Winter Camping: Doable or are we mad?

Submitted: Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 13:53
ThreadID: 96571 Views:4671 Replies:19 FollowUps:23
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We decided to do some winter camping last week, and it was a massive fail. Once the temp dropped below 10' it became unbearable, we have a sneaking suspicion it dropped below 0.

Anyway, does anyone have any tips on winter camping and staying comfortable?

We have come to the conclusion that air beds are a BIG no no. But how to stay comfortable away from the campfire, its not like you can have one in the tent.

All suggestions are welcome.


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Reply By: Rangiephil - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:06

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:06
Well , first you need thermal beanies, thermal gloves, thermal socks , polar fleece jackets, and Thermoactyl underwear with long johns and long sleeve Ts.

To sleep you need Thermosrests which insulate from the ground, and good quality doonas or sleeping bags.

However one of the best solutions for me was to switch from a tent to a rear opening camper trailer with solid floor. The temperature difference between sleeping on a foam mattress with a double floor beneath about 50CMs off the gound is amazing. AND when camping with power, you can have a fan heater which is by far the best thing. Of course a warm wife is also helpful.

I have camped in freezing weather where the worst thing is that your breath condenses on the inside of the tent and freezes to ice.
Regards Philip A
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Follow Up By: Mr Pointyhead - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:47

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:47
+1 for quality thermal underware. Good outdoors shops sell it.
A quality sleepingbag rated for the conditions you are camping in.

Also you need a fridge or esky to stop you beer freezing :-)

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Reply By: shanegu6 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:50

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 14:50
A high quality rated sleeping bag is your best investment.
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Reply By: OzDrew70 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:06

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:06
Actually, you can have a fire in the tent...We used our Cobb Cooker (with lid on) in ours on our way around Oz, in particular Ballarat, Grampians and parts of SA.

It was the only time we actually used it. Still yet to cook with it though.

It was great for sitting it in the tent to warm up the air in the tent.

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Follow Up By: patsproule - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:20

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:20

Weren't some campers recently killed through carbon monoxide poisoning in their tent by running a gas heater?

We have camped in some sub zero temps. You must have very good hooded mummy-cased sleeping bags, and bed rolls that insulate properly from the ground. THere is conjecture as to wether you should wear more or less clothing to bed, but I find less usually works better with the bags we have. (-15's)

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Follow Up By: OzDrew70 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:28

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:28
Not while you're sleeping you GOOSE!!!

Just before going to bed.

I knew this would draw some attention.

The little round disc you burn is made of compressed coconut husks.

Have you ever used a COBB COOKER in your life. You can pick the think up while it's going.

Some people are som quick to jump on the back of others.
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Follow Up By: walwffoeg - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:00

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:00
I have a cobb and I love it, but it nearly killed me when I used it in my aliner burning charcoal.
Now I use a coleman blackcat catalytic tent heater. Get one! And buy a carbon monoxide detector on ebay while youre at it.
FollowupID: 764827

Reply By: Bushranger1 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:16

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:16
G'day Tracy,

Done plenty of snow camping over the years & the main thing to be aware of when your sleeping is that most of the cold comes up through the ground. If you want to use your airbed put a blanket underneath you between the airbed & the sleeping bag.

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Follow Up By: Robert H2 - Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 at 13:24

Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 at 13:24
I'm in transition to retirement and have always wanted to go camping. My wife was not keen as she feels the cold, even at home. My wife being cold at night could not happen for camping to be part of our retirement activities. As stated by others "most of the cold comes up through the ground". I purchased inflated bed mats that were filled with down. Brand is EXPED. These are just brilliant, small when rolled up and have a build in hand pump. I also purchased the best down sleeping bags I could afford.
We went to the Snowy Mountains over easter and camped in a tent for 4 nights with one night at -1C and another at -2C. We had taken a each blanket each just in case. Both very snug overnight but a bit nippy getting up, especially for me as I sleep naked.
We will be going camping again.
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Follow Up By: Member - OnYaBike - Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 01:05

Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 01:05
Robert with those temperatures if I got as snug as that you would heve to feed me soup through a plastic tube, no way I would be getting out of the sleeping bag.
All my camping is in Cape York and that can be cold enough for me camping inland when a cold snap sneaks up from the South. On the coast is OK.
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Follow Up By: Traceyc - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:18

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:18
Thanks Rob I just checked out and their downmat, looks great but at $219 US a pop it may be a bit out of reach for a family of 3. They certainly look more comfortable then the Thermirest pads.

