“Packing up winter camp” by YellowstoneNPS is marked with CC PDM 1.0
Cold weather camping can be a lot of fun. But it can also test your mettle because of challenges such as snow and mud.
However, if you head into winter camping unprepared it can turn from fun to miserable very quickly. In this article, I will share nine essential items you should never leave at home when winter camping.
Don’t Forget Your Sleeping Bag (and Bring the Right One for the Situation)
“Snugpak – Sleeping bag.” by MIKI Yoshihito. (#mikiyoshihito) is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Perhaps the most important thing to bring with you on a cold weather camping trip is the sleeping bag. I would say it is even more important than a tent.
If you happen to forget your tent (which is pretty hard to do) you can sleep in your car. The same can’t be said for the sleeping bag. Having the right one for the temperature you plan to camp in is a crucial factor to achieve a good night’s sleep.
Therefore, the first thing to do is to check the temperature rating. I would suggest a mummy sleeping bag with a warm foot box, this type of bag will keep your head and feet warm. If your budget allows it, moving up to a bag with a draft collar that will trap the warm air inside your bag when you move around can be a welcome luxury.
A cool addition to your sleeping bag can be a sleeping bag liner. It can provide 10 extra degrees of comfort and can also be used on its own on warmer nights. It is also good to keep some extra blankets in the car in case you do forget your sleeping bag or if the night is colder than expected.
Items for Processing Wood and a Quality Fire Starter Kit
“Chopping Wood” by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A camp without fire isn’t going to be fun, especially when you’re cold weather camping. Fire can provide a warm environment to sit around and chat with your best mates, or a place to cook the perfect camp meal.
Wood processing items and a quality fire starting kit will make your life far easier when the time comes to light up the fire. A pickaxe and a silky saw are two things you should always keep in your truck. Although, If you have the extra money, add a chainsaw to your collection. Not only will it make the processing of wood less tiring, but it can also clear fallen trees from the trails you happen to be on.
Is a Propane Heater a Good Idea for Cold Weather Camping?
“Morning coffee at winter camp” by YellowstoneNPS is marked with CC PDM 1.0
A propane heater is a controversial one for a couple of reasons (which I will get to later on).
These types of heaters can provide an incredible amount of heat in a tent, making you look forward to climbing in it for a great night’s sleep. If you keep one running all night, it will go through 2-3 propane cans so you will need to get up and change them. However, this isn’t the only issue.
You see, these kinds of heaters also use oxygen to burn, so you will constantly be competing for oxygen with the heater. Ideally, the heater will produce carbon dioxide, but when oxygen levels get low it starts producing carbon monoxide which is deadly. The high-quality ones do have an oxygen sensor that will shut the heater off automatically when it detects low oxygen levels.
Another issue is the possibility of the heater flipping over. Thankfully, there is a sensor for that too which will switch the heater off if it does happen to flip.
The third and final reason why you might want to avoid one of these heaters is condensation. Along with carbon dioxide, they also produce water as a byproduct. The water escapes in the form of vapor which will collect on your tent’s walls and may possibly freeze overnight. When you fold the tent, the ice will end up in your bedding which is never pleasant.
The safest way to use a propane heater would be to keep it on while you are awake to warm up the tent and switch it off as soon as you go to sleep. If you really want to leave the heater running, you can use a carbon monoxide tester for added peace of mind.
An Electric Blanket or an Insulated Mattress Will Keep You Warm for Cold Weather Camping
“Xiaomi Electric blanket” by TheBetterDay is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Having a mattress with a high insulation value underneath you will help insulate your body from the cold air or ground underneath your tent. The insulation properties of a mattress can be found in R values – the higher the number, the more insulation the mattress will provide.
Another option if your overlanding rig allows it is an electric heated blanket. You can lay it over your existing mattress to provide a warm base layer on which to sleep. Albeit, you will have to find a way to compensate for the extra electricity used by the blanket, lest you have a dead battery to deal with while cold weather camping.
Photo by Liudmila Chernetska via iStock
This is a quick and easy way to warm up the exposed extremities of your body.
In case you are not familiar with hand warmers, they are small air-activated pouches that warm up by the activation of chemicals within them. Heat is produced for at least 10 hours! They can really work great, but they have to be used correctly. The best way to avoid any skin issues is to use the included adhesive and stick them over your socks or gloves.
High Percentage Wool or Merino Wool Socks, Pants, and Shirts
“Merino Wool Interior – Filson Gloves” by TheSundayBest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Never underestimate the power of an old and proven technique. Nothing fancy here, just some typical wool clothing to keep you warm while cold weather camping.
If you want something even more effective, you can look for merino wool. It is a natural fiber grown by merino sheep but thinner and softer than typical wool.
The main benefit it has when compared to normal wool is that it can transport sweat away as vapor. Additionally, and very importantly for campers, it has the ability of canceling odors keeping you fresh for longer!
Extra Food and Water
“Winter Camping.” by MIKI Yoshihito. (#mikiyoshihito) is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The one thing that staggers me the most about nature is how it can be so calm but yet so dangerous. An unexpected change in weather can leave you stranded for days especially in winter.
In such situations, having extra food and water can be the difference between life or death. By carrying extra food you also have the option to extend your trip by a few more days if you want to explore further!
A Comfortable Hat or Balaclava is a Must for Cold Weather Camping
“Warm Ears” by misspianoforte is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Do not overlook the basics – a comfortable hat or balaclava can keep your neck and ears warm while you sleep.
If you cover your face with the sleeping bag, moisture can accumulate and may possibly freeze on your face, and trust me, you will notice that in the morning.
A Pair of Waterproof and Insulated Boots
“Rainforest = rain = mud = boots” by 10b travelling / Carsten ten Brink is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While cold weather camping, there is a high risk of getting stuck in snow or mud. If you have ever tried to recover a vehicle from mud with normal boots or shoes, you will know that it is not a nice experience. Your feet will be wet and cold for the rest of the day. A pair of waterproof and insulated boots will keep your feet dry and warm and your day enjoyable.
Bonus: An Item for a More Comfortable Campsite
“Overland Expo 2009” by indigoprime is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Something that not all of us might have a budget for but that can make the hours spent around camp far more enjoyable is a normal awning or even a room awning.
A decent awning can provide shelter from the rain or snow to cook or sit around and relax. If you can afford a room awning, you can use a propane heater to also keep warm.
The benefits of an awning don’t just come into play in winter, either. It can provide amazing protection from the sun in summer and if you have an awning room you can use the mesh windows to stay cool and protected from bugs and mosquitoes.
There you have it…nine of the most important things to not forget at home when you are out winter camping.
What would you add to the list of items for cold weather camping?