Although summer is often considered the traditional camping season, camping in the winter has several advantages. You get to enjoy the beauty of a winter wonderland without the crowds and bugs of warmer seasons.
However, camping in the cold can be challenging due to freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather. To help you prepare for a successful trip into the snowy outdoors, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide for winter camping tips so keep reading for all your cold weather camping tips that I’m going to reveal today.
Table of contents
- Choose the Right Gear
- Go for a Seasonal Tent
- Choose the Right Sleeping Bag
- Choose the Right Pad
- Prepare your Gear for Winter Camping
- Choose the Right Clothes
- Base Layer (Underwear Layer)
- Middle Layer (Insulating Layer)
- Outer Layer (Shell Layer)
- Winter Clothes Accessories
- Set-Up a Campsite in the Winter
- Location, Location, Location – Choose Your Campsite Wisely
- Set Up Your Camping Site Quickly
- Secure Your Campsite
- Flatten Your Sleeping Surface
- Tie Up Creatively
- Food and Drink Tips for Winter Camping
- Eat Hot and Simple Meals
- Short Lunch Breaks
- High-Calorie Snack
- Remember To Drink
- Use Bottles
- Melting Snow
- Store Your Food (Securely)
- 13 Best Tips for Camping In Winter
- Essential Cold-Weather Camping Gear Checklist
- Snow Travel
- Water and Food
- Personal Items
Choose the Right Gear
Choosing the right gear to bring with you to the campsite is one of the most critical aspects of preparing for winter camping.
Go for a Seasonal Tent
A 4-Season tent suitable for cold conditions is a valuable investment for outdoor enthusiasts. Seasonal tents offer better wind resistance, snow load, and insulation.
Double-walled tents may be bulkier, but they offer better protection from the elements than lighter alternatives. A thicker fabric will stand up to snow accumulation and high winds, keeping you protected from winter conditions outside.
If you are concerned about intense weather, consider investing in a sturdier mountaineering style tent.
Whatever style you choose, opt for the smallest tent you can. Heating the inside and retaining that heat is more manageable in smaller spaces.
Choose the Right Sleeping Bag
Selecting the best cold weather sleeping bag is critical for keeping you safe and comfortable when spending the night in the great outdoors during the winter.
Night temperatures can dip well below freezing in colder climates. Winter sleeping bags need to keep you warm so that you can get enough rest without worrying about the potential risks of cold exposure.
Many quality winter sleeping bags include down filling, which provides excellent insulation to keep you warm without excess bulk.
Choose the Right Pad
Sleeping pads also play a significant role in keeping you comfortable in your tent at night. If you invest in a warm winter sleeping bag, you may be able to use your 3-season sleeping pad.
However, buying a winter pad is a smart investment for people who intend to camp frequently in cold weather. These pads provide additional warmth and insulation from the cold ground.
Many campers have the most success doubling up their sleeping pads for an extra layer of insulation. You can also apply a bivy sack on the lining exterior for additional warmth.
Prepare your Gear for Winter Camping
Gear failure in extreme conditions can have serious consequences. Be sure to carefully inspect every piece of gear before departing for a camping trip in the winter.
If you find yourself in the wilderness during a snowstorm without adequate shelter, you could be in serious trouble. Check for any rips or holes that may compromise your tent or sleeping bag by allowing heat to escape.
Choose the Right Clothes
The best clothes for winter camping will keep you warm and dry. Staying comfortable while outside in the cold is vital for avoiding serious issues like hypothermia.
When it comes to dressing for cold conditions while camping, you need to layer up.
Base Layer (Underwear Layer)
The next-to-skin base layer plays a critical role in regulating your body temperature and wicking sweat. Camping outdoors often involves vigorous activities that cause perspiration. But excess dampness can cause a bone-chilling cold.
Synthetic fabrics and wool help wick away moisture to keep you dry. Be sure to avoid cotton underlayers as this material stays damp and loses its insulation properties.
Individual preference and local conditions determine the thickness of a base layer. If you sweat a lot, a lighter option is ideal. But a mid-weight base layer can help you stay warm if you run cold.
