How to stay warm- Hammock camping and Cold water surfing.

January 24, 2018 2 Comments

How to stay warm- Hammock camping and Cold water surfing.

Meet our next guest blogger Nathan, he is our kind of surfer. We say our kind because he is crazy enough to enjoy surfing in ice cold water, during winter. He also has some great tips and tricks to share with you if you want to stay warm during an icy overnighter

(in a hammock off- course), after you have drenched yourself in a centrifugal freezer. Oh, and I dare you to try his tea recipe further down in the blog, if you think you can handle a spicy hot brew. It really does wonders to heat you up from inside. Take my word for it- Didrik @ Team Amok.


How to stay warm- Hammock camping and cold water surfing

Text: Nathan Carter / Photos: Dave Burns


The sensation of travelling on top of and occasionally within moving water keep us coming back time after time, session after session. Time seems to slow down, particularly when entering that holiest of grails, the tuberide. Sublime exhilaration and time slowing down aside, to be a surfer in any country that doesn’t enjoy the phenomenon of the “Endless Summer”,

you will experience cold water surfing. Improvements in wetsuit technology over recent years has enabled us to pursue locations that were once off limits and we are seeing fantastic imagery coming out of the coldest areas on Earth. Iceland, Russia, Norway, Ireland and Canada are now bona fide surfing locales with hardy souls riding waves beneath snow capped peaks at ice-covered beaches.

Cold water Surfing

I have been a cold-water surfer for the past 20 years. I grew up in Cornwall and the majority of our swells occur during the cold months. I have also spent a fair amount of time in Ireland during the cooler periods. Another of my lifelong passions is spending time in the great outdoors, camping with hammocks and tarpaulins. I genuinely believe that time spent outdoors enables me to re-establish some primal, fundamental aspects of being a human being.

I live for that feeling of successfully establishing shelter, water, fire and food and overcoming hostile weather scenarios. Sitting around the campfire with the Dutch Oven bubbling away is my escapism from this crazy world we live in. It was only a matter of time before these two passions intertwined and for several years now I have taken great pleasure in hiking into remote surfing locations with my surfing gear and my Amok set up to enjoy the very best of both pastimes.

My gear setup

When I started to use my Amok Equipment, it solved any issues I had with the quality of my kit letting me down. The confidence I gained from knowing that my gear could provide me with comfort and protection in the toughest of environments enabled me to focus on other elements to improve the experience. From the outset I was blown away by just how quickly I could have a shelter

established, with the revolutionary suspension system that Amok have developed. No more fussing with tree huggers, whoopie slings and ridge lines. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the number of times I faced an issue setting up one of the old school hammock systems, just as the heavens open and myself and my kit gets soaked through. There is nothing worse than a soggy down-filled quilt!

I have been fortunate to team up with Amok and Finisterre. I believe that Amok delivers the  best hammock set up in Draumr. Finisterre wetsuits for cold water are without doubt the best wetsuit for battling against the cold Atlantic Ocean.

Additionally, I use their Primaloft gear and their base layers to get my core temperature up and keep me warm between surfing sessions! If you are looking for an ethically sound, technical clothing/equipment company check them out here.

How I set up my Hammock

As I mentioned earlier the transition from dry land to ocean and back to dry land often involves exposure to hostile elements and it is usually during these phases that you can cause yourself unnecessary problems. Preparation is the key to success here and I cannot stress enough just how much a small amount of pre-planning and effort can help the predicament. I always take two Amok tarps with me and when initially establishing camp I focus on getting a tarp set up asap.

This creates an immediate shelter and an area to get the rest of the kit safely stored. It also later becomes a multi-purpose area which I will discuss further in a little while. I can then quickly establish the second tarp and the hammock. I equip the hammock with a lightweight fleece under-blanket and a handmade down quilt. I choose a quilt over a sleeping bag for a couple of reasons; first, I trust the Exped Synmat to insulate me from underneath and don’t feel like I require the extra coverage (bulk and weight) that a sleeping bag gives.

Secondly, I find the logistics of entering the hammock and pulling over a quilt decidedly easier than wriggling into a bag. I will then add my inflatable pillow, my quilted hat and boots, a book, a bottle full of water, an empty bottle (can you guess what for?) and hang a small lantern from the ridgeline.

Essentially, I equip everything I need to hop into the hammock and enjoy a warm, comfortable and dry night’s sleep. I also forgot to mention that I always tie a small length of cord on the sections of hammock suspension straps under the tarp to act as a run off point for water, just in case it rains. I always do this as it is so quick and easy and even if it doesn’t rain it is a good habit to get into!

Gather enough Firewood and water

My next focus is water. Generally I carry three litres, but I also have my Lifestraw Filter to make sure I have a consistent source of quality water at hand.

Next up is gathering fire wood. I aim to collect as much dry wood as available. This is where the second tarp comes in handy, as it provides shelter for the wood and this prevents further dampening.

Keeping warm

In the early stages of my camping/surfing experiences I realised that the key component to enjoying the whole ordeal is to place my body in a state that increases my chances of remaining warm. Despite exposing myself to wet and cold. A campfire, my Draumr hammock and the wetsuit will not be enough without heat from the body. If the body heat drops so does the warming effect of the

wetsuit, and your session is basically over. The reason most surfers suffer from numb hands and feet, is due to reduction in body temperature, causing the body to prioritize internal organs. This is a scenario that you do not want to take back to camp, because you need your hands to perform important tasks like fire lighting and cooking. Try lighting a fire with cold hands and you will get my point.