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Follow Up By: Traceyc - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:21

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:21
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Follow Up By: Robert H2 - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:58

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:58
Tracey, I purchased the mats and a hiking tent from the US. They were about $300 in the Australian hiking shops. Look at the following site
They cost me $172Australian each (large size) but I also had to pay postage to Australia on these items which was about $40Aust. The suppliers will not ship directly to Australia from the US so you need to set up a US mail box (see These are the best matts I have used at 70mm thick they give a very comfortable sleep but beyond anything else they are warm. We sometimes sleep directly on the mat with the open sleeping bags on top. The mats weigh only 1250 grams and roll up to cylinder 150mm dia x 300mm long (they are made for hikers)
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Reply By: CraigB - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:20

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:20
A bit old fashioned but it works a treat.
Ahot water bottle or 2,
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Follow Up By: Traceyc - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:06

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:06
I was going to take a water bottle but thought my hubby would think we silly. Next time I'm not going to worry about what he thinks and go with my first instinct. hehe
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Reply By: IronMan - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:27

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:27
Quite some time ago, the bride and I camped at Deep Creek Conservation Park. We were in a tent and on a double air mattress and spent the first night FREEZING. Bitterly, shivering, teeth chatteringly cold. I think we collectively got about an hour sleep that night.

The following night I put one of our blankets on top of the air mattress and under the sheet. Other blanket on top and toasty warm. The underneath blanket insulated us from the air and ground leaching the warmth.
AnswerID: 489678

Reply By: OzDrew70 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:43

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 15:43
Let's leave the Cobb Cooker thing alone for a moment.

A rated sleeping bag on a self inflating 4WD mattress will keep you well insulated.

The first thing you need to do is unroll you sleeping bag so that the fibres are allowed to decompress for it to work efficiently. By doing this as soon as you can when setting up camp the better.

Also, your body will produce heat and by putting too many clothes on it will prevent the sleeping bag from doing its job correctly. So minimal layers in the correct bag will work wonders.

Also your head works as a huge cooling element during the hotter months, smae goes in winter. A thin fleece beanie that is not too tight worn at night will keep your head and you warmer.
AnswerID: 489679

Follow Up By: Member - Justin O (QLD) - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:33

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:33
I'll second the rated sleeping bag and self inflating mattress. I have done a few trips through the outback and deserts and never been cold. Tent was of ordinary quality.
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Reply By: "crack-a-tinnie" - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 16:29

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 16:29
Those who haven't done it comfortably will think your mad.

Over the years we've camped in the Pyrenees Rangers in August, Dargo High Plains in September & fishing trips along the Murray & at Kyalite as recently as the long weekend in June.

Ground cover under your swag, a beanie & a hot water bottle for the missus.

Leave the tent flap open before you go to bed so as your dog can sleep on top of the swag, this will warm your bed up. If you think it's going to be extra cold, take another dog.....

Cheers :-)
AnswerID: 489683

Follow Up By: Ross M - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:57

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:57
That must be a two dog night I suppose, when really cold it's a three dog night.
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Follow Up By: "crack-a-tinnie" - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:33

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:33
Yep.....that's right..... :-)
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Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:30

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:30

"Crack-a-tinny" is on the right track.

The best bedding for a tent (or stand-alone) is a good quality swag.
The swag can be used just as a mattress, or the canvas cover can be pulled up for extra insulation. A good quality swag will have a "egg carton type foam rubber mattress and as well as being very comfortable, will also provide insulation between you and the ground.

We use opened up sleeping bags as doonas and with the canvas cover over us as well, we have found we do not require anything else.
The relatively confined space of the swag/doona enables normal body heat to keep us warm, without the need for additional stuff like thermal blankets or undies, but I guess that is a further option if you really need it.


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Follow Up By: Member - VickiW - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:08

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:08
I second the swag advice. We camped in the Gammons this time of year 2 years ago. We had heave frost both outside & in the cover of the swag but were warm a toast. Just used fairly good sleeping bags zippered together, may have had a blanket as well.
ps getting up in the middle of the night and in mornings was bracing though
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Reply By: OzDrew70 - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:43

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 18:43
We do all our camping in the Vic High Country and a good quality 15oz canvas swag will keep you very cozy, but you can't sleep 4 people in one. So if you're in a tent then cover is you're next best friend. A fly over the tent, or a tarp over the lot.

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Reply By: rumpig - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:14

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:14
we have a Webasto Diesel heater in our camper, zero degree camping isn't a problem for
used it the last 2 years down near Stanthorpe this time of year and it was money well spent i reckon.
AnswerID: 489700

Reply By: blue one - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:23

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 19:23
Been camping in the high country for years. Even with the Missus I haven't heard so much wingin.

Layer up if your cold and make sure you have air around you to be warm.

Ie: no blankets too tight.

It's not that hard
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Follow Up By: "crack-a-tinnie" - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:12

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:12
No wingin here "Blue-one"....

Tracey is asking for tips on how to improve her "next" winter camping trip because her last one was a disaster.

Pump up air beds are good in summer, but cold in winter, I don't agree with a cobb cooker or any type of heating in the tent, but other wise all the comments have been good advice in my opinion.