Middle Layer (Insulating Layer)
Your middle layer of clothing provides insulation by trapping warm air close to the body. Warm insulating layers generally consist of wool, down, or fleece.
Down is an excellent insulating layer but loses its warmth when wet. If you camp in a damp climate, opt for a synthetic alternative.
Outer Layer (Shell Layer)
The outer layer of your winter camping outfit protects from the outside elements. If it’s sleeting, raining, windy, or snowing, an outer layer will help keep your other layers of clothing dry.
Shell layers should be water-resistant but breathable. A waterproof shell is a great choice, but a ski jacket may be too heavy. If your shell layer has light insulation, you may not need extra layers underneath.
Since you’ll be wearing your outer layer over several layers, you may need to size up to find the best fit.
High-quality layers have higher price tags, but they are a valuable investment in your comfort.
Winter Clothes Accessories
Your winter camping outfit is not complete without some vital cold-weather accessories. In freezing temperatures, you can lose a significant amount of heat from any exposed areas. Keeping covered will help you stay comfortable.
A buff helps protect your face from cold air and wind. The neck gaiter provides coverage for your neck that can be pulled up over your nose to trap heat around your cheeks.
Sunglasses are just as important in the winter wilderness as they are on the beach. Snow reflects sunlight into your eyes. If you do not protect your eyes with sunglasses, the reflection can cause snow blindness and result in long-term eyesight damage.
Your fingers and other extremities are susceptible to frostbite when exposed to cold temperatures. Keep your hands protected and warm by wearing gloves. The best gloves provide insulation without bulk, allowing you to maneuver during your trip easily.
Hats are especially important for staying warm outside during the winter as a significant portion of our body heat escapes through the top of our heads. Choose a beanie that provides adequate insulation with moisture-wicking material to dry potential sweat.
Few things will make you crankier during your winter camping experience than cold toes. Invest in quality pairs of winter hiking socks to keep your feet warm, dry, and comfortable. Winter socks provide additional insulation to protect against frostbite while remaining moisture-wicking.
Just like socks, specialized winter boots are critical for comfort while exploring the cold outdoors. Your regular pair of hiking boots likely won’t keep your feet warm enough to stay comfortable outside in the snow.
Choose a well-insulated and waterproof pair to keep your feet warm and dry. The best boots will also provide additional traction for confident maneuvering in slippery conditions with snow and ice.
The best waterproof boots can’t do much if snow or water manages to seep in. Gaiters provide an extra layer of protection around the top of your boot to prevent snow and other debris from entering the boot.
Set-Up a Campsite in the Winter
Even if you’ve selected the best gear available, you won’t be able to camp successfully during the winter if you can’t set-up your campsite correctly. Winter camping involves more intense planning and set up to ensure that you stay safe and warm in the great outdoors.
Location, Location, Location – Choose Your Campsite Wisely
Finding the best spot to set up your tent requires much more consideration during the winter than at other times of the year.
Look for a naturally sheltered location to limit the potential for wind damage to your tent. You can also use the snow around your tent to build an additional wind barrier. Ideally, your site will still be exposed to the sun to help warm your tent during the day.
Avalanches are another potential risk of camping in the snow. Never set up your campsite in an area prone to this disaster or other excess snow build up. Flatter areas are generally better. If staying on a slope, set up as far as possible from the mountain’s steep side.
Set Up Your Camping Site Quickly
Do not delay setting up your tent when you arrive at the campsite. Quickly setting up your campsite may allow your tent to sit in the sun and warm before nightfall.
Weather can also be very unpredictable. You may not expect snow or rainfall, but conditions can quickly change to the extreme. You will want access to shelter as soon as possible.
Secure Your Campsite
Although you may encounter fewer crowds when camping during the winter, securing your campsite is still critical.
Lock your vehicle before departing to your campsite. If you have large valuable items with you, consider locking them to a tree.
Of course, there are still plenty of furry critters around during the winter. Always store any food you bring in airtight containers to prevent animals from detecting the scent and exploring your campsite.
