What better way to appreciate the pristine icy landscapes of a snow-covered mountain or the frozen white wilderness than to take a few days to camp in the winter. Winter camping with the right company can be a truly soul-warming experience despite the cold. If this is your first time camping in the winter and you are not sure how to properly prepare for your first icy adventure, we’ve got you covered with a list of 15 winter camping essentials you need to ensure that your trip is a complete success. But first, we would like to answer some basic questions that many winter camping beginners commonly ask.
Of course, it is! Winter camping can be one of the most rewarding and relaxing experiences you can have with your family, friends, or loved ones. It can be the perfect opportunity to connect with nature and wildlife and leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city and the daily grind. In addition, when you go winter camping, you can also take advantage of some activities that are exclusive to wintertime, such as backcountry skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, i.e. fishing or snowshoeing.
Winter camping can be a fun experience that’s filled with many beautiful memories, especially if you do it with friends, family, or loved ones. Of course, the cold can be intimidating, but as long as you plan and pack everything you need you will have a pleasant and warm trip.
Remember that many people throughout history managed to thrive in places with frigid climates before synthetic fabrics and Gore Tex was invented. So, spending your entire budget on coats or clothing and winter items is not necessary to be happy and warm during your winter camping trip. Nevertheless, if you don’t plan your trip well and arrive well prepared for winter conditions, it can be dangerous and unpleasant. With that in mind, here are some tips to remember when planning your winter camping trip.
Be sure to check weather reports from various sources. Also, check that your tent, clothes, and sleeping bag are suitable to withstand the weather conditions. If this is one of your first winter camping trips, it’s best to keep it simple and stick to traveling the routes commonly traveled by other campers during the winter. It’s better to leave your curiosity for when you have a little more experience and save the desire to take that excursion into the depths of the winter forest for later.
Layers are some winter camping essentials to retain body heat well. If you don’t have something specific for this role, a pair of long polypropylene johns will work fine. Use an insulating mid-layer that you can easily slip on and off as you get hot or cold throughout the day. A light fleece or lung jacket may be ideal. The outermost layer you wear should be made to insulate you from the wind, hold up in rain or snow, and protect you from the cold. A jacket with a weather-resistant shell is ideal. Avoid cotton at all costs. It is a material that gets wet easily, and once wet, it can lower your body temperature faster than walking naked in a frozen river.
Try to stay dry throughout your trip. Damp or wet clothing can lower your body temperature quickly. Even sweating a lot can lower your temperature dangerously in the long run. Try to wear waterproof boots and gaiters along with snowshoes when going through deeper snow. Keep in mind that it’s better to overpack than to go without spare dry clothing to protect you from the cold.
Choosing the right place where you will place your tent can make the difference between a good trip and an uncomfortable one. The main idea of your campsite is to protect yourself from the elements. Avoid the tops of hills as they are often exposed to the wind and the foothills where cold air usually passes through your camp. Choose a flat spot and compact the snow by walking on it where you plan to pitch the tent. Packed snow tends to insulate heat better than loose snow. Be sure to position the tent door perpendicular to the prevailing wind and stake the tent well to the ground.
Staying hydrated is very important while camping, but avoid holding the urge for too long when you have the urge to urinate at night. Your body will expend many calories to keep the urine inside your bladder warm. To address this, keep an extra bottle that you can pee into without leaving your tent and venture out into the cold in the middle of the night. Currently, there are many products available to make this a more straightforward process for women as well.
If you have any wet clothes at the end of the day, leave them inside your tent and spread them out to dry overnight. Also, keep all your devices inside and – if possible – well protected as low temperatures cause batteries to drain quickly.
As we already mentioned, it’s a good idea to be well prepared to ensure that you have a good experience when camping in the winter. So here’s a list of 15 winter camping essentials to make winter camping a success.
When you go camping in the winter, the chances are that you will face high rainfall, high winds, winter storms, and very low temperatures at some point. A proper tent will serve as a shelter to protect you from any inconvenience, which can be quite extreme in some cases. We recommend a 4-season tent that is roomy enough and has enough protection from mother nature.
An insulated sleeping pad is a buffer layer between you and the cold ground, which is just as important as the sleeping bag itself. If you go on a winter camping trip to a particularly cold or snowy place, we recommend that you take an insulated sleeping pad with a high R-value – or at least greater than 4 – taking into account that the higher the R-value, the greater the thermal protection it provides. The ideal thing to do is to get an ultralight sleeping pad, preferably one that does not take up as much space in your luggage and is practical to carry with you and with an R-value of 6.5 or more. You can also add a little more insulating power by adding a layer of lightweight or basic foam with a 2 R-value to give your sleeping pad a boost in warmth.
