Winter camping is an advanced and challenging adventure. It’s hard to explain the feeling of lying in your tent on a cold winter night, with only the sound of the wind howling outside. It is a feeling of solitude, peace and great respect for nature.
Although beautiful and serene, winter camping can be quite hazardous. There is no substitute for experience! If you are a first time winter camper, take your first trip with someone who has winter camped before. Never winter camp alone, the knowledge and experience shared by others can be invaluable.
Winter Camping Clothing
The best method of wearing clothing in the winter is to use the layering system. Choose loose fitting clothing in as many layers as you can. The layers can be taken off or put on, depending on your activity level, temperature, wind, and precipitation. Versatility in your clothing is the key to a successful layering system. Several shirts, a sweater, and a jacket will allow you to adjust your system in many more ways than will a single heavy coat.
It is important in winter camping as your feet are subject to more exposure to moisture especially if it’s not too cold out and snow is melting. At least two pair of socks are recommended as long as they aren’t too tight. Wool or a wool blend is best.
Mittens allow your fingers to be in direct contact with each other. They will keep your hands warmer than regular gloves that cover each finger. Select mittens that are filled with foam insulation, or pull on wool gloves and cover them with a nylon overmitt. Long cuffs will keep wind and snow from getting in.
The stocking hat is the warmest thing you can cover your head with in cold weather. Get one that is large enough to pull down over your ears. Also ski masks are great in the winter and can help in keeping your neck and face warm as well. Noses and ears can be very easily frostbitten, so a scarf can be an invaluable item to have.
The best way to pack clothing for a winter camp out is not to just follow a list of clothing, but to actually put on what you will wear to be sure your layering system fits and is functional.
Winter Camping Equipment
The best line of defense is a shelter like a tent, lean-to, or snow shelter. A tent will be used most of the time because it is easier to put up and there may not be enough snow to make a snow shelter. Keep in mind however that a tent is not made to keep you warm. It is a defense against wind and precipitation. Unless you have some kind of heater, you can’t expect your body heat to warm a tent.
To help stop melting snow from soaking through the tent floor, put plastic under the tent and inside the tent. This also helps protect the tent floor.
A sleeping bag is the next defense. A sleeping bag’s function is to trap body heat in a small area, while letting body moisture out, to keep you warm. Obviously, the better the sleeping bag, the easier this can be done. Down works great, but if it gets wet it will lose all insulation value. Use a foam pad beneath the sleeping bad so you don’t lose heat. The closed cell pads (exercise pads) work the best as they don’t absorb water, making them useful in wet conditions. More than one pad can be used.
Winter Camping Tips
- Get a longer sleeping bag than necessary. That way you could stuff things that you’d like to keep warm during the night such as boots or extra clothing.
- You need extra calories to keep your body warm, so leave your low-fat diet at home. Make sure you have lots of carbos.
- When standing around eating, cooking, or whatever, stand on your mattress pad. When sitting, sit on your pad.
- Whenever possible, place your tent in a location that will catch the sunrise in the morning. This will aid in melting off any ice and evaporating any frost or dew that may have formed during the night. This will also warm your tent as you awaken in the morning.
- A positive mental attitude is the most important ingredient in the success of cold weather camping trips. The demands of winter will drain your energy and you’ll have to rely on yourself to keep your spirits high.
- In the winter, COTTON KILLS. Cotton loses its insulating qualities when it gets wet, whether from rain or sweat. Cotton also takes a long time to dry out. Wool or synthetic materials are much better suited to winter camping in cold weather conditions.
- Store extra batteries in your sleeping bag or close to your body to keep them warm. Cold will reduce the life of the batteries significantly.