There's lots of ways to keep warm at night.....................

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Follow Up By: blue one - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:02

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:02
Bunch of sooks
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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:10

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:10

About 12 months ago, the wife & I went to Lake Eyre. On 2 nights, one @ Marion Downs & the other @ Muloorinna, it was below freezing in the mornings. We slept in a cheap dome tent, with double self-inflating mattress, and my swag. Used a spare sleeping bag as a doona, but that was too bloody hot.

We certainly weren't cold through the night, and slept in till the sun was up in the mornings. We were on holidays, so there was no rush.

Lately I've been camping outside in my swag, at the station, and all I have is a bush rug, cotton blanket & a tarp, over me. Am sleeping on a self inflater, and have about 4 blankets underneath me, in the swag. Can't believe how warm I've been, with temps down to 2' - 3', and quite a bit of wind chill on some mornings.

A hot brick is better than a hot water bottle, as long as you don't kick too hard, through the night.


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Reply By: Member - Duncan W (WA) - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:12

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 20:12
Never camped in the snow or high country but have spent a number of sub zero nights in the GVD. Sleep on a 75mm self inflating mattress and a couple of sleeping bags. Biggest issue we've had is condensation in the tent and wet pillows. Use a canvas centre pole tent with the side vents open and it still condensates.

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Reply By: Traceyc - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:06

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:06
Thanks everyone for the great tips. Lots to investigate.

Our last adventure was earlier this week we were at Mt Kaputar NSW, beautiful spot but I & our 5yr old felt the cold. We had blankets under the air mattress and some on top as well.

The sleeping bags are supposed to be rated to -5 however I have my doubts.We have a coleman tent rather than a canvas. Due to hubby being tall we purchased bigger than we needed to give the extra height and a room for the munchkin. Anyway we were also wearing thermals and ended up sleeping in the back of the X-Trail for two nights before giving up & coming home.

A very disappointing end to a trip we had been looking forward too.

Anyway I was thinking of a in tent heater but was worried about carbon monoxide poisoning. Having the a very curious munchkin I don't think the cobb would work for us.

Unfortunately we no longer have the option of a dog warmer, while I do love this Idea.

Cheers Tracey

P.S Hubby was the only one who didn't seem to notice the cold.
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 11:20

Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 11:20
Hi Tracey,

Some good advice here, but really you just need to keep experimenting until you find what works for you, and within the limits of your budget.

Agree with others that air mattresses are cold. You could possibly overcome that by adding a decent layer of foam as insulation. Years ago we started out with air mattresses and used to put an old sleeping bag under us and that helped a lot.

Also whatever bedding you use it must be dry - even a slight amount of moisture will feel cold and then make the bed very hard to warm up. Air out your bedding whenever possible, though in cold damp conditions that is difficult to do.

As others have said, cover your tent with an extra layer eg a tarp. It wont look too pretty but will make a difference.

Avoid getting cold before you go to bed, and use socks, beanie and waterbottle to help warm your extremeties. eg Like many older women, my skin gets very cold (no matter how many layers I wear) and then its hard to get to sleep. Camping or not, I'm still trying to find a way to stop this happening.

What is usually overlooked in responses to questions like this is that there is a big difference between people in how they perceive heat/warmth. Age, gender, build, health etc all affect how warm or cold we feel so there is no one single right answer. Remember though that children with their lower body mass can get cold more quickly than adults.

But in answer to your question - yes you can camp in winter, but you do need to be well prepared and accept that some of the time it will be cold.

Good luck with finding a solution that works for you,


J and V
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 17:18

Sunday, Jul 01, 2012 at 17:18
No wonder you were cold, Tracey, Mt Kaputar is almost in the stratosphere!!! lol.

But what a beautiful place to be. Hope you enjoyed it, other than the cold.


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Follow Up By: Traceyc - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:03

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:03
Thanks Val & yes Bob it was beautiful.

We have decided next time we visit this spot in winter we will hire a cabin, very cheep accommodation and they all have a fire place so perfect for a cozy winter evening.

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Follow Up By: lori - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 12:02

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 12:02
We do a fair bit of winter camping and the very first time we went we still had air mattresses, very bad idea in cold temps! The cold air comes through and draws all the warmth out of your body. I was so cold that my bones were aching.
Went and bought 4WD matts before our next camp and that fixed that problem. Now I feel nothing but snugness from below.

