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Cold Weather Camping Guide for Beginners

 photo by wildart via iStock

Camping in cold weather is becoming increasingly popular, and honestly, you will easily find out the reason when you try it.

There are few things more peaceful than enjoying freshly fallen snow and hearing it crackle under your boots as you walk. Whether you are in a camper or a tent, sleeping in the cold is very beneficial to your health for many reasons, too. If done right, winter camping can help your physical and mental health get better. But if you don’t do it right, you may end up with hypothermia or frostbite. 

Since we want you to come back with the same number of toes and fingers as you set out with, we have created a cold weather camping guide for beginners and included a cold weather packing checklist at the end of this article.

Pick the Right Cold Weather Camping Tent to Battle Cold

People camping in the winter

 photo by Mumemories via iStock

Cotton breathes, which is why you are less bothered by frozen condensation on the inside of the tent fabric when you use a cotton tent. But once wet and freezing, cotton is heavy and stiff. 

Plastic tents made of polyester or nylon, on the other hand, are light and smooth. As a result, the canvas does not absorb moisture, and you can easily shake snow and ice off the tent, but they will be prone to condensation on the inside. You can prevent this by ventilating well and choosing a tent with a closable inner tent that insulates to avoid getting wet from the condensation drops.

Our tent choice for cold weather camping is the MSR Expedition Tents. They are a bit pricey, but the quality will amaze you. 

Cold Weather Camping Guide: Picking the Right Spot and Setup to Sleep

People camping in the snow

 photo by Bondariev via iStock

Picking the right spot to make camp is somewhat important in all seasons for your comfort, however, in cold weather camping, it’s vital. But, don’t worry; we will give you some pointers. 

Shovel off as much snow as possible before setting up the tent if there is snow. Place a piece of plastic under the tent (secured with ground pegs) because that prevents the groundsheet from freezing. 

Use an insulating cold weather camping blanket or tent carpet in the tent because that stops the cold from rising and will make you feel even better when you get into the sleeping bag. 

Using an air mattress is not recommended in winter camping conditions. Instead, we would recommend the Sea to Summit insulated sleeping pads. Then, add a proper cold weather sleeping bag on top of that with waterproof outer fabric for the ultimate insulation. Finally, we recommend the Coleman Big Basin sleeping bags. They will ensure a good night’s sleep to make it easier for your body to stay warm during the day.

Dress Code

lots of mittens and gloves for cold weather camping

 photo by Eugene4873 via iStock

Dress warmly and make sure your feet and head don’t get cold at all. For extreme conditions, get a balaclava and wear thermal underwear and clothing, as they insulate better than cotton. In addition, you can bring heat pads like HotnWarmers for your hands and feet.  Also, you can bring heated socks and gloves.

It is imperative to wear waterproof shoes when you go cold weather camping. Many leather or cloth shoes absorb water or snow on the outside. That means your feet will be ice cold and your body will have a more challenging time staying warm because of that. Shoes with a waterproof outer layer keep your feet nice and warm.

Cold Weather Camping Guide: Ways to Keep Warm 

kettle over a campfire

 photo by ArtistGNDphotography via iStock

The first thing that will probably pop up in your head is fire, which is the first thing most people will think of when they need to get warm, and that is understandable. But there are many ways to warm up when you go cold weather camping before getting that fire started. 

Hot drinks like a cup of coffee will be your best friend on those cold days. So get some water boiling and make yourself some coffee before you start figuring out firewood. Caffeine helps your blood flow and, therefore, allows the beverage’s warmth to spread better throughout your body. Also, don’t forget to bring an insulated mug when cold weather camping, the double walls of the cup will retain the heat for an extra-long time. 

Having a small gas stove like a GasOne Camping Stove with you is a quick way to get a first heat source going, always be careful with open fire, and never cook inside your tent. It is essential to bring only propane gas for your burner. Because Butane gas will not work below 39F, and that is definitely a surprise you don’t want to learn the hard way during cold weather camping.

Before going to sleep, take a walk or warm up by the campfire. This way, you will get warm in the sleeping bag quicker, and it doesn’t take that long before you are up to a comfortable temperature for sleeping.

What About Heaters?

planar heaters diesel heater

A heater (electric or liquid) comes in handy to keep out the worst cold, whether for a tent or a camper. Such a heater will prevent your items, such as toiletries, food and drinks, from freezing, and if you are in a camper, it will save your pipes from freezing too. Always ensure adequate ventilation and follow the manual. 

Circulating warm air keeps the tent dry inside. Do not use a gas radiant heater in the tent. It causes a lot of condensation, and carbon monoxide poisoning is a threat if there is insufficient ventilation.

planar heaters 2kw portable heater

We highly recommend the Planar Heaters 2kw Diesel Heater if you are in a tent or camper.

It is a 12V self-contained heater that runs on either kerosine or diesel. The unit is in a crush-proof casing that is resistant to rain and other weather influences, so you needn’t worry about rain or snow impacting its performance.

The heater is also equipped with an air intake filter and a silencer, so you won’t be disturbed with noise while it’s running and heating the air inside your sleeping quarters. It provides instant, dry heat for any space up to 25ft. 

Diesel Heater next to an SUV in the snow

I use this heater in the winter to keep my Torro Offroad Rooftop Tent nice and toasty, and I can’t tell you how impressed I am with it. When they say it’s instant, warm, dry heat, they aren’t kidding!

While the 2kw heater is plenty for my needs, Planar Heaters also sells a 4kw version – if you plan on camping in some really cold temperatures, the 4kw version will be just what the doctor ordered!

Cold Weather Camping Guide: Cold Weather Camping Checklist

We will leave you with a final packing list to make sure you pack all your cold weather camping gear:

  • Cold weather camping clothes like a down jacket, thermal underwear, beanie, extra warm/dry socks and preferably waterproof or hydrophobic pants. 
  • A suitable cold weather camping tent.
  • Insulating cold weather camping blanket or tent carpet.
  • Insulating sleeping pad.
  • A hammer and ice pegs.
  • A heater for your tent.
  • A Propane gas stove (Butane won’t work under 39F)
  • Plenty of food and water. Nutrition helps the body keep warm.
  • An insulated mug.
  • Heated socks and gloves (if it gets frigid) 

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