The Best Winter Camping Gear for Cold Weather

Don’t go winter camping without the right winter camping gear.

If you’re not adequately prepared for the winter weather, you’re likely in for a cold, wet, and all-around miserable trip.

In addition to a warm sleeping bag and weather-resistant tent, cold weather camping requires a host of other important winter camping gear and equipment.

Winter clothing is at the top of that list. Then there are tent heaters, winter camping safety equipment, and so much more.

Here’s everything you need to know about the best winter camping gear.

Index:

  1. Tent & Sleeping Bag
  2. Clothing
  3. Winter Boots
  4. Hiking & Backpacking Gear
  5. Safety Equipment
  6. Additional Gear
  7. Winter Hammock

Quick Winter Camping Gear Checklist

In addition to your normal camping gear checklist, there are quite a few extra items you need for a smooth winter camping trip.

Sleep Setup: 

  • 4-Season Tent
  • Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
  • Winter Sleeping Pad

Winter Clothing: 

  • Warm Base Layer
  • Insulating (Easily Removable) Middle Layer
  • Waterproof Outer Layer
  • Winter Hat
  • Winter Gloves
  • Warm Socks
  • Waterproof/Insulated Hiking Boots

Additional Winter Camping Gear:

  • Tent Heater
  • Eye Protection (Goggles or Glasses)
  • Safety Equipment

Our detailed winter camping guides will help you buy the best winter sleeping bags, winter tents, and tent heaters.

Winter Tent and Sleeping Bag

tent camping in winter

A quality winter tent and warm sleeping bag are two of the most important pieces of winter camping equipment.

Your winter tent must be sturdy and waterproof. Although a 3-season tent can work in mild weather, a 4-season tent is necessary for true winter camping.

The Mountain Hardware Trango 2 is a top-rated 4-season tent suitable for two people camping in very cold winter conditions.

As for a winter sleeping bag, you need a model rated for the temperatures you expect to encounter on your trip.

However, even a sleeping bag rated for 32°F won’t keep you very comfortable in freezing weather conditions.

We recommend a winter sleeping bag with a temperature rating at least 10°F to 15°F lower than the coldest temperatures you expect to encounter on your cold weather camping trip.

The Marmot Sawtooth 15F Down Sleeping Bag is an excellent winter sleeping bag that is warm, lightweight, and affordable.

Take a look at our detailed buyer’s guides for more information:

These winter camping buying guides also feature in-depth reviews of the best winter sleeping bags and best winter tents.

Winter Clothing

Another major category of winter camping gear is winter clothing.

The best way to stay warm is with layering. Multiple layers enable you to add or subtract layers depending on the temperature and weather conditions. REI recommends the three-layer system.

Of course, you can get away with a single layer of winter camping clothing. But because of the versatility of the layered approach, that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

Here’s what you need to know about the best clothing for winter camping:

1.     Outerwear

Your outer layer of clothing, also known as a shell layer, typically consists of a water-resistant jacket and pants.

For winter camping, the jacket and pants must be waterproof and windproof. The best models are also lightweight and breathable.

You have a lot of winter jacket options. One big decision is between a true outer shell (minimal insulation but very lightweight) or an insulated jacket (warmer but heavier).

The price range (and quality) for winter jackets and pants varies widely. Casual winter campers should look for models around $100 to $200 for each piece. Serious winter campers (especially backpackers and mountaineers) can spend anywhere up to $500 or more for each piece.

The REI Stormhenge 850 Down Jacket is one of the best winter jackets, especially considering its overall value.

For roughly $250, you get an incredibly durable performance-oriented jacket. It combines a waterproof, yet breathable, nylon shell with 850 fill down for a one-two punch of waterproofing and durability. It comes with a lot of the features you’d find in a much more expensive model.

The RAB Xenon X Jacket is one of the best insulated winter jackets for women.

Comparably priced to the REI Stormhenge, it’s not only specifically created for women, but it’s notable for its warmth, light weight, and weather resistance. It comes with all the technical features you’d expect from a high performance model.

