Camping is usually a fun and rejuvenating activity that everybody loves. You pitch your tent in the woods, explore the trails, relax by the campfire, and reconnect with both the nature and yourself. However, it becomes much more challenging if you wish to camp in cold weather, and especially during the winter.
In this article, I list the most important tips and guidelines regarding camping under such conditions. I split the list in two parts, 10 tips that focus on how to camp in cold weather, and 10 more tips that focus on how to camp in the winter. I hope this list will be instrumental in your preparations for such camping trip.
Table of Contents
How to Camp in Cold Weather
1. Always Dress in Layers
Preserving body heat should be your number one objective while camping in the cold weather. To make this possible, you should dress in several layers of clothes. There is a specific scheme of dressing in layers that I recommend following:
- Bottom layer: This is the layer closest to your body, such as undershirt, underwear, and socks. These should be made from wool or polyester, materials known for their sweat-wicking property. Do not wear cotton, it will just stay wet and cold, lowering your body’s temperature.
- Middle layer: This includes trousers, shirts, sweaters, and so on. Naturally, you can wear more than one sweater or shirt, as long as they don’t encumber your movements.
- Upper layer: Hooded jackets, parkas, coats, windshell garments, and so on. The upper layer clothes should be made from insulating and waterproof materials.
2. Bring Shoes That Can Handle Cold Weather
Just like the clothes, your shoes should protect you from the cold and keep the body heat in. Cold weather is sometimes accompanied by rain, and as a result – puddles and mud. Therefore, your camping shoes should first of all be waterproof. In addition, you should be able to easily wash mud off them. When coming back into the tent from the cold weather, you need to be able to quickly slip them off. There are a few more factors to take into consideration when choosing camping shoes for cold weather. Feel free to read my article on choosing hiking boots for more information.
3. Ensure That Your Tent Is Insulated
Your camping tent is your ultimate shelter from the cold weather conditions. Ensure that you choose an insulated and waterproof tent for your next camping trip. The tent needs to have a vestibule or awning, where you can leave your muddy boots and hang wet clothes to dry. I suggest you try pitching the tent outside your house for the initial test. Spray it with water to check for leaks or torn parts that might let the cold in. You can apply a silicone sealant on the parts that need additional insulation. For more tips, please see my post dedicated to choosing the best camping tent.
4. Bring a Tent Heater
Of all the equipment that saves you during the cold nights, this should be at the top of the list. There are several types of tent heaters, all of them proven to be safe for the closed tent environment. You can choose between an electric heater, electric radiator, halogen heater, wood stove, and a few more. If you’re surprised by the cold and don’t have a heater packed, you can warm yourself with a thermal blanket and/or hot water bottle. For more information on this type of camping gear, I strongly recommend you see my post on how to heat a tent.
5. Drink Hot Beverages
Staying warm on the inside is just as crucial as staying warm on the outside. Beneath the tent, blankets, and clothes, you still have a body that needs inner warmth. Consuming hot beverages will do the trick. It could be coffee, tea, soup, hot chocolate, or any other drink that can also lift your spirits. Pack a high-quality thermos to keep your hot beverages in it, and it will literally save your life. Personally, I use Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle. This excellent insulated thermos is made of stainless steel and comes with a leak-resistant lid. It has thousands of positive reviews on Amazon, and you can get it by clicking here.
6. Consume High Calorie Meals
Another thing that keeps our body warm from the inside is a high calorie meal. When camping in the cold weather, you need to consume more calories to maintain the body’s temperature. This can be any nutritious meal, made by either the campfire or by adding boiling water into a package. Naturally, it should also be tasty, to keep your spirits high despite the weather. There are many recipes and tips regarding campsite meals, and you can read them in my article dedicated to cooking while camping.
7. Keep Your Next Day’s Clothes Warm
Putting on cold clothes in a cold morning is particularly unpleasant. Here is a camping tip you can use. Fold your next day’s clothes neatly into a mesh bag and stuff it inside the sleeping bag. As you sleep, you also warm those clothes with your body heat. On the next day, they will be as warm as you are, and you can even put them on without leaving the sleeping bag!