Flatten Your Sleeping Surface
Before you set up your tent, you’ll need to stomp a flat area in the snow to provide a surface where you can sleep. The stomping will pack down the ground and make it firm enough to maneuver without sinking into deep snow.
A flat surface is also essential for stabilizing your tent and providing a comfortable area where you can set up your sleeping pad and bag. Consider using an extra ground cloth on the surface to prevent heat loss from conduction on the ground.
Tie Up Creatively
Tying up your tent can take some creativity when camping on frozen ground. Bring robust tent stakes and a hammer to drive them. A well-staked tent means better ventilation, preventing condensation, which will help keep you dry in the cold conditions.
If the ground is too frozen to drive stakes into, consider using “deadmen” anchors instead. This technique involves tying your guy lines to a heavy object such as a branch or rock. You can even use a snow-filled sack.
Set up your tent like usual, but bury the heavy object in the snow instead of using a stake. This setup allows the snow to freeze around your anchor to keep the tent upright.
Food and Drink Tips for Winter Camping
Planning what food to bring with you is another important consideration when planning a winter camping trip. Unlike summer camping food, you need to worry about your food freezing in addition to providing enough energy for exploring the wilderness.
Eat Hot and Simple Meals
Cooking and eating hot meals while camping in the winter will help keep you warm and comfortable. You can choose to cook over a fire or a camp stove to prepare meals outdoors quickly.
Try to return to camp early enough to avoid cooking in the dark, if possible, since the sun sets early in the winter. After spending the day hiking or snowshoeing, sitting down to a filling but simple meal can help restore your energy for the next adventure.
Also, try to keep meals simple to limit dishes. Some examples of simple meals to cook while camping in the winter include soups, ramen, and beans. Soups are an excellent dish for warming up in the winter, and beans are an easy protein source.
Short Lunch Breaks
You will most likely find yourself out on the trail during the day when camping in the winter. Stopping for long lunch breaks can cool you down, but eating energy-packed food midday is essential for replenishing the energy used to stay warm and explore.
Pack food that is nutritious and easy to prepare. Excellent options include pepperoni, cheese, and peanut butter. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a great simple lunch option to carry with and enjoy mid-hike.
You’ll need to eat extra calories while camping in the winter. Camping requires you to expend a significant amount of energy carrying gear through the snow and setting up equipment.
When you aren’t physically active while hiking or climbing, your body is still burning calories while sleeping to stay warm. Most people require a minimum of 4000 calories per day, and some individuals need up to 6000 calories depending on their activity level.
To meet these requirements, pack easy high-calorie snacks to eat throughout the day. Energy bars are perfect for providing calories on the go. However, they can freeze outside in the cold weather. Keep them warm by carrying them in pockets inside of your outer shell layer.
Remember To Drink
We all know we should drink water when we’re outside in hot conditions. But hydration is just as essential in the winter.
Cold air is dryer, causing us to lose more water through breathing and perspiration. You may not feel thirsty, but regularly drinking water is essential. Dehydration can cause fatigue and make it difficult for you to stay warm. Always remember to drink.
Water will freeze during the winter when camping outside. So, many campers chose to use water bottles instead of hydration reservoirs.
Reservoirs have tubes that can quickly freeze and cut off water supply. Use an insulated water bottle to prevent freezing and attach it to your pack.
Bodies of water in the wilderness are often frozen solid during the winter. To stay hydrated while camping, you’ll probably need to create drinking water by melting snow.
Only use clean, white snow from a designated area as a source of water. Add some water to a pot before adding the snow to prevent scorching and melt the snow over your lit stove. Melt enough to fill your bottles before you go to sleep, so your water supply is ready for the next day.
Store Your Food (Securely)
Although you may not have to worry about bears during the winter, other wild animals will take advantage of any food you leave accessible. Secure your food by storing it in airtight containers inside a backpack.
You can also hang food from a tree using a rope and a sack to keep it out of reach.
13 Best Tips for Camping In Winter
Be sure to follow these top 13 essential tips when camping in the winter.
- Check Weather Conditions and Hazards
Checking the weather conditions before you depart for your trip will help you pack everything you need. Also, be sure to prepare for any hazardous conditions you may face while camping.
