Winter camping is an exciting alternative to traditional camping that provides a unique set of challenges and benefits. To stay safe and get the most out of a trip, it’s important to be well prepared for the road ahead. Knowing what to bring and what to wear is important to ensure the safety of all campers. Understanding what to do while at the campground helps maximize the fun of each and every day.
EditPacking the Necessary Supplies
- Pack a tent. For protection against cold winds and bad weather, purchase a 4-season domed tent or similarly durable shelter. Make sure you open and test the product before leaving, that way you know how to set up the tent and whether or not it has holes, is missing poles, or is otherwise defective. If your tent does not include stakes, make sure to purchase enough to secure it to the ground.
- Pack a sleeping bag. For warmth during the night, purchase a thermal or insulated sleeping bag, sometimes referred to as a mummy bag. These bags are tight, sturdy, and will hold in heat throughout the entire night. Avoid cots when camping in cold weather, as the air under a cot will be colder than the temperature of the ground.
- Pack plenty of food. The food you bring should be hot, simple to make and, if you expect to camp for a while, non-perishable. Meals like pasta, soup, and oatmeal will keep you warm and full, while sandwiches are good to eat as a quick dish. Bring plenty of trail mix, crackers, and similar snacks for quick boosts of energy throughout the day.
- Avoid energy bars and similar treats, since the frigid temperatures will make them hard.
- Pack cooking supplies. Bring a portable stove, burner, or similar lightweight cooking device, along with a lighter and any fuel it requires. Make sure to include cookware, utensils, and a tin or insulated cozy to eat out of. If you’re camping alone, consider using your cookware as a plate to cut down on redundant supplies.
- Pack a thermal water bottle. Look for an insulated bottle that maintains a drink’s temperature for a significant period of time. Consider bringing tea packets, a portable coffee maker and grounds, instant coffee, or hot cocoa mix for something warm to drink. If your campsite does not offer a water pump, make sure to bring jugs of bottled water.
- In case of an emergency, pack iodine tablets or a filter to clean untreated water.
- Pack a snow shovel. If bad weather is expected, this will help you break up ice and clear out any snow around your tent or vehicle. It is also a useful tool for digging a fire pit, creating a restroom, and clearing or smoothing the ground.
- Pack a flashlight. Bring a large, durable flashlight, along with any other lighting fixtures you expect to use during your trip. Pack more batteries than you normally require, as cold air significantly decreases the life of a battery.
- Pack a first-aid kit. Anything can happen on a camping trip, so be prepared for whatever scenario comes up. In your kit, include items like:
- Bandages, gauze pads, moleskin, and rubbing alcohol for wounds.
- Burn ointment.
- Any prescribed medication, as well as over-the-counter solutions like aspirin, antacids, hydrocortisone cream, and antibiotic cream.
- A thermometer.
- Pack personal hygiene supplies. Though camping offers a great opportunity to get dirty, it’s important to stay clean and healthy while out in the wild. To do so, bring personal items like:
- A toothbrush, toothpaste, and other dental supplies.
- Biodegradable soap and hand sanitizer.
- Towels, wash clothes, and baby wipes.
- Toilet paper in a separate bag.
- Pack a map and compass. Though many campers rely on their phone for navigation, campgrounds are notorious for their poor cell coverage. For times when your GPS goes offline, make sure you have a map of the area and compass to help find your way.
EditDressing for the Cold
- Wear winter headgear. A lot of heat escapes through your head, so adequate covering is essential for staying warm. In addition to a winter hat, consider bringing a ski mask, liner balaclava and, for extreme weather, goggles. Look for gear that fits you well so winds don’t rip it away.
- Wear wool undergarments as a base layer. Wool provides a layer of fabric that will adjust based on the temperature, retaining heat when it’s cold and letting cool air in when it’s hot. If wool is not available, look for polyester materials.
- Wear a fleece shirt and pants as a middle layer. Fleece helps retain body heat, keeping the wearer warm in incredibly cold environments. Depending on how chilled the weather is, this layer can vary from light clothing and jackets to full coats.
