The seasons have turned once again and the woodlands are a riot of flame colours and autumnal bounty. At this time of year I find my thoughts turn towards misty atmospheric mornings, crisp days bright with frost, and chill nights filled with cold stars, and more excuses for hot chocolate! But they also turn towards preparing for larping over the winter, so I would like to share with you my thoughts on how to stay safe during these colder months and how to get the most out of your hobby!
It’s a chilly day, breath steaming before you as you pick your way across the rough ground. Ice crunches underfoot, the stones of the pathway are slippery with frost and the way ahead is clouded with fog. You have many miles to go, but you don’t care because you’ve come prepared for the cold. But you’re not out climbing mountains, you’re off larping!
In the summer it’s relatively easy to forget that your hobby is actually an form of outdoor sport rather than just a jaunt through the woods. But when winter comes we all need to think about how we prepare ourselves for the day, from facing the elements to looking after our own health. Slapping on a light shirt, some armour and bringing along a sandwich for lunch might be alright for most of us in the summer, but even the hardiest larper can suffer as temperatures drop over the shortening days. Now, I’m not suggesting we all furtively watch the weather forecast, or squint at the clouds to judge visibility like we might if we were all going off up a mountain, but we should consider the fact that we’re going to be outdoors for an extended period of time in temperatures that could be hovering around freezing. However if you are larping in mountainous regions you should watch the conditions around you and consider things like sunset times, any alerts from the Mountain Rescue Teams or similar.
Keeping Warm over the Winter
The fundamentals of keeping warm over the winter is to be prepared – I’m not talking about Scouts level of preparedness (with umpteen things for all possibilities) but thinking about the weather you are likely to face – either from experience or through paying attention to weather reports of the weekend – allows you to pack a little extra and be ready for most larp scenarios.
Layers are key for much winter kit – be it layering up out-of-character layers under your gear with t-shirts or thermals or even wearing a coat under your main costume; through to wearing cloaks and hats and gloves that work with your character kit – this is no ‘right’ way to do this. I include below a list of layers that I think are important when larping in the winter that should be easy to find without breaking the bank, especially since much of them will be around the house anyway!
Base layers are the layers worn close to the skin. Ideally they should be natural fibres to help wick away sweat but a t shirt or thermal top lying next to the skin can be just as good in the winter. Yes you’re going to sweat and it could get nasty if you’re running around in lots of armour, but that’s a rare thing. I find wearing a long sleeved thermal top with a high neck with a t shirt under/over it helps keep my core warm. Personal preference is to keep my body warm so I rarely wear thermals under my trousers unless I know it’s going to be cold or I’m going to be out all night. Instead of thermal leggings tights also help keep a layer of air against your skin. If you want to plan period kit layers, wear a loose chemise or shirt under your normal layers, or even a couple if you’re prone to catching a chill.
Don’t forget to wear chunky socks to keep your feet warm. I find nothing worse than having cold feet when out larping, especially during winter and have been told that Sealskins are a pretty good investment.
At this point I shift from out-of-character layers to in-character layers. I always wear a shirt or shift as my characters, coupled with a tunic if monstering. This would be your standard base layer of your summer kit which can either hide your out-of-character layers or just blend the edges.
I include a link to an article on layering kit and treating your costume as clothing, which might help develop your winter kit.
My current character has a coat she wears under her armour when it gets chilly, forming another layer to trap air in before you put your armour on. Coats / jackets / robes are functional and can be worn under your usual belts and bags that you need to access in a hurry. You should also have a sturdy pair of shoes or boots with a decent amount of tread in the sole. In winter, conditions underfoot are going to be soggy and muddy and you’re more likely to twist ankles than in the summer. Having a sturdy pair of boots that support your ankles are a sensible investment – be they walking boots or combats or similar.
Belts and bags
Wear these over the other layers but under your outer layers for accessibility at speed. Consider that you will be looking for things with gloved fingers, so fiddly fastenings are likely to remain undone or unsecured if you are rushing. If you can switch some pouches out or use a bag instead it might be wise – or be willing to remove your gloves to access your gear.
