Winter camping means dealing with cold weather, but don’t let the fear of cold hands and feet stop you from enjoying activities like ski tours or snowshoeing. By using the right techniques, you can keep warm during winter camping. This way, you’ll be well-rested and ready for your next day’s adventure.
Here are our best tips for winter camping so you can enjoy walking on crunchy leaves, taking pictures of the snow, and staying warm in your sleeping bag at campsites in winter. Just follow these easy tips for a good time camping in the winter.
1. Check the Weather
Before you start planning your winter camping trip, make sure to check the weather. Find out the temperature range where you’ll camp, and look for other possible weather events.
If the forecast predicts heavy snow or a strong storm, you’ll know to get ready for those conditions. However, You don’t have to rely on the weather forecast only; ensure to call the national parks where you’re planning to camp. They can tell you about any warnings and offer extra tips specific to that area.
2. Choosing a Winter Tent:
a. Type of Tent:
Decide the type of tent you will need.
If you plan to camp during the coldest part of the year, think about getting a 4-season tent. These tents are better than 2 and 3-season tents because they have walls that keep heat in really well and are strong enough to stand up to strong winds.
However, it can become too warm and stuffy if the weather is a bit milder. So, if you only plan to camp in cool weather but not in freezing temperatures, a 3-season tent might be better. A good 3-season tent is strong and well-insulated, but it won’t get too hot in slightly warmer weather. This makes it a good choice for camping throughout the year.
So choose a 3-season tent for milder weather and a 4-season tent for snowy, cold environments.
b. Waterproof Tent:
Even with a good weather forecast, you can’t ignore the possibility of rain or snow. In summer, if your tent leaks, you can dry things outside after it stops raining. But in winter, you don’t have this option, so having a waterproof tent is really important.
When looking at new tents, check the Hydrostatic Head (HH) rating. This is how tent waterproofing is measured. A tent with a rating of 3000 HH or higher should protect well against heavy and long-lasting rain.
c. Ensure Ventilation in the Tent
It might not make sense to open vents when it’s cold, but letting air in reduces condensation inside your tent. When you breathe out, you release warm vapor into the tent. This vapor turns into water droplets or frost when it touches the cold fabric of the tent.
This can lead to condensation dripping back on you or freezing, covering everything inside with frost. By opening the vents on your tent, even just a little bit, you can prevent this build-up of frost. Staying dry is key to staying warm, so it’s important to keep moisture out.
d. Size of the Tent
In winter, a smaller tent is easier to keep warm because there’s less air space to heat. So, pick a tent that’s big enough for your needs but not too big.
3. Start camping when it’s still light
When planning your winter camping trip, think about how long it will take to reach the camping site and also the travel time between campsites. Since the sun sets earlier in winter, try to set up your camp before it gets dark. It’s hard to set up camp in the dark, and it also gets colder earlier in winter.
4. Pick your camping spot wisely
In cold weather, details like where you set up camp are more important than in warm weather. Consider the following points while setting up your camp:
- Avoid unplanned open-area setups due to cold risks like hypothermia or frostbite.
- Choose a location with natural wind shelters, like fences or bushes, but avoid camping under trees to prevent risks from falling branches and dripping water.
- Opt for sunny, dry, even, and flat spots that are shielded from wind and rain.
- Plan your hike to include designated tent platforms, which are warmer than the ground.
- When camping in the snow, flatten an area larger than your tent to prevent sinking, and build a snow wall for wind protection while avoiding steep slopes for safety.
5. Creative Solutions for Setting Up a Tent in Winter
When camping in winter, it’s important to bring strong tent stakes and a hammer to secure your tent on frozen ground. A tent that’s well-anchored allows air to move freely, avoiding moisture build-up inside, and keeps you dry.
If the ground is too hard for stakes, try using “deadmen” anchors:
- Attach the tent’s ropes to something heavy, like a rock, a small stick, or a bag filled with snow.
