For many camping is thought of as a summer activity, but for others, it is a year-round adventure. For some of us, there is nothing better than wild camping in the winter in a remote location of the world. Winter camping certainly has its selling points, fewer bugs and being truly alone are the two most seasoned campers will mention. Although being able to experience the wild scenery during the winter months is certainly something to behold. Of course, there are some obvious reasons that not everyone will think of camping during the winter months, extreme cold, snow and unpredictable weather is the main reason.
Surprisingly it is easy to stay warm in your tent, actually, you don’t even have to break the bank when trying to stay warm. Many of us use simple tips and tricks for a more comfortable winter camping trip. If you are planning your first winter camping trip then be sure to keep things simple and don’t pick a campsite too far from home – just in case you need to cut the trip short. Below I have listed my top 16 tips that should help you prepare and enjoy a winter camping trip.
Tips for Preparing for Your Winter Camping Trip
Prepare and Plan
Preparation is the key to any enjoyable camping trip, even more so in the winter months. Our winter camping checklist will make this preparation and planning task a lot easier. Be sure to read or even print it out for your trip. The last thing you want is to get to the campsite and realize you have forgotten to pack something that you don’t use in the summer but becomes critical in the winter.
The last point of planning is to keep your plans flexible. If you think the weather is going to take a turn for the worse then maybe it would be wiser to delay the trip or even pick another campsite where the weather looks a little fairer. This is especially important for the first time winter camper.
Don’t Go Alone
Solo camping is great in the summer but during the winter I really don’t advise it. You never know what will happen and having a spare set of hands to help you in the freezing cold is advised. If you are new to camping then you should at least be looking to take two other people, if you know a seasoned camper then you might be able to get away with just the one extra person.
Just be sure to look after each other. The weather can change fast and dealing with all the normal camping tasks in sub-zero temperatures will be taxing physically and mentally. Also, make sure someone at home know where you planning on staying and when to expect you home.
Gear You Need For Winter Camping
If you are looking for a full and comprehensive list of what you need to pack for camping in the winter months then check out this Winter Camping Checklist that I put together. You can also print it out and use it as a physical checklist while you pack.
Don’t be picking your winter camping gear to look good or fashionable, pick it based on keeping warm. So many people will underestimate how important an extra layer of clothing is in winter. My favorite tip for staying warm is polypropylene long johns, you will be able to have these on for the duration of your trip and they are very inexpensive. These are the best long johns I have found. Another little tip is to make sure you have two if not three layers on top. For example, a warm t-shirt or top as the bottom layer. Followed by a light fleece or wool jumper as the second layer. Finally, your top layer should be a large jacket which is waterproof and protects you from rain, snow, and wind.
It is imperative that you avoid cotton clothes and sleeping bags. Cotton can be a nightmare when it gets even a little moisture.
Picking the right type of sleeping bag is only part of the task you can also do a few extras that will make your night as comfortable as it was during the summer, if not even better.
Most people think the “right” sleeping bag is subjective and personal, but in all honesty, it’s isn’t. For winter camping you NEED to ensure you have a dedicated winter sleeping bag. I cover more in-depth about what makes the best sleeping bags for winter a required item. In short, though, you should be looking at temperature ratings, waterproof – generally speaking a down sleeping bags are the best option for winter camping.
Pack an easy to pitch winter tent (Four-season tent)
Standing still for 20 mins pitching your tent in the winter is going to be hellish. Buying a tent that is both suitable for winter camping and can be pitched and put away in only a few minutes is your best choice. No one wants to be hanging around pitching a tent in the freezing cold of winter.
The short days of winter will mean you will be spending more time in the darkness of night. This may well be the reason you want to go camping but you also need to remember that you will require light. It is always a good idea to bring a couple of torches and plenty of spare batteries as they do tend to drain quicker in the low temperatures.
Camping snow shovel
This might be something you can plan around but I would always suggest bringing even a small snow shovel just in case. It wouldn’t be the first time I went on a trip which was meant to be clear of snow only for it to snow heavily through the night. A snow shovel will help you remove snow from the entrance of your tent, move snow for creating a campfire (if needed). You can often pick these up for cheap and some don’t even weigh too much.
These items are often forgotten and rarely needed, but when you need them you REALLY need them. A first aid kit should always be packed but is often forgotten but these are incredibly important especially in winter. I will cover the best items needed for a winter camping first aid kit but in general, you should have bandages, painkillers, tools, and products to clean and dress wounds. It would be worthwhile going camping with a trained first aider too.
Another item which I have used while camping is a whistle. Visibility can drop fast in the winter which can lead to people getting lost which is what I used a whistle for. One other reason for all your campmates having a whistle would be alerting people if someone needed help.
The last item in this safety list would be a radio which you can use to contact the people your camping within the chance you get lost. Or, used as a way to stay connected with park rangers and help if you need it.