We all had -5 rated hooded sleeping bags but my girls were still cold, so I did a little research into sleeping bags and it turns out that one of the things that make sleeping bags effective is the ability to closely follow the contours of your body (hence the mummy shaped bags.) All the extra 'adult' room in their existing bags was allowing heat loss so I went and bought the girls some child size blackwolf sleeping bags (you can often find kids bags on special, Kangaroo Tent City currently has a special on a coleman -3 rated for $50- Rays Outdoors has the coleman and the blackwolf on for $60- BCF have the blackwolf and coleman on for $70 and roman for $55 Anaconda have the blackwolf on for $50)

I also take us all a fleece blanket that I put inside the bags - there is nothing like a fleecy blankie to keep you snug!
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Follow Up By: Bazooka - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 19:56

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 19:56
Your comment about the bag rating might not be far from the mark Tracey. Years ago I had a -10 rated down bag from Paddy Pallin which couldn't keep me warm at zero. After half a dozen bad nights I decided enough was enough and took the bag back. After a bit of discussion they gave me a new bag - same model in every respect except this one kept me as warm as toast just as the first one should have. Possibly a quality control problem with either inadequate fill or possibly a larger % of feather than down in that first bag.

Someone mentioned head covering - critical if you want to keep body heat in. Good bags have hoods but if you move around they can be a bit of a pain. A silk balaclava or a beanie which doesn't come off will help considerably. A silk bag liner is great also.
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Reply By: PJR (NSW) - Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:43

Friday, Jun 29, 2012 at 22:43
I do not know about "doable". That word is not in my dictionary. Another americanism like "get go".

We change very little for winter or cold nights. We have a thick canvas Hannibal Roof Top tent and use a good quality woollen doona all year round. For colder nights we put socks on and if needed we also put a beanie on. If it's expected to get below zero then we throw an opened up sleeping bag over the doona. Windows and vents are opened depending on wind, rain and temperature.

I should also mention that we do tend to sleep closer together when it is cold.

AnswerID: 489716

Reply By: TheMightyMoose - Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 at 06:00

Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 at 06:00
Hello Tracey
Camped in winter heaps of times - many negative nights. Love it. But as you've discovered you need some appropriate gear.

Leave the airbed at home - gave them away years ago. Self inflating (and a stretcher if you want a bit more comfort) is the way to go. BTW - the stretcher allows you to store stuff underneath and thus increases available space in a tent. Look for the Oztrail ones - very easy to set up.

Clothing - as others have said, layering is the way to go. You don't need expensive - Big W, Target etc have all you need.

Bedding - once again you don't need expensive stuff. We use a doona and one of those soft fluffy blankets (minkie or something like that I think they are called). Never been cold. Wife hates being constricted in a sleeping bag.

Wife also likes a hot water bottle (with a soft home-made cover - seems to keep it warm all night long - still heat in there in morning even on coldest of nights.

So yes it is absolutely 'doable' - even on a budget. Get yourself some more gear and get back out there!
AnswerID: 489727

Follow Up By: Traceyc - Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:05

Monday, Jul 02, 2012 at 08:05
thanks MightyMoose
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Reply By: KevintheKK - Wednesday, Jul 04, 2012 at 19:26

Wednesday, Jul 04, 2012 at 19:26
Hi Tracey,
My bride and I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the camping industry has not yet invented a way that adults can get a seriously good night's sleep, in cold temperatures particularly but in any temperature as a sweeping generalisation, if it involves contact with the ground. Sorry to start a timebomb among the hardened campers (and standing by for all the flak), but you can take all your groundsheets, blow-up beds, self-inflating mattresses or whatever, but none of it matches a trailer tent for getting up onto an interior-sprung, queen-sized double bed with conventinal bedding (ie proper thick doonahs and pillow cases, none of this sleeping bag stuff!)and the ability to 'spoon it' with your warm partner. We are still under canvas, we still live outdoors all day until very late at night, we cook on an Ozpig, and we get the cold wind on our cheeks, but we get a bloody good night's sleep!!
We were out at Gulgong for the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend, camped at the showgrounds (top spot), it was minus 5c each night, and it was cold but very manageable.
Will understand entirely that going to a trailer is a major change if at the moment you can get all camping gear in just the car, but if you are OK with towing, then a CT is a good option.
(Ours is a Kimblerley Kamper 2000 - had it from new in 2000, have never had any breakdown or tech issue with it, and have been round Aus several times, red centre a lot, Eyre Peninsular at Easter, just got back from central north Qld a couple of days ago, etc...
Food for thought for you and yours, but don't let one bad cold experience put you off...
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Follow Up By: Traceyc - Thursday, Jul 05, 2012 at 08:14

Thursday, Jul 05, 2012 at 08:14
Hi Graham

Thanks for your post.

We have decided to get a camper trailer, however this is a long term goal and not something we can entertain just yet.

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Reply By: Robin O - Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 22:13

Saturday, Jul 07, 2012 at 22:13
Re winter camping,have used a "tent cot"for a few years & have stayed warm even with a frosty topping.Have a 50 mm self inflating mattress & -5 sleeping bag.A tarp over the top is warmer & not as stuffy if you use the fly sheet.

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