- Stretch the rope as you usually would for setting up your tent, but instead of a stake, bury your heavy object in the snow.
- The snow will freeze around it, creating a solid anchor to hold your tent steady.
6. Take off Sweaty Clothes
Once you’ve set up camp and are ready to relax for the evening, it’s important to change of sweaty clothes immediately. It might be tough to change in cold conditions, but you’ll be glad you did. Putting on dry clothes, including socks, will help bring back your warmth. Then, dress in as many layers as needed to feel cozy, topping it off with a high-quality puffy jacket.
Remember, even on day trips, changing into a dry base layer at the top of your hike or ski track can make a huge difference in how you feel. It’s a game-changer and well worth trying.
7. Start insulating from the ground
When camping in a tent during winter, it’s very important to have something insulating you from the cold ground. In summer, a simple ground mat is enough, but in winter, the ground is much colder.
Using two sleeping pads instead of one can greatly improve your warmth when camping in cold conditions. This is because the pads insulate you from the cold ground and snow. The warmth of a pad, known technically as its thermal resistance, is measured by its R-value. When you use two pads, their R-values combine to provide even better insulation.
You may also use special winter mats or beds. A popular and effective combination is a winter-grade air sleeping pad with reflective fabric placed over a closed-cell foam pad that also has a reflective surface. This setup offers excellent warmth while still being lightweight and easy to pack, making it ideal for a cold-weather sleep system.
Also, make sure your dog’s sleeping area is well-insulated too
8. Sleeping bag
Make sure your sleeping bag is suitable for the temperature you’ll be in. You might also want to bring a liner for your sleeping bag, which can make it a bit warmer. Look for features like a draft collar, hood, zipper quality, and internal pockets for convenience and added warmth.
Modern materials have made sleeping bags and quilts more efficient and lighter than ever before. Adding a featherweight quilt to your winter sleeping bag offers an extra layer of warmth without adding much weight to your gear.
Mummy-shaped bags offer more warmth as they hug close to your body. Ensure the bag is comfortable for your height and build.
Moreover, Down insulation is lighter and more compressible but less effective when wet. Synthetic insulation is bulkier but performs better in damp conditions.
At night, put your clothes inside the sleeping bag to fill up empty space and keep you warm. Plus, you’ll have warm clothes to put on in the morning.
9. Bring more blankets
When camping in cold weather, having extra blankets is always a good idea. They are great for adding insulation under your sleeping area, for extra warmth when you’re hanging out at the campsite, and even for taking on walks to use as a place to sit.
10. Dress in layers
When camping in cold weather, wearing multiple layers of clothing is essential. Use wool or synthetic materials for your base layers. For middle layers, fleece, wool, silk, or polyester are good choices.
For the outer layer, puffy jackets and shell jackets may be used. Your outer layer should be waterproof and breathable. These layers help you control your body temperature better.
Shell jackets are excellent at trapping heat. If it helps you sleep better, don’t hesitate to sleep in a hardshell jacket. Just make sure you’re not keeping too much moisture inside your clothing layers.
It’s important to avoid sweating because when sweat dries, it can make you feel cold. By adding or removing layers as needed, you can manage your body heat and avoid sweating as much as possible.
It is pertinent to mention that wearing tight clothes can slow down blood flow, making you feel cold faster so choose your clothes accordingly. Also avoid cotton because it makes you sweat more and lose heat quickly.
11. Using Heated Gloves, Hand Warmers and Heated Boots
Using hand warmers, heated gloves, and heated boots can be a great way to enhance your comfort during winter camping. While you can’t bring large heating devices like a space heater, these smaller, technology-based solutions can effectively keep your fingers and toes warm.
12. Bring the right shoes
When you camp in winter, you might have to walk through mud, snow, and rain. Having wet or cold feet while camping is very uncomfortable. So, wear warm and waterproof walking boots, and remember to bring lots of socks to keep your feet dry and warm.
