Best Winter Camping Tips to Keep Warm

Winter camping can be a challenge, even for experienced campers. Knowing these tips can make a positive impact on your experience.

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How to Prepare for Winter Camping

Winter camping is much different than warm weather camping, but it doesn’t need to be cold or uncomfortable. With the right knowledge and equipment, it might even become your favorite type of camping. You can experience beautiful snowy landscapes while avoiding typical camping annoyances like a lot of bugs and humidity.

However, even the most seasoned camper should take certain precautions and be open to learning how to better deal with everything that comes with winter camping. Bringing the right winter camping gear, preparing your tent site, preventing cold injuries, and keeping food warm are essential to an enjoyable winter camping experience.

Here are nine winter camping tips to keep warm and make your experience a pleasurable one.

Choose a Location Wisely

Your campsite location will play a big role in how comfortable you are during the night. Find a campsite on flat ground to make it easier to sleep. Avoid areas with high winds that can blow away your tent or blow snow into it. Also, be sure to find a tent site that is sheltered in case of snow fall to avoid making your camp site wet and cold.

One trick I learned my first time winter camping was to look at the snow around the area. If it’s rough and appears it was just blown in, you might want to consider a different location for your tent. You should also avoid camping in an avalanche zone, which is usually on or right by slopes.

Prep Tent Site By Packing Down Snow

If there isn’t snow on your tent site, set up your tent just like you always do. If there is snow, you will need to pack down the snow before setting up your tent. Loose snow will melt as a result of your body heat, making sleeping very uncomfortable. Pack down the snow by walking around with snowshoes or skis on your feet to make a more stable space for your tent. If the snow is deep, you can use a lightweight avalanche shovel to dig out your tent space.

Once the snow is packed and a flat space is created, you can safely sent up your tent. If it is windy, you will also want to build a snow wall around the tent to lessen the impact. If the snow isn’t deep enough to build a wall, you can dig out the snow until you see the ground to create a barrier. Be careful not to completely seal up the tent as you will still need ventilation.

Choose the Right Winter Tent

While it might be tempting to use a tent you already own, it’s worth the cost to buy a tent specifically for winter, or buy an all seasons tent. One good option is the Geertop camping tent that can fit two people. It’s built to withstand sharp winds and harsh winter snowfalls.

Don’t forget that when setting up your tent, position the opening on the opposite side from where the wind blows. Many beginners make this mistake and quickly regret it at night when they’re trying to sleep and the wind keeps crashing in.

If you’re camping in an area where the winter temperature is above freezing, ticks can still be a problem and can work themselves into your tent. Ranger Ready Insect Repellent is a good way to protect yourself against them.

Use Fresh and Dry Clothes to Sleep

“Make absolutely sure that when heading to sleep in your sleeping bag, you are wearing fresh, dry clothes. Don’t make the mistake of wearing anything that you wore throughout the day,” says Jeff Carter from Rockbrook Camp, who leads camping trips with kids and college students. “This is critical because any lingering moisture from sweating during the day will end up evaporating and making you cold.”

Carter also notes that it’s important that you change everything, including your underwear and socks.

Use a Sleeping Pad

“Sleep on a closed-cell foam pad with an insulated inflatable pad on top,” says Brittany Haas from Alpenventures Unguided, who plans self-guided adventures into the Alps. “Sleeping only on an inflatable pad can be dangerous since if it gets punctured and deflates it will not be able to insulate from the cold.”

Haas suggests the Therma-Rest Z-Lite as one of the top closed-cell foam sleeping pads. It’s light and compact, making it convenient to transport. This pad can also provide a good foot massage when you rub your feet on it at the end of a long day!

Bring a Pee Bottle

One thing no one tells you about winter camping is the inconvenience of your human needs. If you’re camping in a place where it’s particularly cold, leaving your tent every time you need to pee isn’t an option. If there are no bushes or trees near your campsite, or it’s just freezing cold outside, you should absolutely bring a pee bottle. Women should consider buying a pee funnel to make the process easier.

I didn’t bring a pee bottle on my first winter camping trip and quickly regretted it. While it’s easy to tell yourself you won’t need one, you don’t realize how difficult it is to go to sleep with a full bladder. And a portable bidet can eliminate the need to pack toilet paper.

Wear Multiple Layers and Protect Your Feet

“When camping in the winter, you should always be wearing a base layer, mid-layer and an outer layer which should be completely waterproof to protect your body from the cold,” says Sonny Cartright, a seasoned camper who runs Wonderful Wellies. “Don’t neglect your feet either. Wear two pairs of thick socks and waterproof hiking boots that are made for cold weather.”

Cartwright notes you should avoid cotton because it absorbs moisture like a sponge. Instead, consider wool, which is water-resistant and ideal for a range of weather conditions. Plus, wool is also a naturally insulating material, which ensures that you stay warm while you’re out on the trail or inside sleeping.

Use Snow for Water

If you’re ever in a position where you are running low on water or simply want to save what you have, melt the snow around you and use it as a water source.

“If you are melting snow for water, bring a big pot, and be prepared to be doing this almost constantly while in camp and bring a lot of fuel,” Haas says. “It may be shocking how little water you get out of a pot full of snow.”

If you’re boiling snow water to purify it, let it boil for at least 10 minutes in addition to the time it took to melt it.

Use a Liquid-Fuel Stove

Certain fuel sources work better in the winter than others. You don’t want your stove to fail, so buy one that’s suited for winter use.

Haas notes that white gas, which is used by liquid-fuel stoves, is the fuel of choice for winter conditions. Propane and butane can be problematic because they lose pressure in cold temperatures. “In order for a canister of gas to work, the pressure inside needs to be more than the pressure outside,” she says. “Often that isn’t the case in winter.”

You’ll need plenty of good camping food to fuel your hikes.

Eat Lots of Calories and Stay Hydrated

Eating properly and staying hydrated can help your body stay warm by burning calories and helping it generate body heat. It is important to bring hot meals to keep you warm, but be sure to keep them simple. You will want to eat portable foods that provide a lot of energy, like salami, candy bars, cheese and nuts. Avoid eggs, which are prone to freezing, as well as vegetables.

Be sure to stay hydrated but avoid drinking too much right before you go to sleep. Even though you won’t feel especially thirsty as compared to summer camping, it is important to sip water regularly to stay hydrated. Make hot drinks to stay warm and rehydrate, such as tea or hot chocolate.

Keep Food and Water From Freezing

Keeping your food and water from freezing is essential to a successful winter camping trip. Plan ahead and pack foods that won’t freeze and will keep you full. Keep snacks in your pockets so your body heat can help them stay thawed throughout the day. To be sure your food won’t freeze overnight, sleep with snacks and your water bottle inside your sleeping bag. Store other food securely in your backpack out of reach from any animals. Be sure to bring enough fuel to melt snow for meals and drinking water.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto is a freelance writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of home improvement projects based on his previous work. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters and other contractors. He also writes about camping and his enthusiasm for the outdoors.