Winter Camping

Snow camping doesn’t have to be cold and miserable, even if some of us had to learn that the hard way. Imagine spending the winter months in crystalline snow-covered fields, warming up with hot chocolate by the fire, waking up to a pristine, private winter wonderland just outside your tent. Snow camping can be comfortable and cozy, and we’re here to help you find yourself outside all winter.

Tip 1: Commit, but not too much…

My first experience winter camping was in the deep backcountry, miles from my warm bed or any sign of civilization. While you’ll need to do a good amount more prep than you would for warmer temps, stay close to a backup plan — whether that’s a hotel or your own home — if you’re concerned the cold might get the best of you.

Make sure to check weather reports ahead of time to see how cold it will get overnight. If you’re able to drive right up to your campsite, bring more than you think you’ll need if possible. If you’re hiking in, try not to sacrifice anything you could potentially utilize if it gets colder than expected.

Tip 2: Layer, layer, layer!

Base layer: This is the layer next to your skin. Synthetic or wool materials work best for wicking away perspiration, while cotton — when wet — can actually make you colder. Double up if need-be on base layers.

Middle layer: Fleece and down will be best for insulation and keeping your body heat in.

Outer layer: Also known as a shell, this is your protection against the elements. Common shell materials like Gore-Tex have a breathable membrane that also shelter you from rain and wind. For cheaper options, try polyurethane-coated fabrics that are waterproof, but less breathable.

Tip 3: Accessorize

  • Footwear: If possible, invest in waterproof boots that will keep your feet dry and warm at camp all day. Pro tip: Keep an extra pair of socks in your sleeping bag with you overnight so they’re toasty in the morning.
  • Hat: You lose a significant amount of heat through the top of your head, making this arguably one of the most important pieces of gear.
  • Gloves: Double up if possible, in case one pair gets wet.
  • Gaiters: Depending on how deep the snow is, gaiters can save the day by keeping pesky snow out of your boots.
  • Tent: Most 3-season tents are adequate during winter in many areas, but make sure to compensate on the inside with added layers and a good sleeping bag.
  • Sleeping bag: Check the temperature rating on your bag and make sure it’ll keep you warm enough — generally at least 10 degrees F lower than the coldest temp expected. Down is ideal, since it is lightweight and warm, but make sure to keep it dry or it will lose its insulating power.
  • Sleeping bag liner: Add extra warmth (up to 10-15 degrees) with a cozy layer in between you and your bag.
  • Sleeping pad: Sleeping pads insulate you from the freezing ground underneath. Check insulation rating ahead of time and double up if possible — or stuff extra clothing underneath you for added insulation if you get cold mid-sleep..
  • Stove: Liquid-fuel stoves are recommended in winter as they don’t freeze as easily as canisters.

Tip 4: Prep your campsite

Sleeping

Stomp out your tent site using your boots, a shovel, or anything you’ve got. Make it flat and big! Then start with a ground cloth or tarp underneath your tent — this will protect against any water that seeps in from the snow below.

Cooking

Shelter your cooking area from the wind. If you’re cooking in your tent’s vestibule, make sure to properly vent it so you don’t start a fire. If you’d prefer to cook outside, dig a trench to shelter your stove from the wind or use a windscreen.

Tip 5: Learn from our mistakes

Our favorite pieces of advice

  1. Boil water before bedtime and put it in water bottles. Bring them into your sleeping bag and keep them close to your body all night for added warmth.
  2. If you get cold, get moving!
  3. Even though you may just want to crawl into your tent at the end of the day, building a fire is often the best decision you can make. Sit around the fire with warm drinks and bask in the glory and solitude of winter. Plan ahead by bringing your own firewood or check with your Hosts ahead of time to ensure you’ve got dry wood on-site.
  4. Don’t forget water and food! It’s easy to get dehydrated and hungry in cold temps, so make this a priority.
  5. Take lots of pictures. While batteries will die quicker in cold temps, keep your phone in your sleeping bag overnight so you can snap awesome photos over your glistening campsite at sunrise.

Discover your next campsite

Photo by Peter Amend in Sequoia National Park

Hipcamp Staff

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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