Stay Warm: Cold Weather Camping Tips

Mentioning that you’re going camping in the winter may get you some strange looks from non-outdoors enthusiasts, but winter can be a great time to head into the great outdoors. There is something magical about being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by snow, in in your own winter wonderland.

Winter camping can be a gratifying experience if you’re adequately prepared for it, so read on for some of our top cold weather camping tips to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Before You Go

The key to a successful camping trip is planning ahead, especially when you are going to be dealing with cold - and possibly even below freezing - weather.

Pack Keeping the Worst-Case Scenario in Mind

Lightweight packing is always recommended, but for cold weather camping, it's good to pack all necessary emergency supplies, such as extra water, food, and clothes, especially if you’re headed to the backcountry.

You might get snowed in if the weather turns for the worst, so it’s best to be prepared to stay a few extra days. And speaking of packing, we’ve put together a checklist for you to make things easier.

Cold Weather Camping Checklist

Cold weather camping requires more gear than summer camping. Before heading out the door, make sure you check that you’ve packed everything on the list, so you don’t forget anything important.

Gear

  • The Ten Essentials
  • Four-season tent
  • Sleeping pad (two per person is ideal)
  • Lantern or headlamp
  • Snowshoes or suitable footwear
  • PBL - Personal locator beacon
  • Map and compass
  • Stove
  • Fuel
  • Cooking and eating utensils (pots or pans, forks, knives, etc.)
  • Food storage containers

Personal Items

  • Spare hat and gloves
  • Bandana
  • Hand warmers
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Toilet paper
  • Hygiene kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, etc.)
  • Any required permits
  • Camera 

Research the Area

Do some research on the area before going, especially if it's somewhere you’ve never been before. Is there anywhere nearby to get firewood for campfires? What about wildlife? How is the average weather?

What you find out about the area may affect what you need to pack, so it’s always best to be thorough so you are well prepared. Be sure to check the weather again before heading out, not just for that day, but also for the entirety of your trip if possible.

Clothing

Keeping dry and warm when you’re camping in the cold weather can make all the difference between having fun or being miserable. Here are some tips on what to wear when the temperatures start to drop.

Wear Layers

Layers are your best friend during winter camping. Wearing a few layers is better than a single thick layer, as you can always take some off or put some on depending on your body temperature. None of your layers should be made from cotton, as it will absorb moisture rather than wick it, so that you will get cold quickly. We recommend wearing three layers, a base layer, a middle layer and an outer layer.

  • Base layer: This layer is the one closest to your skin, and it's designed to trap warm air. Ideal first layer fabrics are synthetic materials or merino wool.
  • Middle layer: Your intermediate layer is your insulating layer, and the best fabric is fleece, such as a lightweight fleece-lined jacket and pants.
  • Outer layer: Your outer or shell layer should be waterproof and windproof, so you can stay warm when you’re outside your tent. If you’re going to be building a campfire, make sure that your outer layer is fireproof as well, or that you put on an extra layer whenever you’re near the fire. One of the most fire-resistant materials is wool, and you should stay far far away from down.

Hat and Gloves

You lose a lot of body heat through your head, so it's essential to wear a hat, which can keep you warm while inside or outside your tent. A good pair of polyester gloves or mittens can keep your hands warm, and for an extra boost of heat, pack some chemical heating pads.

Footwear

Your extremities are at a high risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia so make sure that your feet are protected by wearing a thick pair of socks, or doubling up with two pairs of thin socks. You don’t need to purchase a really expensive pair of boots, but they should be water-repellent or waterproof, especially if you will be hiking through snow.

A good tip to keep your feet warm is to sleep with your insoles and socks inside your sleeping bag, so you won’t have to dread putting on cold socks in the morning. You can also place some feet warmers in your boots, so they are dry and warm in the morning.

Wrapping Up at Night

Winter wind chill can severely lower the temperature during the night, so it's essential that you wear layers to bed. Your sleeping bag should also be suitable for the lowest temperature you will encounter, which will commonly be -4.

Remember that you can lose more heat through conductive heat loss, so it's important to pack a sleeping pad with a value of four or more. If you still feel the ground is too cold, place a blanket underneath you, and cover yourself with a down jacket.

Setting Up Camp

10X13 Entry Point, Winter Works largest tent!

A post shared by Michael Maruska (@winterworkscanvas) on

Daylight hours during winter are diminished, so try and get an early start so you won’t have to set up your tent in the dark.

Tent

Your tent should be waterproof, and able to withstand heavy rain and wind while keeping you warm and dry. A good tent is one of the things you should invest in, as a flimsy tent will not stand up to severe weather, and you’ll most likely be cold and miserable all night.

It's worth practicing putting up your tent beforehand in the comfort of your living room or backyard, especially if it's a new tent. The last thing you want to do is have to fumble around in the cold trying to figure out how to set up the tent.

Choosing Your Campsite

When pitching your tent, you should consider the wind protection, nearby water supplies, and the risk of avalanches. Your campsite should be far away from any low-hanging branches or dead trees and hopefully close to a landmark that will make it easy to find your tent in the heavy snow or darkness.

Pack the Snow

Before you set up your tent, pack the snow on your campsite. This means that you need to trample around until the snow is packed, or you run the risk of tearing your tent's floor if you step into a soft bit of snow. An extra groundsheet below the tent will also help keep your tent dry and warm.

Food and Water

You may not think you need as much water in cold temperature, but you’d be wrong. You may not be sweating, but you will be losing water through breathing. To prevent your water bottles from freezing, you can wrap them in your clothes and keep them inside your tent, or carry them upside down so the water at the top freezes, leaving you available water when you turn the water bottle around.

There’s no need to bring along a water filter, as chemical filters work more slowly in the cold, and your mechanical filter can crack and fail. The best way to get drinkable water is to melt snow by boiling it. Fresh snow isn't sterile, so you definitely need to boil the snow before drinking it - don’t just melt it.

The food you eat should be highly caloric to provide you with energy and keep you warm. Some tasty snacks are chocolate and nuts and you can use your stove to prepare warm and satisfying meals such as stews and soup.

Happy cold weather camping!  

Join the Discussion!

Have you got any more cold weather camping tips you'd like to share with our readers? Comment below and let's get a discussion started!