Everything You Need to Know About Staying Warm While Winter Camping
Winter camping can be a truly magical experience. Not only can you witness the beauty of nature covered in a fresh blanket of snow, but you’ll also have space and tranquility to feel truly peaceful in these beautiful wintery landscapes. This is because winter camping isn’t for the faint of heart! Winter camping means you can escape the crowds of summer, and you’ll be left with just the serious outdoor enthusiasts. But there’s a reason the summer crowds don’t attempt camping in the winter months. Staying warm while winter camping can be a challenge, but that’s why we’re here to help.
When planning your safety on a winter camping trip, think first about your summer camping approach and necessities. Many of the same rules and tricks that you’ve picked up on your summer camping trips will be useful while winter camping. Some principles of camping remain the same year-round, the most important being leave no trace (LNT). Just as in summer, it’s necessary to make sure the natural environment we’re entering is protected.
Winter camping often means one thing: snow. Camping in the snow raises its own unique challenges. However, if you don’t live in a part of the world that gets lots of snow over winter, it might be that you’re faced with other challenges. The main one being rain. Camping in the rain can be a miserable experience if you don’t know how to do it. Take a look here for some of our top recommendations on how to stay dry when camping.
But when it comes to staying warm while winter camping, let’s first tackle the question of snow. If you’re thinking that going camping and hiking in the snow will always leave you shivering, think again. There are many things you can do to ensure you’re comfortable and to protect your health and safety while camping in the snow. However, you need to know what you’re doing. For example, would you get into your sleeping bag without first doing some jumping jacks? Read on to find out more useful camping tips and tricks, and some of the safety basics, on staying warm while winter camping.
General tips to keep warm while winter camping:
1. Invest in the perfect winter sleeping bag.
2. When sleeping in snowy conditions, it’s of the utmost importance that you have a hardy winter sleeping bag with you. The sleeping bag you use in summer is just not going to cut the mustard. Firstly, make sure you’re bringing a sleeping bag that’s designed for low temperatures, and aim for one that’s rated at least 10°F below the nighttime low of where you’re going. Many people choose to invest in a sleeping bag filled with down, as they have superior warmth, but are still lightweight and easy to transport.
3. Make sure your sleeping bag fits.
4. A sleeping bag that’s too big or too small will not protect you from the elements while winter camping, as you’ll loose too much body heat. You need to find a sleeping bag that fits you like a glove. A bag that’s too small might leave you with a limb exposed to the cold; and bag that’s too big leaves holes to gape, leaving more room you need to fill with your body temperature. If you find yourself in a sleeping bag that’s too large, consider filling up the extra space with extra clothes or a hot water bottle. Some sleeping bags are specifically designed for people who are smaller or taller than the average height: so make sure you’re traveling with a bag that fits you and gives you the perfect amount of legroom.
5. Don’t stop with the sleeping bag.
6. When camping in the snow, just a sleeping bag won’t give you the protection you need from the cold, even if it’s a superior design. You’ll also need to bring with you a sleeping bag liner, as a base layer. These can add from 5- 17 more degrees of heat to you while you sleep, depending on the material. You can purchase sleeping bag liners for most budgets, from those made from microfibre to those made from Merino wool. While camping in the snow, it’s also really important that you protect yourself from the temperature of the ground. There are a few solutions that could work for you, depending on how much you’re looking to carry. You could bring with you two standard sleeping mats, an inflatable sleeping mat, or sleeping pad, an air mattress, closed-cell foam pad, or even a camping cot, to elevate you off the cold ground.
7. Treat your sleeping bag right.
8. To keep your sleeping bag clean, and performing right, you need to do a couple of things to maintain it. When you wake up, you should roll the moist air out of it every morning, then leave it to open until it cools to the air temperature. If the weather lets you, try setting it up outside to dry. Keep the weather forecast in mind, and only do this if there’s no chance of rain or snow. When you’re settling into your waterproof tent at night, fluff up your sleeping bag so it’s at maximum capacity, to keep you as warm as possible while you sleep.
9. Wear lots of clothes to provide extra insulation from the cold.
10. To stay warm while winter camping, it’s imperative that you wear a lot of layers, and as much clothing as possible. Maybe you might want to consider investing in some specifically designed thermal clothes and then layering these. It’s especially important while sleeping in snowy conditions that you keep your core warm, i.e. your back, stomach, and chest. And although you might be tempted to layer up quite tight clothes, it’s better for your camping sleeping gear to be a bit looser, to give you more insulation. Layering is also handy as if you get too hot, you can just take off one layer, letting you sleep comfortably at the ideal temperature.
11. Make sure you’re dry before going to bed.
12. It’s really important that when you go to sleep in your tent in snow conditions that you’re bone dry. Make sure you leave your boots, boot socks, and all your snow gear outside your tent, potentially in a ditch that you have dug. If you enter your tent with wet feet, or kit, you’re going to get your sleeping kit soggy, which when it’s wintery cold is quite hard to go back from. Make sure you leave your sleeping gear in a plastic bag if you’re backpacking, so there’s no chance of it getting wet while you’re hiking, and keep it in your tent so that it’s always dry when you’re returning from a day adventuring.
13. Make sure you’re warm before going to bed.
14. Before getting into your sleeping bag, it helps if your body is warm. Even if you have a thick sleeping bag, it’s hard to get warm if you’re starting your sleep cold. We would recommend going for a little jog, or maybe doing some jumping jacks before you head off to snooze. This will mean you get into your sleeping bag warm, meaning you’ll start your sleep right, and get to sleep sooner.
