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There is nothing as spectacular as witnessing a clear sky speckled with stars gracing snow-capped mountains. But no view will make camping in cold weather bearable if you are ill-prepared.
So, how can you enjoy camping in winter without freezing to death? You must prepare and carry the right gear to stay toasty even when temperatures drop.
And in this blog post, I will share 9 tips for staying warm while camping in cold weather. I encourage you to grab a cup of hot cocoa and get ready to learn how to make winter camping a warm and enjoyable experience! You might also enjoy reading: Camping Gear for Beginners: 14 must-haves for your next camping trip!
Your 9 Tips to Stay Warm While Camping in Winter
- Wear layers
- Sleeping bag tips
- Have the correct sleeping pad set up
- Sleeping holding a hot water bottle
- Eat high-calorie healthy foods.
- Vent your tent
- Protect your electronics
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Let’s discuss one at a time.
1- Wear Layers
Camping in winter means bracing for harsh weather elements like snow and wind. And the first thing you’ll need to consider is next-level cold weather layering to stay warm.
But how do you layer?
The base layer is vital in managing moisture. You don’t want moisture against your skin because it will cool you off fast once it evaporates.
I suggest you wear a lightweight, next-to-skin, and long-sleeved base layer that wicks away moisture and keeps you dry. It should be tight and thin to grab moisture and dry faster.
I prefer breathable, quick-drying, and temperature-regulating Merino wool for the base layer. However, I won’t use it when engaging in activities like hiking or snowshoeing since it holds onto a lot of moisture.
The mid layer is the most versatile layer to insulate your body. It helps to keep you warm and manage the moisture wicked through the base layer.
The mid-layer should have some thickness to help trap heat in your body. I often go for lightweight polyester flee sweaters and pants.
Choose thickness depending on how cold your camping site is going to be. And if temperatures are lower than usual, carry down padded jackets. These jackets have heat-sealed compartments to keep you warm below -18°C. You can wear this on top of the warm fleece jacket.
For your legs, wear torrid pants with synthetic insulation to keep your legs warm.
The outer layer will protect you from the elements. While it may not provide any insulation, it will protect other layers from rain and wind.
So what is ideal for the outer layer?
You want something waterproof because snow is wet and can soak into your insulation quickly. The outer layer should also protect you from the wind because wind can blow the trapped heat from the breezy insulation.
The shell material should be thin and lightweight. I love shell jackets with inner pockets to keep warm and drinking water for hydration.
Layering also involves protecting your head, hands, and feet. You can use a Merino hat, a buff, and a torrid insulated hood to cover your head. I recommend liner gloves as a base layer and thicker insulated mitts for the hands. They’ll keep your hands warm and still allow you to be nimble.
Your feet are often challenging to keep warm. The outer layer should be lightweight and waterproof booties. You should also wear Merino socks and the first insulated bootie to keep the heat on your feet.
Now that we’ve covered wearing layers, it is time for tip number two.
2- Sleeping bag tips
A sleeping bag is a no-brainer for any camper, but if you are camping in cold weather, you need to choose the correct one. Selecting the wrong sleeping bag could be passing a death sentence for a winter camper.
Consider some valuable tips for your sleeping bag:
Keep your face outside the sleeping bag
The death of a sleeping bag is condensation. As a beginner, you may be tempted to keep your head inside a sleeping bag to warm things up. While that can temporarily keep you warm, it introduces moisture inside the bag.
Why is that a bad thing? A wet sleeping bag will keep you dumped and drastically lose its warming abilities. So no matter what, keep your face outside the sleeping bag. Use a face mask and hood to cover your head in cold weather.
Remove your warm-weather clothes before entering the sleeping bag
It is cold in the wilderness, and you may be tempted to jump into your sleeping bag with your layered gear.
This is a bad idea because once you fall asleep, you’ll sweat and don’t want moisture inside the bag. The sleeping bag should keep you warm, not your clothes.
So sleep with minimal clothing as possible. Remember the old saying for camping in cold weather: if you sweat, you die. You want to be careful with products that will make you sweat.
Put on a warm pair of socks and hand warmers.
You don’t want to sleep with socks you’ve worn throughout the day because they are probably wet. Hand warmers also help keep your body temperature stable unless you have circulation issues.
Test your sleeping bag temperature rating.
Never assume that a sleeping bag’s temperature rating suits you. Everyone is different.
Let’s assume that you plan to go camping in cold weather of -6.6°C at night; you should ensure that the sleeping bag will keep YOU warm. So, test it before you pack it into the backpack.
Ensure the sleeping bag fits you correctly.
If your sleeping is too small or too large, it won’t keep you warm efficiently. For instance, a larger sleeping bag will have dead spaces acting as cold pockets.
If your sleeping bag is too big, fill the space with clean and dry clothing and gear.
3- Have the correct sleeping pad set-up
Your sleeping bag will be practical if the pad and the mattress underneath it are ideal. When camping in cold weather, you’ll interact with the cold ground, hence the need to protect your body against induction.
That is why I recommend having two layers for cold-weather camping. I often use a closed self-blown mat on the ground and my air mattress on top. The sleeping pad protects the inflatable mattress from thorns that could puncture it.
4- Sleep holding a hot water bottle
Do you have a stainless steel water bottle? You can fill it with hot water and place it in your groins or hold it between your legs (don’t put the bottle by your feet).
