You read that right, tent camping in the winter! While most people tend to reserve tent camping for warmer weather, heading out on a winter getaway with your tent offers benefits that most people don’t get when camping in the Summer; no bugs, more solitude, and enchanting snowy landscapes! However, these new benefits aren’t without new challenges.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know, from the best gear to bring with you to properly insulating your tent to reading the terrain for premium spot selection. That way you will not only survive a wintery overnight but thrive! Below, you will find 3 easy things to master in order to thrive in a winter camping environment. They are:
- The Gear
- The Skills
- The Location
When venturing out for an overnight in snowy conditions, special attention must be paid to the gear you choose to take with you. To that end, here are a few recommendations for what to bring with you to make sure you enjoy a cozy night in a winter wonderland.
Have you ever watched a video about people climbing Mount Everest or K2? What do you notice about the size of the tents they camped in? If you answered that they are pretty small, then you have a sharp eye for detail!
While you most likely aren’t trying to summit the two tallest mountains on Earth on your first-time out winter camping (although if you are, more power to you!) one of the biggest factors in whether you’ll love winter camping or not is heat management.
Small spaces are easier to heat and keep warm compared to large spaces, so 1 person or 2 person tents are usually best when winter camping. If you are going in a larger group, it is better to bring several 1 or 2 person tents rather than 1 large tent so that heat loss is minimized.
Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Pads:
After tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads are the most important part of your winter camping gear. Here are some considerations to make when selecting a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad.
Sleeping Bag Insulation Material:
When choosing a sleeping bag, you’ll need to think about the material that the insulation is made out of. Sleeping bags usually are made with either goose down or a synthetic material to keep you warm at night.
Goose down is usually lighter, which means that you will get more warmth per ounce that you’re carrying into the wilderness compared to synthetic material. The biggest downside with down insulated sleeping bags is that they don’t offer the same warmth when the down gets wet, so if the weather is calling for wet conditions, bringing a synthetic sleeping bag might be the safer choice than a goose down sleeping bag.
Pay attention to the temperature rating as well. Take a look at the forecast for when you plan to go camping and try to bring a sleeping bag that is rated for temperatures that are at least 10°F lower than the forecasted low. That way you’ll be sure to have a sleeping bag that will offer not only protection but also comfort through the night.
Sleeping bags are only half of the sleep system that you need to bring with you to give you the best chance at a warm night’s sleep. Sleeping pads have just as big a role to play in managing heat in a winter environment, so special attention must be paid to selecting a sleeping pad.
When considering a sleeping pad to bring, the most important thing to consider is the R value. R values mark how much protection against the cold ground the pad will offer its user. The higher the R value, the more the sleeping pad will protect you against the cold ground.
The final part of your winter sleeping system is the clothing you wear to sleep for the night. Arguably the most important item of clothing that you’ll wear to bed is a beanie. Do you ever wonder why they put beanies on newborn babies in the hospital? The reason why is that humans tend to lose a lot of heat through their heads. Again, a key to making sure that you love your winter camping experience is heat management, so wearing a beanie to bed is a must.
Thermal base layers are also a must for bed wear. MOST IMPORTANTLY, THEY SHOULD BE DRY. That means that you might need to carry a separate set of thermal base layers to wear to bed if you are wearing a set of thermals during the day, as the ones you were wearing during the day may have gotten wet.
And don’t forget the wool socks! Wool socks will keep your feet nice and warm through the night.
Now that you have collected the proper gear, it’s time to learn what skills you’ll need to thoroughly enjoy your winter camping experience.
Setting Up Your Tent:
You’ve got your tent and you’ve got a spot, now it’s time to set up camp! Follow these 2 easy steps to make sure that your tent is set up to make sure you have a cozy night:
- Flatten out the spot that you plan to sleep on.
This step is important because it makes sure that you won’t roll off of your sleeping pad in the middle of the night. If you brought a shovel with you, use it to scoop out the snow and pack down a flat spot. If you don’t have a shovel, stomping down the snow to be as flat as possible works too!
- Properly insulate your tent.
Now that your tent is set up on level ground, it’s time to fully insulate your tent from losing heat. Have you ever wondered why igloos work so well in emergency conditions? That is because packed snow keeps heat from escaping. Tightly packed snow keeps warm air from escaping, so packing the outer edges of your rainfly will assist in managing the heat loss in your tent.
Start by putting a small amount of snow around the base of your rainfly and slowly packing on each layer. That way you’ll form a tightly packed base of snow around the rainfly, which will aid in keeping the heat inside your tent.
- Set up your sleeping system inside your tent as soon as it’s set up.
This step is very important for a couple of reasons. If at some point during the day your sleeping bag got wet, laying it out to dry in your tent before bed might make the difference in you having a warm sleeping bag to crawl into or a cold one.
You’ll also give your sleeping bag time to loft or fluff back up. One of the design features of sleeping bags, especially goose down sleeping bags, is that they rely on the insulation being nice and fluffy. This helps the insulation material retain the heat your body produces, which is what keeps you nice and warm during the night.
Getting Ready for Bed:
You have put a lot of effort into getting the right gear and setting up your tent for the night! Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor and settle in for a cozy night in your tent. Before you crawl into your sleeping bag for the night, follow these steps to make sure that you stay nice and warm all night long.
- Make a hot water bottle.
One of the biggest secrets to enjoying a nice and toasty sleeping bag is to “pre-heat” it with a hot water bottle. Now, before you dump a liter of boiling water into your Nalgene or other plastic water bottle and toss it into your sleeping bag, consider using a metal container instead.
