Bushcraft in Arctic Sweden (The Hot Tent)
Bushcraft in Arctic Sweden (The Hot Tent)
When you are camping outdoors in the colder winter months a top priority is maintaining your core temperature and keeping yourself warm. In my opinion There is no better way of doing this than using a heated tent. Of course the adventure you are on at the time will dictate the type of equipment you can carry and effectively use, but when the circumstances suit I know my first choice for cold weather camping would be the Hot tent
.(Photo by Jack Hendry, Stoking the stove in the hot tent high inside the Arctic circle in Sweden)
I visit Northern Sweden annually for winter trips, Sometimes this is running Arctic bushcraft courses and other times it may be to develop my own skill set and enjoy the pristine wilderness of the Boreal forest. There is no doubt that when you are in a cold environment like this the use of a hot tent or warm environment becomes an essential. The temperatures on average at this time of year, usually January, are around -20oc. The lowest I have experienced out here was a bone chilling, literally, -42oc. With temperatures this low keeping yourself warm and maintaining a healthy core temperature is truly vital, underestimating such an environment could be the last thing you ever do.
The use of a hot tent has its pros and cons as with all kit packed for adventures and expeditions. The positives far out way the negatives on this scale though. The biggest downfall for large canvas hot tents and stoves are the size and weight. This is obviously a problem if you have to carry it as the canvas on this tent alone is approximately 25kg. This tent really is designed for use in a snowy environment, and where there’s snow you can use pulks. If you have not heard of a pulk before a Pulk is a purpose made sled for transporting equipment and supplies often pulled by dogs or people.
A pulk is the perfect piece of kit for helping with logistics in this environment.
When it’s time to find camp and set up then you will need to consider a few important factors, The first things I am looking at is the ground. Is it flat, safe and comfortable to camp on. On this trip we were camped on the edge of a frozen lake so there was no issues about the site being flat or level. Was it safe though, camping in a heated tent on a frozen lake sounds like madness but in fact it was totally fine in these circumstances. The reasons why it was safe was due to the depth of the ice, on this lake at this time of year the ice is 500mm thick minimum, that will hold a weight of over 20 tonnes. We were also right on the edge of the lake where the water is only approximately 1 meter deep when not frozen, the risk was minimal. Before committing to any such action a thorough risk assessment must take place, a competent person must do this for you and your parties safety. Another option if you’re not on a lake like we were is to dig down to floor level. The problem with this is you are likely to uncover uneven surface and your digging a natural cold well in your living area. The best thing to do to form a solid base for your living area in deep snow is to put your snow shoes or skis on and trample the ground. If you do this in an area big enough to accommodate your tent and leave it for several hours, the floor will harden providing the temperatures are still sub zero through the sintering process, that’s the firming of snow.
(Photo by Jack Hendry, Turning the snow over and trampling it with snow shoes on will harden the snow and form a solid base.)
Once the ground is frozen and firm you can now think about erecting the tent. On this trip we had the luxury of staying in a nearby forest cabin. If you were truly self reliant then all of these time schedules need to be considered to avoid mishaps. Mistakes can be costly in this environment so forward planning certainly needs to happen.
(photo by Steve Clark, Assembling the flue pipe which acts as the center pole of this tent. You must be very cautious of handling any metals with bare skin in temperatures this low as your skin will freeze and stick to objects)
Because we were pitching a tent on a slab of ice, tent pegs were not going to be of much use. Ice screws can be used but we decided to make our own tent pegs and bore them into the ice using our ice pick. Holes were made slightly bigger than the diameter of the pegs and about 300mm deep into the ice, we then poured water in around the peg and they froze solid in position within the hour.