The REI Activator V2 Soft-Shell Pants rank highly as some of the best winter pants for camping in the cold, rain, and snow.

For just under $100, you get a pair of very comfortable and durable soft-shell pants made from a water-resistant nylon fabric. Zip side pockets give you secure storage and easy access to important items.

Need even more protection from the elements? The Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Pant is as warm, durable, and lightweight as they come. It’s the best winter pant for very snowy conditions.

2.     Middle Layer

The middle layer is the clothing layer underneath the waterproof outer layer.

The goal of the middle layer is insulation and heat retention instead of water resistance.

Your mid layer options are numerous. The best choice depends on the conditions you expect to face on your winter camping trip.

Popular choices are a pullover sweater, zip-up jacket, or a vest. The best materials include down, fleece, and wool as well as synthetic insulation materials.

The North Face Tech Glacier ¼ Zip is one of the best base layers for winter camping.

It’s a mid-weight fleece jacket with a quarter-zipper to better help you regulate your temperature. It’s comfortable, durable, and comes in a variety of colors (as well as a dedicated women’s model, The North Face Women’s Tech Glacier ¼ Zip.)

For a mid-layer pant, the Patagonia Women’s Crosstrek Bottoms and the Patagonia Men’s Crosstrek Bottoms are excellent options.

3.     Base Layer

Your base layer is partially responsible for warmth and insulation – but it has an even more important main purpose: wicking moisture.

The goal of your winter base layer is to wick moisture away from your body to keep your skin dry.

Keeping moisture away from your skin is extremely important while winter camping, because the freezing weather conditions can quickly cause you to become chilled (or even develop hypothermia) if perspiration is left in contact with the skin.

The best materials include nylon, polyester, and merino wool. Avoid non-wicking fabrics like cotton. REI has an excellent guide on how to choose base layers for camping.

Although you have a few different style options, long underwear is one of the best, thanks to its comfort and versatility.

Among the very best base layers for winter camping are the REI Lightweight Base Layer Crew Top and REI Silk Long Underwear Bottoms, both for women.

Men can’t go wrong with the REI Lightweight Base Layer Crew Top and REI Lightweight Base Layer Bottoms.

4.     Winter Hat

A winter hat, like a beanie, is an essential piece of winter camping gear.

The obvious reason is that it helps you stay warm. A hat’s insulating properties help you retain your body heat.

This is particularly important at nighttime. Outside Online recommends wearing a winter hat when you crawl into your sleeping bag to minimize heat loss in very cold weather.

Any type of beanie or knit hat will do the job well. There’s not really one specific model that we recommend above all others.

That said, REI has a great selection of winter hats. The REI Lightweight Logo Beanie is lightweight yet warm. It also looks great.

5.     Winter Gloves

In addition to your head, the hands and the feet are two other body parts that lose a lot of heat while cold weather camping.

That’s why you need a good pair of gloves (or mittens) for winter camping! Quality insulation is the most important factor, although those that plan to get their hands damp should look into waterproofing.

The Black Diamond Soloist are among the best cold weather gloves available. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and 100% waterproof. They’re flexible with a grippy underside which makes them perfect for gripping objects (hiking or ski poles) in wet conditions.

Don’t need something quite so high performance? The Black Diamond WindWeight Convertible Mittens are an excellent choice. They’re not 100% waterproof, but their fleece design will keep your hands warm in the winter – even in biting wind.

REI has an excellent guide on how to buy snow gloves and mittens.

Winter Boots (& Socks!)

winter hiking boots

Just like with winter clothing, the best winter boots for camping depend on your needs.

Winter boots for hanging out in a campground are vastly different than the winter boots required for winter backpacking.

That said, there are still a few main factors to keep in mind:

  • Insulation – How warm are the boots?
  • Waterproofing – How well do the boots block moisture from snow and rain?
  • Traction – How well do the boots grip the terrain?

Naturally, it’s also important to find a pair of winter boots that fit well. Not only that, but you need to make sure they still fit when you’re wearing a pair of thick winter socks underneath.

