Camping may be the quintessential summer activity but that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your tent when the weather gets cold. For the diehard campers among us, the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day are simply not enough to scratch the itch that is the desire to sleep under the stars. The truth is that with proper gear and preparation there’s no reason that your camping adventures can’t take you deep into the winter. And we’re not just talking about the campers that live in temperate southern climates. No what the latitude or altitude is where you live, there is a way to get out and about when the mercury drops. Think we’ve lost our minds? Let us convince you otherwise!
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What’s so awesome about winter camping?
So what makes winter camping so great that the benefits outweigh the additional challenges?
- Peace and quiet! Even the busiest of summer campsites are often totally deserted in the winter. Once things get a little harder on the camping front, a lot of people head for home. If you’ve been longing for some seclusion but been finding it hard to come across, winter camping has your name all over it!
- Lack of bugs … and bears. Many of the critters that can make summer camping annoying or downright dangerous are not out and about when things get cold. With snow on the ground and temperatures possibly below freezing, insects and spiders will not be a problem and bears will have long since entered hibernation.
- Access to places and activities that aren’t available in the summer. Your favorite summer fishing hole may become your favorite ice skating rink if you just give it a chance! Chances are good that the places you love in the summer will feel totally different in the winter. A little change of perspective is always a good thing!
- You can see for miles and miles! Speaking of a change in perspective, with the leaves all gone from the trees you will be able to see way farther than you ever have before. Photographers will love the striking change of scenery that the winter landscape provides.
- The satisfaction of not taking winter lying down. Winter can be a challenging time for people who love to be outside. It’s easy to curl up under your comforter and pine for warmer days to come but we promise that you’ll be a lot happier if you learn to work with the elements. Winter is beautiful – embrace it!
Ok, you convinced me. So what will I need to make this happen?
It’s probably not surprising that the gear you need for winter camping will be largely dependent on where you are, what the temperature is, and how much snow is on the ground. One thing you can almost certainly count on, even in more moderate climates, is that your winter adventures will be colder, and most likely wetter, than your summer ones. It’s best to plan accordingly.
- Layers. Layers are your friend for any outdoor activity at any time of year but they’re extra important when you’re out in the winter. When the weather is damp and cold, cotton can be your worst enemy. Look for wool or synthetic base layers, cozy fleece, and insulating down or down alternative jackets. Remember that down loses its warming properties when it gets wet so be sure to have something waterproof you can throw over your puffy layer in the event of precipitation!
- Take care of your extremities. You can lose a lot of heat through your head, hands, and feet so be sure to pack stuff to keep them warm! Wool is your best bet for cozy warmth when it comes to hats, socks, and gloves. Remember that you can layer your socks if need be to keep those toes extra warm!
- Sleeping bag. If you are camping in a place that gets really cold winter weather, there is a good chance that your regular summer bag won’t cut it. If you are going to drop some cash on one expensive piece of gear to keep you warm for winter camping, the sleeping bag is probably your best bet. Choose a sleeping bag with a temperature rating lower than the coldest temperature you expect to experience!
- Sleeping pad. The ground in winter is just plain frigid and the warmest sleeping bag in the world won’t do you any good if your body is constantly losing heat to the cold, hard earth. A Thermarest or similar sleeping pad will prevent you from losing all your heat while also making your back a lot more comfortable!
- Camp stove and fuel. The camp stove you use in the summer may work just fine in the winter but before you head out you’ll want to check with the manufacturer to be sure that it handles cold weather well. Remember that heating water to a boil when it is really freaking cold outside will probably require more fuel than you’re used to using so be sure to have extra on hand.
- Shovels and digging tools. If you will be camping in an area with deep snow, a shovel is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Shovels can be used to help build windbreaks around your tent to help keep the elements at bay.
- Snowshoes or cross-country skis. If you are camping in an area with deep snow or think you’d like to venture from your campsite further into the backcountry you’ll want to have some gear that will provide flotation in the snow. Snowshoes or cross-country skis are perfect for this use!
Is there anything I should be worried about?
Just because we’re firm believers in the awesomeness of winter camping doesn’t mean we think you should head out without knowing about the risks. As with any outdoor activity, there are some inherent dangers associated with being in the backcountry when the temperature drops. The good news is that with proper planning and preparation you can be safe no matter what the elements throw your way. With that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind for winter camping:
- Stay hydrated! It’s easy to remember to drink water when it’s nice and hot out but forcing yourself to drink when it’s already really cold can be a bit of a challenge. It doesn’t help that the things we drink to keep ourselves warm in the winter (like coffee … and bourbon!) can make proper hydration a bigger challenge. Remember to drink plenty of water.
- Stay warm! Frostbite and hypothermia are real dangers that are easily combatted by wearing the proper attire. Bring lots of layers and don’t be afraid to use them! It’s always a good idea to have backup clothing just in case something you’re wearing gets wet.
- Be sure you can actually consume your consumables! Frozen food and water aren’t going to get you anywhere if you don’t have a way to heat them up. Make sure that your camp stove has the ability to cook in very cold temperatures.
- Be prepared for winter driving conditions. Before you hit the road to your campsite it’s a good idea to be sure that you can actually get to your campsite! Many back roads in the wilderness don’t get plowed through the winter so you’ll want to check local road conditions before you go.
With proper planning and equipment camping in the winter isn’t just possible, it’s positively enjoyable! We hope that this article has inspired you to get out and try something new this winter and to be able to do it with safety and comfort. Winter is long – make the best of it!