13. Store your shoes inside the tent
In summer, it’s okay to leave shoes outside to keep dirt out of your tent. But in winter, you should keep your shoes inside, in a warm part of your tent. This will stop them from getting too cold or freezing
14. Keep everything dry
If your clothes, shoes, or bedding get wet, it’s much harder to stay warm. Wet materials often lose their ability to insulate, which means they won’t keep you warm. Bring extra clothes and store them in a waterproof bag so you always have dry items to change into.
15. Get warm before sleeping
If you’re cold when you get into your sleeping bag, warming up first is better. Your body heat helps warm the air in the bag, so you’ll stay warm all night.
16. Place a hot water bottle near your groin area for warmth
Instead of putting a hot water bottle at your toes, which is common advice, place it near your groin area. This position allows the heat from the bottle to warm the blood circulating through your body, effectively warming your entire body more quickly.
However, be careful when handling hot water to avoid burns. It’s important not to use a metal bottle for this purpose. Also, make sure to tighten the lid of the bottle securely to prevent any leaks.
17. Wearing a balaclava to bed
Wearing a balaclava to bed while winter camping is an effective way to retain body heat, as a significant amount of heat is lost through your head. Unlike beanies or jacket hoods, which may slip off during the night, a balaclava stays in place, ensuring that the warmth you generate stays trapped.
Plus, it has a breathing hole for ventilation. For even more warmth, you can layer a balaclava under a beanie or a hood, which can significantly increase your comfort as you sleep in cold conditions
18. Eat foods that keep you warm
Think of your body like a heater that works better with more food, like fuel. Eating healthy, balanced meals gives your body the right fuel to stay warm. It’s especially important to eat enough during winter camping. Foods that take a while to digest can help your body stay warmer for longer.
Choose foods rich in sugar, fats, and carbohydrates to keep your body warm. You’ll use more energy than usual, so it’s okay to eat a bit more. Things like oats, bananas, potatoes, and caffeine can raise your body temperature. Eating foods high in fat and protein before bedtime is particularly effective because they burn slower than carbohydrates, providing longer-lasting warmth throughout the night.
Your body uses calories to generate heat, so continuous snacking keeps your internal heat production active. If you’re feeling cold while camping, eat snacks like nuts, cheese, and granola bars to warm up.
19. Keep drinking water
Make sure to drink enough water and don’t drink too much alcohol. Taking care of your body this way helps it work its best in the cold.
Staying hydrated is crucial in cold weather as drinking enough water is essential for staying warm. Dehydration makes it harder for your body to maintain warmth. Also, Drinking plenty of water reduces fatigue. If drinking a lot means you need to go to the bathroom during the night, it’s actually beneficial to do so. Your body expends energy to warm the liquid in your bladder, so relieving yourself can help you stay warmer.
Keep drinking water throughout the day and keep a water bottle inside your sleeping bag at night to prevent it from freezing.
20. Act quickly if you start feeling cold
If you notice your hands or feet getting cold, do something about it right away. Dealing with the cold as soon as it starts is the best way to stop it from ruining your camping trip.
It’s important to know how to recognize signs of cold-weather health problems like frostbite and hypothermia.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when the body becomes extremely cold, characterized by poor movement, shivering, unusual quietness, and low body temperature. To assist someone with mild hypothermia, replace their wet clothes with dry ones, encourage light exercises, or use body heat from another person for warmth.
- Frostbite: Frostbite typically affects extremities like ears, nose, feet, and hands and is identified by greyish-yellow or white skin, which feels hard, scratchy, or numb. If frostbite is suspected, avoid direct heat sources such as fires or stoves. Instead, slowly warm the affected area and keep it protected from further cold exposure.
21. Bring extra lights
With early nightfall, it’s important to be prepared. Make sure to pack a flashlight and a head torch. These will be helpful if you need to move around when it’s dark.