8. Use Your Sleeping Bag Correctly
Speaking of the sleeping bag, there are a few tricks you can use during the cold weather:
- Shake your sleeping bag well before crawling into it. This will trap some air inside of it. During the night, the air will share your body heat, creating an insulation layer around you.
- Don’t cover your face with the sleeping bag. Your breath carries moisture, and if it accumulates inside the bag, you will be surrounded by wet and cold fabric. Leave your nose and mouth outside the sleeping bag!
- Add hand warmers into the sleeping bag. Expose a few of them to the air and shake. They will be hot in a matter of minutes. They don’t smell, can be thrown away after use, and work better than a hot water bottle. You can get these popular warmers from Amazon by clicking here.
- Generally speaking, you need a sleeping bag that you can trust. It will carry you through the night. See my comprehensive guide on how to choose a sleeping bag for more info.
9. Add a Layer Under You Before Going to Sleep
The campsite’s ground can get extremely cold in the night, even frozen. You can sleep in a sleeping bag and under several blankets, but you still need to protect yourself from the cold under you. I recommend you place at least one blanket or a mattress under the sleeping bag. This way you will stay much more protected and insulated from the cold ground.
10. Plan Activities According to the Weather
Cold weather might not be the ideal condition for hiking and trekking. If possible, plan your activities accordingly. On the day when the weather is especially intolerable or rainy, choose to stay near the tent. String a tarp nearby, place another one on the ground, and organize a fun meal and some games in this area. This way, you can still enjoy camping without letting the weather ruin it for you.
How to Camp in the Winter
1. Learn How to Treat Frost Injuries
Things get much more challenging if you’re camping in the winter. The weather is not just cold, but freezing. Frost can bring various injuries, which you need to know how to treat.
- Frostbite happens when tissue freezes. Usually there is no pain, and the affected skins appears smooth and pale. The treatment is simply thawing the tissue.
- Deep frostbite is a similar issue, but in this case muscles and inner tendons are also affected. Thawing might not be enough, as the injured parts will remain stiff. Evacuate immediately and look for medical help.
- Frostnip is another type of injury caused by cold. It resembles the first form of frostbite and mostly affects fingertips and the nose. You treat it by restoring the blood circulation in the frostnipped bits with some warmth.
- Hypothermia is a deadly condition that happens when the body’s temperature gets under 35°C / 95°F. It can happen in extremely freezing weather, or when a person falls into ice water, or is trapped under an avalanche. The affected person suffers such severe symptoms as stiffness, heart palpitations, nausea, uncontrollable shaking, and disorientation. They will then fall asleep and never wake up. The affected person must be evacuated at once. Before the help arrives, they need to be warmed again. The recommended treatment for hypothermia is stripping the cold clothes off and covering with blankets. Ensure that the injured person does not touch the cold ground. Put compresses on their skin and make them drink warm liquids. The nearest emergency services must be called right away.
2. Take Measures to Stay Warm
Staying warm is what can save you from a lot of frost injuries and improve the overall experience of winter camping. You can take various measures to keep your body heat, some of which were already mentioned earlier:
- Put on several layers of clothes
- Wear wool socks and insulated boots
- Consume hot drinks
- Eat a hot meal
- Exercise! The most basic exercises, such as jumping jacks and lunges can get your blood flowing.
- Walk around the tent
- Get into the sleeping bag
3. Prevent Liquids from Freezing
Winter weather can damage your equipment and resource. More specifically, anything liquid might freeze overnight, such as stove fuel or your drinking water. You can, however, make it useable for the next day. The container with a liquid should be placed upside down. The ice will form at the bottom (which is now at the top), leaving the opening free. This way, you can still drink water or use fuel from the container without waiting for the opening to thaw.
4. Listen to the Forecast
It’s highly important to have a radio or a smartphone, where you can get constant updates regarding the upcoming weather. While the winter in the Northern Atmosphere is usually already cold, a weather forecast can tell you when you can still spend time outside the tent in the sun, and when you should definitely stay inside. Knowing exactly what the next day’s weather is going to be can save you from potential frost injuries. I highly recommend getting FosPower NOAA Emergency Weather Radio. It also comes with a flashlight and a portable power bank that can charge all your devices. It has over 20,000 positive reviews on Amazon, which you can read by clicking here.