Here are the basics on winter boots, socks, and gaiters for winter camping:

1.     Men’s Boots

Not only is the Vasque Men’s Coldspark Ultradry Snow Boot affordable, it also works just as well on occasional hikes in the snow as it does around your campsite.

This 100% synthetic boot is well insulated and waterproof. It boasts a rubber outsole that’s specifically designed for cold weather. The boots will keep your feet warm in very cold, including temperatures that dip well below freezing.

2.     Women’s Boots

The Oboz Women’s Bridger 7” Insulated B-Dry Hiking Boot is another highly affordable winter boot for hiking.

This women’s winter boot is created with multiple purposes in mind. It’s comfortable to wear around camp as well as on a long snow hike. You can even use it with snowshoes.

The boot is constructed from waterproof leather with breathable insulation. Special thermal insoles provide insulation while simultaneously promoting airflow to limit perspiration.

3.     Winter Socks

A quality pair of winter socks make winter camping so much more enjoyable.

Not only must your socks be warm and comfortable, but they must also work well with your winter boots, especially if you plan to partake in hiking, snowshoeing, or another outdoor activity.

Heavyweight socks are best for winter campers. Look for a material like merino wool or synthetics that will help wick moisture away from your skin and promote breathability.

You can never go wrong with Smartwool. For winter camping, their Smartwool Mountaineer Socks provide maximum warmth and comfort.

Eastern Mountain Sports has an excellent guide on how to choose socks.

4.     Liner Socks

Liner socks are worn underneath your thick winter socks to promote moisture wicking.

These thin, lightweight socks wick away moisture to increase comfort, prevent blisters, and reduce the risk of frostbite from sweaty socks freezing. Like winter socks, they are made from a variety of different materials.

The REI EcoMade CoolMax Liner Socks are a lightweight, affordable, and comfortable option.

5.     Gaiters

Snow inside of your winter hiking boots will ruin your day.

If you’re at your campsite, you can simply take them off to dry. Hikers and backpackers, however, must suffer through with damp socks and cold feet.

Even the best boots can let moisture in when the snow is well above the top of the boots. In this situation, a pair of hiking gaiters will help keep that moisture from entering your boots. They also prevent snow and ice from freezing to your pants.

The REI Alpine Gaiters are an excellent choice. Made from 1000-denier nylon, they’re rugged and waterproof. They’re a good choice for hiking, snowshoeing, backpacking, mountaineering, and more.

REI has an extensive guide on how to choose and use gaiters.

Stay tuned for our upcoming guide on the best winter boots for hiking and camping.

Winter Hiking and Backpacking Gear

backpacking in winter

Hiking and backpacking in the winter have their own gear requirements.

In addition to the winter camping gear outlined above, hikers and backpackers typically require a backpack, goggles or sunglasses, and hiking poles.

Here is a little more information about this winter hiking gear:

1.     Winter Backpack

Keep your winter camping gear dry with a waterproof backpack..

The backpack must also be comfortable, lightweight, and big enough to store all your winter camping equipment.

The best winter backpack depends on the length of your trip and type of activity (camping, backpacking, skiing, etc). The Osprey Kamber 42 Ski Pack is a versatile choice.

It’s waterproof and comfortable. It features glove-friendly zippers. There are attachment points for a snow shovel, avalanche probe, and snowboard (or skis).

2.     Winter Goggles/Sunglasses

Eye protection is incredibly important – and all too often overlooked – for winter outdoor activities.

While it’s all but an essential for backpackers, mountaineers, and others traveling long distance, it’s also beneficial for winter campers.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the snow reflects almost 80% of UV radiation.

The sun’s reflection from the snow can cause discomfort, sunburn, and even snow blindness (a form of temporary vision loss).

Although a pair of full-blown snow goggles or glacier goggles are best for many winter activities, a good pair of sunglasses are all you really need for winter camping.

The Native Eyewear Hardtop Ultra Polarized Sunglasses are great for the snow thanks to their wraparound, polarized lens.