Metal containers don’t melt due to heat from water and the last thing that you’ll want when you’re ready to crawl into your sleeping bag for the night is to find out your Nalgene bottle had a catastrophic failure and now your sleeping bag is wet!
Secure your metal container and then wrap it in a cloth or other piece of material to prevent it from accidentally burning your sleeping bag. When you go to bed 30 minutes later, your sleeping bag will be warm and dry!
- Have a big, high calorie dinner.
Winter camping is a great excuse to eat a ton of extra calories. The human body is capable of amazing things and one of those things is using calories to produce heat. When you eat a lot of calories before bed, your body gets to work on digesting those calories as you sleep. While it’s digesting those extra calories, it is producing heat!
While it’s difficult to estimate the amount of calories you should try to eat right before bed since everyone has different metabolisms, aim to eat more than you think you should. Easy high calorie sources to get in right before bed might be a nut butter on some cookies or a couple of candy bars.
- Drink something hot right before you crawl into your sleeping bag.
Now I know what a lot of you are thinking right now; “If I drink something right before bed, I might wake up in the middle of the night to go relieve myself. Won’t that make me cold?” Possibly, but the benefits of drinking something warm before bed outweigh the potential for having to get up in the middle of the night.
Remember that old Campbell’s Soup commercial where the snowman comes in from playing in the snow? And instead of freaking out that a living snowman has entered the house, the mom gives the snowman a cup of hot soup? Presto! After drinking the soup, the snowman is transformed into a real boy!
This is the perfect illustration to why drinking something hot before going to bed is so important. Your body will take in that hot beverage and radiate that heat as you climb into your sleeping bag. Instead of climbing into bed a snowman, you’ll go in as a happy, thawed out winter camper! It’s easier to cool down than it is to warm up, so if you go to bed warm, you’re more likely to stay warm than if you go to bed cold.
- But what if I wake up in the middle of the night because nature calls?
My biggest tip here is to bring a bottle to bed that you’re able to use as an emergency bathroom. If you can save yourself from having to get out of your sleeping bag in the middle of the night, do it. Remember, it’s easier to cool down than it is to warm up.
If you can’t bring yourself to bring a bottle to use in a pinch into bed with you, get up and take care of your business. It’s much better to stay dry in this situation. To keep heat from escaping your sleeping bag, close it up as best as you can when you get up and hurry back.
Consider doing a few jumping jacks or star jumps before crawling back into bed. Get your heart rate up, which will push warm blood to your skin’s surface. That way you’ll get back into your sleeping bag warm, which will help you stay warm through the rest of the night.
Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Hypothermia can be extremely dangerous. It is a medical condition that means that you have lost a significant amount of body heat, which if left untreated, could result in death. If you or the people you are camping with begin to show these signs and symptoms, you need to act fast to make sure that they stay safe.
- Acting different than usual
If you or your partners begin slurring their words, this is a sign that hypothermia is setting in. The body is beginning to move blood to the vital organs in the center of the body in order to try to keep them warm. Slurred speech and acting out of the ordinary are signs that someone is hypothermic and needs to be warmed up.
A great way to warm back up is to start a fire, drink something hot, do some light exercise, or hug those you are around. The objective is to warm the body back up.
- Stopping shivering
One of the responses that people have to being cold is they shiver. Shivering encourages the body to move in order to create heat. But when you stop shivering and you haven’t gotten warmer, that is a sign that hypothermia has set in.
Once you have regained some warmth, put extra layers on, and consider setting up your tent to get out of the wind.
Ultimately, it is important to remain safe when winter camping. If you bring the proper gear and master the skills mentioned above, you’ll be able to stop hypothermia before it begins. But in the event that you or someone in your party starts to experience hypothermia, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms and act fast.
Winter camping offers some of the most scenic views that a lot of people miss out on because they aren’t equipped with the information necessary to thrive in a winter environment. But before you set up your tent just anywhere, you need to know exactly where to set up to stay safe as well as to ensure maximum enjoyment.
Set up camp like a wolf.
Have you ever noticed how when dogs go to lay down, they circle around several times before finally settling on a spot to lay down? This is an evolutionary trait that they inherited from wolves! Before there were houses that offered protection for wolves (which eventually became the modern dog), wolves had to assess the area they were going to lay down to rest in.
So, what would wolves look for that you should also look for? Setting up a routine that ensures that you remember to look for potential hazards will help you set up camp like a wolf! Approach this in 3 steps: high, middle, low.
Look out for potential hazards above you. Look for tree branches that look pretty weighed down with snow. What might happen if that branch broke in the middle of the night? What if snow got blown off the branch by a strong wind, what would that do to you and your tent?
Look around you for evidence of recent avalanches. Do you see trees that have been uprooted? Are you at the bottom of an avalanche chute? Keeping an eye on potential avalanche danger will keep you from being unexpectedly buried in the middle of the night!
Look at the ground and see if the area that you are planning to set up camp is a game trail. A game trail is a highly trafficked area where wild animals walk through. Animals tend to be as efficient as possible, so if you notice that there is a lot of animal track near where you want to set up camp, consider moving your camp a couple of hundred feet away so you can reduce the chance of having a furry visitor in the middle of the night.
Winter camping can be an extremely enjoyable experience. Winter tent camping offers you with the benefits of solitude and beauty that most don’t get when the summer season gets going. Now that you have read this guide, you can confidently gather the gear you need to stay comfortable, use the gear effectively, and select the perfect spot to rest for the night. Go out and enjoy a winter wonderland!