I love cold-weather camping – there are less critters, the campground is less crowded, and nothing beats curling up in a warm sleeping bag after a long hike! But if you aren’t prepared, cold weather camping can be miserable and uncomfortable, and worse… dangerous!
There are tons of tricks and tips to help make winter camping more fun. Here are the 5 basic steps to camp in style, even in cold weather:
In cold (and often wet) weather – insulation is key. You need many layers for both yourself as well as your campsite.
First, dress in a wicking base layer like smart wool or polyester blends – keep that cotton long sleeved shirt at home! You want something that wicks the sweat away from you, and cotton actually captures moisture and keeps it next to your skin. You will still sweat in the cold weather, and when sweat cools your body temperature plummets.
Next, wear a mid-weight middle layer like a wool sweater or a puffy fleece hoodie, and finally wear a waterproof jacket as an outer layer. And be sure to wear a hat – even when you are sleeping. Much of your body heat escapes through your head – so grab a beanie and smoosh it on that noggin!
For your campsite, you will need a tarp or a footprint between your tent and the ground. It keeps the moisture from the ground from getting into your tent, and it adds an extra layer of insulation; the more layers that you have between you and the ground, the better!
You will also want a sleeping pad (or two) that have high “R” values – meaning more insulation in the sleeping pad. Be sure to grab a sleeping bag that’s insulated – with so many cool sleeping bag options out there, you can find one that’s rated comfy for 0 – 15 degree weather. I always sleep with a sleeping bag liner – it’s an extra fleece bag that goes inside my sleeping bag, and it makes a world of difference in the winter!
Layers are good for your sleeping clothes as well – I usually go to bed wearing all of my camping clothes and I start shedding layers as my body heat warms up my bag. And as an extra jolt of warmth on a cold day, I carry multiple packets of hand warmers with me whenever I camp, and I use them liberally. Handwarmers can last up to 8 hours and they help make a cold night more enjoyable!
You might not realize it, but you will need to drink more water in the cold than in warmer weather. You will still sweat and lose moisture (and heat) throughout the day – and your body uses water to help regulate your internal temperature. Store your water bottles in the bottom of your sleeping bag while you sleep so that they don’t freeze overnight, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Hot tea, soup, and coffee also helps keep you warm, but alcohol doesn’t.
If there was ever a time to eat a candy bar – cold weather camping is it! Your body will burn more calories keeping you warm, so by eating small meals frequently throughout the day, you will keep your metabolism up and your internal furnace blazing. Enjoy a couple of cookies and a hot mug of herbal tea or decaf coffee before you go to bed – the extra calories will warm you up and give you energy to keep you heated throughout the night.
4. Be sure to pack sunscreen and sunglasses.
Though the sun might be low in the sky, you can still get sunburned. The sunscreen also acts as a barrier between the harsh winter elements and your skin. The sunglasses will protect your eyes from snow blindness and any strong winter winds.
And finally, the most important tip…
5. Be prepared, have a plan and tell someone where you are going.
Bring a back up charger for your cell phone. Take a map of the campground where you are staying. Bring extra batteries. Write out directions to your campsite before you head out the door – many GPS systems lose their signal in the mountains and you don’t want to get lost when then sun sets early. Tell someone where you will be, and even show the campsite to him or her on a map if possible. Bring a first aid kit, and always have a back-up plan – it’s OK if your plans change because of the elements – sometimes that’s half the fun of roughing it!
Want to know more? Here are some nifty websites to get you inspired to lace up your hiking boots:
Written by Alison Alford