Sleeping in a tent in minus 50

My old Siberian pal Johan Ivarsson is slogging his way through the Skeleton Coast in Namibia with a group of people and I am preparing to sleep in a new tent for a couple of weeks, and that made me think this morning about the joys of sleeping in a tent. I have spent more than 2500 nights in a tent and I sleep better there than any other place on earth. However, it is a long time since I last time slept in a tent. Climbing Jebel Shams in Oman with Pamela back in 2009. And than, of course, I started becoming reminiscent regarding all the shivering and pain of sleeping in a tent during the Siberian Expedition. This is what Johan wrote one night when it was -43 below:

Johan Ivarsson at the pen:

Me and Mikael woke up at 4 am this morning and we could both feel the body aching with pain and tiredness. We then took the decission to stay at this abandoned hut and take a day of well needed rest. N 66°18´52,0 and E 151°46´34,7. Only -35°C today but snowy and bad visibility, light but cold wind from south.

´´I think we might have a problem!´´
I hear a touch of stress in Mikaels voice from inside the tent,
´´The stove´s dead!´´

I´ve always thought that sleeping for a long time in a tent when the temperature is as low as -43°F would be impossible. But I´ve proved myself wrong! It´s not as bad as I imagined. At least not once you get inside the tent and get the stove going. But there´s always some moments of stress before that happens, since it is not that easy to get the stove warm enough to ignite. So far, though, it have eventually worked out.

There´s always a lot of stress involved while the stove is running, to get everything else sorted out. So that the only thing you have to do once the stove is turned off, is as quick as possible, get inside the warm and cozy sleeping bag! It is important, though, not to get to wired up, since it is dead easy to make a nasty mistake, like burning a hole in the sleeping bag on the stove, or like I did the other night, tip a pot over and pour a liter of water all over myself and the sleeping mattress. A mistake like that can cause big problems.

One other problem in sleeping outdoors in low temperatures like these, is the huge amount of condensation that occurs. Snow together with your own body warmth and bathing, melts and makes everything wet. Sometimes it´s so foggy inside that it is impossible to see each other! Condensation is also a major problem regarding all technical equipment.

First thing we do once we´re inside the tent, is to melt some snow and boil it for a cup of coffee. It´s vital to get something hot inside the body to keep it warm. Then we melt more snow for dinner, a packet of dried food and one piece of whole grain bread each. Finally we melt additional snow for two cups of tea each before we go to sleep.

It stays warm inside the tent as long as the stove is running, but as quick as we open the zipper to fetch more snow, it gets immediately cold again. Also, it doesn´t take long before it is freezing cold again once the stove is turned off. On top of that, it´s not unusual that the stove stops working once or twice during the cooking, since the bad quality petrol that can be found here, has clogged it up totally. (Best quality is only 72 octane!)


To get inside the sleeping bag is not as easy as it sounds, not when you have to bring three pairs of wet mittens, an icy and wet facemask, two pairs of socks, a small palm computer and then finally the headlamp with it´s big poach loaded with batteries. First one has to get inside the inner fleece bag, where all the things I mentioned before also goes, then into the down bag itself. Hopefully by this time, one has succeeded well enough to make it possible to zip up. Then after 30 minutes or so, when one finally has gotten everything in place, I always have to get up again to empty a full bladder. This is a quite simple operation, though, since we have a bottle with us that makes it possible to pee inside the sleeping bag. But I still have to get up on my knees, which causes everything inside the bag to fall out and I have to start all over again when I´m done!

And every single time during the night, when one has to get up, or when moving about too much, the face gets wet and cold from snowflakes, caused by the condensation from breathing that have frozen like a pillar on the ceiling of the tent.

We wake up at 6 am every morning, in the dark, to start the day. The roof of the tent is then totally covered with snow and ice crust, hanging down in different shapes. It´s the same procedure as during the evening, first light the stove to melt snow, which will immediately cause a light rain to fall from the ceiling. After that, find all equipment dried overnight inside the sleeping bag and then quickly get dressed.

The breakfast consists of a big portion of porridge with raisins (250 grams each) and two pieces of whole grain bread. We also have to prepare our thermoses with noodle soup for lunch, eaten a few hours later, standing up, freezing, together with two frozen pieces of bread each. This is hard work for the old teeth!

The only thing left to do after finishing two hours of breakfast, is to pack everything together, get the ski-boots on and head out for another day of struggle and enjoyment in the coldest inhabited place on earth- Siberia!

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