Camping in winter can be a fantastic escape. The cold is brisk and gives you a great excuse to settle down at night with a hot fire and a warm drink.
A fresh snowfall can blanket everything and make familiar landscapes feel new all over again.
And because winter camping is so much less common, you get a little more space to breathe and be yourself, without worrying about sharing a campsite or a trail with too many other people.
Still, camping in winter does require a little bit of planning, and sometimes a little bit of gear. A little preparation can go a long way to having a safe, fun excursion to a natural winter wonderland.
Dress in Layers
The first thing to bear in mind when you head out in winter is not just to dress warmly, but to dress in layers. Keeping warm is important! But as the day goes on, the temperature tends to rise. Many people struggle with what to wear hiking in winter!
Because of that (and especially if you’re doing any kind of physical activity, like hiking or snowboarding) most people will start sweating as they get going for the day.
When the day draws to a close and the air starts getting cool again, having sweat-soaked clothing can become a huge problem. Your damp clothes will start to get cold a lot faster than a dry inner layer would.
Dressing in layers can help keep this from happening. As you start to warm up, just remove and stow your outer layers.
This can help keep you from sweating too much, and give any clothes that do get sweaty a chance to air out. When things start to get chilly again, just add your layers back on.
Look for materials that are warm, as well as materials that can wick away moisture and dry quickly. Wool is great, especially for your outer layer.
Bring the Right Gear
Camping is one of those hobbies where you can easily get carried away buying too much gear. At the same time, if you’re going to go out in the cold, it’s important to know that your gear will keep you warm.
Your sleeping bag should be rated for the weather you’re camping in. Sleeping bags usually have temperature ratings with specific numbers on them.
You want to find a bag that’s rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter during the night. That can help ensure that you stay cozy, warm, and safe.
Where you set your tent up is your home for your camping trip. But the language around tents is a little less intuitive than sleeping bags.
You’ll see tents described as “three-season” or “four-season”. That doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does.
A three-season tent is fine for most winter camping. It will keep you perfectly warm. You don’t need a four-season tent unless you’re heading out into extreme, inhospitable environments like far-off, high mountain peaks.
Just as important as your tent’s rating is its size. You want your tent to be appropriately-sized for the number of people using it. If you’re by yourself, buy a solo tent. If you camp with a friend, buy a two-person tent.
The reason for this is that empty space in the tent fills up quickly—with cold air. A small tent is a cozy tent.
In addition to buying the smallest tent that will work for you, you should also try and fill the empty space inside your tent with gear. Bring your backpack inside the tent with you.
Sleeping pads are always useful, but they’re extra helpful in winter.
Not only do they make your sleeping situation a little more comfortable than sleeping on the hard ground, but when it’s cold, they provide an extra layer of insulation for you.
Having a layer of air between you and the cold of the ground can make more a difference than you’d expect.
We’ve already talked about the importance of wearing layers, but pay attention to what those layers are made of. Wool is great for socks, and for outerwear.
Windbreakers can be tricky. They keep you warm, sure, but they don’t breathe. That means they’ll trap body heat and moisture, which can be really unpleasant once the day gets cold.
There’s more to protecting yourself than staying warm. Many people are surprised to learn that you can get sunburned in the winter. But the truth is that some areas can make sunburns even more dangerous.
When the sunlight reflects off of snow, you can get sunburned in ways (and in places) that you wouldn’t expect.
Bring sunblock, even in winter. Wear a hat that’ll keep your head warm and safe from the sun. And consider sunglasses, if there’ll be a lot of snow around.
You can cut down from the glare bouncing off the landscape. Snowfall can be gorgeous, but you still want to take care of yourself while you appreciate it.
Keep Fueled Up
Having plenty of food and water is always important, but it’s extra important when the weather is harsh. (Besides, it’s just nice to be able to make yourself a hot meal on a cold day.)
Be Able to Boil Water
Bringing water along is important. But bringing enough water to last a whole camping trip can get heavy in a hurry. Water purification is available in many forms, from filters to tablets to stoves.
But in winter, when you’re going to need to heat up your food anyway, a lightweight camp stove makes a lot of sense. Look for fuels with a mix of isobutane and propane.
They’ll be a lot more useful in the cold than fuels with regular butane.
Have High-Calorie Meals Ready
Don’t be afraid to indulge a little. Your body is using energy to keep moving, and it’s using energy to stay warm, all at the same time.
One great way to quickly make food at the campsite or on the trail is by putting together “just add water” meals at home.
Freeze-dried ingredients like freeze-dried vegetables and meats, as well as partially-cooked foods like instant noodles and powdered ingredients (like powdered peanut butter, powdered milk, and grated parmesan) can help you put together meals that are flavorful and full of the calories you need to keep going.
Just add boiled water to them and you’re ready to go.
Camping in winter definitely takes a little more thought and prep work. But it’s not that hard, and it’s a lot of fun.
The chance to get out and explore new territory—or even to see your home turf in a new way, at a new time of year—is incredibly rewarding.
Do your homework and check out the gear, for sure. But then get out there and enjoy yourself.
Author Bio: Derek Edwards is an outdoor and adventure blogger based out of Southern California. If you enjoyed this post be sure to follow along his adventure over on his blog Outdoor with Derek.
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