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Just because the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder doesn’t mean that you can’t still pack up your gear and get away from it all for a few days of camping.
In fact, cold-weather camping can be quite comfortable – if you plan accordingly.
Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite easy cold-weather camping tips to help you make the most of your wintertime adventures.
Let’s get started!
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #1: Check the Weather Before You Leave
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We can probably put this one in the “duh” category, but it’s important to mention nonetheless.
And don’t just check the forecast once. Check it multiple times in the days leading up to your planned departure date, and then check it again before you head out.
A changing forecast can greatly change the gear you need to bring, so up-to-date forecasts are a must for planning your cold-weather camping trips.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #2: Get a Sleeping Bag Rated for the Appropriate Temperatures
Temperature ratings for sleeping bags are only estimates, but they can still be informative as to how comfortable (or uncomfortable, I suppose) you’ll be.
So, remember that even if your sleeping bag is rated for 0-degrees, you might not be comfortably warm if the temperature drops that low. If you’re a cold sleeper, opt for a bag that’s rated even lower than the expected low temperatures.
In fact, just to be safe, get a bag that’s rated about 10-15 degrees cooler than the coldest temperatures you expect will occur on your trip. This way you are sure to be nice and warm even if it gets a little colder than expected.
Of course, bring along extra blankets, a sleeping bag liner, warm socks, and other warm nightclothes just in case things get really chilly.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #3: Warm Up Your Bed
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An easy way to warm up your sleeping bag or bed is to put a water bottle of hot water under the covers before you hit the sack.
It’s important to use a non-insulated bottle, that way the heat from the water can radiate out from the bottle.
If you get cold feet while you sleep, throw the bottle at the bottom of your bag or the foot of your bed. If you want some warmth for your core, place it about where the small of your back will be.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #4: Warm Yourself Up for Bed
In addition to warming up your bag or bed, you should also warm yourself up before going to bed.
Whether you drink a hot beverage, go for a walk, sit by the campfire, or do a few jumping jacks before getting into bed, you’ll be far warmer as you sleep.
Just be sure you don’t overdo it before bed. If you go too hard and end up sweating it can lower your body temperature and lead to condensation developing inside your tent or camper.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #5: Warm Up Your Tent or Camper
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Not only should you warm up your bed, but you should also warm up whatever it is that you’ll be sleeping in.
Your car, van, camper, or tent can be preheated to help take the chill out of the air and get you started on your night’s rest on a warmer note.
Whether you use the furnace in your camper, a propane buddy heater in your tent, or even a candle heater, the added heat will help you snuggle in for the night and drift off to sleep much more quickly.
Just be careful when using things like candles and heaters. The last thing you want to do is cause a fire.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #6: Ventilation is a Must
No matter if you’re in a tent, a van, a travel trailer, or something in between, you need ventilation while camping in cold weather.
It might seem illogical to have a window cracked open in your camper or your tent door unzipped, but having that flow of air will help draw the warm, moist air inside to the outside. This will prevent condensation from occurring inside, and will prevent you and all your gear from getting damp.
Being wet – even just a little – when you’re camping in cold weather is a surefire way for you to be even colder than you already are. Get some ventilation going, and you’ll actually be warmer!
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #7: Dress in Layers
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It goes without saying that keeping your body warm in cold weather means dressing in layers.
By wearing layers, you ensure that you stay nice and warm without getting too hot. Of course, there is a bit of an art to it…
Layering your clothing means you should be able to easily add or remove layers depending on what you’re doing. So, if you’re taking a hike during the day, you might take off your outer shell and unzip the pit zips in your mid-layer fleece.
But when you get back to camp and the sun goes down, adding back those layers can help you stay warm.
When layering, the base layer should be either synthetic material or wool. Cotton is a big no-no here – it absorbs water, so if you begin to sweat, it will retain that moisture and lose its ability to insulate you from the cold.
For the mid-layer, a fleece or down or synthetic jacket will do the trick. This layer’s job is to prevent heat loss, which is why a fleece or a puffy jacket is such a good option.
The outer layer should be both windproof and waterproof. This will help protect you and your mid-layer and base layers from the cold, wind, rain, and snow. When shopping for an outer shell, spend as much money as you can. You really do get what you pay for here, so the better your shell is, the better off you’ll be – and you’ll be warmer, too!
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #8: Cover Your Head
A ton of body heat emanates from your head, so keeping it covered will keep you much warmer during the daytime and at night.
While you’re at it, add some hand warmers to your gloves or mittens to keep your fingers warm and throw some in your shoes to keep your feet warm too.
You might also consider using a gaiter or balaclava to cover your face while you sleep. Not only will this keep your face warmer, but it will also prevent the warm air you’re exhaling from getting into your sleeping bag or bed and creating condensation.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #9: Don’t Wait to Pee
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If you’re winter camping and you wake up in the middle of the night having to pee, it’s much better to get up and go to the bathroom rather than lay there holding it in.
Your body actually uses a lot of energy to keep your urine warm, so having a full bladder can really cool you down.
Of course, there’s nothing worse than having to get out of your toasty warm sleeping bag or bed to go pee, so trying to hold it in is understandable. But, the longer you wait to relieve yourself, the colder you will get!
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #10: Keep Your Gadgets Warm Too
The nature of my job requires that I have a ton of photography and videography gear with me on my adventures. And all those things can really suffer when the temperature plunges.
Cold temperatures will drain the battery in your phone or camera very quickly. The same happens with flashlights, headlamps, and other battery-powered gadgets.
To protect them from cold temperatures, keep them in your sleeping bag or bed with you overnight. Under your pillow is a great spot!
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #11: Have Rescue and Recovery Gear
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You should always have a full slate of rescue and recovery gear, but it’s especially important in the winter when snow and ice can make it more likely that you get stuck or slide off the road.
Even in warmer climates where you don’t have to worry about snow and ice can present challenges. Rain can make once-passable roads a muddy bog, so having the right gear to get yourself unstuck is of the utmost importance.
Cold-Weather Camping Tip #12: Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Last, but not least, share your cold-weather camping plans with someone before you leave. Tell them where you’re going, how long you plan to be there, and when you plan to be back home. That way, if something goes awry, that person can notify the proper authorities and give them the details of where you should be. Doing so could make the difference between being hopelessly stuck for days or getting the help you need in short order.
Enjoy your cold-weather camping trip!