Winter camping is a much more novel experience than its summertime counterpart, providing unique advantages, such as no bugs and more freedom from other campers (if solitude is what you are looking for). As fun as it can be, the equipment requirements are much steeper to remain comfortable and quell any unwanted adverse effects.
How to Prepare for Winter Camping
As with many new frontiers, preparation is half the battle. Before jumping in with both feet, it is good to know what challenges you may come up against, particularly when winter can be not so forgiving if underestimated. Hypothermia can easily set in if a trip is made in haste.
Winter can be a physically demanding season, so it’s essential to know that hydration is vital and just as important as it is in the summertime. Maintaining a high caloric intake is also crucial to providing the body with the energy it needs to stay warm.
A cardinal tenet to winter camping is always to remain dry and reduce sweating as much as possible. This can usually be achieved by wearing proper materials that mitigate sweating. An appropriately temperature-rated sleeping bag and tent are essential for the experience not only to be done right but be done in a safe manner.
Preparation is vital, and some things you should research beforehand are tips and strategies for making a campsite in the snow. Also, you should investigate how to maintain hydration and calorie upkeep and have the right gear appropriate for the job. You should also research the warmest and most practical clothing to retain warmth.
Lastly, look for valuable tips on preventing cold injuries. With all this knowledge in hand, you can begin preparing for your winter wonderland adventure.
How Cold is Too Cold for Winter Camping?
With respect to temperature, there is no hard rule on how cold is too cold for winter camping. We are all different, and there are “different strokes for different folks,” as the old saying goes. Equipment is undoubtedly a factor when pushing the limits of winter camping and must be adequately suited for more extreme temperatures.
The next thing to consider is one’s personal experience level and cold tolerance. If you are a novice to winter camping, starting with a milder temperature may be wise to test one’s tolerance threshold before diving into the frigid cold. Experiment and try camping in your backyard to test your comfortability first, then build upon what you’ve learned from there.
What Should You Bring Winter Camping?
While there may be some subjectivity between campers in what to bring when winter camping, there are some essential items that should be in everyone’s arsenal.
Backpack: Winter camping is an equipment-intensive undertaking, so a large bag capable of carrying lots of gear is a necessity. It is important to remember that winter camping is physically demanding, conservation is crucial, and you should only bring what is necessary.
Tent: When choosing a tent, it is important to consider wind and snowfall factors. Make sure you have a tent that is sturdy enough to withstand whatever winter may throw at you. Look for sturdier poles and heavier materials when choosing a winter tent. Another thing to consider is space. You’ll need room to house your equipment to keep it all dry.
Sleeping Bag: Winter sleeping bags come with many different temperature ratings, so it is helpful to know beforehand what level of cold you are willing to tolerate before heading out into the field. If unsure, it is better to side with caution and get one rated for colder than you anticipate sleeping in.
Sleep Pad: A sleeping pad provides essential insulation against the cold and cushioning for comfort. Like sleeping bags, sleeping pads come in different temperature ratings, so choose the one appropriate for your specific undertaking.
Some items that can be added to your arsenal are snowshoes if the journey is a long trek, a sled to help unencumber yourself from the load, and a first aid kit.
How Do You Warm a Tent in the Winter?
As mentioned previously, insulated pads come in a variety of different temperature ratings. They are extremely useful for keeping you off the cold ground and keeping body heat or heat generated from other means inside your tent.
Placing a tarp under your tent and stuffing collected leaf litter or even soft biomass material can add an additional layer of protection for cushioning as well as keeping the heat in. For those who fancy themselves as the resourceful type, geothermal techniques can also be used, such as heating water in containers (metal or high-heat resistant plastic) or heating stones and allowing their residual heat to dissipate inside the tent.
Winterize Your Tent
The next logical step is to winterize the tent itself. This can be accomplished in several ways, many of which you will want to do in conjunction with one another. As already mentioned, placing a tarp under the tent will act as a buffer layer that prevents heat loss to the ground.
It is also recommended that you place a tarp on top of the tent as well. Now that the outside of the tent is dealt with, it is also a good idea to place layers down on the floor inside of the tent. Blankets that are not too cumbersome to carry on your trip can be used, but space blankets are tremendously effective for achieving this goal.
Insulating your tent is the primary method for keeping your tent warm in the winter. Space blankets, sometimes referred to as polyester film, are heat-reflecting plastic and are great at preventing heat from escaping. Space blankets are especially low-weight and low-bulk, making them extra advantageous for a winter excursion. Another material that at first may seem counterintuitive is, in fact, snow! The Inuit people of the north have used snow for centuries to build their shelters, as snow is a very effective insulator.
