Winter Camping Tips for a Successful Cold Weather Campout

Summer is coming to an end.  You are really going to miss camping now that the weather is starting to turn cold.  Maybe it’s time to try something new.  Winter camping!!  Winter camping, and cold weather camping in general requires some extra preparation.  But your camping season does not need to end when summer ends and the temperature starts to dip.  A little research, and the right equipment will provide you with an enjoyable outing.

Winter Camping Tents Provide Shelter

A 4 season tent is one thing that will make camping in the snow more enjoyable.  The type of tent you need for camping during the winter months is going to be much different than a good summer tent.  Summer tents need to keep you dry in the rain, and have good ventilation to prevent condensation.  Winter tent designs vary, but if you are looking at 4 season tents, your needs will include something that can withstand wind, and the weight of snow.  Cold weather camping tents also include models for people camping in the mountains.

Double wall and single wall models are available.  For comfort, you will want to opt for a double wall model.  Single wall models are more appropriate when you need light weight for climbing and hiking.

Various pole designs are also available.  Freestanding tents rely mostly on tie outs, but are very strong when it comes to supporting snow.  Self supporting tents are supported partially by poles and partially by tension added by tie out lines.  Tunnel tents are very strong, and offer some of the best wind resistance.  Tunnel tents offer a great combination of strength, low weight, living space.

A good wisk broom is a must for winter tent camping.  Any snow that gets in your tent should be removed.  You can also use it to remove snow from your clothing before coming in the tent.  You don’t want the snow in your tent.  Your body heat will melt it, then it will turn to ice.  Keeping the snow out of your tent will keep you and your belongings dryer.

Using a space blanket as a ground cloth under your tent, in your tent, or both provides extra insulation between you and the cold ground.  The more insulation you have between you and the ground, the better.

The Right Cold Weather Clothing is Essential

The right clothing is essential.  Dress in Layers, and avoid cotton, which holds moisture. Clothing should fit loosely to create air spaces in between the layers.  Layers and air spaces are important to keep your body heat from escaping.  Today’s modern fabrics work to wick moisture away from your body, helping to keep you dry.  Inner layers of materials that wick moisture away from your body, a middle layer for warmth, topped with an outer layer to provide a waterproof and weather resistant shell are they key.

Don’t over do it.  If you dress too warm, you will sweat.  Depending on your level of activity, perspiration will be inevitable.  Here is another place layers can help.  Layers allow you to remove and add clothing as needed to match your level of activity.  Unzip or remove layers to keep cool when you are exerting yourself to minimize sweating.   But bundle up more when you are resting to keep the warmth in.

One thing that I always put on in layers, that many people forget, is mittens and gloves.  Get a good pair of glove liners, or thin gloves that you wear on the inside of heavier outer gloves.  And a nice heavy pair of mittens to keep your hands warm during less active times.  I take a lot of pictures, and heavy gloves or mittens make it very difficult to operate a camera.  I have a heavy pair of mittens for added warmth when hiking and not using my hands for much.  And when I stop to take photos, I can take those off and I still have the light liners in place, which are thin enough to allow me to use my camera, but still not expose my bare skin to the air (or the cold metal parts of the camera).  Mittens are also much better at keeping your hands warm than gloves in extreme cold, because there is one single air pocket for your hand and fingers to keep them warmer.

Have extra socks, and gloves.  These are items that get wet easily.  And extremities such as hands and feet are the hardest parts of your body to keep warm.  Replace wet gloves/mittens or socks immediately.   A warm hat is important as well, and worth keeping an extra one handy.  Hats should be windproof, weather resistant, and should cover your ears.

Whatever you do stay dry.  Hypothermia is a risk of being outdoors in the cold, and wet or damp clothing is a sure way for your body temp to drop to dangerous levels.  Have enough clothing to change clothing that gets wet.  Clean clothing is also important.  Dirt and body oils on your clothing break down the insulating properties of that clothing.

The Importance of Nutrition In The Cold Outdoors

The right nutrition is essential.  Your body needs fuel to generate warmth.  Proper hydration is important, and foods with plenty of carbs and protein give you the energy for the level of activity required for your adventure, and more importantly, helps you to stay warm.  Your meals should provide you with the nutrients you need, and you should keep high protein snack foods handy for in between meals, like trail mix and snack bars.

Selecting The Right Location For Your Campsite

Stay out of the wind.  Avoid ridge tops where the wind is the worst.  Take a good look around before setting up your tent, and make sure that there are no widowmakers.  Widowmakers are dead trees or limbs that could come down in the wind.  Keep your tent away from them in case they fall while you are camping.  Stay away from low lying areas where cold air will settle.  Don’t be afraid to utilize snow for insulation.

Depending on where you are camping, watch for avalanche danger areas.  You will want as level an area as possible for your tent.  Keep in mind that a southern exposure will give you the maximum amount of daylight, helping to warm the inside of your tent.  And be aware of any local winter camping regulations.

Tips to Stay Warm When Sleeping

Your sleeping system should be layered like your clothing.  It should be made of synthetic materials that you can dry quickly if they get wet.  Have a good insulating pad for under your sleeping bag.  You need more protection from the cold under you than over you.  Along with a good sleeping pad, you need a good inner layer.  Polar fleece socks are important in keeping your feet warm while you sleep.   Then a good inner sleeping bag, and an outer bag, with a hood, to provide protection while you’re sleeping.

Start a Fire for Warmth, Cooking, and Keeping Dry

A campfire is important for any camping, but even more so for winter camping.  A good fire provides warmth, lets you dry clothing that has become wet, allows you to cook your meals, and if needed, melt snow as a source of fresh water.  Have waterproof matches, or other means of starting a campfire.  Make sure you have access to some dry wood.  Dead branches on the underside of evergreen trees make good kindling wood.

Depending on how far you are hiking, a saw, hatchet, or other tools are very helpful to have along, but in many places you can find plenty of wood from blow downs or dead branches lying around in the woods.  Baling twine, or dryer lint provide good material for starting a fire. Depending on the weather, you may need to worry about the wind.  Having a camp site location out of the direct wind will help, but may not always be enough.

The amount of snow can sometimes firewood harder to find, with many sources of firewood being buried under snow.  A good camp stove will also allow you to cook, and boil water.  Never cook inside your tent, even with a small camp stove.  You will need to carry some fuel for the stove with you, but it may be worth it with the time it saves finding firewood.

Share your winter camping tips in the comments section below!

For more information, check out these resources for winter camping fun.

Princeton’s winter camping guide
Basics of layering clothing from REI
In depth review of 4 season tents from OutdoorGearLab

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