Staying Warm While Winter Camping

Ah, winter camping! The crunch of snow underfoot, the crisp air, the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes... and the bone-chilling cold. But fear not, brave adventurer! With the right knowledge and preparation, you can conquer the cold and enjoy a cozy camping experience.

Whether you are camping with you vehicle or reliant on what you can carry on your back, we've got you covered. While not overly complicated, you will need to prepare for the cold, else you run the risk of a miserable night, and chattering teeth.

So without further ado, let's dive into the secrets of staying warm while winter camping.

Layer Up, Buttercup!

When it comes to keeping warm, layers are your best friend. Think of it as your personal, portable heating system. But remember, not all layers are created equal.

Your base layer should be snug and moisture-wicking to keep you dry. Avoid cotton like a snowman avoids the sun, as it retains moisture and can make you feel colder. Synthetic materials or merino wool are excellent choices for long sleeved under garments and pants (long Johns).

The middle layer is your insulation. This is where you trap warm air close to your body. Fleece or down jackets are perfect for this, but don't go too tight, as it could constrict motion and make you sweat when active.

The outer layer is your shield against the elements. It should be waterproof and windproof, but breathable enough to let moisture escape. Also, when its not raining, snowing or blowing hard, it helps to open the zippers.

Pro Tip: Don't Overdo It

While it's tempting to pile on as many layers as possible, beware of overheating. Sweating can make you wet and, ironically, colder. Adjust your layers as needed, and remember, it's better to be slightly cool than too hot.

As daylight is fading, or as you are setting up for the evening it becomes even more important not to sweat. Because as the temperatures drop you'll find it even harder to warm up if your base layer is damp.

Snowy Hike

Feet First

Keeping your feet warm is crucial. Cold feet can make your whole body feel cold. Start with a pair of moisture-wicking socks, add an insulating layer, and top it off with waterproof boots.

Pro tip: Pack an extra pair of socks. If your feet get wet, you'll be glad you did. 

If your boots are wet at the end of the day, try to dry them while you sleep. You can lay them by the fire, or sleep with them in the tent - whatever you can do to avoid having to pull on cold, wet boots the next morning should be deployed.

Don't Forget Your Head

A significant amount of body heat is lost through the head, so don't forget your beanie! A good winter hat should cover your ears and be made of a warm material like wool or fleece. In extreme cold, sleep with the beanie on too.

Snuggle Up

Winter Camping

When it's time to hit the hay, a good sleeping bag is essential. Look for one rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. Remember, it's better to be too warm than too cold. Even the best sleeping bag won't keep you warm if you're lying on a block of ice. 

Use two pads.

For winter camping, use two full-length pads to keep from losing body heat on snowy surfaces. Use a closed-cell foam pad next to the ground and a self-inflating pad on top to get the best insulation from the cold ground. The foam pad also serves as insurance in case the self-inflating pad gets punctured.

Hot Water Bottle Hack

Here's a fun trick: fill a water bottle with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag before bed. It'll pre-warm your bag and keep your toes toasty. Just make sure the lid is on tight!

Don't have a hot water bottle? Fill any watertight container with hot water (not boiling), and it will do the trick. Forget hot rocks - you'll just burn yourself!

Fuel the Fire

Food is fuel for your body's internal heater. Eating high-calorie foods can help keep you warm. Don't forget to stay hydrated, too. Your body needs water to generate heat.

Hot drinks are a great way to warm up from the inside out. Nothing beats a cup of hot cocoa or tea on a cold winter's night.

Keep Moving

Physical activity generates heat, so keep moving. But remember the layer rule: don't sweat! If you start to feel too hot, shed a layer or slow down.

Use common sense here. Activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, trail running or hiking burn calories - especially in the cold. When your body burns fuel, you'll need to keep the tanks topped off with high-energy foods and plenty of H2O.

Embrace the Cold

Finally, remember that winter camping is about embracing the cold, not avoiding it. With the right attitude and preparation, you can enjoy the unique beauty of the winter wilderness.

So layer up, fuel up, and get out there! The winter wonderland awaits.

People also ask....

  • How cold is too cold for winter camping?
    • Ultimately, the answer comes down to your personal tolerance levels. But most pro winter campers agree that 40° F (4° C) is when things start to get uncomfortable. At 40° F, you'll start to feel the chill.
  • How do you keep warm when camping in the winter?
    • Dress in Layers. Dress to impress for cold-weather camping.
    • Get Out of Sweaty Clothes (Pack an Extra Base layer)
    • Two Sleeping Pads are Better Than One.
    • Layer Up a Sleeping Bag + Quilt.
    • Put a Hot Water Bottle in Your Core Region (Not at Your Toes)
    • Wear a Balaclava to Bed.
    • Vent Your Tent.
    • Eat & Drink—A Lot.
  • How do you survive a cold night in a tent?
    • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad.
    • Coupler strap (and a buddy).
    • Sleeping bag with an appropriate lower-limit temperature rating.
    • Synthetic or wool base layers.
    • Socks, gloves, and a cold-weather hat.
    • Grooved, wind-resistant tent stakes (or deadman anchors in deep or loose snow).
    • Nutrient-dense snacks.
  • Is a tent warmer than a car?
    •  Tents don't provide any protection from cold unless it is an insulated tent. So a car would be warmer, but likely not as comfortable as stretching out on an air bed in a tent. If you have a sleeping bag that is rated for say 30 degrees F then with warm sleepwear you should be fine in the tent.
  • Is there a safe heater for a tent?
    • Indoor-safe heaters are generally either electric, propane, or butane, and should have an automatic shut-off feature just in case it gets tipped over. Many portable heaters also have some kind of oxygen sensor, so that if the unit detects a very low level of oxygen, the sensor shuts off the heater.
    • You could also use a wood-burning stove inside your tent, but make sure you follow all the safety instructions before using
  • Is it warmer to sleep off the ground, when winter camping?
    • Don't sleep directly on the ground. Using an airbed or camp pad always helps for comfort, but is especially important in the cooler weather months to provide a bit of extra insulation from the cold ground.
  • Is a camp bed warmer than an air bed?
    • If you go for a SIM (self inflating mat) and camp bed combo you'll find the sweet spot, when it comes to warm and comfort. Camp beds tend to be higher and thus easier to get off/on. They are not filled with cold air, so are usually warmer than air beds.