Winter camping, although different from summer camping, is an amazing experience that everyone should try at least once. These essential tips and tricks will make your cold-weather camping experience as a family what it should be: enjoyable and relaxing.

What comes to mind when you think of camping? Most people probably think about and visualize camping during the warm summer months. Take a moment and think about camping in the winter. Different scenario, right? 

If you’ve never gone winter camping, you’re really missing out. The crowds are gone, the moonlight is brighter than you’ve ever seen, and the night air is so still you can hear incredible sounds of nature. 

Going camping in the winter is something that everyone should try at least once!

winter camping

HOW TO CAMP IN THE WINTER

Camping during the winter does present its own set of preparation logistics to work through. You need to pay attention to insulation and fuel (aka food) when camping in the cold. But once you’re prepared, it’s great fun!

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT WINTER CAMPING

Do a Test Run

If your family hasn’t gone winter camping before, I suggest trying it in your backyard first. This will help the kids know what to expect, and if you need to bail – your warm home is right there. 

Insulate With the Right Gear

When it comes to clothing, opt for synthetic layers (not cotton) that wick away moisture from the body. Dress in layers that can be removed easily if the kids work up a sweat, and wear waterproof boots. Change clothes as soon as they get sweaty or wet.

Keep Everyone Moving

In the summer, it’s cool to hang around and take it easy. The winter is a different story – staying still means staying cold. Plan activities to keep everyone moving: snowshoes, sledding, building snowmen – or soccer and tag if there’s no snow.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING FOR WINTER CAMPING?

Food

Kids run around whether it’s hot or cold, so be prepared with plenty of energy-filled snacks and water. Staying warm in the winter burns lots of calories! Also, eat a snack before bed so your body has fuel to stay warm overnight. Some easy snacks include:

  • Protein bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Trail Mix
  • Granola bars

Layer Up

Dressing in layers is absolutely crucial. Make sure to avoid cotton as it makes you cold when it gets wet. Here’s a good order of layers if you are wondering what to wear when you go camping in the winter.

  • Close-fitting base layer to trap body heat
  • Pair of polypropylene long johns work great as a cheaper option 
  • Down jacket, lightweight fleece, or even your favorite wool sweater will work as an insulating layer you can put on and take off as your temperature fluctuates 
  • The outermost layer should protect you from wind, snow, and rain, so choose a shell with a weather-proof lining like GoreTex.

In general, it’s better to overpack than to run out of dry clothes—you’ll probably regret packing ultra-light when you slide on that pair of damp socks in the morning.

WINTER CAMPING GEAR YOU NEED

It doesn’t take breaking the bank at your outdoor gear store to stay warm in winter conditions. But you DO need to make sure you have the appropriate gear for the conditions you will be camping in. If you plan to do winter RV camping, make sure your camper is ready too!

Here are some gear considerations to keep in mind as you prepare for your adventure.

Great Sleeping Pad

Your sleeping pad isn’t just for comfort – it’s literally what separates your body from the frigid, frozen ground. If you are frugal on your pad, you are likely to have a long, cold, miserable night (which doesn’t make for fun camping). 

Make sure you have a sleeping pad with a temperature rating appropriate for the temperatures you’ll be camping in. Then throw a fleece blanket on top before putting your sleeping bag on it.

Note: do NOT use air mattresses when camping in the winter. Yes, you may be off the ground, but the pockets of air (in the air mattress) get very cold and make you feel colder.

Sleep Bag

Check to see what you already have. You may be able to avoid purchasing a new cold-weather bag by buying a sleeping bag liner. If that’s still not enough for the weather conditions, invest in a 0-degree or lower bag. It’s worth it.

A Good 4-Season Tent

Use a 4 season tent if you will be dealing with snow or below freezing weather. Make sure you have a rainfly and good ventilation to keep moisture and frost at bay, and you can also dig down a little into the snow to help block the wind. Bringing a rug to put outside the entrance will make the chore of taking your boots off much easier.

Gear Packing List

 Essential Winter Camping Items to Pack include:

  • 4-season tent
  • An old rug to put outside the tent for taking your boots off
  • Backpack
  • Winter clothes
  • Warm snow boots
  • Camp Chairs (to stay off the cold ground)
  • Lanterns (or Twilights by ENO – small battery-powered string LED lights)
  • Fire starter
  • Snow Sled(s) with extra rope for towing firewood & bulky items
  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, chapstick, etc.)
  • Water bottle to fill with hot water

HOW DO YOU KEEP A TENT WARM IN THE WINTER?

Being able to stay warm in your tent is crucial to being able to get some sleep and have fun on your winter camping trip. Here’s how:

Choose Your Campsite wisely

You want a campsite that will shelter you from the elements. Cold air sinks while hot air rises so avoid the bottom of hills where cold-air troughs form and avoid the tops of hills which can be exposed to wind. Pick a protected mid-elevation point.

Fill a Water Bottle with Hot Water

Right before you go to bed, boil water on your backpacking stove, fill your Nalgene and shove it inside your sleeping bag. It’s an easy way to generate instant heat in your bag that will last all night.

Keep Your Head and Feet Covered and Dry

Most heat escapes your body through the bottom of your feet and the top of your head.

To prevent this, wear a dry, thick pair of wool socks and a warm hat to bed for extra insulation. Don’t sleep in the socks or clothes you hiked in, though, as wet clothes are a sure way to ruin a night. 

Fluff Your Sleeping Bag

When your sleeping bag is squished into a compression sack for hours a day, the insulation will flatten. This can make even a -30F rated bag feel cold in the winter weather. Take time to fluff your sleeping bag and shake up that internal insulation. 

By using these tips and tricks, you will be ready to have an amazing family winter camping adventure!

What other winter camping gear do you take on your cold-weather camping trips?

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