Winter Camping: How to Enjoy the Great Outdoors in the Cold Season

January 28, 2021

Winter Camping: How to Enjoy the Great Outdoors in the Cold Season

Even for the most experienced camper, it may seem daunting to go camping in the winter. Not only is it very cold, but you also need to account for things you wouldn't normally, like snow and ice. Even with these hesitations, every camper should try winter camping at least once! 

With some knowledge, the right equipment, and not forgetting to layer up, winter camping can be just as enjoyable - if not more so - than camping during the rest of the year. You'll be able to enjoy the peaceful, beautiful scenery and uncrowded trails, so why miss out just because of the cold? 

Below you'll find a comprehensive guide on winter camping that will ensure you don't need to worry about frostbite, bitter cold, or sleepless nights. 

The Benefits of Camping in the Cold 

First and foremost, we need to address the main reason more people don't go camping during the winter months: the temperature. 

With the seasonal drop in temperature comes fears of hypothermia, frostbite, and being uncomfortable in general. The great news is that these things can definitely be avoided when snow camping. Preparation is easy to execute, and you get to enjoy the unique benefits that nature in winter offers. 

Camping and hiking during this time bring as many benefits as camping during the warmer months. With snowfall comes beautiful landscapes, allowing you to get a chance to more easily spot wildlife. It will undoubtedly be more peaceful and quiet since the crowds prefer warmer months. It's a different but equally wonderful experience, and you shouldn't let the temperature get in the way!

How to Keep Everything Dry 

Keeping your gear dry is important no matter the season, but even more so in the winter. Because of the cold, if your sleeping bag, boots or coat get damp, they could very well not dry at all. Drying takes much longer in the winter months, and if the temperature is below freezing, your gear could actually freeze before it gets a chance to dry. 

Here are some tips for keeping everything dry: 

  • Choose waterproof gloves and bring a backup pair in case the first gets soggy
  • In the same vein, wear waterproof gaiters and boots to prevent snow and slush from soaking your socks
  • While we're mentioning socks, bring several extra pairs to ensure you always have an option that is warm and dry
  • Make sure you bring a warm base layer of clothes and a fresh pair of socks to sleep in. If you try to sleep in clothing you wore during the day, they're more likely to get damp and you won't get a restful night of sleep.

Choosing the Proper Equipment 

Finding winter camping essentials isn't difficult or expensive. Most of the time you can stretch your current equipment to fit colder climates, so you don't need to start from scratch with your gear. 

Here are the main things you need to consider:

1. Durable Tent 

Your shelter is obviously going to be one of, if not the most important part of your winter camping gear. You should avoid semi-freestanding tents or single-wall tents since these don't have sturdy frames. They're more likely to collapse under even a few inches of snow. Even if you don't expect fresh snowfall during your camp trip, it's best to have a tent that can endure snow anyway. 

Four-season tents are an option, as they are the most durable and can handle both cold temperatures and significant snowfall. If you want to invest in this option you certainly can, but keep in mind that this is by far the most expensive option and can be hard to find at your local outdoor store. 

If you're looking for the most practical option, a freestanding three-season shelter will work perfectly. These are sturdy enough to remain standing during a snowfall land to keep you warm at night. 

2. Sturdy Boots 

You obviously don't want to be left camping with cold, damp boots. The best option is to invest in an insulated pair to ensure you're comfortable. 

You can make the most of your insulated boots as well. If your pair happens to have a removable lining, store them inside your sleeping bag during the night to avoid putting on cold shoes in the morning. 

You could also opt to keep your boots in a bag inside your sleeping bag to prevent them from freezing if you're camping in temperatures below zero.

3. Insulated Sleeping Bag 

If you've been camping before, you'll most likely have your own sleeping bag. While you can invest in a completely new winter sleeping bag for a few hundred dollars, you can also opt to make the most of your current sleeping bag. A backpacking quilt or a sleeping bag liner will only set you back less than $50 and can keep you as warm as the expensive option. 

You'll also want to purchase a sleeping pad to go along with your sleeping bag. A sleeping pad is specifically designed for winter camping, keeping you and your sleeping bag away from being directly on the freezing ground. When purchasing, make sure to choose an option that has an R-value of four or more. 

Don't Forget to Layer 

If you're about to do some winter camping, layering is an obvious thing to do. If you want to be as warm as possible, you'll actually need to be purposeful in selecting your layers instead of piling on every item of clothing you have. 

Layering Options 

The best combination of layers includes a warm, synthetic base layer followed by a mid-layer of a mid-weight jacket, wool shirt, or a fleece. Lastly, top it off with a waterproof jacket. This combination ensures that you stay warm while giving you options to remove if you heat up while hiking. 

What to Avoid 

When it comes to the materials you choose for your clothing, not all options are created equal. For example, cotton doesn't dry easily, so once it gets wet it's going to stay that way. 

Clothing with down insulation is similar since it loses its insulating power when wet. Synthetic insulation is a much more dependable option for all of your layers, and most likely to help you stay warm. 

Protecting Your Hands and Feet 

Your hands and feet are likely to get cold fast, so keeping them warm is extra important. For keeping your hands warm, you want to layer them as you do with your body. Start with a synthetic layer like nylon or fleece. These materials will keep you warm and also wick moisture. Top this off with a glove or mitten that's waterproof and you're sure to stay warm. 

As for your feet, starting with a synthetic layer is also best. Follow this with a thick pair of synthetic or wool socks. When you layer your socks like this, it's important to account for the extra room you'll need in your shoes. Going up one size larger than you usually would is best since this can generally accommodate layers while preventing your circulation to be restricted. 

General Tips for Camping in Winter 

Besides the main guidelines listed below, there are numerous other tips for a fun camping trip during the winter. Here's just a few: 

  • Utilize snow. Use clean, fallen snow melted over your fire instead of lugging water with you. Make sure you bring this water to a boil to kill bacteria and viruses and it will be safe to drink and cook with.
  • Compress the snow. Once you select where you are going to place your tent and set up the rest of your camp, step on the snow to compress it in order to create a flat surface. This way you won't sink into the snow during the night.
  • Keep your electronics safe. Your cell phone, GPS, and other electronics are also susceptible to freezing in cold temperatures. To prevent this, store them near your body during the day in an interior jacket pocket and inside your sleeping bag at night.
  • Choose your campsite wisely. You'll want to avoid areas like the bottom and tops of hills since this is where cold-air pockets tend to form and where high wind is most likely. A flat campsite is always best.

Have Fun!

Don't let the cold temperatures deter you from venturing out and having a great time winter camping! Choose the proper gear and clothing to keep yourself warm and comfortable and follow winter camping tips to make the best of your trip. Bring a stove or make a fire so you can always be toasty in camp, and follow safety precautions when venturing out on hikes.

Join our mailing list for more camping tips and tricks to make the most of your camping experience, no matter the season. 




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