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Tips for Alpine Camping

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Bivvying or camping in winter is a skill that takes practice and well thought out gear. For longer more remote climbs, it's important to be able to recover well each night between multiple days of climbing. Here are a selection of tips and ideas about how to improve your alpine camping experience.


Sleeping bag
  1. While down sleeping bags have better warmth to weight ratio, they are prone to becoming wet and losing their warmth after successive nights.

  2. Synthetic is more bulky but more reliable when wet. Typically we prefer down sleeping bags with treated down fill, and employ other techniques to keep the bag dry.

  3. Quilt-style sleeping bags (or sharing a sleeping bag) is very weight efficient. For example, the Macpac NZAT summer quilt (750g) is warm enough for at least a couple of nights with 2-3 people.

  4. Spooning/cuddling your climbing partner makes a huge difference with shared warmth – don’t be shy!

  5. Shift some of your down weight from your sleeping bag to your down jacket. Carrying a warmer down jacket like the Macpac Arrowsmith means you can take a lighter sleeping bag, as you can wear the down jacket during the day as well as at night.

Insulation from the ground
  1. Personal preference may determine your choice between an inflatable air mattress or a foam mat. Air mattresses provide good insulation and comfort, but their disadvantages are reliability (can get punctured), extra setup/pack-down time, and it can make it difficult to get close enough to your sleeping partner for adequate heat transfer.

  2. We like the combination of a half-length Thermarest Z-lite Sol foam matt (7 panels per person), which covers torso length for most people, with the foam insert from the Macpac NZAT 40L Pursuit pack. These are arranged on top of flaked ropes which line the floor.

Tent / bivvy bag
  1. For alpine climbing, single skin tents are great due to their low weight, and minimal ground area, allowing them to be set up on small ledges in alpine terrain. They tend to be strong and self-standing. Anchor the four corners into the ground with four ice axes or equivalent. The downside of single skin tents are that they are less waterproof, if you happen to be caught in the rain, hence their use in colder climates.

  2. Ventilation can be an issue, so ensure that you allow enough airflow through the vents. Respiration of two people can create a lot of condensation on the tent inner walls which may result in gear becoming damp.

  3. Some climbers prefer bivvy bags due to their simplicity and light weight. Two bivvy bags weigh approximately 1kg compared with a single skin tent 1.3-1.5kg. In winter it can be challenging to keep gear dry after multiple nights if using bivvy bags, in which case a tent can be more comfortable and worth the extra weight.


  1. It is important to take more than enough gas – it is one thing you don't want to be rationing. As a rule of thumb, 1 medium gas can will last 1 person 4 nights of melting snow and boiling water.

  2. Try to insulate gas canisters from the snow when cooking. When gas cools down, pressure reduces, making the heat output slower. Keep the spare cannister warm in clothing or sleeping bag, especially overnight.

  3. A lightweight thermos such as the Thermos Ultimate Flask is often worth the extra weight – Having hot water in the morning and not needing to brew up saves a lot of time and gas.

  4. Hot water bottles – if you're struggling to stay warm enough to actually stay asleep, a 500ml drink bottle with hot water inside your layers of clothing makes a huge difference.

  5. Put hot water in a 500ml drink bottle and then put it into cold boots in the morning to thaw them out. Alternate the bottle between the boots to let moisture escape.

  6. A Jetboil-type stove is the obvious choice for alpine camping, with the pot connecting to the gas stove with efficient heat exchange rings. This type of cooker is generally more efficient, especially in windy conditions, stable, and the combined gas cannister, stove and pot can be easily held without worrying of spillage.

  7. Melt snow just outside the tent to keep steam moisture and snow from inside the tent.

  8. Shovel out a depression at the tent entrance so that you can sit inside the tent with feet (boots) outside the tent. This depression also shelters the cooker from wind.

  9. Use a drink bottle as a snow scooper for melting snow.

  10. It is possible to boil water inside the tent, but beware of introducing too much moisture into the tent, this will make your clothing & sleeping bag wet – ensure you have enough ventilation.

  11. Have at least 1.5L per person water carrying capacity and fill these the night before for an efficient morning brewup. Melting snow in the morning is slower due to colder temps and will delay your alpine start.


  1. You NEED hot drinks! Soup sachets, GU electrolyte tabs , hot chocolate, chai drink mix. These options contain salt and calories as well as staying on top of hydration and warmth.

  2. Avoid caffeine at night (black tea) as this is dehydrating. Herbal teas are not as hydrating due to not having any salt.

  3. Drink hot drinks from a 500ml drink bottle – a full bottle of tea or coffee in the morning is enough to be shared between two, then follow it up with a hot electrolyte drink to start the day super hydrated.

  4. Keep meals simple – carry dehydrated meals in a foil sachet, just add hot water – i.e. Radix Nutrition Ultra Meals. Keep one sachet for breakfasts, pour in muesli or porridge oats and hot water for a warm filling breakfast.

General Tips

  1. Be organised – develop an efficient system for your evening and morning routine.

  2. Put any wet gear (gloves, socks) between your layers to help dry them out overnight.

  3. Bring a spare dry pair of light socks to help dry your feet. If your boot socks are not too wet, you can wear them over the dry pair to help them dry out overnight. Alternately if they are too wet, put them in between your thermal leggings and shell pants, or underneath your leggings. This will keep the stench further from your nostrils and out of your torso layers.

  4. Consider bringing a separate pee bottle if you are expecting to be camping in a snow cave or tent during stormy weather to minimise having to leave the tent. If you are prone to peeing during the night, a pee bottle can make the arduous task slightly more pleasant. Just be careful to avoid to notorious Golden Shower.

  5. Clear the snow & ice off your boots and store them in the corner of the tent. Bottom of sleeping bag is great if you have enough space. It's hard to warm up in a sleeping bag if you start out cold – have hot drinks, dig out your campsite, do something that keeps you warm right until you get inside.

  6. I've heard a myth a few times that you stay warmer wearing less clothes. I disagree – wear them all! If you’re too warm with all your clothes on then you could have taken a lighter sleeping bag.

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