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I remember the first time I woke up from a night of winter camping… my toes were painfully frozen and I didn’t get any sleep because I was so cold and shivered the whole night. I was miserable.
But when I unzipped the tent-door that morning, surrounded by a blanket of fresh snow and a pink-hued sunrise, I knew I had to try it again.
I’ve learned so much since the first time I went winter camping, and now I want to help you avoid the mistakes that I made.
In this post, I’m going to share 10 winter camping tips for beginners.
10 Winter Camping Tips For Beginners
Tip 1: Choose the Right Gear
If you want to tent camp year-round, you have to start with the right gear. Choosing the right winter camping gear will help to keep you warm and safe during your camping trip.
Everything from the clothes you wear to the tent you sleep in will add to your experience.
You’ll want a sleeping bag that’s rated to a temperature that’s 10 degrees lower than the coldest temperature you will sleep in. For instance, a 0F-rated bag will keep you warm at temperatures from 10F and warmer. If you are a super cold sleeper like I am, you may need a much warmer bag to be comfortable at night.
If you don’t want to spend money on a new winter sleeping bag, you can buy a sleeping bag liner. These are much cheaper and will add up to 25 degrees to your bag’s rating.
You can get away with using a 3-season tent in winter while camping as long as you don’t plan on camping during high winds or highly-exposed areas. This is great because chances are you already own a tent.
If you need help choosing what to bring, read Winter Camping Essentials.
Tip 2: Layer Up
Part of choosing the right gear is to layer up with the right material. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “cotton kills.” So avoid bringing cotton layers and wear something like merino wool, polyester, or polypropylene instead.
You want to have more than enough layers to keep you warm, and then bring some more.
I like to start off using mid-weight base layers and add fleece and puffy layers then wrap it all up in a waterproof layer like Gore-Tex.
Don’t forget to bring a warm hat, wool socks, gloves, and a pair of comfortable boots.
Tip 3: Check Weather Conditions
Before you camp, make sure to check the weather, especially the lowest temperature. This will help you decide if you have what you need to safely camp overnight in cold weather.
Consider camping on a warmer night if it’s your first time out. This will allow you to test the gear that you already have and check your layers.
Remember, winter is a season, and winter camping can look a lot of different ways. I’ve winter camped on a night where all the snow melted during the day and the ground froze in the night. The weather conditions are always changing, especially in Alaska.
Tip 4: Pick a Campsite Close to Home
The closer your campsite is to your home, the closer you are to being able to bail if you’re too cold or don’t feel safe. Honestly, if you have the space then you can just practice winter tent camping in your backyard.
Nothing beats that quick access to a hot shower!
If you don’t have space at your home and need to drive to a campsite, I would limit the drive to 45-minutes away. Find a spot where you can park your car right next to you or just a short walking distance away.
The best part about having your car so close is that you can pack extra blankets, layers, or insulation in case you need them.
Tip 5: Prepare Hot Meals to Eat
One of the easiest ways to generate body heat is by eating, and nothing beats a hot meal when it’s freezing cold outside. As you digest your food, your body will generate heat and you’ll feel much warmer.
So, try to prepare hot meals for every meal of the day. Dehydrated meals like Heather’s Choice Dark Chocolate Bison Chili are a great choice for winter camping because you won’t have the extra energy to prepare a complicated dinner.
I also like to snack on fatty foods like avocado, dark chocolate, or nuts before I go to bed to keep my metabolism going. Who doesn’t love a midnight snack?
Tip 6: Bring a Backup Stove and Extra Fuel
Not all backcountry stoves are made for cold-weather camping, which means they’re not going to operate the same way.
If you are relying on your stove to cook your meals then you want to make sure that you’ll be able to use it. The best solution is to bring a backup stove and extra fuel.
It’s also good to know that fuel can freeze but there are a few different hacks to get it going again. Place it in a cold-water bath or stick a hand warmer to the bottom of the fuel canister to warm it up.
Keep in mind you may be using your stove a lot more if you plan to melt snow for your water source.
Tip 7: Pack Down and Insulate
The first thing you need to do at your campsite is to pack down the snow. You’ll want to level out an area that’s a little bit larger than the footprint of your tent.
The easiest way to do this is by using snowshoes but you can also use your boots if that’s all you have. After you set up your tent, you’ll want to insulate the ground beneath you.
One of the best winter camping tips for staying warm is to use two sleeping pads. Use a closed-cell mat underneath your main sleeping pad. The lack of air in a foam sleeping pad will keep you insulated from the ground beneath you.
If you want to insulate yourself further, you can add additional layers underneath your sleeping pad. My favorite way to add instant warmth underneath me is using a sheepskin rug. This is a game-changer.
Tip 8: Use Water Bottles
If you’ve ever used a hydration bladder during cold temperatures, you’ve probably experienced a frozen tube blocking your access to the water in your pack.
To avoid this, you’ll want to use water bottles during your winter activities. I usually carry Nalgene bottles and you can keep the lids from freezing shut by carrying the water bottle upside down.
You can also get an insulated sleeve for your water bottle to keep your water from freezing.
Tip 9: Pee Before Bed
Did you know that your body burns calories to keep your urine warm? Crazy, right. This is why you need to pee before you go to bed.
A lot of people also say to not drink any liquids at least 4 hours before you go to bed. This can be hard and if you do have to pee in the middle of the night. So, it’s better to go right away.
If you dread the idea of getting out of your warm sleeping bag to step into the cold then bring a water bottle and designate it for peeing. As a woman, this is hard to get used to but it’s something you’ll be proud to master.
Tip 10: Sleep With Your Winter Camping Gear
Do not leave your boots outside of your tent because they will freeze. You will not be a happy camper when you have to put your feet in them when you wake up the next morning.
Using a slightly bigger tent during the winter will give you the extra space you need to store your gear inside your tent. To keep your boots even warmer, stick them inside the bottom of your sleeping bag.
Frequently Asked Questions
How cold is too cold to camp?
It’s too cold to camp when you don’t have the proper gear to stay warm while camping overnight. If you know the lowest temperature is going to be -10F but you have a 0 degree bag then it would probably be best to rethink camping.
How can I increase the warmth of my sleeping bag?
One way to increase the warmth of your sleeping bag is to add a sleeping bag liner. A sleeping liner is much cheaper than a new sleeping bag and can add up to 25 degrees to your sleeping bag rating.
Another way to feel warmer while sleeping is to place a Nalgene bottle with hot water near your feet. Place the bottle inside the bottom of your sleeping bag.
Is it warmer in a sleeping bag with less clothes on?
No, it’s not warmer in a sleeping bag if you’re naked or have less clothes on. You have to think in the same way as layering your clothes. When you do it correctly, you are going to be comfortable and warm.
How can I keep my tent warm without electricity?
One way to keep your tent warm without electricity is by making sure it’s properly insulated. Add layers underneath you like a sheepskin rug to keep the tent insulated from the bottom. Or use the gear that you brought in your tent to help insulate the ground.
If you are camping in the snow, you can build snow walls around your tent to shelter your tent from the wind.
If you follow these winter camping tips for beginners, you’ll definitely be a happy winter camper!
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What are some of your best winter camping tips for beginners? Leave them in the comments.