3.     Trekking Poles

Rain and snow can make the hiking trails very slick in the winter!

That’s why winter hikers and backpackers need a good pair of trekking poles to maintain their balance (and help maintain momentum) on this slick terrain.

The BAFX Trekking Poles are a lightweight and durable choice. Snowshoe poles are an alternative to normal hiking poles.

Winter Camping Safety Equipment

winter camping safety

Staying safe while winter camping, hiking, and backpacking is of utmost importance.

This starts with a proper respect for the outdoors. Keep an eye on the weather conditions and don’t step outside your capabilities.

It’s just as important to pack the right safety equipment. This winter camping gear will help keep you safe in extreme cold and snow.

Campers staying in a single campsite probably don’t need an avalanche safety kit, but backpackers, skiers, snowboarders, and others venturing into the backcountry certainly do.

Here’s the best safety equipment for winter camping:

1.     The Ten Essentials

The ten essentials are a must no matter the time of year you go camping. Make sure that your winter adventure is as safe as can be by bringing along these items.

2.     Avalanche Beacon (+Shovel/Probe)

Never head into the winter backcountry without knowledge of avalanche safety.

If there’s even the slightest risk of avalanche, you must be prepared with the proper equipment, understanding of safety protocol, and the ability to identify signs of avalanche danger.

The most important pieces of avalanche safety equipment are an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.

You can buy all of these items separately or together in an all-in-one package like the Backcountry Access Tracker 2 Avalanche Package.

Just as important as bringing the right gear is knowing how to use it. So make sure to take an avalanche safety course before stepping foot in avalanche country.

Additional Winter Camping Gear

winter camping gear cook stove

All of the winter camping gear outlined above will get you off to a great start.

However, there are a ton of additional items and accessories that are beneficial to those in cold weather or snow.

Some of the best additional winter camping equipment includes:

1.     Tent Heater

A tent heater provides a little extra warmth to your winter camping setup.

Our guide to the best tent heaters for winter camping will help you sort through all the options available.

Although there are a lot of great models on the market, the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy is among the very best.

2.     Camp Stove

Don’t forget to bring a camp stove on your winter camping trip.

Not only is it one of the most important components of your camp kitchen for preparing camping meals, but it can also be used to melt water and even provide a little heat.

A white gas cook stove, like the MSR WhisperLite International Multifuel Backpacking Stove, is best for cold weather camping.

3.     Sleeping Pad

Your winter sleeping bag provides the bulk of your warmth and insulation at night.

But placing it directly on the frozen ground will enable that coldness to seep into the bag at night. Beat the cold by pairing your sleeping bag with a sleeping pad.

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Ultralight Backpacking Air Mattress is a winter sleeping pad with a high R-value for superior insulation on cold nights.

Some campers prefer to bring two sleeping bags, usually one foam pad and one self-inflating air pad, for winter camping.

What About Hammock Camping in Winter?

hammock camping in winter

One of my favorite winter camping alternatives is hammock camping.

Hammock camping in the winter might sound crazy at first. But with the right equipment (including a sleeping pad, underquilt, and rainfly), it’s actually pretty warm and cozy.

It’s also a very lightweight option. A winter hammock is extremely portable and takes only a few minutes to set up each night. Better yet, it keeps you up off the cold and wet ground.

Our guide to hammock camping in winter fills in all the blanks and recommends the best hammock camping gear and equipment.

Additional Resources

Camping in the winter doesn’t always mean freezing temperatures, high winds, and snow.

For example, I live in Washington State and frequently camp in Olympic National Park each winter. Although the interior is snowy, I tend to camp near the coast where the biggest winter threat is a heck of a lot of rain!

If rain is your biggest winter camping concern, then our guide to camping in the rain has you covered.

We Want to Hear from You!

What are your thoughts on winter camping?

Do you have a favorite piece of winter camping gear that you recommend? Or, how about, any special tricks for staying warm in the cold and snow? Where is your favorite place to go winter camping?

Let me know in the comments below!

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