How To

Tips for Camping in the Winter

For those who are planning to camp in the winter, whether it be a weekend trip or a trek lasting several months, put money aside for gear that is tailored to the terrain.

Winter camping revolves mostly around staying warm and taking all safety precautions. Because of this, everything from your tent to your boots needs to be upgraded to meet the season’s conditions. Check out our tips below that will help during your preparation for a winter camping trip.

Never go alone

While this might be basic advice that’s recommended on any multi-day camping trip, it’s even more important to abide by during cold winter months when the terrain is especially dangerous. Even the most experienced outdoors lover is advised to take a friend with them, as accidents can happen to anyone. Make sure to pack a cell phone, solar charger, a GPS that will allow you to find trails that are covered in snow, and a personal locator beacon. Since you’ll be traveling in avalanche season, it’s imperative to be prepared on all fronts.

Pack simple meals

These meals should include plenty of carbohydrates, with one-pot meals probably being the simplest way to cook on the trail. Not only will the carbs provide the energy necessary for hiking, but they will work to keep your body warm as well. When searching for recipes, try to focus on what will give you the most energy that can also be cooked in the same pot. Also plan to pack extra stove fuel, as more is needed on winter trips than what’s needed during the summer. No matter how appealing it seems to cook in your tent, please refrain, as it’s extremely dangerous. One of the biggest mistakes people make while camping in the winter is not drinking enough water. Because of the freezing temperatures, drinking a cold liquid doesn’t sound all too appealing, but your body will truly suffer if you’re not getting enough. To keep water bottles from freezing, place them in the middle of your pack in an insulated bottle cover or heavy sock.

Buy a winter sleeping bag

Most sleeping bag companies advertise their products for all-season use, but looking past marketing tactics is the way to ensure you’re purchasing one that will actually protect you against the coldest of colds while on the trail. While shopping, make sure to buy one that is rated at least 10°F lower than the lowest temperature you are planning for. Having it be too warm inside the bag is better than it being too cold. Investing in a sleeping pad is another great idea. Although this adds extra gear to your pack, it also works as additional insulation that will be appreciated when you’re ready to sleep. Adding a liner to your sleeping bad is another option, which tends to increase the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees.

Pack a mountaineering tent

Your regular tent just won’t do. Invest in one that is made for winter terrain, complete with added insulation and wind protection. When setting up your campsite, dig a one-foot area in the snow where your tent will be placed. This will provide a shield from the wind. Make sure to buy special snow stakes to secure your tent, as regular stakes don’t work well in these conditions. According to an article published by Backpacking.com, filling gallon-sized freezer bags with snow and tying the cords to them can work as simple anchors.

Understand proper layering

While camping in the summer, it’s often the heat that people worry about. This has a simple fix, as people just need to dress down to their base and middle layers. But in the winter, not packing appropriate clothing can have deadly consequences, especially when camping in the snowy backwoods. For your base layer, avoid cottons and stick to synthetic or wool fabrics that keep moisture out. For your middle layer—the insulation—focus on fleece or micro-fleece that will keep the warmth in. Spend a lot of time looking for an outer layer that is waterproof and windproof. Make sure to pack extras of everything and don’t be afraid of spending more on high-quality layers, because they’ll show their worth on the trail.

Purchase a good pair of gloves

Cold, wet hands can ruin a good trip. It’s difficult to hike while you’re freezing. The most important piece of advice is to pack several pairs of gloves, so you can easily exchange them if they’re getting too damp. Try to buy ones that are long enough to tuck inside your jackets and have good insulation without being too bulky. The same insulation tips go for socks and hats too. Focus on pairs with grips that still provide a good amount of movement. This is helpful if you’re using hiking poles or are traveling via skis.

Invest in winter hiking boots

A lot of people see boots as an unnecessary cost because their traditional hiking boots claim to suffice in winter conditions as well. But is the possibility of cold, wet feet on the trail worth it? It’s better to purchase a specialized boot, which will provide a number of improvements to your trip. Not only are mountaineering boots waterproof, but they provide extra insulation. They also are equipped to handle the snowy ground, with better grips or spikes. Before putting your boots back on to hike, warm your socks up by placing them in your sleeping bag in the morning.

Image from Markus Leupold-Löwenthal on the Wikimedia Commons

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