Fuelling the fire

When I started to understand how I could turn up my body thermogenesis and maximise the effect of the incredible equipment I have at my disposal. It became obvious that the right food was key. Thermogenesis, basically means heat production in warm blooded animals. When we eat, our body burns calories to digest the food, and creates heat,

resulting in a temporary increase in body temperature. In other words we turn up the thermostat. It is widely accepted that certain foods carry a higher Thermogenic value, and I believe that consuming the foods (described in the bottom) has a positive effect on the level of comfort in cold environments (e.g. North Atlantic surf zones).

Cast Iron

I am massive fan of cast iron campfire cooking. Downside is the wight but given the chance I will bring my small pot. I usually prepare some Pearl Barley, beef/pork/lamb and a bit of stock to boost my thermogenesis after a successful session surfing

I would love to share a some of my recipes/experiences with you in the future. Feel free to reach out to me, I would be honoured if you would share some of your ideas and recipes with me through my Instagram here.

What I eat to boost thermogenesis

When camp is established I grab some cabbage, kale, broccoli and sprouts and lightly steam them. Followed by a good sprinkle of cayenne and pre-cooked brown rice makes for a perfect pre-surf snack. Then I boil up a mixture of hot water, crushed and sliced ginger, chunks of lemon and a small amount of cayenne or a few slices of chilli. I pour a small cup and save the rest for later, before I change into my wetsuit. At this point the tea has cooled enough to drink and I follow it with a teaspoon of homemade coconut oil peanut butter, before I hit the surf.


Even tough this boosts the quality of the session we are entering an environment that inevitably will cause numbness in hands and feet. This is when the preparation pays dividends. Immediately post surf I find a cup of the ginger tea, this helps with circulation to the extremities while I light the fire. Additionally, I remain in my wetsuit until the fire has taken hold before I get rid of the wetsuit, and put on dry technical layers. What I have mentioned are personal preferences, but I have found they work well for me. I urge you to try a couple of my ideas to see if they may benefit your cold-water experience, or icy overnighter.



Higly Thermogenic Foods

  • Cayenne Pepper: The chemical within the inner membranes, capsaicin, creates an effect during the digestive process that really stokes the furnace. It is also suggested that other hot chillies may have the same effect.
  • Coconut oil: It is commonly regarded that this oil contains fats which are broken down by the body and converted into energy, rather than just being stored in fat cells. This process really does turn up your core temperature.
  • Peanuts: High in niacin (vitamin B3), peanuts are also considered a warming food due to their ability to increase blood circulation and speed up the metabolism.
  • Brown rice: Carbohydrates don’t come much more complex than those in Brown Rice. These carbs take a long time for your body to digest when compared to the simple carbohydrates that seem to plague the western diet. Since brown rice and other whole grain sources like quinoa are slowly metabolised, they ensure that the furnace burns for longer. Please go for the labour-intensive method of washing, boiling, washing rather than the two-minute microwave version.
  • Fresh ginger: In my opinion everyone should eat ginger all year round. You only must look at the prevalence of ginger as an ingredient in so many old remedies to realise that the health benefits are considerable. I do like to cook with the stuff but mostly I’m all about the raw, crushed, grated, sliced, however you like but throw a good bit of ginger in some hot water, steep for a few minutes and experience the pinnacle of Thermogenesis. I really like to get the skin in the brew as well but that’s personal preference. If you’re feeling brave you could always chew on the bits left in the bottom of the cup for a real kick up the backside.
  • Cruciferous Vegetables: This fascinating group contains Arugula, Bok choy, Broccoli Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chinese Cabbage, Greens, Radish, Horseradish, Kale Cress, Mustard Greens, Turnip and Watercress. I would need an entirely different article to list the incredible benefits of these veggies and another one to even begin to discuss the benefits of the high Phytonutrient content (read Cancer prevention...) but for the sake of this discussion let us consider that amongst the myriad health benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables is the fact that they have a profound Thermogenic effect on our body systems. Note: isn’t it interesting that several of the veggies listed above are the ones that our parents used to have to force/bribe us to eat... Now we are tripping over ourselves to find good, organic sources of Kale, Greens and Brussel Sprouts.
  • Cold water: Seriously! Cold water will help us stay warm! We know we need to drink plenty of water every day and it’s obvious that surfing dehydrated is going to have a detrimental effect on performance. However, I also find that drinking a cup of cold water is a great way to turn up the thermostat pre-surf. The reaction of the body when very cold water is introduced internally is to heat the stuff up as quickly as possible and the body races to increase the temperature. I like to squirt a bit of lemon juice into mine along with a teaspoon of natural electrolytes and a bit of zest just to increase the hydrating, alkalizing, detoxifying properties.


I have found that although each of the above-mentioned foods increase Thermogenesis,  the true benefits are derived from combining them in a structured way in order to really reap the rewards and improve the cold-water surfing/camping experience.

2 Responses

Nigel William
Nigel William

April 01, 2018

Hi, Nathan! This is an amazing article! You provided so many useful tips while explaining your routine. I`m impressed with your knowledge about food and all of the nutrition that one surfer needs, especially in a cold environment. I was wondering, what do you think is the most common mistake new surfers make in these conditions?


February 03, 2018

Hey there surfer!
First, I have to say I’ve always wanted to learn surfing since I was a kid. It’s still on my bucket list, I think I should cross it off soon.
I have learned so much on this post…you wouldn’t believe it. For instance, I didn’t know you could survive with a hammock for long in such conditions. I had always thought they are only used for camping and hiking you know. And greatest lesson of all, cold water can keep us warm! It’s so hard to believe but your explanation is convincing enough. Next time, I’m in my hammock cold and freezing, I’ll take some cold water, see how it goes.
Like you, I write about hammocks too on my blog ..check it out and tell me what you think. Thanks!

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