- Layer Up
Wearing the appropriate layers will help you stay warm in any condition. A close-fitting base layer, insulating mid-layer, and weather-proof outer layer will keep the heat in and the cold out.
- Stay Dry
Wet clothes will cause your body temperature to plummet. Sweating in cold weather can be dangerous, so remember to slow down and remove layers. Waterproof outer layers and boots will also help keep you dry and protect you from the outside elements.
- Sleep With Your Gear
Keeping wet clothes in your sleeping bag will help dry them overnight. You should also sleep next to any valuable gadgets you brought on your trip, as extreme cold can drain battery life.
- Cowboy Coffee
Cold mornings are difficult without hot coffee. Cowboy coffee only requires coffee grounds and hot water to make. Simply boil a pot of water before adding the coffee and letting the mixture steep. Settle the coffee by tapping the bottle with a knife before enjoying a cup.
- Strategic Urination
Drink lots of water, but never delay when you have to urinate. Your body uses extra calories to heat the urine in your bladder. Use a bottle in your tent to avoid going outside into the cold at night.
- Pack a Stove for Extra Heat
Boiling snow is an effective method for producing drinking water, and using a stove is much easier to use than relying on fire.
- Pitch a Tent Inside Your Car
Your car can provide extra insulation when camping in below-freezing temperatures. Consider rigging a tent inside your vehicle if your gear isn’t hardy enough for extreme weather conditions.
- Don’t Breathe or Burrow Deep Into Your Bag
Your breath contains moisture, which can condense inside of your sleeping bag. A wet sleeping bag will not provide adequate insulation or warmth. Instead, leave an opening under the hood that you can breathe through.
- Insulate Your Tent by Reducing Ambient Space
Excess space inside your tent will make it difficult to heat. Consider huddling closer to your partner while sleeping and packing extra gear around the inside perimeter to increase insulation.
- Warm Up With a Hot Water Bottle
A stainless steel water bottle full of hot water will radiate heat when placed in your sleeping bag at night. Tucking the bottle near your core, inner thigh, or neck will help keep you warm.
- Remove Morning Frost From Your Tent
Water vapor can condense inside your tent, and ice accumulated on tent walls can melt. Prevent your gear from getting soaked by brushing ice crystals off the tent.
- Leave No Trace (LNT)
Always follow Leave No Trace camping ethics. Try to stay on deep snow cover at least 200 feet from the trail and other campers. Only use dead wood for fires and respect wildlife by viewing from a distance. When camping on snow, pack out human waste in a plastic bag.
Essential Cold-Weather Camping Gear Checklist
Here’s a checklist of all the essential gear you’ll need for a successful winter camping trip. Of course, you can also download this winter camping gear checklist to keep it with you.
- Trekking Poles
- Ice Axe
- Avalanche Transceiver and Probe
- Snow Shovel
- Slope Meter
- Winter Tent
- Sleeping Pad
- Snow Stakes
- Sleeping Bag
- Stove and fuel
- Matches or lighters
- Insulated Bottles
- Cook Set
- Soap and Scrubber
- Trash Bag
Water and Food
- Water bottles
- Water Filter
- Large Pot to Melt Snow
- Animal-Resistant Food Container
- Moisture-wicking long underwear
- Insulated Jacket and Pants
- Winter Boots
- Waterproof Map
- Satellite Messenger
- First-aid Kit
- Emergency Shelter
- Hand Sanitizer
- Sanitation Towel
- Toilet Paper and Sealable Bag
- Knife or Multi-tool
- Duct Tape
- Repair Kits
- Extra Cord
- Pole Repair Sleeve
- Credit Card
- Campsite Permit
- Trail Pass
- Notebook and Pen
The right knowledge, careful planning, and the correct gear can ensure that your camping adventure into a winter wonderland is enjoyable and safe. These winter camping tips will help you stay warm to keep you comfortable during your trip.
The right preparation is all you need to take advantage of the colder season’s quiet and beauty when many people would not consider heading outdoors. Wherever you go, play safe and stay smart, no matter the temperature outside.