(Photo Jack Hendry, preparing the pegs for the tents guy lines. We anticipated allot of snow so the guy lines and anchor points had to be substantial. We made them over 300mm long and 50mm in width )
With the ground level and flat and pegs ready the tent can go up. Putting this tent up only takes about 10 mins but it’s certainly a two man job. When the tent is pitched we covered the floor inside in spruce boughs. Spruce boughs inside the tent help insulate you from the cold ground and also stop the heat from the stove when its lit from melting the snow and ice. The stove sits centrally in the tent and as we begin to move in and make it homely one of the first tasks is to stack the fire wood.
(Photo by Jack Hendry, Firewood stacked around the stove whilst setting up the tent)
The processing of the firewood takes place outside. The inside of a tent is no place for sawing and the splitting of firewood. I tend to keep all cutting tools away whilst inside the tent. When the stove is lit it begins to warm the surrounding firewood, doing this helps the wood dry and will improve how it burns. If firewood is placed inside the stove at atmospheric temperature, -30oc here it will use allot of the fires energy before it reaches its ignition point and begins to burn efficiently. With the stove burning and floor covered in spruce boughs the tent warms tremendously. When I head out into the Boreal forest I always take several thermometers this is a great example of where and when I will use them. Ill often place a thermometer inside the tent but away from direct contact with the stove. We often had a stable internal temperature of 25oc sometimes reaching up to 30oC. The outside ambient temperature is approximately -25oc to -30oc. This means there is a huge temperature difference of up to 60oC. This difference in temperature will take its toll on the body fast if you don’t keep on top of your clothing and layering system. It’s important to stay in a routine of donning and doffing layers as you enter and exit the hot tent.
Another Strong positive to using a hot tent is that you can air off your sleeping system and dry your clothing. If moisture gets into your sleeping system in this environment it can have dire circumstances. It’s nice to be able to open your sleeping bag up and air it off, warm it to the inside temperature of the tent before climbing in, Shuffling into a subzero temperature sleeping is not very comforting.
When the stove is on its only logical to make use of all of the heat transferred by it. I constantly melt snow for water when I can. It’s so important to keep hydrated in cold conditions=, especially Arctic cold conditions as you can dehydrate very quickly. Water will also be required for cooking. I often use dehydrated rations in these conditions, one because they are much lighter to transport and two because you’re never going to struggle for water .
(Photo Jack Hendry, Melting fresh snow on the stove for clean water)
As great as the Hot tent is for winter camping conditions they do come with some dangers. The Obvious danger is the fire risk. Make sure that there is a sufficient air gap between the stove and its surrounding firewood. Direct contact with the dry seasoned firewood could easily ignite your fuel supply. Along with the fire risk comes the chance of obtaining a serious burn. When the stove is on all parts of it will become seriously hot, the slightest touch will result in a nasty burn. One of the biggest things to avoid is using the flue pipe as a grab rail, especially if its dark or your climbing over kit in the middle of the night after a toilet visit. keeping a tidy well organised tent will reduce any chance of accident and injury. Another serious danger is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a gas produced from incomplete combustion that can be life threatening. What I do to prevent this is first of all consider the wind direction and speed. This needs to be done at the stage of positioning your shelter. Make sure your tent isn’t in a position where prevailing winds can blow the exhaust gases back down the stove and into your tent. I personally always like to leave a small gap in the door as a fresh air supply. I’d rather be cold than dead. Of course carbon monoxide alarms and detectors can also be used for safety as well. When settling down for the night you need to make the decision if you want to keep the stove going or not. If you do its good practice to take shifts. A two hour watch per person is a good time amount. Keeping the fire going certainly makes for a warm comfortable sleep and believe me if you let it go out your sleeping kit best be up for arctic conditions as it will soon become colder than the inside of a commercial freezer.
(Photo by Jack Hendry, The hot tent set up on the lakeside in Northern Sweden)
Overall the hot tent and winter camping experience in the Boreal forest is one that will be with you forever. It has a beauty that is pristine and unrivalled and will draw me back for years to come. If you get the opportunity to do it, go for it. Just remember the to take your time keep your wits about you and most of all stay warm .
If you would like to join us here and experience this trip we have dates available for 2023