I split this out as a separate layer as this includes things like hats, gloves, scarves and layers that can be put on / taken off as needed. Packing a blanket into the car won’t take up a huge amount of space and can be quickly turned into a cloak should the weather prove to be bracing (or blummin’ freezing) as you turn up on to the site. Here is a link to turning a blanket into a cloak with the help of a brooch, some paracord and a belt.
Hats can be as simple as a beanie or a Buff-like headscarf, or something extravagant like the fluffy Russian style hats with ear-flaps. Whatever suits your character! Hoods can also help keep warmth trapped around your face, and there is a lovely Viking style hood tutorial that I love to use at the moment (warning, it is in Swedish but the instructions are fairly simple once translated through Microsoft/Bing translate). I find that I always need the tips of my fingers available when fiddling with pouches, so usually choose fingerless gloves or arm-warmers over proper gloves; however if you do struggle with cold fingers you can get the best of both worlds with a combi-glove-mitten with the flaps you pin back when needing to use your fingers.
Ideally cloaks / coats / skirts / robes should be worn to a length above the floor (about ankle high or to the tops of your boots) to minimise the amount of moisture / mud you pick up as you generally walk around. Trailing gowns and things may look fabulous in formal settings indoors but when out in the woods they’re just not practical for winter conditions. If your standard kit can’t be replaced with a shorter garment I would suggest looking for skirt lifters (a loop of leather with a hoop or metal ring at one end) that go on your belt and can be used to ‘bustle’ or lift your skirts / robe out of the wet.
As an aside – just because its cold when you get there does not mean you’re going to remain cold when larping. Consider also that as a player you’ll be moving around more than when you’re a monster, so factor winter warmth into your monster kit too! Packing some dry clothes to go home in is also a good plan, even if it’s just a pair of jeans and a hoody. If you’ve had a sodden soggy day you’ll thank yourself for having thought ahead. My philosophy is that it’s better to have lots of layers and not need them, than be cold and wish you had them there.
Lunch on the go at larp is always important, but especially so over the colder months. If you only grab a sandwich to take with you for a day in the field that’s your choice, but lunchtime is an ideal opportunity to warm up and fuel the rest of your day. I usually take a packed lunch when out larping – switching from lighter sandwiches and fruit to more pasta salads and carbohydrates as the winter draws in, but sometimes also pack a flask of soup to add a bit of warmth to the meal. Most supermarkets and shops stock up on flasks (Thermos and the like) in the autumn for reasonable prices and so long as they are prepped beforehand and looked after post event they can provide you with warm soups or cups of tea for many seasons to come. If you’re not a soup person you could just bring a flask of tea / coffee / hot squash to warm you over lunch, or to take with you when monstering to tide you over when the player debate the ‘best’ solution to a problem.
I also suggest taking something small to snack on like fruit or a small chocolate bar to give you a quick energy boost if you find yourself flagging. It is also good to keep yourself hydrated even through the winter, so carrying your own water or taking your flask of tea with you can help keep you in tip-top condition
Don’t forget that when you pause for lunch you’re likely to be exposed to the elements and be cooling down from the morning’s activity. It might be better to eat lunch first whilst wrapped up in your coat before stripping down to get into your character / monster kit for the afternoon to keep yourself from getting too cold.
Dealing with the inevitable mud
Winter = rain = mud = soggy kit.
Even it’s not bucketing it down on the day of your larp event the ground is likely to be sodden / boggy / muddy and your kit will get damp or besplattered as you run around or kneel. The best advice on dealing with mud is as follows, though I wrote a more comprehensive wet kit advice post back in 2016.
