Winter camping. It’s a concept that may seem both foreign and daunting to your average summer-loving outdoor enthusiast, but now we make it both inviting and simple as we bring you up to speed on the essential dos and don’ts of camping in the cold!
With the days getting shorter and the nights longer, you may find it hard to imagine sipping an ice-cold coolie out in the open. But just because the temperatures are taking a dip as the winter months arrive, it doesn’t mean that your camping gear, along with the rest of your summer stuff, has to be booted to the bottom of the ‘bring out’ list.
Why in winter?
You might be distinctly depressed to see the thermometer drop by degrees, but winter is in fact one of the most beautiful times of year in South Africa, especially if you’re fond of exploring the ever-changing countryside. You won’t be waking up to the stifling heat of summer, but winter in certain parts offers warm, sunny days, temperate nights and spectacularly clear nocturnal skies, perfect for stargazing. With glorious days, minimal rain, relatively warm seawater temperatures (still great for swimming, surfing and snorkelling), good fishing and quiet resorts, could you ask for more.
Okay, so the Sharks and Lions win this one: Cape Town and some of the surrounding areas of the Western Cape are possibly best left to hibernate, like the Stormers, during the rainy, cold and windy winter months, while the Wild Coast, KwaZulu-Natal and inland parts of the country showcase their raw, natural … beauty! (As a staunch Stormers supporter, I know Meghan’s totally offside with this little dig. Perhaps she should glance at the Super Rugby log standings! – Ed.)
WHAT TO PACK
Apart from your usual camping equipment, we recommend that you find a suitable space in your camping kit for these three winter essentials. A cold weather sleeping bag When choosing a sleeping bag, it’s definitely not a case of ‘one size fits all’; in fact there are several things to consider when choosing the perfect pallet. Make sure you check the seasonal and temperature ratings and comfort levels on your sleeping bag, otherwise you might find yourself relying on a light summer pack to keep you warm on a chilly winter’s night. If it’s your first time buying a sleeping bag, take into account all the relevant factors, like season, climate and, importantly, the location of your next camping trip, before making your purchase!
A four-season tent is the perfect centrepiece of any South African’s camping kit. As the name suggests, four-season tents cater for what the unpredictable South African weather is known for: the chance to experience all four seasons in one day. A four-season or ‘expedition’ tent is vital when you’re camping in the winter months as it’s specifically designed to keep campers warm and dry – the ideal buffer between you and the outdoor elements. The added guy ropes, durable fabrics and stronger poles reinforce the tent’s overall frame and structure, an important feature when facing stiff winds or torrential rains, which are both quite common characteristics of a South African winter, depending on the location.
A winter wonder-coat is an essential item to pack for a camping trip during the winter months. If you’re exploring the northern parts of South Africa, where the winter sun often offers hours of pleasant warmth, you may think you’re escaping the worst of winter. But don’t be fooled by the sunshine on the surface: the chill factor will slowly start to infiltrate when the sun disappears below the horizon. You always need to be prepared for what can turn out to be a dramatic drop in degrees (depending on where you’ve set up camp). When it comes to choosing the ideal winter coat, it pays to be selective. Depending on where your adventure takes you, you may want to investigate anything from a light windbreaker to a heavy-duty snow jacket with down or synthetic lining. Essentially serving the same purpose as your sleeping bag, the jacket will need to keep you warm and dry when your body needs it the most. Again, the choice between down or synthetic and hard-shell or soft-shell comes down to personal preference.
NATURE’S SILENT KILLER!
Hypothermia may not be something you associate with camping in partly subtropical South Africa, but research shows that you don’t need to run barefoot for hours in the snow to be at risk. In fact, this deadly condition is more likely to creep up on you when you least expect it! Medically defined as a dramatic drop in the body’s core temperature, hypothermia is a result of prolonged exposure to elements that cause the body’s core to lose heat faster than it can be restored. The precise combination of convection heat loss and drastically lowered core body temperature will determine whether the victim experiences a mild, moderate or severe case of hypothermia.
Symptoms can manifest themselves in several different ways, depending on how severe the victim’s condition is. The key indicators that someone is suffering from hypothermia are: a drop in body temperature to below 32°C, confusion, memory loss, lethargy, shallow breathing, shivering and numb hands or feet. In severe cases of hypothermia, the victim may be unconscious with very shallow or no breathing, an irregular or no pulse, and dilated pupils.
How to handle hypothermia
If, while you’re out in the great outdoors, you or someone you’re with falls victim to hypothermia, you must follow the correct treatment procedure.
Step 1: Make sure you as the rescuer are warm enough. Remember that if it’s cold enough for the victim to develop hypothermia, you could quite easily follow suit.
Step 2: Always check that the victim has a clear airway; if not, begin CPR.
Step 3: Move yourself and your victim into a warmer area. Be prepared for a change in the victim’s condition: as the cold blood makes its way to the heart, the victim’s core body temperature may drop.
Step 4: If the victim shows signs of severe hypothermia (progressive loss of consciousness, weak pulse, little or no breathing), contact the emergency services immediately.
Step 5: Remove any wet or damp clothing, but leave any dry clothing on the victim.
Step 6: Wrap the victim up in as many blankets as possible. Electric blankets that have a constant temperature work the best.
Step 7: If the victim is conscious and able to move, put them in a seated position and help them drink a warm, non-alcoholic beverage.