Advices & Tips for Winter Camping

If you only camp during summer, maybe it’s time to challenge yourself with off-season camping and ventures into the cool. There are few benefits when camping during winter. First of all, you don't need to deal with mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and other annoying biting bugs. Secondly, most of the camping sites are less crowded in the winter season, so you can enjoy the peacefully frosty mornings and the breathtaking winter scenery quietly.  Admittedly, it takes more planning to camp in the winter. In this article, we are offering important advices and tips on pre-trip planning, backpacking, clothing and accessory selection, and sleeping gear selection to help you enjoy the winter camping easily and safely.

Pre-Trip Preparation

Before your trip, research your camping destination, study the maps and get familiar with the area. Find out how long it would take to get there. Know the emergency services are available if something goes wrong. Check the weather forecast, only leave when the weather is favorable. Prepare for unexpected conditions and incidents, such as sudden weather change, getting lost, getting sick or injured in the trip. Always bring extra food, clothing, and emergency medical kit. Let others know where you'll be, when you'll be there, and when you'll return. Lastly, always carry some cash for unexpected fees or emergencies.

Backpacking

When you backpacking for your winter camping trip, there are "Ten Essentials" that are especially important and need to be packed into your belongings. 

  • Sun protection (Sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses)
  • Navigation (Map, compass, GPS)
  • Insulation (Jacket, vest, pants, gloves, hat)
  • Illumination (Headlamp, flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (Matches, lighter, waterproof container, fire starter)
  • Repair kit and tools (knife, tape)
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tent, tarp, bivy, reflective blanket)

You can also consider bringing the following gears for comfort and safety in the trip.

  • Shovel (to dig out cars or campsites or snow to melt water and to provide avalanche rescue)
  • Extra batteries (cold decreases battery life, store your batteries and battery-operated devices inside your sleeping bag
  • Poles (for stability and testing snow depth)

Don't forget to check out this winter camping checklist!

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/winter-snow-camping-checklist.html

What to Wear

The first rule of winter camping is to stay dry and warm. Choose clothing that wick moisture, dry quickly, insulate and are waterproof and breathable. Also, don’t let yourself overheat. If you sweat, remove some of your clothing, otherwise the sweat will make you feel cold.

Use the 3-layer clothing system:

The base layer is the layer on your skin. Synthetic and merino wool fabrics work best (avoid cotton). They wick perspiration away from your skin to outer layers and dry quickly. It's common to wear 2 base layers in winter camping: a lightweight or midweight layer, and a thicker heavyweight layer.

The middle layer is the insulating layer. It is primarily designed for retaining body heat. Consider expedition-weight fleece or microfleece shirts, pants, jacket or goose down jacket.

The outer layer is the waterproof/windproof/breathable layer. Laminates such as Gore-Tex, eVent or REI Elements offer premium protection. Less expensive alternatives use polyurethane-coated fabrics that are equally waterproof but somewhat less breathable. Look for core vents and underarm vents that expel excess heat and moisture.

In additional to the clothing, you will also need to wear the following accessories to keep you warm and comfortable. Wear waterproof and insulating boots. If you prone to heaving sweating, wrap a plastic bag around your feet and a latex glove around your hand before putting on socks and gloves to keep your gears dry.  Don’t forget to wear a hat. You will lose a significant amount of body heat from the head if your head is not covered up. Wear sunglasses or goggles. The snow can reflect a lot of UV light.

Where to Sleep

Before setting up your tent, lay a ground cover or a tent "footprint" on the ground to prevent water from seeping inside the tent. If you're not expecting heavy snow or high winds, most of the three-season tents are perfectly adequate to be used for winter camping. Use 2 full-length pads to keep from losing body heat on snowy surfaces. Place a closed-cell foam pad next to the ground and a self-inflating pad on top.  Pads are rated by R-value, the measurement of insulation. The higher the R-value, the better it insulates. You will need a sleeping bag that will suffice for long, cold nights. Make sure your sleeping bag is rated at least 10°F lower than the coldest temperature you expect to encounter. If you don’t have a winter bag, use two 3-season sleeping bags combinedly.  Remember to add a bag liner to the outside of the sleeping bag for extra warmth, the extra layer can add 8° to 15°F of warmth.