The feeling of plunging into a warm, padded sleeping bag at the end of a long day plowing through the snow is unmatched. Choosing the right sleeping bag is key to ensuring a good camping experience because sleeping conditions can vary.
A mild winter sleeping bag has a minimum sleeping temperature of 20°F, although the best winter sleeping bags usually rank at 0 degrees or below. To give your sleeping bag an insulation boost, use a sleeping bag liner to add about 5 degrees of warmth.
Eating is one of the best and most important parts of camping. Even more so when you camp in the cold because your body spends more energy and calories to keep warm. Some healthy energy bars are great during the day, but for mornings and evenings, nothing beats a full, hot meal. You will likely burn twice as many calories during your expedition due to the cold of winter, so don’t be shy about snacking regularly. Try to organize your food and camping meal plan beforehand. This way, you make sure you have everything you need. Always pack an extra meal or two, plus snacks, just in case the trip goes on longer than planned.
If there is something worth investing in to have a good trip, it is a reliable stove that can boil water quickly and resist nature’s elements without problems. The most practical and dependable stoves are the all-in-one container stoves. With these types of stoves, after putting everything in place, the attached burner can boil water, even in windy conditions. It is crucial to remember that you will need a liquid fuel stove to resist frigid conditions.
Cooking with a camp stove using a platform is far better than just placing it on the snow. The heat from the stove will eventually melt the snow, so using a stove platform will get you an even surface to work on.
Cookware ranges from the ultra-sophisticated ultralight to the budget range, and there are plenty of brands on the market that offer different camping cookware options. Many campers choose to use an all-in-one stove to simply boil water and eat their food fast. In this case, you would not need a pot. You would only need a fork, a cup, or a pitcher for hot drinks, and you are ready to eat.
Having a sharp or multi-tool knife is essential on any camping trip. In a camp, a multitool knife can have many more functions than just cutting food. It can help set up the tent, assemble the deck for your stove, and – depending on the size of the knife – you can even use it to chop up some wood to make your campfire. In fact, some multitool knives have a built-in flint to make a fire. Depending on how many varieties of tools your knife has, it may be your best friend during your winter camping trip.
During winter, the days tend to be shorter and it often gets dark when we are still hiking, skiing, or simply returning to our camp. This is why a headlamp is an essential gear. You can wear your favorite headlamp from any brand you like. It is important to note that it is good to carry enough replacement batteries as low temperatures cause batteries to drain much faster than average. In fact, it is better if your headlamp is rechargeable and you bring a power bank to keep your headlamp working. A solar power bank can be handy in these cases since you can simply leave it recharging throughout the day and use it at night when you need it.
Dressing appropriately is a key factor in ensuring a good excursion and not doing so can even be dangerous. Clothing is our first layer of protection against cold and weather conditions such as blizzards, rain, snowfall, and extreme cold. There are some places where winter can be unforgiving. Not being adequately dressed to deal with these conditions can leave us vulnerable to hypothermia or even frostbite on fingers and toes. But the proper attire can prevent us from all these dangers and help make our winter camping experience enjoyable. Proper winter camp attire should include:
- Base-layer: you will probably have it on throughout the trip, so it must be made of a comfortable, odor-resistant material that protects well from the cold both on top and bottom. Synthetic materials can work, but for temperatures below 10 degrees, we recommend mid or heavyweight base layers.
- Mid-layer: The best mid-layer correctly balances temperature, breathability, and fit between the base layer and the shell. A good mid-layer should be easily customizable for changing conditions and can be easily removed and put back on when the weather requires it.
- Hardshell: this is also called a ski jacket and must be a versatile jacket for when it rains, the wind blows through our jackets, or you need that extra warmth. It is essential to add a waterproof layer for when you work in the snow. The same applies to pants. It is vital to have a good pair of hard shell pants that match your jacket and protect your legs from the cold, the icy winds, and the humidity of the snow.
- Gloves: Gloves are a crucial part of a winter outfit as they protect one of the parts most susceptible to cold, the hands. It is good to carry several pairs of different thicknesses and materials for various functions—for example, a pair of waterproof gloves like ski gloves for working in the snow and snowshoeing. To deal with tasks requiring more motor skills, you can wear thinner gloves made of fleece or wool.