Another interesting trick is to create a windbreak around the tent. This windbreak will reduce the effects of the wind and the subsequent wind chill created by it. If constructing a windbreak using materials nearby is too much of a challenge, you can always set your tent up near naturally existing structures such as low trees, shrubs, or bushes to achieve the desired effect. Another added benefit to using a wind break is that it allows you to camp closer to your fire without worrying about the wind pushing the flames into your tent.
Dress in Layers
Another necessity for winter camping is having the proper clothing and layers to combat moisture and the cold. Dressing in enough layers of warm clothing is vital to ensure that the cold and weather do not dampen your winter activities too soon. Avoid wearing cotton during winter activities since cotton will absorb moisture and allow ice to contact your skin, thus expediting the unwanted effects.
Having layers is extremely important, and with respect to winter camping, it usually is stratified to three key layers. First, the base layer is your underwear layer closest to your bare skin. Base layers come in light to heavy weight, so it’s good to know in advance what temperatures you’re expecting to encounter on the trip. Use a material that is good at wicking moisture away, such as high-grade wool or polyester.
Next comes the middle layer, whose primary role is insulation and retaining body heat. Fleece and down are commonly used materials that achieve this purpose. Finally, there is the outer layer that acts as a shell to protect against wind and winter precipitation. When choosing garments for winter camping, opt for entirely waterproof fabric and materials that can breathe to prevent internal moisture from accumulating.
Apart from having suitable layers, additional gear and accessories will be required for the experience. A basic wool or even a synthetic hat will be necessary to keep your head warm. Even a full-face mask is recommended if you believe the temperature will be extremely low. Gloves or mittens made from previously stated materials will also be required. Adequate footwear and socks are also needed before departing.
Use a Sleeping Bag
You can use a sleeping bag on top of a Camp&Go camp cot. The majority of sleeping bags function based on trapping air pockets that absorb your body heat and then keep you well insulated. So, the best thing to do is to ensure that the sleeping bag is full of air. To achieve this, shake your bag to fill it with air before you use it.
It’s best to shake the bag from the bottom so air accumulates in the bag’s upper portion, where the insulation is most needed. Whatever you do, don’t load your sleeping bag with clothes or other belongings because it will compress the sleeping bag’s lining and will lessen the insulating effect.
You may want to stick your head in your sleeping bag, but the best thing to do is keep your face open to the air. If you enclose yourself in the bag, the moisture from your breath will condensate inside your sleeping bag, making it damp, so it will cause you to become colder.
When choosing a sleeping bag for your winter adventure, make sure it is made for your body size. Having an oversized sleeping bag will be harder to warm up with your body heat. So if you are small, get a small bag that fits better.
Also, don’t sleep in all your clothes. It would be best if you layered up when outside of your sleeping bag. But when you are inside, it is best to wear minimal clothing. That way, when you step out of your sleeping bag, you can get dressed and layer up instead of having nothing to put on to warm you up.
Use a Hot Water Bottle
An excellent way to stay warm is to use a hot water bottle. You can boil snow (so you don’t waste your water supply) and then put it in the hot water bottle. Tuck it inside your coat or in your sleeping bag for an added bit of warmth.
Hand and Body Warmers
Heat packs are an excellent option for staying warm and should not be overlooked for keeping you warm all night. They can be placed in gloves, boots, and even your sleeping bag. Most heat packs typically work using an exothermic chemical reaction, so you don’t have to worry about them becoming cold too soon or even malfunctioning. Some heat packs are even reusable and battery-powered.
Hydration is always important. It doesn’t matter what season you are camping in. To save yourself from lugging water, melt snow and boil it to remove impurities. Also, if you have water bottles, turn them upside down because ice forms from the top layer down. Make sure you regularly drink water, not just beer, because a lack of hydration will make you more susceptible to the cold.
Pack Lithium Batteries
Compared to alkaline of NiMh batteries, lithium batteries perform better in cold temperatures. They also weigh less, so they are easy to carry. Not only that, but they also last longer, so you are less likely to run out of juice for your camping equipment and gadgets.
Keep Food from Freezing
If you want to enjoy your camping trip, then keeping your food from freezing is an essential part of winter camping. Don’t bring food that will freeze, like energy bars or peanut butter. Instead, get some chocolate for a snack. Also, bring food you can heat up over the campfire. If you do bring food that may freeze, keep it close to your body or a hot water bottle. And when you go to sleep, shove a few (just a few) things in the bottom of your sleeping bag.
Winter camping can be a fun experience if you have all the necessary equipment and know-how to keep yourself warm. By following all this advice, you are sure to have the time of your life.