Winter camping can be a fun adventure if you are prepared, but if not, it can be a cold and dreadful experience. To help make sure you’re ready for winter camping, we prepared this list of 10 winter camping tips that every winter camper should follow.
The key to success is preparedness. Understand what you are getting yourself into by researching the conditions during the winter where you are camping. Things like the amount of precipitation, ice on the trails, and the amount of daylight will be key to your trip’s success.
Tips to Prepare for Your Trip
1. Check the Weather
The first thing you need to do is check the weather. This may seem like a pretty basic concept, but it is frequently skipped by campers. You want to know about storms in the vicinity and anything that could blow your way with a sudden change of wind direction.
Almost as important is to make sure you check the weather for the days leading up to your trip so you know the conditions of the ground. This winter camping tip is key to understanding the conditions you can expect on your arrival. If there has been a ton of precipitation and cold weather, you may be in for an icy experience, and finding fire logs can be difficult.
If there is extreme weather on the horizon, such as a big storm, you will want to postpone your trip. No amount of winter camping tips or preparedness can offset a massive winter storm such as a blizzard. Understanding the conditions you will face will also dictate the gear and clothing you should bring.
2. Choose the right campsite
Your campsite is your home base, so make sure that you choose one that sets you up for success. The key to a successful campsite is choosing a location that can work with you in the goal of keeping you dry and warm and protecting you from the elements.
You want to make sure that you choose a site with trees, rocks, or bushes to protect you from the wind. In addition, you also want to make sure that you aren’t downhill from somewhere that can have runoff or precipitation. This will ensure that you stay dry.
Make sure to also check above your campsite for dead or dying trees. Branches of these trees can get loaded with snow, which will break and fall. This winter camping tip is key for safety and should be a top priority when choosing your campsite.
Outside of the conditions caused by poor weather or trees, you also want to make sure that your campsite choice lends itself to success in keeping you warm and hydrated. If you can find a location that has dry branches and logs for firewood, you will have an easy way to start fires and keep warm. Similarly, if you didn’t bring water or are worried about running out, a stream or other water source can be key to staying hydrated.
Tips for Your Gear
3. The Right Tent
One of the most important winter camping tips is to make sure your tent is appropriate for the weather you will be facing. You will need a four-season tent built for your conditions, which means a wind and water-resistant outer layer and good insulation inside. Shop for a tent similar to the ForestDawn 4 Season Tent. You lose the most heat and are the most vulnerable when sleeping, so without a good tent, all the winter camping tips in the world won’t protect you from the elements.
Make sure you have very sturdy poles and can get them sunk deep into the ground so that your tent won’t blow away in a big gust. It’s a good idea to check the wind rating of your poles and tent to ensure it can withstand your anticipated weather.
When picking your tent, you want to choose one that is big enough for yourself and any companions you have but not much larger. A bigger tent will not heat up as much from body heat and will, therefore, be harder to keep warm. Having enough space for the number of tent residents plus your gear should be plenty for your trip.
You also want to make sure you can fit your gear in the tent so it stays dry. This is a best practice more than a winter camping tip, but it’s a key to success and comfort. Keeping things dry is always going to be a top concern in winter.
4. Choose the best sleeping bag
In conjunction with a strong tent, a key winter camping tip is to ensure you have the best sleeping bag possible. Many factors go into a good sleeping bag, but they all have temperature ratings, so check yours or the one you are going to buy and make sure that it is rated appropriately for your conditions. We recommend a winter sleeping bag like the 0 Degree Sleeping Bag
Many factors go into a sleeping bag’s temperature rating, such as your own body heat, so choosing the right one can be a little tricky. We recommend you choose one rated for 10 degrees lower than your expected temperature to give yourself a margin of error.
When shopping for a sleeping bag, choose one that is insulated and built for winter. The best winter sleeping bags tend to have down insulation, which is lightweight and extremely efficient. Make sure that your sleeping bag is water resistant as well in case your tent has any water intrusion.
5. Appropriate footwear and outerwear
Your footwear and outerwear are both going to be critical to success, so choosing the right one is essential.
For footwear, you need to make sure you have waterproof boots that are insulated. Keeping your feet dry will be important not only for comfort but also for warmth – cold feet will chill your whole body. A good boot like the Zamberlan Mountain Pro is sure to meet your needs.
In addition to insulated and dry footwear, you want to make sure that your shoes have an appropriate grip for the conditions you will face. Icy and wet conditions will affect your grip, so finding shoes with studs is always a good idea if you expect to have to face these conditions. You can get attachable studs if you aren’t sure what the conditions will be.
Just like footwear, your outerwear can make or break your trip, and choosing it correctly is very important. You want to make sure that you can move freely in your jacket while staying warm and dry. Much like your tent and footwear, waterproof, windproof, and insulation are keys to a good jacket.
Make sure to dress in layers so that if you get hot or have an unseasonably warm day, you can remove some layers. Dehydration is always a risk, and being able to shed some layers will be key to maintaining balance and not sweating out all your water.
6. Bring plenty of power
Our last gear winter camping tip is to bring plenty of power. Batteries are the lifeblood of many tools and pieces of equipment, and running out can cut your trip short. Make sure that you pack more than enough in case you lose any or they get damaged.
You will need flashlights, headlamps, radios, and a cooking stove for your trip. This will require batteries and fuel, and all these items are important to your safety and comfort. While the extra power sources will add weight, it’s a small price to pay in order to have the peace of mind to use your equipment as needed and not be overly conservative. This is especially true for your radio, which you will want to check frequently in case there is a storm on the horizon or a change in weather.
Tips for Self-Care
7. Consume Lots of Calories
Consuming a ton of calories is extremely important when you are winter camping, which is why it is our first self-care winter camping tip. In addition to the calories you burn while doing normal activities, your body will burn extra while keeping warm. This means that you will expend way more energy and will, therefore, need more fuel.
While hot meals are a great way to warm up, it’s a good idea to bring easy-to-consume snacks. Preparing a meal takes work, which means calorie expenditure and heat loss. So, having snacks like protein bars handy can help replenish your energy without expending any.
8. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration can come on very quickly, especially if your body is working hard to keep you warm or you are sweating under layers.
Having access to a constant supply of clean drinking water is very important, and you can boil water if you are not sure about it. Heating water also means you can put some in a bottle to sleep next to or keep in your jacket as your own personal heater.
9. Insulate yourself from the ground
When sleeping or sitting on the ground, a lot of your heat is transferred from your body to the cold below you. Having a pad to sit on and sleep on is a great idea to help insulate you and prevent heat transfer or loss. You are most susceptible to this when sleeping, so if you can double up on pads, it’s even better. A very insulated pad like the PowerLinx Ultralight to keep you warm.
10. Be strategic with bathroom breaks
Bathroom breaks are actually one of the most dangerous times when winter camping. When nature calls, you need to use the bathroom immediately, as waiting burns extra energy and calories.
You are also exposed to the elements when using the bathroom, so it’s very important to be quick so that you can bundle back up. If you are going at night, you should use the buddy system or keep a light on in your tent and on your trail to ensure that you can find your way back, as it can be very disorienting.
Time to Go Winter Camping
Winter camping is a fun adventure that can allow you to see a side of nature you would otherwise miss. Along with the beauty, winter camping comes with a lot of danger though, so being prepared is key to a successful trip.
Make sure to follow our winter camping tips and do your research on conditions to know exactly what you might face. For more winter camping tips, please check out our Ultimate Winter Camping Checklist!
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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