Cold weather camping is not for the faint of heart. Without the right gear, know-how, and preparation, it can be very uncomfortable or worse, deadly.
If you’re up for the adventure of cold weather camping, you’ll be rewarded with less crowds and the unique and beautiful sights and sounds of winter.
Below we’ll outline what you need to bring and what to know before you hit the road for your next cold weather camping trip.
Clothing is the first step for staying warm in cold weather. With the right amount of high quality layers, you can be comfortable even in below freezing temperatures.
One very important thing to remember for cold weather clothing is to never wear 100% cotton base layers. 100% cotton base layers don’t wick moisture from sweat, snow, or rain, and the excess moisture will start to make your body colder. This can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, which can potentially be deadly. This is why “cotton kills” is a common saying amongst experienced outdoors people.
Thermal base layers should be worn at all times in cold weather. Made from materials like merino wool or polyester, thermals are form fitting to your body to give you added warmth without the extra bulk of more clothing.
Insulated boots are another important aspect of cold weather camping. Because your boots will be in contact with snow, ice, or cold ground, your feet will usually be the first thing to get cold in addition to your hands.
Wool socks and gloves/mittens are a must have for keeping your hands and feet warm and dry in cold weather. Because your toes and fingers are the furthest part of you body from your heart, it takes the longest for blood to flow to them. As a result, fingers and toes are the first things to get cold.
If you don’t absolutely need the extra dexterity of fingered gloves, mittens that hold your fingers together will do a better job of keeping your fingers warm.
Flannel lined pants, shirts, and jackets are great to have for cold weather camping due to the extra insulation they provide. Down coats and jackets are also excellent for cold weather camping because they’re incredibly warm, yet still very lightweight.
A wool beanie is another a must have to keep your head and ears warm. It’s also best to wear a beanie while you sleep in cold weather because if your head is too cold, it will affect the rest of your body and your overall comfort level.
Hiking and sightseeing in cold weather is relatively easy because you can keep warm from moving around, but the real challenge with cold weather camping is keeping warm at night.
A good sleep system will keep you cozy and warm, but most importantly safe from dangerous frostbite and hypothermia.
Make sure you have a sleeping bag that’s rated for the proper temperatures you expect to be in. Carefully read the inside tag or owner’s manual of a sleeping bag. Sleeping bags can sometimes have several temperature ratings. These rating are:
- Comfortability temperature rating– the lowest temperature the bag will be comfortable in.
- Survival temperature rating– the lowest temperature you can reasonably survive in.
- Danger temperature rating– the temperature where you are at risk of hypothermia with the bag.
Always choose a bag that has a comfortability rating well below the nighttime temperatures you expect for your trip.
In addition to a sleeping bag, just as important is what you’re sleeping on. Even if you have a super warm sleeping bag, if you’re sleeping on a cold surface, it won’t make much of a difference.
If possible, have an extra sleeping bag to place on top of your sleeping pad. If you’re going to use an inflatable pad or mattress, use one that’s slim because the air in the inflatable will become cold. A foam sleeping pad is the most ideal for cold weather camping.
Lastly, wear gloves, and a hat while sleeping. If its really cold, you may want to keep your boots on in your sleeping bag so your feet can stay plenty warm.
Heaters and Warmers
If you can, a portable heater can do wonders for you at night or just to warm you back up during the day.
Battery or fuel powered heaters can be used in combination with a battery powered fan on a low setting to circulate air. Using this system in your tent or camper will make your sleeping space extra cozy and make winter camping much more enjoyable.
Hand and feet warmers are also a must have for cold weather camping. They’re small, inexpensive, and lightweight, so it’s a no brainer item to provide some extra warmth outdoors.
It may seem obvious, but the benefits of hot food for cold weather camping are no joke.
When cold weather camping, prepare soups, stews, and other hot meals if possible. This will warm your body from the inside out and make you feel more comfortable.
If you have a small gas stove and some simple cookware, you can make just about any recipe you’d be able to at home. You can even cook over an open fire in a pinch with cast iron cookware.
In addition to hot food, make sure to have hot chocolate mix, tea, and coffee handy so you can have a quick hot beverage if you get cold.
A simple campfire can warm you up even if you get really cold. This is especially important for safety reasons if you become dangerously close to hypothermia.
Every camper should know how to start a simple campfire to provide warmth as well as a means to cook if you don’t have a gas stove or if its not working properly.
Pack plenty of lighters, fire starter paste, paper products, and magnesium strikers or waterproof matches if your lighters won’t work.
Make a fire and keep it smoldering throughout your trip (unless in a forest fire risk area) so you can be easily reignited. Warm up by the campfire before you go to bed so you can bring some extra warmth with you into your sleeping bag.
Cold weather camping may seem intimidating, but with the right gear and preparation it can become your favorite camping season.
Staying warm is not only important to keep you comfortable and make winter camping more enjoyable, but it’s also crucial to keep you safe from the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.
Take extra care when packing and while cold weather camping so you can be safe. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared, especially for cold weather.