- Wear a waterproof and windproof coat as an outer layer. Look for a shell that is breathable, letting sweat vapor escape while keeping external liquid out. Based on the weather, you might wear either a light windshell or a large coat.
- Wear winter gloves. To account for a variety of circumstances, bring multiple pairs of gloves in different styles. Include at least one pair of light fleece gloves, waterproof working gloves, and waterproof mittens. Avoid fingerless gloves, convertible mittens, and similarly styled hand wear, as they often don’t hold up in extreme wind and frigid temperatures.
- Wear warm socks. Bring wool socks and polyester boot liners to keep your feet warm. To avoid cutting off blood-flow, make sure your socks are not too snug. Pack multiple pairs with the expectation that some will get wet or dirty.
- Wear sturdy hiking boots. A solid pair of waterproof boots will give you traction in the snow and protection from the elements. Look for a pair that is light and comfortable enough to wear for long distances. If necessary, consider going up a half-size to a size to accommodate large socks and any feet swelling that may happen during the trip.
- Relax in your layers. After a long hike or activity, you’ll want to cool down and relax. During this time, make sure to keep your layers on in order to retain body heat. Do your best to keep your internal temperature consistent, as it is easier to maintain warmth than gain it.
- Keep your socks and shoes in your sleeping bag. Few things are as disheartening as cold feet in the morning. To keep your socks and shoes warm, place them at the bottom of your sleeping bag before going to bed. Though it may feel strange at first, it will make every morning better.
- Bring hand warmers. For extra warmth throughout the day, consider bringing HotHands or similar hand warmers. When placed in your socks, gloves, or pockets, these small pouches provide extra heat to help you power through particularly cold patches. If you have trouble staying warm at night, consider putting a few inside your sleeping bag.
- Build a fire during the day or evening. For warmth during the day and light at night, bring some flammable paper to start a fire with. Place your paper in a fire pit surrounded by dry grass and leaves, small twigs, and branches. Ignite the fire using your cooking lighter and, once it starts to burn, build and maintain it using larger logs for fuel.
- For safety, make sure you burn in a clear area and contain the flames to the fire pit. Have water and dirt on hand to extinguish the fire quickly. Make sure someone is watching the fire at all times.
- Check if there are any active burn bans in the area you intend to camp. If so, you will not be allowed to start a fire.
- Check the weather before leaving. Before heading to the campground, check local and national weather reports for the area. If non-standard weather is expected, pack additional supplies as necessary. If the weather looks particularly bad, with reports predicting storms, freezing rain, blinding snow, or blizzards, consider postponing your trip.
- Pitch your tent in a safe, comfortable area. When setting up camp, look for a patch of clear, smooth ground on which to erect your tent. Look for an area that is near water, provides access to a man-made bathroom or private spot, and that has natural protection from wind and falling debris. Set up your tent with the door facing away from the wind, making it easier to get in and out throughout the day.
- Use the buddy system when leaving the campground. If you’re adventuring with friends or family, make sure you always travel with someone when leaving the common area. Though it may not feel necessary, the buddy system provides insurance should any accidents occur. If you’re camping alone, make sure a friend at home knows where you’re going, when you will be back, and what to do if you fail to return.
- Stay hydrated. It’s easy to forget when you’re having fun, but water is essential to staying healthy in the wilderness. Keep a full water bottle with you at all times and drink from it often, especially on hiking trips. If your mouth is dry or you start feeling dizzy, getting headaches, or feeling constipated, drink more water. If your urine is yellow, drink more water to offset the other liquids in your system.
- Know the signs of hypothermia. Look for a temperature below 95°F or 35°C, confusion, shivering, tiredness, hyperventilation, pale skin, or general behavioral changes. If any of these symptoms occur, get the person to a warm area and seek medical attention immediately.
- Know the signs of frostbite. Look for ice crystals forming on the skin, paleness and reddening, numbness, pain, and swelling. If any of these symptoms occur, start rewarming the area using winter clothing and warm water. To avoid any further damage, leave the cold area and seek medical attention immediately.
- Pack items in your backpack in an order that you will easily remember. This will help you avoid having to take everything out of the bag in order to retrieve something.