What it’s like to go camping in below freezing weather + photos

This year I decided to go camping in the winter.
Christine Gilbert

  • I went camping in Texas last winter, and it was less glamorous than I expected.
  • Below freezing temperatures kept me awake at night, even with a heated mattress and electric blanket.
  • By my last night, I woke up already feverish from intense preparation.

Every two years since 2014, I have gone glamping in Marfa, a town in the West Texas high desert surrounded by mountains.

Glamping generally offers more amenities than regular camping and is wilder than traditional hotels. I love connecting with the environment by staying at El Cosmico Bedouin Camp & Hotel.

But this was my first time staying at a campsite during a cold month, which made me want to experience more of the camping side of the magic.

Using the 20% discount for stays of more than three nights, I booked a safari tent for four nights for $83 per night.

I was excited to go camping, but I was a little unprepared for the cold temperatures.

Although temperatures were high during the day, they are expected to drop.
Christine Gilbert

The El Cosmico website clearly states that temperatures in Marfa can drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit — below freezing — from November to March, but I didn’t check the weather until I arrived. Fortunately, I still pack long underwear and other warm clothes.

The temperature was supposed to be 70°F during the day but would drop below freezing at night for most of my trip.

El Cosmico has unique shelter options spread throughout its 21-acre grounds.

There are a variety of shelter options at El Cosmico.
Christine Gilbert

Most guests stay in tents or tents, which range from $90 to $250 per night. The cheapest option – self-camping – can cost as much as $30.

Those on a higher budget can stay in old trailers or a Cosmic Kasita (a small townhouse) for up to $430 per night.

Although some accommodation has a heater, the safari tent I stayed in is not allowed to have high-voltage items as a precaution.

I arrived and grabbed my wheelbarrow to transport my belongings.

Wheelbarrows were available to transport our luggage.
Christine Gilbert

I checked into the El Cosmico lobby, which had puffy sofas, a fireplace, and music playing in the background. There were also facial oils, ointments and herbal extracts for sale.

After checking in, guests can use the on-site wheelbarrows to transport their luggage to their shelter. Sometimes there are small dogs available for their towing.

My safari tent had a soft mattress and a heated mattress pad.

The safari tent was simple but contained the essentials.
Christine Gilbert

The tent’s canvas walls surround a queen bed on a wooden platform. The bed also comes with an adjustable mattress and a heater.

The bedding design is inspired by vintage mirages, giving the tent a cheerful feel with the striped colors of a desert sunset.

Night tables, lamps, and a small desk and chair provide the rest of the tent.

I had access to the outdoor and indoor bathrooms.

The outside bathroom even had a bathtub.
Christine Gilbert

I loved using the bathrooms at El Cosmico because they had free Dr. Bronner’s soap. One of the outdoor bathrooms has a private bathtub, allowing for lounging under the stars.

I usually take an Epsom salts shower after my seven-hour drive to the campsite, but it was so cold on this trip that I opted to use the indoor shower in the hallway. Thank goodness they were open 24/7 even though the lobby closed at 11pm

I asked the staff how to prepare for the coming cold, as temperatures were expected to drop below freezing that night.

My safari tent wouldn’t be warm enough on its own.
Christine Gilbert

The front desk clerk assured me that I could stay warm in my tent with electric blankets, which were available upon request.

She suggested I turn myself into a “hot sandwich” by turning on the mattress heater under me and placing the hot blanket on top of me.

I left to meet friends and asked her to leave an electric blanket in my tent.

Although the first night wasn’t the coldest, it was the worst.

I didn’t sleep well at all the first night.
Christine Gilbert

I used the en suite bathroom to get ready for bed at 10:30pm and headed back to my tent. The electric blanket was waiting for me, but the accessory that was plugged into the outlet was not.

The temperature dropped to 39°F, but since the staff had gone home for the night, I had to sleep without the blanket on. I put on my long underwear, turned on the heating pad, and placed my belongings at the foot of my bed to try to keep the cold air out.

The mattress pad took longer than I realized, but after finally falling asleep, I kept waking up because my face was so cold.

When I got out of bed in the morning, I immediately retrieved the extra blanket insert from a staff member in the lobby. I also wished I had packed better due to the weather.

After getting the facility, I confirmed my reservation for the Dutch Basin.

I was looking forward to taking a dip in the outdoor bathtub.
Christine Gilbert

I confirmed my reservation for the Dutch Bath — a wood-fired hot tub — that night, for which I paid $85 to pre-book.

I thought a long hot shower would be a good way to warm up before I went to sleep.

I’ve found that staying warm at El Cosmico depends on advance planning and a little creativity.

My friends and I wore beanie hats at the Dutch Basin.
Christine Gilbert

Before soaking, I turned on the mattress pad and electric blanket, giving them enough time to warm up.

My friends and I stayed in the tub as the temperature outside slowly began to drop to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

When I got out of the tub, I used the indoor bathroom to shower, then put on sweats to walk to my tent. I kept my belongings barricaded at the foot of my bed, and wrapped a flannel shirt around my face for warmth.

I slept well the second night but knew I needed a more solid plan for the third night.

People in the lobby were asking to switch from a tent to a trailer.
Christine Gilbert

The following night was forecast to be the coldest of the trip, with temperatures dropping to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

While I was in the lobby that morning, I saw several people going to the front desk and asking to move from a tent to a trailer. I didn’t try to upgrade because I was confident I would stay warm and be able to sleep well with what I had.

I felt ready for night three.

I was ready to brave the cold temperatures for the third time.
Christine Gilbert

That night, I started getting ready at 9pm, long before the temperature dropped. I turned on my blanket and mattress pad and took a shower in the en suite bathroom.

When I got back to my tent, I wrapped my face in my shirt again and fell asleep.

I woke up to a frozen water bottle and ice chips in the sink.

My water bottle froze all night.
Christine Gilbert

My face wasn’t cold at all thanks to my flannel shirt, but my water bottle — which was only a foot away — froze while I slept.

When I got up and walked into the hallway, I noticed icicles coming out of the outside bathroom faucets.

On my last night, the temperature dropped to just 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

By my last night of camping, I had finished my routine.
Christine Gilbert

By the last night of my stay, I knew exactly what to do: heat up my bed, shower in the en suite bathrooms, sit by the fireplace, wrap my face in my shirt, and put on my long underwear.

I ended up waking up that night, but only because I was so hot.

If I go camping in the winter again, I might consider booking warm accommodations.

I will definitely return to El Cosmico for another camping experience.
Christine Gilbert

I will definitely return to El Cosmico for another camping trip. After all, part of my difficult experience was because I didn’t prepare for the weather as well as I could.

If I returned in the winter, I would probably stay in one of the accommodations with a fireplace – although I kind of enjoyed being treated to it in style.

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