The joys of winter camping on Ben Nevis
There are many who thought the G-Force and I were truly bonkers as we laid plans to camp on Ben Nevis on January 2. When I saw the weather forecast for gale force winds and torrential rain that day I almost agreed. But then we had a wee chat. We had all the right kit, we would be camping close to the car and we really wanted an exciting adventure. So we went ahead – and I am pleased we did.
The plan for camping on Ben Nevis
We have the mountaineering guide Mike Pescod to thank for the opportunity to camp overnight at 300m on the UK’s tallest mountain. We were booked to go out for the day with Mike on January 3 for a winter skills course and he gave us access to the upper car park in Leanachan Forest so we could start our adventure the night before.
Our car, a Volvo XC90, made accessing the car park on a bumpy off-road trail “like driving an ordinary car on tarmac”. The G-Force lavished more praise on this fantastic seven-seat SUV (loaned to us by Volvo for the outdoors trip):
- “It just seems to float over the bumps.”
- “I hardly even need to drive the car because it just wants to take itself uphill.”
- “There is so much space inside I can hardly see the tent because of all the other kit we’ve brought with us!”
The tent we had packed was the Force Ten Spindrift 300 designed for the “most volatile of conditions” and a Force Ten Endurance 1300 sleeping bag for temperatures as low as -45°C. We were keen to test both of these items, which might have explained why we were happy to brave the weather, rather than book into a B&B or youth hostel.
Sleeping through heavy rain and 100mph winds
I am not sure how much sleep we had. I think perhaps we nodded off in the early hours of the morning when the wind died down a little, or when we became so tired that we could sleep despite the noise of the wind and rain. We did awake with a start at 8.20am, giving ourselves only 10 mins to get ready for the arrival of Mike, the owner of of Abacus Mountaineering and Guiding, which means we must have had some sleep.
For much of the night we listened with beating hearts to the wind as it built up and swirled along the valley, eventually arriving at our camping spot in noisy and high-speed rumbling style blasts. In between the wind gusts, the torrential rain pelted the outside of the tent, banging a loud, insistent and repetitive drum beat. It was scary, but exhilarating at the same time.
But we really can’t blame the lack of sleep on our choice of tent and sleeping bag.
Force Ten Spindrift 300 tent
What was impressive was how well the Force Ten Spindrift 300 tent coped in the weather. The geodesic design makes for an extremely robust and stable construction. We erected the tent with relative ease (the poles are colour coded and it boasts all-in-one pitching) and then added extra high wind security by placing rocks and boulders along the outer edge (on the snow valances) and all around the guy lines and pegs.
With winds blasting our camping spot for hours on end over night, we were grateful to see that the tent hardly moved at all.
The fabric – Protex® 5000mm SPU ripstop polyester 40D – also did a great job of keeping out very heavy and sustained rain.
The front porch is big enough to serve as a cooking and storage area while there is extra storage room in the smaller back porch. We chose the three-man tent so we would have lots of storage and living room for longer adventures.
This is a tent aimed at people who want to enjoy mountain expeditions or Arctic explorations and having spent the night inside – and in extreme weather – I would now confidently recommend it. The price is £540, which seems reasonable and while the tent is not the lightest of its type, weighing 5.85kg, you gain a piece of kit you can rely on being a long-term favourite.
Check out other Force Ten expedition tents.
Force Ten Expedition 1300 sleeping bag
I get cold. In fact, I end up very cold, very quickly and especially in a Scottish winter. The only previous time that I have camped out in freezing conditions I shivered all night long and did not sleep. I knew that if I was to cope with an overnight camping adventure on Ben Nevis in winter I would need a very warm sleeping bag.
The Force Ten Endurance 1300 promises to keep sleepers warm even when temperatures drop as low as -45°C. The label says: “A carefully designed combination of vertical, trapezoidal and chevron baffles keep the Endurance’s 95/5 goose down insulation where it works best. Additional layers of Insulite® Aero synthetic insulation at the head, chest and foot cover key areas of the body in case the bag becomes wet.”
In this bag, on a wintry night on Ben Nevis, I stayed very warm. Very warm indeed. In fact, I have never felt so warm and cosy during a camping trip ever before.
The Force Ten Endurance 1300 sleeping bag comes with a somewhat hefty price tag of £550 and it’s not the most packable of bags if you plan to walk with it in your rucksack. This is, however, an amazingly lightweight and seriously warm bag and it’s meant for extreme adventures.
If you like the idea of winter camping adventures I’d recommend one of the Force Ten Expedition bags. There are lighter and cheaper bags that will offer almost as much warmth. Another good option could be the Force Ten Catalyst 400.
Check out other Force Ten expedition sleeping bags.
What I liked about camping on Ben Nevis
Thanks to good kit and the great company of the G-Force, the night out under the stars (the stars were out earlier in the evening) the camping night on Ben Nevis was a great success and really rewarding.
I loved the thought that we were likely to be the only people camping on the UK’s tallest mountain that night.
I enjoyed “surviving” in challenging weather (even if our car was never far away and it was only for one night).
I liked the discovery of a good tent and sleeping bag that did as they said they would on the label.
I reckon the wine (heated up on the stove to bring it to the “right temperature”) and the breakfast coffee tasted so much better simply because we were enjoying an outdoors adventure.
I know now that I can cope in all kinds of camping conditions and that camping in summer, even when the weather is horrible, will seem like a walk in the park in the future.