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Winter Camping Survival Skills You Can’t Ignore

Most people go camping in the summer, but winter camping has its own magic.

Just like any other time of year, there are specific safety precautions you should take for winter camping. These protocols will help keep you safe so you can really enjoy yourself while staying safe and warm.

Preparation is everything, so read on to learn all about important winter camping survival skills you need to know before you head out.

Winter Camping Survival Skills

The Dangers of Winter Camping

Winter camping is amazing, but there are things to be prepared for.

It can be dangerous in different ways from warmer weather, and it’s essential that you know what to expect. You might be tempted to just wear warmer clothes, but there’s much more to it than that.

Winter camping conditions can be icy, slick, wet, windy, or just unpredictable. Frostbite and hypothermia are no joke, and they can set in quickly if you aren’t careful and taking precautions to avoid them. Snow adds yet another layer of potential problems to the mix, and you need to know how to react if snowy conditions create problems.

Monitor the Weather Before You Go

Make sure you know what you’re dealing with in as much depth as possible ahead of time.

Whether that’s extremely low temperatures, heavy snow, or freezing rain, you’ll be more prepared if you know what the weather is supposed to be before you head out.

Make a habit of regularly checking bulletins or websites for where you plan to do your winter camping. This will allow you to be aware of any alerts or warnings right away, so you can either prepare yourself appropriately or come up with a new plan.

Gear You’ll Need

The basics of winter camping gear will be similar to summer camping. These items include a tent, first aid supplies, sleeping bagcamping stove, food, water, a compass, headlamp, and adequate clothing.

Spare socks and gloves are helpful in case your equipment gets wet. Sunglasses and sunscreen might surprise you, but protecting your skin year round is important. Snow can create a serious glare, making it difficult to see and even giving you a nasty sunburn that you don’t notice until later on.

A shovel can be useful, especially in snowy conditions. Similarly, you should probably have snow shoes on hand to help you traverse areas where the snow is deep and fluffy.

Definitely pack insulated travel mugs for warm liquids. A quality insulated mug (or a few) will allow you to keep coffee, tea, soup, and more nice and toasty to keep you warm even in the chilliest conditions.

On a similar note, hand and foot warmers are great if you just can’t get warm. They’re small and easy to keep in your pockets or gloves and boots for added coziness.

You may also want to bring spare stove fuel, batteries, and food to keep everything working properly. That way if anything malfunctions, leaks, or gets used up faster than youanticipated, it won’t spoil your winter camping experience.

Ski or hiking poles can be very helpful, especially if the ground is frozen or covered in snow. The last thing you want is an injury from slipping. If you’re expecting slippery conditions, you can also bring a set of crampons to attach to your boots for extra traction on ice.

Ice Snow Grips,Traction Cleats with 19 Stainless Steel Spikes Slip for Men and Women, Ice Cleats for Shoes and Boots for Hiking Walking Camping Jogging Ice Fishing (L)

It’s very important that you make sure all of these items are specifically made for winter camping. While you might already have supplies like a tent and sleeping bag, if they aren’t rated for lower temperatures, they won’t be adequate.

Get yourself very familiar with how all your equipment works so you’re comfortable using it out in the elements.

Crucial Winter Camping Skills

Some winter camping skills will come in handy right away, while others are just precautions in case something bad were to happen.

Either way, it’s important that you be as prepared as possible. Not only will it serve you well in an emergency, but you’ll also be able to enjoy yourself more knowing you’re mentally ready to handle anything that might arise.

Make a point of learning and practicing these skills far ahead of your winter camping excursion. The longer you have to go over everything, the more confident you’ll be in any situation.

Things to Learn Before You Go

Of course building, starting, and maintaining an effective fire is a must. A good campfire generates heat, allows you to cook food, and also raises your spirits in cold or dreary weather.

Creek in the Woods

Being able to find more water in an emergency is absolutely necessary. Whether that’s using snowmelt or finding a stream and santizing your water so it’s safe to drink, always have a backup plan for staying hydrated.

You might think winter camping doesn’t come with a risk of dehydration, but it’s definitely a possibility in tricky conditions.

Know what kind of equipment will be adequate for the conditions you’ll be in. If you’re not sure, definitely opt for items that can handle colder, windier, and icier weather than you’re expecting.

