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I Survived Winter Camping in Extremely Cold Weather!

Winter camping sounds extreme, and I guess it is. But it was not too dramatic, only a little cold. Here’s the story of how I stayed outdoors in arctic temperatures for three days and slept under a spruce for three nights.

On January 5 2023 I went with a group of 19 people up to the Arctic Circle, to Riisitunturi National Park. We were about to stay outdoors until January 8. I think we we were all excited but maybe a little worried about the weather. It was forecasted to be around –20°C every day.

Preparation for Winter Camping

When planning for the trip I wanted to sleep outside, but I actually changed my mind when I saw how cold it would be. However, my preparations were still the same.

Tent with smoke pipe in snowy forest
I had decided to sleep in this heated tent. However that didn't happen. Photo by Simon Jern.

I had packed tree complete sets of woolen underwear, thermal pants, fleece sweaters, merino socks and a lot of other clothes. But not too much. After all I had to carry it in my backpack to our base camp. I was going to sleep in double three season sleeping bags instead of one winter sleeping bag. I was told it would work just fine. And I guess it did.

We all had a couple of thermoses each, boots with removable felt inner boots, several pairs of warm socks, double gloves, the list goes on and on. On our way to our destination we stopped to rent two heatable tents and forest skis for everyone. Forest skis are the kind you can put on regular boots. They are wider than normal skis so you can easily go off tack in loose snow.

Filling the thermos in the beam of a head lamp.
My friend Peter is checking his thermoses. We all had two each and they kept us alive and warm.

Day trips and cooking

The things we experienced during the daytime was fantastic and definitely worth a blog post of its own. That’s for next time. But I can tell you that much that the scenery was astonishing. In my last blog post there are some photos, and you can see it here too. But let me ensure you my best photos will come in my next blog post. Don’t miss it!

Tent in snowy surroundings. Forest skis.
Me and one of the tents. Can you imagine crawling out from your tent and this scenery is what you see.

Sleeping in –25°C

Sleeping outside was easily the most challenging part. We had tents, some of them even heated, but I decided to sleep under a spruce after all. It was not my original plan. I was in the dishwashing/thermos filling group on the first night. Everything got super late and we hadn’t yet found our routines (more on this next time) so we weren’t finished until after midnight. When I entered the heated tent the heat hit me like a wall. I didn’t want to sleep in such a warm tent. And there was hardly any room for another person. So I quickly decided to move my things to a spruce.

Snowy spruce in Lapland
I think I have never slept in such a beautiful building before. Made by nature, except for that door hole. This was actually four spruces that grew so close together that they became one big snowy entity. I called it “My Castle”.

I took a shovel and dug a space in the snow where my sleeping mat could fit. I had two thin foam sleeping mats on top of each other and then one thin thermo mat on top of that, all held together with a strong clamp. (See picture below.) It worked perfectly. I couldn’t feel any cold coming from the ground.

I had double sleeping bags. I used two 3-season sleeping bags instead of one winter sleeping bag. That worked, too, even though it was a bit chilly towards the morning. I guess it would have been that in any case.

Sleeping inside two sleeping bags isn’t easy. Especially if they have their zippers on different sides. But once I had taken off everything but my double woolen underwear and got into the sleeping bags it somehow worked. I think I slept for maybe three hours in total.

The next day I selected a better spruce that was covered with snow all the way down to the ground. It would be a much better shelter from wind. Luckily there was very little wind during our trip.

Sleeping bag inside a snowy spruce
It was quite big inside and there were holes in the sides that could let a little breeze in. Speaking of wind, every time the air moved some snow fell down on me. I had to cover my shoes so they wouldn't have snow in them in the morning. My other sleeping bag is inside the green one. I had plenty of room for my things and I often used the hangers you can see above the bed.

Under a snowy spruce looking up.
Looking straight up from my bed, this is what I saw. During the night the full moon rose high on the night sky illuminating the snow on the spruce. I could sometimes see the moon shining through one of these holes. It was so beautiful.

The next night I had more time to prepare. I changed my underwear so I wouldn’t bring any sweat into the sleeping environment. Changing underwear in –20°C (–4°F) is just as uncomfortable as it sounds, but it was important since humidity inside your sleeping bag will eventually make you cold. I was also careful not to breathe into the sleeping bag although the temperature went down to –25°C (–13°F) on the second morning. I had a warm water bottle inside the sleeping bag that was warm for about four hours. I managed to get a little more sleep that night.

Ice in a drinking bottle
The water froze in a temporarily isolated drinking bottle during the night. This was not mine but I had the same problem with my bottle. Only thermoses were suited. Photo by Leo Byskata.

The third night was the toughest one, although not the coldest. For some reason I felt cold most of the night and only managed to sleep a couple of hours. It was challenging but at the same time it was something I wanted to do. There was a warm cottage nearby that I could have fled to but it wasn’t alarming in any way. I was just a little too cold to be able to relax and fall asleep.

Heated tent in the night with smoke coming from the smoke pipe.
It looks cozy and I know it was very warm in the heated tent. But even those sleeping in that one said they got cold in the morning. I guess it was due to dramatically changing temperatures while My Castle had less variation in temperature. Photo by Leo Byskata.

Luckily the last day started early and we packed everything and skied towards the bus. Our arctic adventure ended in the best possible way—with a hot sauna at a local hotel and then a delicious hot salmon soup. That felt just wonderful!

Next blog post: The reason I went on this trip—the beauty of the arctic polar night.


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