Sure, it’s great to get out and enjoy nature in the spring and summer when warm sunshine splashes the world. But fall and winter car camping have their charms, too, as the world goes silent amid skeletons of leafless trees.
There can be a real challenge in figuring out how to stay warm car camping. Read on for some suggestions for comfortable cold-season car camping.
Choosing a campsite for warmth
One of the attractions of winter camping is enjoying snow-covered vistas. But choosing a campsite for its view may be a big mistake when you’re concerned about how to stay warm car camping.
As a first step, seek a spot surrounded by tall bushes and thick vegetation which will block the wind, meaning you’ll be warmer than elsewhere. Also, choosing a campsite with the minimal wind will make it easier to start a fire, an obvious key for how to stay warm car camping.
As you approach your campsite, you should also pay attention to the sun’s path. Choosing an east-facing location close to the path of the rising sun will put you in the warmest spot.
Pack plenty of warm clothes and blankets
Particularly important as you develop your plan for how to stay warm car camping is knowing you should dress in layers, which will mean packing plenty of clothes.
Layering makes removing or adding clothing easy to stay comfortable as conditions change. Three layers of clothing are optimal, with the top layer being waterproof to ensure the remaining layers will remain dry.
Blankets are also essential to staying warm while car camping in cold weather. And luckily, if you’re car camping, you have a wide choice of blankets since weight and size won’t be a significant consideration as your vehicle also serves as storage space.
A wool blanket is a decent choice because it retains its insulating properties even when wet. There is, though, a downside to wool, because it isn’t particularly comfortable.
Fleece blankets are a synthetic wool alternative, but fleece is very flammable, which may be a problematic choice if you’re using fire for warmth and cooking.
Polyester blankets are another choice. The synthetic fiber is waterproof, fire-resistant, and wicks sweat away from the body.
Another option is a thermal blanket of thin, heat-reflecting plastic. However, the flimsy composition of the thermal blanket means it isn’t ideal for hard use, making it somewhat problematic in terms of how to stay warm car camping.
Choosing a cold-weather tent
As you develop a plan for how to stay warm car camping, an important consideration will be the type of tent you should choose. A lightweight, durable, and water-resistant tent that is easy to set up will be your best choice.
Most lightweight tents are made from nylon or polyester materials. Either can be a good choice for winter car camping, but there are a couple of things that should inform your decision. One is the fabric’s “hydrostatic head” rating for water resistance, and another is the Denier rating of the fabric’s weight and thickness.
A good target hydrostatic head rating is 2000 millimeters, while a recommended Denier rating is 70D.
You’ll also need to choose between a dome-style or cabin-style tent as part of your strategy for how to stay warm car camping. Dome-style tents can withstand strong winds and will shed snow, while a cabin-style tent can house a larger number of people.
Your tent should be as airtight as possible, which means paying attention to the number of zippers that can let cold air inside.
Sleeping comfortably in the cold
Because you’ll likely be spending several hours each night asleep, your choice of sleeping bag is an important component of how to stay warm car camping.
Use a winter sleeping bag
In choosing a sleeping bag, pay attention to its temperature rating. Choosing a sleeping bag that meets or exceeds the temperature limits you’re expecting will mean you won’t need to wear as much when sleeping, ensuring more pleasant rest.
It would help if you chose a mummy-style sleeping bag over the more traditional rectangular shape because the body-hugging contour of a mummy-style bag will keep you warmer.
You’ll also be choosing between a down-filled or a synthetic-filled bag as you consider options for how to stay warm car camping. If you select a synthetic-filled bag, you’ll need to pay attention to instructions for its care, being vigilant about washing and drying it as recommended to avoid altering its insulating properties.
A down-filled bag presents a nearly opposite challenge and should be washed by hand with a bar of soft soap or immersed in a bathtub and laid flat to dry.
Another cold-weather sleep necessity
As you consider the range of issues for how to stay warm car camping, you’ll want to think seriously about investing in a sleeping pad.
The most important criterion for choosing a sleeping pad is its R-value, a measure of how well it prevents the loss of body heat into the ground. An R-value of 4 should be considered the minimum for comfortable winter camping.
Keeping that fire burning
Having a dependable fire is a vital component in how to stay warm car camping.
The basic rules for starting and maintaining a fire are finding a dry area to establish it and being out of the wind. While wind can feed a fire, when you’re trying to get one started, a breeze can cool any flame to the point that combustion can’t be sustained.
To maximize the warmth of your fire, you should build it near a large rock or boulder, if possible, to provide a surface that will collect and reflect the fire’s warmth.
A key to building a campfire is to find the best fire-starting material as a starting point for how to stay warm car camping.
Unless you’re camping in a particularly austere environment, you should be able to find small twigs, pine straws, or even clumps of dead grasses that will readily burn. Be sure to provide a base to which larger pieces of wood can be added for a sustained blaze.
You should, though, bring your fire-starting equipment to ensure that you’ll have a fire around which to stay warm.
One option is a pocket-size fire starter, comprising a flint and a steel striker, to ignite tinder with a spark. Or, you might want to buy a cigarette lighter specifically built for outdoor use.
Other sources of heat
There are several heaters designed specifically for outdoor use, but each type has drawbacks regarding how to stay warm car camping. Electric heaters, for example, will require that you camp at a location with an electrical connection.
Small gas heaters, operating off propane, kerosene, or butane, are better options, but you’ll need plenty of gas canisters.
Wood stoves are also available for cold-weather camping, but like a campfire, a wood stove will require a constant supply of wood. Also, wood stoves can only be used in tents equipped with tent jacks, specially constructed openings through which the stove pipe must be routed.
Eating for the cold
Camping in cold weather places strains on your body that aren’t present at other times of the year, so you should pay attention to what you eat as part of your strategy for how to stay warm car camping.
Carbohydrates, not proteins
The most important thing to know about nutrition in winter camping is that carbohydrates — starches and sugars — should comprise half or more of the calories you consume.
Carbohydrates — pasta, grains, or even candy bars — can provide a mix of quick and sustained energy to your body in a cold environment.
Beyond that, plan to get a least a quarter of your caloric intake from fats — nuts, cheese, and fatty components of meat — to keep you energized over the long term.
Finally, proteins like those in bacon, chicken, and other meats should comprise about 20% of your winter camping diet. While getting adequate proteins will require cooking, you can also get them quickly with pre-packaged meat snacks such as jerky.
How to stay warm car camping in your car
When car camping means using your car as your campsite, there are a number of things to consider. First up, for instance, is determining whether your vehicle’s seats are either wide enough to accommodate you comfortably or can be folded down for a good night’s sleep.
Cars lose most of their heat through windows, so be sure you have a reflective shield for your front glass. Used routinely to keep summer heat out, reflective shields can also keep the vehicle interior from getting too cold. To cover other car windows, use a cut-to-fit product like Reflectix.
Two more quick tips
It would be best if you also had a full tank of gas so you could run the vehicle’s heater periodically. Open your windows slightly while the car runs to avoid dangerous carbon monoxide buildup. In fact, keeping the windows open just a bit at all times will promote airflow for a comfortable night’s sleep.
It’s wise to have a backup plan should the weather get too cold. If you have friends within easy driving distance, arrange to stay with them or scout the area in advance for nearby hotels where a last-minute stay is possible.
Wrapping up how to stay warm car camping
We hope this post has helped you develop plans for how to stay warm car camping.
And if you’re not yet into winter car camping, we hope this post will prompt you to try it and to do so safely and comfortably. In the meantime, check out these posts for more information on car camping.