Learn and repeatedly practice how to effectively use first aid supplies in case of injury. Whether you’re alone or with a group, first aid skills are always an absolute must no matter what.

Hand Sewing

Be comfortable repairing your gear if something breaks, even if it’s a very basic repair. If it allows you to keep using the item safely, it will be a major benefit to you over not being able to use that item at all.

Perhaps one of the most important skills for winter camping is knowing the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and how to treat them. You might be surprised at some of the symptoms, so be prepared so you know right away if you’re in any danger of hypothermia or frostbite. The sooner you recognize the signs, the sooner you can take action to prevent potentially permanent damage.

Getting Set Up

A fun and successful winter camping trip officially starts with your campsite and setup.

Find and prepare a good campsite to get off to a good start. You want a space that’s flat and dry, ideally with some protection in the event of unexpected bad weather.

With your tent ready to go, use your gear to create more insulation in your tent as much as possible. You can do this by stacking up your equipment around the perimeter on the inside of the tent to block any drafts and help maintain heat inside. Try to identify any gaps where drafts might sneak in as well as areas where heat might be able to escape and block them if you can.

Once your tent is ready, prepare a bottle of hot water to keep handy. This can make a huge difference if you need it, and it’s also just nice to have to make you more comfortable.

What to Keep an Eye On

Just like camping any time of year, winter camping requires a certain level of vigilance and situational awareness.

Always be aware of animal activity in the area. Just like you, animals will be trying to stay fed and warm in the winter. They’ll be attracted to any food you bring, so make sure you pack your food well so it stays safe and doesn’t tempt any nearby critters.

Bear Safe Food Storage

Having some backup supplies could make all the difference, but you want to be strategic whenever possible. Keep certain items in the warmest spots, like in your sleeping bag at night so they stay toasty. Boot liners, socks, base layers and more are great to have warmed by your body heat when it’s time to get dressed in the morning.

If the wind picks up, you’ll need to check on how secure your tent is regularly. Keep your ears open so you know if conditions are becoming windier than you anticipated.

Keep your body consistently fed, which will also help you stay warm. As your body digests food, it generates heat to help replenish the energy your body loses trying to stay warm. This can even mean eating something in the middle of the night if necessary.

Make sure you keep all your equipment dry. Adding moisture to lower temperatures can get dangerous very quickly, even if it doesn’t feel particularly frigid outside.

Any water you have needs to stay liquid. This might seem obvious, but dehydration in cold conditions is a distinct possibility. Ensure that your water supply is well insulated so it doesn’t freeze.

Boiling Snow for Water

Not only is frozen water not useful, but drinking very cold or icy water will make it more difficult to stay warm and will lower your body temperature.

Your electronics also need to be protected from cold so they continue working as needed. Regularly check them to see that they still work, especially if it gets suddenly much colder.

Always check in with yourself to make sure you aren’t experiencing any signs of frostbite or hypothermia. If you are or you even suspect you are, don’t hesitate to address them right away. Safety first, no matter what.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is it too cold for winter camping?

Tolerable winter camping conditions will vary from one person to another, but in general, 40 degrees is when you’ll really start to feel the cold.

For most people, anything under 20 degrees is too cold for winter camping. This is when you’re in the most danger of frostbite and hypothermia, which can set in quickly. Even at 40 degrees, if your clothing or equipment gets wet you’re at a much higher risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

What should I not bring for winter camping?

Any gear made only for regular summer camping is a no go, so you may need to purchase new items.

A tent intended for good weather will likely not be able to withstand the colder, windier conditions of winter camping.

Avoid cotton, which doesn’t wick moisture well. If your clothes get wet, cotton will remain wet and make you colder. Instead, opt for wool or polyester.

Tight clothes should stay at home as well, as they don’t do a good job of maintaining heat.

Any unnecessary items you don’t need will only give you more to manage and carry, wasting valuable energy and body heat. Opt for items rated for weather colder than you’re expecting just in case.

Make Winter Camping a Great Experience With Winter Camping Survival Skills

When you’re well prepared and know what to expect, winter camping can be an incredible activity.

Being ready for the cold means you’ll remain comfortable and not so focused on the cold that you can’t enjoy yourself. Make sure your skills are well practiced and you feel ready, and you’ll leave with lots of great new memories.

Head to our Camping Gear page to start building your packing list!