The weather is changing, so you know what that means—it’s time to pull out all of your camping gear for cold weather!
With a few adjustments to your gear and practices, camping can be enjoyed year-round. We have some cold weather camping tips for you as well as our favorite winter camping gear. From preventative measures that will help keep you warm, to the best tent for winter camping, we hope to get you out there year-round!
As always, we recommend finding used gear first if you can—it’s better for the environment, and kinder on your wallet— but if you are unable to, we have provided links to our favorite gear. Please note: we receive a small commission from qualifying purchases on any links not associated with our website directly. We only recommend gear that we love and would have in our own store if we were a larger business.
Staying Warm While Camping: Tips and Our Favorite Winter Camping Gear for Cold Weather Camping
1) Check weather conditions and other local updates
Before you ever go adventuring, you should always check the weather conditions and local updates for any potential hazards (i.e. recent damage to trails, avalanche warnings, etc.) This is true year round, but particularly important in months with colder weather that tend to be less predictable. A quick call to a rangers station can go a long way.
As always, make a trip plan and leave details with a trusted person back at home who will know when to expect you back, and where you plan on going in case you don’t return when expected. This will allow them to send for help if needed.
2) Setting up camp
When you are setting up your tent, it’s best if you can find a spot that is sheltered from the wind. This will go a long way in keeping you warm throughout the night.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, take some time to pack down the snow where you plan to set up your tent. When packed down like this, the snow can act as an insulator. Once your tent is set up, you can also pack snow around the bottom of your tent.
Also take note of which direction the wind is coming from. If possible, position your tent ninety degrees to the wind. This will reduce the chances that snow will blow into your tent, and keep your door free of snow build-up.
If you are camping in an area that has snow, also take note of any potential avalanche threats.
3) Make sure you eat enough calories
Nutrition is always important while camping, but when you’re cold weather camping, those calories serve multiple purposes: they replenish your energy and keep you nice and warm.
Whenever you’re able to, pull out your camp stove and make hot camping meals, especially for breakfast and dinner. And now is the time to load up on snacks! Think of snacks that are high in fat and protein, since they burn slower than meals that are high in carbohydrates. We love this variety pack of protein bars: they’re perfect right before bed, in the morning, and throughout the day.
4) Stay hydrated
A well-hydrated body is a warm body. When you don’t drink enough fluids, dehydration reduces your body’s ability to stay warm. Also, a hot chocolate, cider, or tea right before bed and when you first wake up will go a long way in keeping you comfortable (we love bringing a thermos or insulated water bottle to keep our drinks hot for hours).
With increased hydration comes more trips to relieve yourself. Many will suggest that you should go to the bathroom at night right away. There is a theory that your body uses energy to heat your urine in your bladder. We’ve heard mixed feedback on this from doctors, who have questioned the validity of that statement: they’ve said your urine is body temperature already, so it shouldn’t require additional energy to heat it. So if you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, feel free to do so, but it’s also probably ok if you want to hold it until the morning and not leave your cozy sleeping bag.
5) Dress in layers and pack extras for bed
There are three steps to layering for cold weather camping:
- Step 1: base layers, like the ones in our trail wardrobe collection. Ideally you want base layers made from wool because it’s moisture wicking, keeping your skin nice and dry.
- Step 2: mid layers help keep you insulated from the cold and retain your body heat. Think fleeces, vests, and puffy jackets.
- Step 3: outer layers, like wind shells, protect you from the wind and keep moisture out.
When you layer well, you can add and remove your layers as you hike or perform camp duties. This allows you to stay warm, but not overheat and sweat a ton.
Don’t forget your feet, hands, and head!
- Hands: wearing fleece gloves and waterproof shell mittens or gloves will keep your hands warm and dry in the elements.
- Feet: wool socks are really the best way to go when it comes to cold weather camping. They provide great insulation while also keeping your feet dry. When you wear thicker wool socks, be aware of how they fit in your waterproof boots so they don’t cut off circulation and make your feet cold!
- Head: A neck gaiter, or a balaclava, is a great way to keep your face warm, and a winter hat or headband will help keep your ears warm and prevent heat from escaping.
- Eyes: So many people forget to bring sunglasses or goggles in the winter: protect your eyes from the sun (and the powerful reflection from the snow), and keep the wind out.
Once you’re done moving around for the evening, we highly recommend switching into your clean and dry base layers and socks that you plan to wear for the next day. This reduces the chance of sleeping in any wet clothing, and then the next morning, you will already have nice and warm clothes on!
*Pro tip: while you’re in your sleeping bag, take a few layers off and then put them back on without getting out of your bag. It may seem silly, but the exercise will warm you and your sleeping bag up!
6) Bring a warm sleeping bag
Check the coldest temperatures where you plan to go camping. Choose a sleeping bag that has a low enough temperature rating, and if you run cold, consider a sleeping bag with an even lower temperature rating (think 15 degrees lower). This is the one piece of gear we highly recommend not skimping out on. It’s a matter of safety, and, to be honest, being exhausted if you can’t sleep because you’re cold will make for a miserable camping experience, and who wants that?!
If you are new to cold weather camping and can find a sleeping bag to borrow or rent, we recommend doing that to determine if you enjoy sleeping in the cold first, but if you are unable to, here is one of our favorite cold weather sleeping bag. Make sure to select the options specifically designed for women (they are designed differently than men’s sleeping bags, and more optimal for warmth).
7) Sleep on an insulated sleeping pad
Sleeping pads are always important, but even more so in the winter. An insulated sleeping pad will ensure the cold ground won’t draw precious warmth away from your body. We like the Klymit Static V because they are designed with deep welds, which trap heat underneath your body, helping to keep you warm all throughout the night.
8) Wear a hat or multifunctional headwear to bed
Contrary to popular belief, you do not lose more heat from your head than the rest of your body. However, if it’s exposed, just like any other part of your body, heat will escape, so it’s still important to keep your head covered. We recommend wearing a hat or multifunctional headwear to bed. It’ll keep you warmer and help you sleep through the night.
9) Borrow, rent, thrift, or buy a winter tent
Not all tents are created equal. Finding the right winter tent can be challenging: it can be difficult to get the right balance between weight, space, and warmth. When you’re looking for the best winter tent, make sure it’s intended for 4 seasons. Also, when you sleep at night, the heat from your warm body will create a buildup of condensation, so make sure you choose a tent that is well ventilated.
We recommend the Marmot Thor tent, it’s one of the best winter tents out there. It’s really wind resistant, is structurally sound, has a nice large vestibule, and of course is designed for winter elements. It’s also much heavier and bulkier than a 3-season tent, a tradeoff we think is worth wild to stay warm (we’ve winter camped in a 3-season tent once … never again! It was absolutely miserable to sleep in!)
10) Cold weather luxury items might be worth it
We usually believe that less is more … except when you’re winter camping, we’re all about the comfort! If your feet run cold, consider grabbing some camp booties. For a little extra weight, they add a lot of comfort :) Any extra small and lightweight luxury items may also be worth it.
We hope this has you excited and ready to plan your next cold weather camping trip. The winter can be difficult for some people to get through with a reduction in outdoor activities, but if you’re prepared, you can continue the fun year-round. So grab your camping gear for cold weather and enjoy these tips and tricks to help you stay warm while camping!
Be safe and enjoy exploring!
Love, Alpine Sisters