Those willing to brave winter weather camping know that the right gear makes all the difference. There are certain items that are winter camping essentials like the right tent, sleeping bag, outerwear, emergency items, and tools. These will help you brave and conquer the cold and snowy conditions like a pro.
It’s important to pick equipment that’s appropriate to the conditions you’ll be in. Some winter camping trips may demand gear that can insulate well into the negative temperatures, whereas other trips may require ice climbing gear.
Keep reading as we go over the winter camping essentials and some suggested products that will help you on your next trip. While the gear on this list was select with an outdoor tent camping adventure in mind, it’s applicable to RV camping. You still need to brave harsh conditions even if you are sleeping in your RV, so use this list for your RV winter camping essentials as well.
Winter Camping Essentials: Temperature Protection
The first item on our list of winter camping essentials is probably the most important – your tent. Shelter is only behind food and water when you are out on the trail and in winter conditions shelter becomes even more important.
Any tent can protect you from precipitation or wind, but there are some tents specifically made for winter camping. We recommend the REI Co-Op Base Camp 4 Tent and The North Face Assault 3 FutureLight Tent. Both are great options, with the key difference being size. You only want a tent as big as necessary for the amount of people on your trip.
A tent that is too big will not insulate well and keep in the warmth generated from body heat. This means you want to ensure that you do not buy a tent that is larger than absolutely necessary. Tents such as these are designed for strong winds and cold conditions, which means they are purpose built and perfect winter camping gear.
These tents are specially vented as well to ensure that condensation does not build up, but ensure that you do not lose heat or let in wind. Of course a tent alone will not keep you warm enough at night, which is why our second winter camping essential is a sleeping bag.
2. Sleeping Bag
Much like a tent, there are specific sleeping bags made for the harsh conditions you face when winter camping. There are many options out there for sleeping bags that cater to cold weather camping, but we recommend the Cabela’s -20 Sleeping Bag and Western Mountaineering Kodiak MF 0 Degree Sleeping Bag. Both of these can keep you warm in freezing conditions, and you should get one rated for the temperatures you will be facing.
This is a key piece of winter camping gear. You need to be able to sleep comfortably in the night, and ensure that you are ready for the next day’s activities. That won’t be possible if you are spending all night shivering. This is especially important if you are camping off the beaten path, as you may find there are days where the weather is too rough to leave your tent – a warm sleeping bag will be critical to keeping you insulated all day.
3. Sleeping Pad
A sleeping pad, or mat, creates a layer between you and the ground that allows you to get a more comfortable night’s rest. Even more importantly, it provides insulation against the ground temperature that can rob you of your body heat.
For winter camping, look for a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 5 or higher. R values below this are for three-season pads and they won’t keep you as warm or safe as ones rated for winter temperatures.
This Fostoy Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad has an R-value of 8. It has a built-in foot pump for inflating, the design features a pillow, and the pad provides just over three inches of cushion between you and the ground. For more extreme nighttime temps, consider this 4 Inch Thick Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad from HEYTRIP that boasts an impressive R-value of 9.5.
Winter Camping Essentials: Outerwear & Heating
4. Camping Coat
Now that you have your shelter and bedding set, the next winter camping essentials are outerwear and warmers. Of course there are many pieces of outerwear, but a high quality coat is key to success on your trip.
The Fjallraven Greenland Womens Winter Parka and Fjallraven Greenland Mens Winter Jacket make great options for your trip. These coats both offer fantastic insulation against the cold, water repellent outer material, and plenty of storage. They are designed for harsh winter conditions and for active use which means they can withstand the abuse camping delivers.
These coats are built to seal around other outerwear, such as gloves and boots, to ensure that you don’t have any wind or snow sneaking in. They allow for free movement so that you can hike, build fires, or do whatever else you need to without having to struggle to get around. Most importantly, they are designed to shield you from the wind, cold and snow that you will battle during your winter camping trip. Your coat is a key piece of gear that makes it a winter camping essential.
While coats will protect your upper half, you need something on your feet to ensure not only warmth but also traction in slippery conditions. For our winter camping essentials, we chose the Lacrosse Men’s Cold Snap 2000G Boots which are designed for these types of conditions. They are waterproof and insulated, but also offer great tread.
The tread will help in slippery conditions such as ice and snow, which is critical in winter. In place of spikes or studs, a solid and thick boot with good tread will give you almost as much grip, and allow you to stay on your feet.
These boots also have a reinforced heel which helps with grip and to keep your ankles and feet steady. This type of support makes them comfortable on long hikes and the high ankle means you can wrap your pants around them to create a nice seal with snow pants.
6. Hand and Feet Warmers
Sometimes, all the outerwear in the world is not enough to keep you warm, and in those instances a hand warmer can go far. This is our next piece of winter camping gear: hand and body warmers.