15. Make sure your body has what it needs.
16. To stay warm, and safe, while camping in the snow, you need to make sure you’re consuming the right number of calories, and that you’re keeping well hydrated. Just like when it’s hot out, your body used liquids and calories to regulate your body temperature. Maintaining a good calorie intake will also be helpful for long snow hikes, which are often more challenging.
Setting up your camp in the snow
Although it might be easy enough to stay warm while you’re active on your camping trip, by hiking or playing snow sports, for example, what about when you’re sleeping? Setting up camp in the snow is one of the main things that can put people off winter camping. Who wants to wake up shivering, in minus temperatures, with the cold of the snow seeping through their thin sleeping mat? Not us.
There are a few things you can do to make sure your tent and camping experience is up to the challenges of the snow. The first rule to setting up camp in the snow is: don’t rush. Try and reach your campsite, or primitive camping area, with a lot of light left in the sky. This will mean you have ample time to look around the area and ensure you’ve found the best camping spot, the spot that will protect you from the cold the most. Arrive at your campground, relax after a long day, put on some extra warm layers, and start scouting.
But what are you looking for? When camping on snow, there are a few things you need to be looking for at your campsite to help you stay warm. Firstly, it’s best if you find a site that has some natural wind protection. This could be a group of trees, a forest, or a hill, anything that blocks that icy cold winter breeze from reaching your tent. For obvious reasons, this will keep you much warmer while you sleep in your tent, and will leave you feeling less exposed to the elements.
Another tip for warm snowy camping is to think about sunrise. If you pick a camping spot that gives you exposure to the sun in the morning while it’s rising, you’re more likely to warm up faster and be ready for your day of adventuring quicker. When winter camping, it’s important you take with you some substantial survival gear. And one element of your survival gear kit should be a compass. Use your compass to figure out in which direction the sun will be rising, and position your tent appropriately.
In terms of the location of your campsite, these are the main considerations you need to make to stay warm. We would also recommend pitching on an area that has thicker snow coverage, rather than somewhere that’s patchy or a little wet. When camping in the snow, wet ground is not your friend. There are some other things you need to consider when pitching up in winter, though, that aren’t to do with staying warm but are about your safety. Firstly, make sure you have a water source nearby, or you have the equipment to melt snow. Avoid camping on vegetation, make sure there are no avalanche risks near your site, don’t set up near unstable trees, and keep an eye out for landmarks to help you find your tent after a hike.
Setting up your tent in the snow
Using a tent in the snow is not the only option. In fact, a lot of serious, hardcore survivalists are far more likely to use snow to their advantage. This could be in the building of a more complex shelter, or by building a shelter out of snow. Building a shelter from snow allows you the benefit of being blocked from the wind, and also offers you some insulation, surprisingly enough. Take a look at this useful article, for some instructions on how to build your shelter from the snow.
However, we wouldn’t recommend building a shelter in this way unless you have some experience, or you’re going camping with someone with a lot of experience of camping in the snow and building survival shelters. Most winter campers will still go camping in tents in the snow. And in fact, it’s quite easy to transport your shelter with you when there’s good snow coverage. You can afford the extra weight of a hardier sleeping bag, and more than one sleeping mat, if you use this clever solution: drag your kit behind you on a sled while you hike.
But once you’ve got to your campground, and you’ve scoped out and elected the ideal spot, how can you make sure you stay warm while sleeping in your tent? The first step is to ensure you have set up your tent perfectly for camping on the snow, and insulate it properly. You should always start with packing down the snow, in the area you’ve designated for setting up your tent. This is important because loose snow can often melt, and seep into your tent, making you soggy and uncomfortable. The best way to flatten the snow is to walk around your site in your snowshoes or skis, flattening the snow with your body weight.
Secondly, you can build a wall out of snow. Often, when camping in the snow, the snow isn’t the thing that makes you cold in the middle of the night: it’s the icy wind that can attack the walls of your tent as you sleep. Apart from finding a well-sheltered area to camp in, you can build a wall from snow to protect you from the wintery gales. If it’s not so easy to build a wall of snow around your tent, you could dig a hole to put your tent in, so you get a natural snow wall around you. Even a small wall around the bottom of your tent will help reduce wind impact, keeping you warmer as you sleep. However, make sure the wall isn’t too high: you still need to get enough ventilation through your tent to remain comfortable and safe.
Setting up camp in winter is completely different from setting up camp in summer, for obvious reasons. But it also requires some different kit. The usual tent stakes you use in summer won’t be effective in the snow, so make sure you invest in a snow-ready tent, or you buy some tent stakes which are specifically designed for setting up in the snow. You could also bury stuff bags full of snow, to weigh down your tent. It’s important that your tent is properly secured, to protect you from any strong wintery gales.
You also need to think about your gear, how to stow it and keep it dry. Instead of keeping your kit in your tent, where it could take up too much space, how about digging a bench into the snow in front of your tent’s opening? You can use this to store your kit, and your shoes, while you sleep, meaning it’s less likely you’ll bring in any snow to your tent that would melt and make you uncomfortable. You should also keep any sharp objects here, like snow axes, so there’s no risk of you breaking a hole in any part of your tent.
So there we have it: our top tips for staying warm while winter camping. Follow these tips and tricks, to keep you toasty in cold-weather camping situations. Although there are lots of things you can bring, like hand warmers, extra layers, and calorific food for example, the main thing that will keep you toasty on a cold night is building and setting up your tent right. To stay comfy and warm while cold-weather camping, consider going camping with someone with lots of survival camping experience, and make sure you’re properly prepared for any emergency.
Bonus tip: Watch this useful video to find out how to set up camp in really heavy snow!