- Hat: A warming hat is vital to keep you warm in the winter, especially out in the wild. The ideal and most practical thing is to have two hats: a lighter and thinner option for higher performance activities and another thicker and warmer alternative to wear at night or when you need that extra warmth. It is essential that the hat covers the ears.
- Synthetic or heavyweight down jacket: When the temperatures drop really low, and the wind starts to kick up, it’s nice to have a good insulating layer to throw on. In these cases, the best thing to have is a good plush-down jacket that protects us from weather conditions and provides that extra warmth that we need.
- Sunglasses or ski goggles: This gear can be optional for simple winter camping. But as we add altitude and gusts to the conditions, glasses become more necessary. Snow blindness and sunburn in your eyes can be a significant concern in some cases. Even on partially cloudy days, the sun can affect us if we don’t have the right glasses.
As important as it is to protect your hands, it is also vital to protect your feet from the cold. The ideal is to take enough pairs of socks with you to change them at the end of each day for dry, comfortable, and warm socks. By having enough pairs of socks, you also prevent any kind of foot injuries related to very low temperatures. The correct winter shoes are also a significant part of your equipment. Those campers who travel by ski will need a pair of suitable ski boots compatible with backcountry bindings.
There are many types of boots of this type available on the market, and it is advisable to try several and choose the ones that best suit your goals. If you are traveling without skis, you will probably use snowshoes to float on the snow. There are many different types of boots that go perfectly with snowshoes, including traditional mountaineering boots. For more challenging journeys involving traversing slippery rocks, glaciers, or ice, mountaineering is better for traction and offers the advantage of being fitted with crampons or traction devices for more minor technical missions like navigating over hard snow.
Winter gear is bulkier than regular summer gear. Therefore the right bag to take to a winter camp should be of a larger capacity. The bag should also be comfortable to carry, especially if you plan to carry it for a long time. Although if you have the capacity and it is practical for the terrain you are going to travel, there is the option of getting a sled and a large bag to carry your things. You can simply put all your gear in your bag, secure it to the sled, and use a tow harness while you snow walk or ski. If you plan on sledding, we still recommend that you bring a small backpack to carry water, snacks, an extra warm layer, and your avalanche safety gear.
You may not need this gear if your winter camping is in a limited space like a ranch or camping grounds where conditions are more controlled. But if you plan a more extreme adventure like going to a mountain to ski or trekking, avalanche safety gear becomes an almost indispensable necessity. The basic avalanche safety gear for any camper who wishes to venture into the mountains are:
- Poles: The trekking poles help you stay balanced as you go through the snow. Likewise, dust baskets on them prevent the poles from sinking deep into the snow as you walk.
- Avalanche beacon: A transceiver is a device that remains strapped to your torso the entire time you travel through avalanche-prone terrain. The beacon sends a signal to your partner’s beacons to speed up the rescue if an avalanche catches and buries you.
- Probe: The probe will help you locate buried people. With the probe, you can dig under the snow and feel where your partner is to start digging him up. The sonar can also help you measure the depth of the snow and feel the different layers.
- Snow shovel: After locating the person buried in the snow, the last step for the rescue is to dig him up, and for this, you need a snow shovel. Although when camping in winter, a shovel can have many more uses than just rescuing someone in an avalanche. With it, you can build walls to protect your camp from the wind, build a snow kitchen, or even build your own fancy snow lodge if you’re feeling more creative. The ideal is to carry a light and compact shovel so that you can carry it comfortably tied to your backpack.
In some cases, navigating snowy terrain and finding the proper routes during winter can become really challenging. Snow accumulation in places can completely alter the appearance of the terrain, and fading conditions can affect our view of the landscape. It is always good to carry a GPS along with your topographical map to verify your location. You can also download good apps to your phone like Topo Maps and Gaia that track routes for you and provide offline map viewing. It’s good to remember that cold temperatures cause the batteries in digital devices to discharge much faster, so it’s ideal to keep your phone somewhere close to your body as much as possible to keep it a little warmer.
Last but certainly not least is the first aid kit. Ideally, it works for us in case of specific emergencies. Still, in case something serious happens, the right thing to do would be to immediately leave the crossing and seek professional medical help as soon as possible. This first aid kit can carry some basic medicines or that someone in the group you travel with knows needs, bandages, band-aids, and duck tape. You can also save yourself the work and invest in a pre-assembled first aid kit.