5. Pack Lithium Batteries
You need functioning equipment, such as flashlights or a radio, to help you out in emergency situations. This also means that you depend on batteries to keep that equipment alive. Avoid packing NiMh or alkaline batteries. If you’re camping in the cold winter, bring lithium batteries. Lithium batteries last much longer in any weather condition, while NiMh or alkaline batteries don’t work well in freezing temperatures. You can get high-quality (yet affordable) lithium batteries from Amazon by clicking here.
6. Pick Campsite Location Correctly
Choose the spot where you will be most protected from the severe winter weather. Your location should provide you with additional shelter from the cold winds. This means that you shouldn’t camp on any elevated spot, such as a top of a hill, since this is where the winder winds will hit you hard. Don’t camp between hills either, because this is where the cold air is trapped. Select a flat patch, and make it even flatter by stomping the snow. Compacted snow can provide another layer of protection from the frozen ground. In addition, your tent’s opening should face east, so that the rising sun will warm you up in the morning. Finally, don’t pitch your tent under the trees, to avoid falling debris, branches, and snow.
7. Start a Campfire
Campfire is a central part of any camping experience. And while it’s nice to look at it in the summer, it could be a lifesaver in the winter. But since the conditions are different, a few more things must be done to start fire during the winter camping:
- Get much more firewood than you usually bring. During the cold winter, you will need the fire going for much longer periods of time, thus using more wood.
- You might need a sled to drag all that wood to the campgrounds.
- Check with the parks whether they have enough wood for sale. There might be less available wood for sale during the winter season, plus the park forbid gathering wood on your own.
- Before starting fire, make a hole in the snow. If you just place the campfire on the snow, the snow will melt, and the fire will collapse.
- Don’t forget to pack a lighter or matches. But in case you forgot or ran out of matches, there are other methods to start a fire, which you can learn in my article on how to start fire without a lighter and matches.
8. Avoid Sitting on the Frozen Ground
This might add more weight to your camping gear, but you might need to bring thick blankets or chairs if you wish to rest and sit down now and then. Camping chairs have improved a lot in the recent years, and you can get a few that are both comfortable and sturdy. I prepared a buyer’s guide to the best camping chairs, you should really take a look at it before you decide on a chair.
9. Bring a Lot of Lighting
Winter nights, and sometimes even the days, can get particularly dark. Bring enough lighting equipment to light up the campsite and turn the gloomy atmosphere into an almost festive one. Hang lanterns and LED strings, and even candles enclosed in glass jars. Make sure that everyone in your group has a good flashlight and a headlamp. This will help them find their way inside the tent and outside of it. Pack extra batteries to last you through the trip. If you’re not sure what kind of flashlight will serve you best, check out my guide on best camping flashlights.
10. Get a Multitool Shovel
A shovel is a must during the snowy winter. It can help you prepare your campsite before you pitch the tent. It can also be used to dig a hole for the campfire, or uncover any object or equipment covered by the snow. Some modern shovels come with additional tools and can be utilized to cut wood, clear debris and brush, free a stuck car, break ice, help climbing, and much more. You can read more on them in my article about survival shovels.
I hope my guidelines proved to be useful, and you are now much more prepared to camp in cold winter weather. Always remember to maintain your body’s temperature, stay warm, and treat frost injuries immediately. If you camp safely, there is no reason not to enjoy your camping trip, no matter how cold the weather is.
If you expect to encounter particularly harsh weather conditions, I suggest you read two more articles I wrote, how to survive cold weather and how to survive any extreme weather. They will complete the information I delivered in this article and fully prepare you to deal even with the worst weather there is.
In addition, there are some ways to predict what weather to expect, even without a forecast. Take a look at my article on reading the weather for survival. It will truly open your eyes on how you can look at the nature and use it to predict upcoming weather changes.
Happy and safe camping, my friends!