Between your legs is an excellent position because you have many arteries down there that will keep the blood warm and circulating in your body.
Of course, you should use common sense with the water bottle. I recommend you ensure it is tightly closed; if it is too hot, cover it with something to prevent potential burns.
5- Eat high-calorie healthy food
The food you eat before bed is vital for your warmth. As your body digests food, it generates heat that warms you up. You should eat high-fat and high-protein foods and whole grains that take longer to digest, thus keeping you warmer for a long time.
And since your body burns lots of calories in cold weather, constantly snacking will keep your internal furnace burning.
I mentioned carrying warm water in your outer jacket, which is essential because dehydration will inhibit your ability to stay warm. But will drinking only a little water cause you to go out and interrupt your sleep?
You can keep a pee bottle in your sleeping bag and use the hot waste to heat your body. However, ensure the pee bottle has a tight-fitting lid. You don’t want the foul-smelling pee to soak your sleep system!
6- Vent your Tent
You may ask: should we not block all the cold outside the tent? That is partially true because as much as we want to protect ourselves from the cold elements, airflow in the tent is essential even in the winter.
Why? When you breathe, the hot vapor in the tent hits the cold tent fabric, condenses as droplets, and freezes.
And without a vent, you can only imagine waking up entombed in a frosted box. The ice will melt, creating a pool of frustration and misery. So you need the vent to allow the warm air to escape the tent.
7- Protect your electronics
Did you know cold weather can quickly drain your electronic battery or damage your gadget? Therefore, I encourage you to keep your electronics or anything that can spoil from freezing at the foot of your sleeping bag. So, if you know you’ll carry electronics, buy a sleeping bag with extra room to keep your gadgets.
Aldo checks if your electronics can operate in cold temperatures because charging them outside specified temperatures can result in irreparable damage.
I’m not saying you carry your gym equipment to cold weather camping. Moving around to get your heart rate up will do the trick and warm you up before bed.
Do some jumping jacks, pushups, and squats to raise your temperature but don’t sweat. If you push too hard and sweat, you’ll get cold faster from evaporation.
9- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
When cold weather camping, it is essential to avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol. These drinks can cause your body temperature to drop, which is the last thing you want in the cold wilderness.
Caffeine can increase dehydration and interfere with your body’s natural ability to regulate its temperature.
Alcohol can also lead to dehydration, making you more prone to hypothermia. It also acts as a vasodilator, causing the blood vessels below the skin’s surface to dilate. This creates a false sense of warmth and steals heat from your body.
FAQs about staying warm while camping in winter
Can you stay warm in a tent in winter?
Yes, it is possible to stay warm in a tent during winter, but it requires careful planning and preparation. Here are some tips to help you stay warm in a tent while camping in colder months:
- Choose the right tent: Select a tent designed for winter camping, made from thick, durable materials, and has a waterproof and windproof outer layer. The tent should also be a vestibule to help prevent cold air from entering the tent.
- Use an insulated pad to provide insulation from the cold ground.
- Invest in a high-quality sleeping bag rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter during your trip.
- Dress in layers.
- Use a hot water bottle.
- Ventilate the tent to prevent condensation buildup.
- Use portable heaters designed explicitly for camping to warm up the inside of your tent.
How can I keep my tent warm without a heater?
Since you may not have electricity in your tent, here are a few ways to keep your tent warm:
- Choose a suitable campsite sheltered from the wind and gets plenty of sunlight during the day.
- Use a groundsheet or tarp underneath your tent to create an extra insulation layer. You can also line the inside of the tent with thermal blankets or tarps to help retain heat.
- Wear warm clothing, including thermal underwear, thick socks, a hat, and gloves to trap heat close to your body.
- Eat high-energy foods like nuts, cheese, and jerky before bed to keep you warm.
- Stay active during the day to generate heat.
- Ventilate your tent to prevent condensation buildup.
- Bring candle lanterns.
What is the most effective way to stay warm in winter?
Dressing in layers is the most effective way to stay warm in winter. However, you can combine strategies like staying active and hydrated, choosing an insulated tent, and using a unique space heater.
How cold is too cold for winter camping?
While the temperature range for winter camping differs depending on many factors, 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or (-1 to -4 degrees Celsius is often considered too cold for tent camping.
However, experienced campers with the right gear can camp even in extreme temperatures without the risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries. Some trailers can do 20°C (-4°F).
Can you use a regular tent in winter?
Yes, you can use a regular tent in winter, but you’ll need to take extra precautions to ensure it’s warm and comfortable. While traditional tents aren’t designed for cold weather, you can make them work with some modifications and the right gear.
Here are some things you can do to a regular tent in winter:
- Choose the right sleeping bag
- Use hot water bottles
- Dress appropriately
- Ventilate your tent
- Insulate your tent
What to read next:
- 7 Best Dog-friendly Camping Grounds in the USA.
- 20 Outdoor Activities to Try on Your Next Camping Trip.
- 5 Best Coffee Makers For RV (And how to Choose the perfect one!)
- 7 Ways to Stay Safe While Camping.
Cold-weather camping can be an exciting adventure, but it requires proper planning. Before you fit your hiking boots and carry your bag to the alpine mountains, ask yourself if you have the correct gear.
If you’re all set with ideal clothes, a tent, boots, food, and heating equipment, these tips will undoubtedly enhance your experience. All the best in connecting with the freezing nature!