Try and wash your muddy cloth kit soon after returning home to avoid having piles of soggy muddy clothes lingering in your to-wash pile. If you have items that cannot be washed like armour or furred cloaks, try to wipe off as much of the mud as you can outside (outside being important!) and let these items dry naturally away from heat sources (like radiators or fires) either hung up to drip dry (cloaks and robes) or lie flat (armour, especially leathers). Walking boots should be aired and allowed to dry out before storage and waxed occasionally to improve their waterproof properties. Once dry mud and mould can be cleaned off before repacking your kit bags.
Don’t forget to let all items dry out – even the small trinkets kept in pockets / pouches that may have gotten sodden in the rain. It’s not pleasant to put your hand in a bag and pull out an unexpected green and furry something that doesn’t belong.
Roleplay at Twilight
If you attend day events, the likelihood of ending up larping in the dark increases because of the shorter days. We get involved in an outdoorsy hobby, it’s the risk we run. As twilight falls you may find it harder to see where things are or pick out the edges of shapes in the undergrowth. This is normal but can be frustrating, particularly if you trip over an unexpected stump when on the run or slip on an uneven surface. There is little I can advise to fix this problem apart from advising caution when out in the woodland and general awareness of your surroundings, or investing in an in-character light source if needed. Carrying glow sticks or a small LED candle lantern can help you see where you’re going and add to the atmosphere – after all your character would be having to deal with the falling light as much as you, right?
I would urge you to pack a small torch in your car or an out-of-character pocket just in case though, to allow you to check you’ve not dropped anything important in the car park or to look for any bits of gear you might have lost in the woods. As the light fails such problems regularly crop up as people can’t as easily spot a missing weapon on the floor as they can in the summer. Keeping aware of your own equipment can help minimise any unexpected losses, but if you notice something off with your companions’ belt it can’t hurt to mention it to them – sometimes losing a weapon or a bag can be very distressing and can spoil an otherwise lovely day out.
As the weather grows colder you may find that people feel to be hitting harder. This might be the case (and should be brought to the attention of the referee if relevant), but it’s more likely to be that the weapons are stiffening in the cold – not that this is an excuse! Taking a little more care when fighting and pulling your blows will be kinder to your opponents and can mitigate some nasty bruises if you’re unsure if your weapon is being affected by the cold. If you find yourselves running through the undergrowth through brambles be sure to check your weapons for thorns afterwards. It can be a nasty shock to get hit and spiked with a thorn unexpectedly and getting snagged on thorns is not good for most larp weapons. This is especially true of arrows and crossbow bolts.
Winter is often the time for coughs and sniffles and generally feeling unwell. If you’re not feeling well enough to be outside – don’t do it! It’s not going to help your recovery to be exposed to the cold for an extended period of time, and it’s not fair on your friends and branch members if you’re coughing and spluttering all over them. Exercise common sense and the usual “catch it, bin it, kill it” motto displayed by health services during the winter flu season. Carry antibacterial hand wash gel to keep your hands clean and plenty of tissues if you’re feeling a little under the weather but well enough to larp and carry your own water to prevent you passing your cold on to other.
The footpaths and ways of the wood are likely to be slippery or icy over the winter – either with ice and frost or just a layer of mud. Slips, trips and falls can be common over the winter, but are usually not too serious unless you’ve fallen and twisted your knee or ankle, or bumped your head. Taking care as you travel on these surfaces will likely prevent such injuries – awareness seems to be the best solution. At night temperatures often drop suddenly and black ice can form on exposed surfaces like footpaths or pavements.
If you do fall and twist your knee or ankle and find it to be swollen or tender when you get home then you can treat a sprain or strain yourself. Sprains are common at joints like ankles, strains are common in muscles or around your knee; but both can be treated the same way – “rest it, ice it, compress it and elevate it”. They are often not serious enough to need medical attention by professionals; however if you find you can’t move the joint for pain, bear weight on it, goes numb or cold to the touch, or simply doesn’t improve after a few days of self treatment it might be best to get it checked out. Such injuries can improve over a couple of weeks or take some months to heal depending on the location and severity.
Advice on making your own cold compress or treating cuts, bumps and bruises can be found on my ‘self first aid’ post from 2015.