IT’S January, it’s cold, the nights are long and they’re very dark; so why would anyone choose to spend the evening sleeping in a tent in their back garden?
Well, thanks in part to encouragement (or was it an order?) from adventurer Alastair Humphreys and my own bravery/stupidity that’s exactly what I did last Saturday.
It all started five days earlier with Alastair’s first bit of email marketing for 2015 which stated: “The big blog project for the year is Your Year of Microadventure – are you up for trying just one night out in the wild each month?”
January was sold to me as “start small”: It’s cold and dark; it would be easy to not even bother to begin. Sleep outdoors just one night, even in the garden. A snowy night is perfect for this.
I tweeted the image from the email link while casually mentioning that I was running out of time for January’s microadventure, and that my garden was on a slope (and if there’s one thing that I’m not keen on when spending a night under canvas it’s not being flat!).
— Richard Hamer (@RichardHamer) January 27, 2015
An hour later Alastair responded to my tweet stating very simply: “Do it!” Not what I really wanted to hear but I had nothing planned for Saturday, the weather was looking decent (cold and not much wind) although I knew there’d be some snow left on the ground from that day’s fall.
So why not do it, after all I’d camped in much colder weather? I also realised that part of my lawn was actually flat so I didn’t really have much of an excuse, and it would also be a good opportunity to test a few bits of equipment that I rarely used in very cold conditions.
At 9pm that evening I left the warmth of the house and put up my Terra Nova Laser Competition 1 tent, which I’d bought early last year and had only used in temperatures of double figures.
What I had found when I’d used the tent was that my Therm-a-Rest mattress moved rather too easily on the groundsheet which is made of a nylon coated silicon, and it didn’t take much for the mat to move from beneath me or down the tent; so underneath it went which, I guessed, would also help extend the life of the groundsheet.
In the tent went my Mountain Equipment Starlight 1 sleeping bag; again, something I’d not used in cold weather, and my battered old travel pillow.
And then it was back into the house for a couple of hours and a measure or two of a 10-year-old Aberlour whisky.
Two hours later it was time for bed; so kitted out in thermals (Terramar top and Trek Mates long johns), a Berghaus fleece top and Mountain Equipment fleece trousers (which don’t seem to be made any more, a big shame) I made the short walk across the garden and crawled inside my tent and into my sleeping bag.
The plan was to sleep in just my thermals but with it being a one-man tent it seemed easier to just leave my clothes on on than struggle in the small space.
I also had a hat and a pair of gloves in case the temperature really dipped overnight, plus a digital thermometer so satisfy my curiosity as to how low the mercury would fall.
I was very snug and it was immediately obvious that the mattress under the groundsheet was a great idea.
I woke at 1am nice and warm, and drifted back to sleep until 4am when I awoke again but feeling a little bit cold in the middle of my back (I sleep face down).
If I hadn’t been in my back garden I’d have had a coat with me to put on for a bit of extra warmth, but I didn’t; and because I was planning on going running in later that morning I decided to go to my real bed to grab a few hours of quality sleep.
When I’m camping I rarely sleep solidly and I had spent most of the night outside so off I trotted to into the house.
What I learnt was that my ultralight tent is just as good in the cold as my Vaude Taurus 2, and that in future the mattress will go under the tent and that the pegs that came with the Terra Nova are pretty useless; I was warned when I bought it and I’ve lost a couple each time I’ve used it so from now on I’ll take my Vaude ones with me.
I also learnt that despite me being a bit chilly (it got down to one degrees), my Starlight 1 bag really is a great piece of kit.
Mission accomplished! Although I’m not certain I can manage this month’s microadventure: Climb a hill, watch shooting stars, see the sunrise blaze across the sky.