22. Carry useful equipment
Items like a shovel, first aid kit, sewing kit, emergency blanket, and hand warmers can be very helpful in unexpected situations. It’s a good idea to have these things with you when camping in winter.
23. Keep in contact
If you’re camping alone, tell your family or friends where you’re going, especially if the campsite is remote and the weather is bad. Check-in with them once a day. This way, they can get help if you run into any problems.
24. Don’t forget the Stove
One essential item is a stove. In cold weather, a stove isn’t just for cooking; it’s crucial for melting snow to make drinking water. Liquid fuel stoves are a better option for winter camping as:
- Liquid fuel stoves provide steady heat in freezing temperatures, while canister stoves lose pressure and effectiveness.
- You can accurately measure the necessary amount of liquid fuel, reducing the need to carry extra weight in canisters.
- Liquid fuel stoves can often be repaired in the field, unlike canister stoves.
- These stoves are more stable on uneven surfaces like snow and ice compared to canister stoves.
- Although slightly heavier, liquid fuel stoves are more fuel-efficient in cold conditions, leading to overall weight savings.
- Liquid fuel tends to be cheaper than canister fuel.
- Liquid fuel is readily available worldwide, making it suitable for remote expeditions.
- The reusable nature of liquid fuel bottles offers an environmentally superior choice over disposable canisters.
25. Trail Marker or guidebook
Trails can be harder to follow in snow or rain, so watch for trail markers and bring a guidebook.
26. Create a winter camping checklist
Make a list of essential items for winter camping. This way, you’ll have a handy reference for what to bring each time you camp in the winter.
Here’s my winter camping checklist to help you prepare for your adventure:
Shelter and Sleep System
- Four-season tent – Designed to withstand wind and snow.
- Sleeping bag – Rated at least 10-20 degrees colder than the lowest expected temperature.
- Sleeping pad – Insulated to provide a barrier between you and the ground.
- Tarp or footprint – For under the tent to prevent moisture.
- Base layers – Moisture-wicking material.
- Insulation layers – Fleece or down jacket.
- Outer layer – Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants.
- Extra socks – Wool or synthetic.
- Hat, gloves, and neck gaiter – For added warmth.
- Insulated boots – Waterproof and suitable for snow.
- Gaiters – To keep snow out of your boots.
Cooking and Food
- Stove – Liquid-fuel stove works better in cold.
- Fuel – Extra, as cold weather increases usage.
- Cookware – Pots, pans, utensils.
- Food – High-calorie and easy to prepare meals.
- Insulated water bottles – To prevent freezing.
- Water filter/purification system
Navigation and Safety
- Map and compass/GPS
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Multi-tool or knife
- Firestarter and waterproof matches
- Emergency shelter or bivy
- Whistle and signal mirror
- Backpack – Large enough to carry all gear.
- Trekking poles – With snow baskets.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen – Snow can be blinding and reflective.
- Camera – For capturing memories.
- Notebook and pencil – For notes or emergencies.
- Portable power bank – For charging devices.
- Biodegradable soap and small towel
- Toiletries – Keep it minimal.
- Medications – As needed.
- ID, permits, and cash/cards
In a Nutshell!
This comprehensive guide provides you with a wealth of practical tips and insights for a successful and enjoyable winter camping experience.
From selecting the right equipment, like a suitable tent and sleeping gear, to understanding the importance of layering and keeping dry, you’ll learn essential strategies for staying warm and comfortable.
The guide also emphasizes the significance of checking weather forecasts, choosing the best camping spots, and being prepared for changing conditions.
Moreover, you’ll discover creative solutions for common winter camping challenges, such as setting up camp in the snow and how to use small heating devices like hand warmers efficiently.
With a focus on safety, including recognizing signs of cold-weather health risks and the importance of staying hydrated and nourished, this guide ensures you are well-equipped to handle the unique aspects of winter camping.