This is the time of winter where we all start to get a little stir-crazy. Depending on what part of the country you live in, it’s been downright cold for anywhere from three to five months and many of us are itching to spend some quality time outside. Enter the concept of winter camping: pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars (and likely on top of the snow), while hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing during the day.
Winter camping can be really fun, but it does require more preparation than an impromptu summer tent stay. Here are some essential things to consider when heading out to camp in the winter months:
Winterize your sleeping set-up
Those sleeping bags that are labeled for -40°C weather? That’s what you’re going to need. A winter sleeping bag is essential for winter camping — especially if you’re headed out to the mountains where it can get particularly cold. It’s also a good idea to put a foam pad under your inflatable sleeping pad to put an extra layer between yourself and the frozen ground.
Set up your site with care
Be sure to bring along a weather appropriate tent — anything marketed as being “four seasons” should do the trick. Also be sure to pack a shovel with you to clear out some of the snow (and then pack down any remaining snow) on the spot where you want to pitch your tent. Be sure to get all of this done during daylight hours — it’s essential that you’re able to scope out your site and take a look around for tree branches that may dump snow on top of your tent while you’re sleeping. Also bring along a good tarp to cover any supplies that you don’t want getting soaked by a midnight snow.
The likelihood of your clothes or gear getting damp is high and you can’t just hang them from a tree to let them dry in the sun like you can on a summer camping trip. Bring plenty of layers of clothing, keeping in mind that wool will keep you warmer than cotton (thin base layers of merino wool can make a huge difference here). Warm, waterproof boots are also a must. Don’t forget to pack plenty of extra socks in case your feet get wet, either from snow or sweat.
You can certainly build a fire or use your camp stove while winter camping, but if it’s particularly cold, you don’t want to spend too much time laboring over your meal. Bring quick easy-to-cook food options (freeze dried meals are a good choice) and make sure you have plenty of fuel for your stove (white gas works best in winter) and wood for your fire.
Other things to consider
Don’t forget that daylight can be scarce during winter, so be sure to have proper illumination (flashlights, a head lamp). Insulated water bottles are also a must — you don’t want your drinking water freezing while you’re out on a hike or off skiing. Finally, remember that the sun reflects off the snow, and while you may be cold, sun protection for your face is essential while out all day in the winter.