The 10 Pack Large Hand & Body Warmers can be great for getting that extra heat when you just can’t get warm enough. Warmers like these do not go bad, and are only activated once opened which makes them long lasting. Mix that with their lightweight and they are a great add on that will not become cumbersome if you do not use them.
Winter Camping Essentials: Emergency Needs
7. Emergency Signal
During any camping trip you should have some emergency gear, but this is especially true in winter conditions. No list of winter camping essentials would be complete without a way to signal authorities should you get lost.
The Sirius Signal C-1002 SOS is a great piece of equipment for just this purpose and is a great alternative to flares. It meets the US Coast Guard’s LED-based SOS distress light safety standards. It’s extremely bright and can last up to 8 hours (much longer than flares), giving rescue workers plenty of time to find you.
This emergency light also connects to your phone, sending a signal to your phone to send an SMS message to 911. This can help ensure that authorities are notified of your distress and leave to find you immediately.
Unlike flares, which go bad and have to be replaced (not to mention are dangerous) this emergency signal has no expiration and runs off batteries that can be easily replaced. The light is bright enough to see even in white-out conditions making it a great choice for snowy peaks off the trail.
Safety should always be top of mind, and this is a winter camping essential you should always have with you.
8. Hand Crank Radio and Light
In addition to an emergency signal, you will want to bring a hand crank radio with you. It is important to get up-to-date weather information when winter camping, especially at higher altitude where the conditions can change in an instant. This is why the 6000mAh Emergency Hand Crank Radio is our next winter camping essential.
A hand crank radio is self-powered so you never have to worry about batteries or charging. It also doubles as a flashlight which is great since it requires no batteries. Lastly it has a charging port for your devices in case they run out of power.
A radio is truly a key piece of safety equipment and having to bring along batteries is a pain. A hand crank radio will allow you to forgo the batteries while also containing other helpful tools. When talking about winter camping essentials, a radio is a way to stay in touch and understand when conditions dictate you should move up or down a mountain.
Winter Camping Essentials: Special Tools
9. Ice Axe
If your winter camping trip involves climbing or steep inclines, you should consider getting an ice axe. Unlike a normal axe, an ice axe is more about navigation, and climbing assistance than splitting wood. The Trango Raptor Ice Axe is a great example of just such an axe.
You can use an ice axe when climbing iced over rocks to get a good grip or when climbing a steep incline, by planting it as a base in the ground. Because of their curved shape, they also lend themselves to looping around trees to help pull yourself higher.
Ice axes are not for every trip, but they are absolutely a winter camping essential if you are going to be in rough, steep, mountainous conditions. They also have other uses than just climbing. If you are in extreme temperatures, they are a great ice breaking tool for water that may have frozen over.
10. Camping Stove
The last item on our list of winter camping essentials is a camping stove. Many people think of cooking over a fire when they think of camping, however when winter camping conditions may not allow for you to start a fire. The Jetboil MiniMo Camping and Backpacking Stove is small and easy to fit in a backpack, but it is versatile and allows you to cook in any condition.
Winter is frequently accompanied by precipitation, whether rain or snow, and this can make finding kindling and dry logs very difficult. Mix this with cold and windy conditions and cooking can become a huge project rather than a quick chore. That is the last thing you want at the end of the day when you are hungry.
You will need to keep a fuel source with you in addition to the actual camping stove, so keep that in mind when looking at this piece of gear. The Jetboil MiniMo Camping and Backpacking Stove is a good option because it is a self contained kit that also can be used to eat directly out of. This makes it an all-in-one winter camping essential that only requires fuel to make it work.
In a pinch you can also use a cooking stove to create heat if all else fails. When talking about winter camping essentials, many of our items focus on heat and warmth. If you cannot start a fire, and all else fails, you can use the small cooking stove to either ignite kindling, or create a small flame to warm yourself by.
Wrapping Up Essential Winter Camping Gear
When you are going out to face the harsh conditions present in most winter camping trips, having the right gear is key. Our list of winter camping essentials touches on some of the most important pieces of equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, outerwear and warmers, emergency equipment, and special tools.
When choosing your winter camping equipment, make sure that it matches the conditions of your trip. Being prepared is the only way to get through freezing temperatures and snowy or icy conditions comfortably and easily so that your trip is an enjoyable success.
Read more about planning a winter camping trip by visiting the Winter Camping page on our website to ensure you’re fully prepared!
- About the Author
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Aaron Leeper is an avid camper, hiker, and outdoorsmen. Having spent over two decades honing the skills, Aaron has done it all from bushwhacking to guided climbs and everything in-between. With a bachelors from Skidmore College, Aaron has long focused on writing as a passion and loves to write about his favorite outdoor hobbies