside moisture to the inside. They also take up loads of space in the car.
If you fancy the challenge, I made this simple version for a friend from crew shirts he had kept from Maelstrom. It’s quite easy, and if you have a search on Pinterest for T-Shirt quilts you should find some simple instructions.
Quilts are warm, they don’t take up much space, they dry out quickly (generally before you go back to bed, even when it’s chilly) and when you get home you can just easily run them through the wash. I’m a convert, even if it is the most low-tech item on this list.
I’m kind of aware that everything I’ve listed above is quite specialist, and generally very expensive. I’m not saying you have to spend loads of money to camp in winter, but generally when it comes to winter camping your experience will be vastly improved with great kit.
There’s no point in being cold and wet at a LARP event, especially not when you’re sleeping. That way just lies misery and in the worst scenario case a trip to A&E for hypothermia – and nobody wants that.
If you don’t have the money to make camping during winter bearable, then plenty of LARP games run inside during the off-season. Lots of games run with bunk space or at least a communal indoor sleeping area. There is genuinely something out there for everyone.