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What You Need To Know About Winter Camping

Starry Winter Sky

There are advantages to taking a winter camping trip starting with the fact that there are no bugs or large crowds to contend with on your adventure. However, you will need to be prepared if you want to get the most out of your trip and protect yourself from the cold temperatures.

Winter Hiking

A great day for winter camping ( courtesy of Mitch Barrie)

Everything starts with the preparations you make for your winter camping trip. You will need to check the weather forecasts to see if any severe storms are heading to your destination and keep a radio with you for updates. In addition, here are a few key winter camping tips in preparing for your trip.

  • Never go alone, always team up with a few friends
  • Research the area where you are camping, find their emergency services
  • Check all local trail and road conditions
  • Stay away from avalanche areas
  • Carry extra food and supplies just in case you are delayed
  • Let everyone know when you are going and when you are expected back

By following these camping tips for your preparations, you can avoid most of the issues that face winter campers that get them into trouble. The next step is having the right winter camping gear to take along with you on your adventure. Plus, you will need to know a few tips so you can better tolerate the cold conditions.

Take Extra Hats & Gloves

Even the most careful among us will lose a hat or glove on a winter camping trip even when using keeper cords. So, have the foresight to bring along an extra pair of gloves and another hat or two just in case. Besides, having an extra set can help prevent frostbite if you should lose your glove or hat.

Pack the Snow Around the Campsite

When you find your location to set up camp, pack the snow down first by tramping around the site. Make sure the snow is fully packed before you set up your tent. Doing this will help prevent your tent from blowing away in case the winds pick up, prevent tearing a hole in the bottom of your tent by stepping on a soft spot, and you eliminate any soft areas that can catch your foot.

Winter campsite

Packing snow around your tent can do more than just blocking some wind

Always Boil the Snow for Drinking Water

The freezing conditions makes chemical and mechanical filters less reliable, so instead simply boil the snow for your drinking water. Keep in mind that viruses and bacteria can exist even in frozen conditions, so boiling the snow will provide you with safe, warm drinking water without the need for filters.

Always Stake Down the Tent

Snow or no snow, stake down your tent. Winter is a time of unexpected weather which means that a sudden gust of cold air can carry your tent away. So, if you are expecting frozen conditions with no snow, use steel, titanium, or hardened aluminum tent stakes and a good hammer to break into the frozen ground.

Two-Layer Sleeping Pad

Having at least two layers will protect you from the effects of the frozen ground. Your body will lose even more heat when you sleep, so having the proper protection is paramount to keeping warm and comfortable. The pad you choose should have an “R” value of at least four. Plus, you can also get a closed-cell foam pad for extra comfort when you sleep. Of course, you can also add extra clothing underneath your body when sleeping for better protection.

Keep Your Boots Warm

It’s best to have boots with removable liners so you can take them out at night and place them near your feet inside the sleeping bag. If you only have single-liner boots, wipe them dry, place them in a waterproof bag and put them next to your feet. You can avoid a lot of issues with your feet by keeping your boots warm at night.

Candle Lantern

If you want to add a little warmth to your tent, place a candle lantern near the top of your tent. You’ll want the candle to be far away enough from the materials so that it isn’t a fire hazard. The overall effect will be to keep your tent warm and reduce the amount of condensation that otherwise would build up during the night. Be careful with Candle Lanterns and tents!

Starry Winter Sky

A Cold, clear night and a starry sky is worth the effort of Winter Camping!

Bathroom Necessities

You’ll find that the cold weather will cause you to urinate more frequently, so carry a pee bottle and keep it in your tent. It’s a lot easier to urinate in the comfort of your tent rather than having to go outside in the cold weather. For proper cleaning after a bowel movement, you may want to consider snow as its gentle and leaves behind little in the way of residue even if it’s somewhat cold. Yeah, we know!

Turn Water Storage Containers Upside Down at Night

When water freezes, it does so from the top down. By flipping over your water containers with the lids still sealed, the lid areas will be protected for the longest period. This means that any water which is not frozen will still be accessible when you flip the containers back over in the morning.

Protect Your Face with Vaseline

This is a rather old winter camping trick as Vaseline or animal fats will stick to the skin and protect it from the harsh winds. Carry a small container of a Vaseline product with you and cover all exposed parts of your skin such as the cheeks and nose. There are many fine products available for winter skin protection.

Lithium Batteries

For all your gear that requires battery power, lithium batteries work the best because they perform better in colder temperatures compared to NiMh or alkaline versions. Plus, lithium batteries are lighter and last up to three times longer than their alkaline counterparts.

There are other good winter camping tips such as turning your bag inside-out and letting it dry under the sun. Also, if you want to protect your clothing around the campfire, wear fire-retardant materials such as wool. There are many little things that you can do to protect yourself from the freezing conditions and enjoy your winter camping trip. Just keep in mind that staying warm is most important with having ways to contact emergency services.


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