Tips for Keeping Warm & Comfortable
It is fairly obvious but you will need to ensure that your clothing is appropriate for camping and low temperatures. Comfort is the only thing you need to be concerned about so warm, breathable and waterproof are the types you’re looking for. In a future post, I will cover the best types of socks, hats, gloves and even the best shoes for camping in winter. For now, I suggest using common sense and ensuring your clothing will keep you warm and dry. Don’t buy camping clothes based solely on fashion or looks.
Keeping it in
For anyone that has been hiking or camping in winter, they will know this all too well. You will urinate more. Not exactly a problem but having to get out of a sleeping bag and even take clothes off to relieve yourself isn’t exactly ideal for staying warm. I suggest women purchase one of many accessories that will help them urinate while standing, this will make things a little easier.
A great tip I learned many years ago is to take a VERY WELL MARKED pee bottle with you to urinate into during the night. Assuming the bottle has a tight lid and has no chance of leaking you can use this bottle to stay warm in your sleeping bag but keeping it close to your body. Certainly sounds a little Ewww, but trust me it works and you will treasure that warmth when it’s zero degrees Fahrenheit outside. Just be sure the bottle is well marked so when you are in the middle of the night with no light you can still clearly identify the difference between your water and pee bottle.
Personal Tip: I like to wrap my pee bottle in tape and ensure my water bottle is a large thermos, so that way there is no reason for me to drink the wrong one.
How to keep your water from freezing overnight
This is a tip that many of my camping buddies didn’t know until I used it on a trip. If you have a large water container with you for clean filter water then you will quickly realize that the water is usually frozen you are unable to get anything from the bottle. If you tip the bottle upside down so the spout of the bottle is facing down (keep the lid on of course!) the ice will form at the top of the bottle, which is now the bottom. This means in the morning when you need to use the water you turn it the right way up and the ice is now at the bottom of the bottle and you will be able to use the water without having to wait for the spout to melt. This is best used in conjunction with some form of insulation.
The science behind this is that water freezes from the top down, so by turning the bottle upside down the frozen water is actually at the bottom. Just think about the lakes and ponds around you when you use this tip 🙂
Taking a warm drink with you
One of the most important items I take on every single winter camping trip is my coffee making stuff. I have mentioned it before, but my wife and I are avid coffee drinkers so ensuring we have a way of making coffee when camping is very important to us.
If you don’t like coffee, then be sure to take tea or another warm liquid drink that you can prepare while camping. Having a warm drink to keep you warm if very important. It won’t just keep you warm but will ensure you stay hydrated.
Also, there is nothing better than sitting in your tent and watching the winter snowfall around you while you stay warm with a nice coffee.
Setting Up Camp
Pack snow to avoid a torn tent floor
Before you start setting up camp you should be sure to pack down the snow where your tent will be. You can do this with your feet, but it may take a long time. You can usually do this within 10 to 15 mins with your shoes. Snows shoes, snowboards and skis are all great and will speed this up considerably. If you don’t do this when you step inside your tent there is a very good chance you will put your foot right the way through your tent floor when you step on softer snow.
This hasn’t happened to me personally but I can certainly imagine the frustration if it were to happen.
Not all campsites and areas will allow for campfires but if you are allowed one then I strongly suggest building one early. Be sure to keep your campfire behind a windbreaker and a safe distance from your camping gear and tent. A good idea would be to pack some petroleum jelly or a campfire starter kit.
Build a windbreaker or pitch next to a natural one
Weather can be unpredictable so finding yourself with a wind problem isn’t exactly uncommon. A great tip I have learned over the years is to build a little snow wall protecting the tent from the wind. This isn’t always achievable based on if there is any snow available, wind direction and if you have the time to build one. I have seen many campers use this to reduce wind hitting their tents though.
With a little planning, you should be able to find a natural windbreaker without needing to build one.
Food, Water & Supplies
Water, Juice and Energy Drinks
Lots of people think they should limit how much they drink in winter so as not to need the toilet as much. This is actually the worst thing you can do as although you may not feel like your sweating and losing fluids fast, you are! There are plenty to methods of staying warm while going to the bathroom so you should prioritize using these tips so as not to become dehydrated.
Energy drinks do have a time and place when camping. I personally am not a fan of them in general but they can help a lot when you are exercising a lot in the winter. For example, hunting, hiking, carrying your camping gear will all drain your energy and electrolytes.
I often see people suggesting low calories food for winter camping but generally speaking high-calorie food are exactly what is required to both fuels your body and keep you warm. When your body is trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures your body will use energy which means you need to top it up a little more.
For those of us lucky enough to be able to bring meats or those of you who hunt and fish then I would strongly suggest getting a campfire or stove on the go for hot food. This will help you stay warm and also provide you with a nice meal.
Boil for spare water
If you have a look through our winter checklist you will see that we don’t mention a water filter as a requirement. Simply put camping water filters don’t work as well or fast as boiling water does in low temperatures. You will already be wanting to get rid of some snow around your campsite so melting and boiling it for water makes perfect sense, a great winter camping tip ain’t it!
Do not let snow to just melt. Snow and ice are NOT sterile, it must be boiled first.