Winter Camping: 9 Tips to Stay Safe & Have Fun
Summer isn't the only time you can have an enjoyable hiking and camping trip. With preparation and the right equipment, you can head out on your favorite activity even when the snow is falling. To help you prepare for your next winter camping trip, we've compiled a list of nine helpful tips and tricks:
1. Use Pure Wool – It Keeps You Warm Even When Wet
Pure wool has been used for centuries around the world for its superior insulating properties and is still very popular even with the invention of synthetic insulators. What makes wool superior to other fibers is its hygroscopic qualities – although it absorbs water, it doesn't lose its ability to insulate. It also wicks moisture away, keeping your skin dry. This will keep you warmer longer and prevent sweat rashes (which can still happen in the cold). If wool tends to make you itchy, look for garments made from alpaca or merino wool, which tends to be much softer for people with sensitive skin.
2. Use a Hot Water Bottle or Heater Packs
Building a campfire isn’t the only way to produce some heat. Chemical heat packs and hot water bottles can be used to help you keep warm on the go or once you've made camp. You can keep them in your pockets as you hike, stuff them in your clothing, or use them to keep your water bottle from freezing. When you make camp, you can keep a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag to warm it up before you bed down. Use instant-heat chemical packs in your socks or boots to warm them up before you set off in the morning. Just remember to never place a heat source directly against your skin or you risk burning yourself.
3. Use a Sleeping Bag Made For The Cold
An everyday sleeping bag isn't going to cut it for winter camping. Even if you aren't in subzero weather, you need a cold-rated sleeping bag. A good rule of thumb is to buy one rated for lower temperatures than you expect to actually encounter (for example, if it will be in the twenties, choose a bag rated down to 15 or 10 degrees Fahrenheit / -12 or -9 degrees Celsius). When choosing a sleeping bag, the type of insulation is also important. Goose down is a popular for its insulating properties, comfort, and compression, while synthetic materials are often cheaper and can still insulate if they get wet. You may also want to consider a sleeping bag with a built-in hood to keep your head warm while you sleep.
4. Get an Insulated Sleeping Pad
Just as important as a cold-rated sleeping bag is an insulated sleeping pad to put under yourself at night. There are three types of insulated pads: inflatable, self-inflating, and closed-cell foam. The main purpose of a sleeping pad is to make a layer between you and the ground, reducing heat loss and preventing moisture retention. Most winter campers use two pads together. They use a waterproof foam pad as a waterproof barrier under a heat-reflective inflatable pad. Make sure that the pad you choose has a high R-value (usually from 1 to 9) and is long and wide enough to fit you comfortably. Bring a back up and/or patch kit in case your pad is damaged.
5. Layer Yourself
Layers help keep you warm by trapping air between them, which acts as a natural insulator. When out in cold weather, you should use three layers: a moisture-wicking base layer against your skin, an insulator, and a water/windproof shell layer. As previously mentioned, wool is a natural moisture wicker, but you can also use silk or synthetic materials. Fleece, wool, and water-resistant down are good insulators, while Gore-Tex and nylon are commonly used shells. Avoid cotton at all costs, even in underwear/bras, as this absorbs moisture and loses its insulating properties when wet.
6. Pick The Right Camping Area
When looking for a spot to make camp, look for places that will help you stay warm, dry, and safe. Avoid loose snow or places where you might be trapped or injured by falling rocks and branches. A good campsite will often have a natural windbreak and is well out of danger from avalanches. You should also consider whether or not there is a water source nearby and what kind of landmarks you can use to navigate to and from your campsite.
7. Eat a Lot
Remember to eat plenty while on your winter camping trip. Not only do you need the extra calories to power through, but digestion helps keep the body's internal mechanisms moving and warm. Bring along plenty of high-calorie foods that take longer to digest, especially those rich in carbs, protein, and fat. Hot drinks can also be useful for warming you up, but don't forget to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
8. Get a Shelter Made For The Winter
Just like you need a cold-rated sleeping bag, you need a tent made specifically for cold weather. Many cold-weather tents have double entryways or vestibules to keep wind and snow out and ventilation flaps to reduce condensation or allow you to use camp stoves inside. Others are tiny, one or two-person tents that rely on synthetic material to keep you dry and insulated. Double-check your tent's ratings before you go and be prepared.
9. Plan Your Trip
Most importantly, plan your trip and be prepared for disaster. Take emergency gear (GPS, first aid kit, extra food and clothing, etc) and make sure you aren't hiking into avalanche-prone areas. Know your limits and be familiar with the first symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia. When you plan and are prepared, you can have more fun! Did you enjoy this article? Learn anything new? Remember to keep these tips in mind so you can enjoy your next winter camping trip without freezing. Don't forget to like and share this article with other outdoor enthusiasts!
About the Author: Rich is a camping and hiking enthusiast who also runs the blog rollingfox.com. We write camping guides, tips, gear reviews and camp cooking. You can follow me on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.